Finals are finished, work is wrapping up, and tomorrow I will pack my car and move out of Ann Arbor for the summer. I have several weeks of visiting with family and friends before I leave for my summer internship. I’ll fly to Florida to see my grandma, roadtrip to Nashville with friends, drive to my cousins’ house in Virginia, and stop for a quick trip in Santiago, Chile to visit one of my favorite people who has been living there for over a year. It’s a lot to do all while I try to organize and mentally prepare myself for the final destination: a summer internship with Progressive Health Partnership in Mbarara, Uganda.
I’ve been working with PHP since the beginning of this school year and have learned about the organization’s commitment to the communities of Kashongi and Kitura in southwest Uganda. There, over 60,000 people spread across 106 villages are served by only 2 functional health centers. The country has one of the highest fertility rates in Africa and also one of the highest maternal mortality rates. PHP began a safe motherhood initiative in partnership with the community and named it “Omukazi Namagara,” which translates to”The Woman is Life” from Runyankole. Along with a fellow UMich student, I’ll be working within the scope of this initiative to understand the burden of obstetric fistula in the area, to evaluate the need for emergency obstetric care, and to learn how to address these issues in a rural area with high poverty and low resources.
The global health internship is an exciting opportunity, right in the middle of my MPH coursework, to go into the field and witness what health problems real communities are facing. The work of a public health professional is intrinsically social justice oriented; we work towards health equity and recognize that poverty is the single greatest risk factor for mortality and morbidity. I get the chance to try and apply some of what I’ve learned in class in order to make myself useful. There’s a tension, though, between wanting to be helpful and recognizing that I’m going to learn. I need confidence in what I’ve learned but also humility in what I don’t know, and having never been to Uganda (or any part of Africa), there is a lot in this latter category. My internship is short- only 8 weeks- and promises to be an adventure in experiential learning. As I get ready to leave, I’m settling into the tension, into the ambiguity. I’m going to serve the community, but also to be served. I am experienced and skilled but still know so little about the field I am entering. I have my days planned out but am ready to be flexible, since the timeline is sure to change and priorities may shift. 27 days from now I will be landing in Entebbe and still have no idea what to expect, but the uncertainty is what makes it such an adventure!