Over the past few weeks, I’ve been asked by friends and family why I wanted to go to Mississippi for a public health deployment. My first thought was to list off all the facts as to why the Mississippi Delta Region is in dire need of more health services and some of the startling socioeconomic population statistics. But then I realized, those indicators don’t answer the question. The statistics may explain why there is a need for services in the area, but they don’t explain why I want to spend a week in the Delta Region.
I thought about this for a while and started to list off the things I really knew about Mississippi. I knew that there were once large plantations, I knew there are large fields of cotton, and I knew I learned how to spell Mississippi with a little melody I was taught in elementary school. The list was short and mundane. It made me realize, I really don’t know much about Mississippi. I became sort of embarrassed; I have spent the past year learning about the different theories, methods, and strategies used to create beneficial health intervention programs, but I was stuck trying to answer this simple question. So, I thought back to why I decided to pursue an education in public health.
As someone who is very interested in global health, I understand that engaging in a new cultural context takes physical, social, and emotional preparation. Although I am consistently looking for opportunities to learn about new cultures and context-specific health challenges in a global sense, I have realized that I have the opportunity to learn from this process in a community closer to home. I realized that not knowing much about the Delta was not necessarily a bad thing, but a chance for me to learn about health in a new context and the multiple factors that influence the population’s livelihood. I have discovered a bit more about the Delta Region through some preliminary research as well as through discussions surrounding contextual factors with my classmates. I’ve become even more conscious of how my perceptions and understanding of a community will reinforce how I act as I enter and exit a new community. These brief history and cultural humility lessons will be invaluable as I enter a space that is unfamiliar to me and as I try to better understand the community level factors that influence health and wellbeing. So, as for why I want to spend a week in the Delta Region, I want to transform the little jingle I remember when I think of Mississippi into more authentic memories, backed by the emotional, physical, and social experiences of the community culture, the local people, and the Mississippi Blues.