Aparna in Mozambique

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Winding down and gearing up!

November 29, 2007

Winding down and gearing up!

Well, yet again, I’ve taken far too long to write. I know that in October I filled you in on just a few things but was mostly trying really hard to get back into shape after Cape Town in terms of school and motivating myself. Now I’m looking forward with just 3 weeks left in Malawi and I feel like I barely have time to breathe things have been moving so quickly….

School Updates:
I’m glad to say, that after 10 months here, I’ve finished all the requirements for my coursework. Last month, I still had a number of assignments ahead of me as well as my data collection, literature review, and draft results of my thesis. I’m pleased that at this point, I’ve handed in all of my assignments as well as my first draft of my thesis. Now, I’m still waiting to hear anything on that, but let’s just cross our fingers and hope that I’ve passed.

My thesis research, as some of you remember, was with the MVP and focused on studying traditional birth attendants (TBAs) in their village cluster. Basically, through a lot of discussions at the policy and community level, we concluded that TBAs are important in women’s lives and play a big part in pregnancy care. They often lack the training to handle anything complicated and that’s why the WHO recommends that they shouldn’t be trained anymore. Still, the reality on the ground is that some women live 30km away from the nearest health facility. It is virtually impossible therefore to not acknowledge how many deliveries the TBAs conduct. So what we are trying to figure out is what to do with them and what to do in terms of providing mother’s a safe service in the interim until there are more health facilities and more staff. It’s a challenge and I believe that we need to use the TBAs as much as possible, bring them into the health system, but not train more, rather focus on training skilled attendants. But, in the interim, they must be engaged in order to keep those women that are delivering in unsafe conditions from even worse fates. That is my research in a nutshell!!

As I mentioned, I am basically done with all of my coursework so I will spare you the details on that. However, as I am writing, I am getting ready to go to Lilongwe for our annual MPH conference. I will be presenting on the feasibility of doing the MPH in one year. The Ministry of Health is quite excited about the MPH program as they send a good amount of staff to come for higher level training. They are thinking of now sending people for 1 year to do this program and then return to the MOH rather than have them drag their projects on for years and years. It makes sense and I hope that I can make my case well. Basically what I am saying is that it can be done, it just takes a good amount of planning and determination. As the first student to do it in a year, I know that I struggled, but with a little guidance, it can be done. I even made sample timetables for everyone to look at to get an idea of how difficult the process is and how much you have to stay focused at all times.

In terms of Rotary, a few things have been going on. First off, a few weeks ago, I met a wonderful Rotarian, Dr. Serra from Stockton, CA. He is here teaching surgery at the College of Medicine for 6 weeks and has been doing this since the 1980s. I thought that this was really wonderful and hope that perhaps District 6450 could send some people in this fashion. The program teaches clinical officers skills in surgery so that they can perform procedures in even the most remote areas. Clinical officers are basically something between a nurse and a doctor, sort of created by the WHO and friends years ago in order to combat the human resources crisis. Clinical officers take 4 years to train while a doctor takes 6 and a lot more resources. In rural areas, they do most of the procedures along with nurses so are really valuable. Training them and other health workers like with this partnership through the college of medicine could be extremely beneficial.

Another great thing is that Rotaract is really taking off! The members formed committees and an executive board at the college. Right now, they are just waiting for the charter to come through for the club. In the meantime, members are participating in Blantyre rotary events as much as they can. On December 15th, Rotary Blantyre is having a Christmas party for orphans at the Samaritan trust along with a Rotary Club party afterwards and I’m so thrilled to say that at least 5 Rotaracters will be there!

Other Great Things:
In terms of my service, I am very proud this month for several reasons. Finally, because of the funds from my club for a nutrition project, next month, all volunteer staff of the nutrition outreach project of PACAM will be receiving a nutritious pack for Christmas with water sanitation materials, rice, and flour. I will snapping pictures to share with all of you and post them on my final blog. Also, on a personal project, I have been trying to get donations from an organization called Gift of the Giver for the school children from my earlier blogs. The school is close to my home and I wanted to establish a nutritious feeding program for them. Finally, my request has been approved. They will receive 2 cartons or 24 tubs of Sibusiso ready to use therapeutic food for mixing in their porridge. I can personally attest that this makes the food that much more filling for the children allowing them to sit in school for the entire day. It’s basically like a super rich peanut butter which is equal to a full plate of food. It is such a blessing (Sibusiso means blessing in zulu)!!

I have also been assisting with a school to school project with the U.S., seeking to do e-penpals over the computer with a school in the U.S. Things are going well on that end and now we have 2 U.S. schools paired with one school here in Malawi. During Christmas, I will be bringing presents from the school in Malawi to the U.S. schools and they will also be sending to the school here. The goal is not only to create cross-cultural understanding but also to provide for resources as they are needed at the school here. For example, they need more toilets and supplies for the children. So in learning about the school, the U.S. schools will try to raise funds for that. They are also raising money for the headmaster to have a laptop to use for communication. It is very exciting to see this relationship developing finally and I can’t wait to see where they are at in one year.
And how I am….
Well, I am not even at a point where I can begin to process my experience here in Malawi. I can’t believe that almost a year has gone by and I am so accustomed to living and working here that I don’t even question things like using a mosquito net on a daily basis, something that was so foreign to me when I arrived. I have learned a lot in terms of research, living, working, but mostly about how to deal with people. The phrase “Patience is a virtue” never had more meaning to me in my life. Now I truly feel the weight of that statement.

So, in general, I don’t feel like I can sum up my experience for you just yet. What I can tell you is that I am very excited to come home. I’ll be in Orland Park on December 20th so get your party shoes ready!!

There are so many things waiting for me now and in the next year that I can’t wait to shift gears. But, in terms of the immediate, I would love to be in touch with any District 6450 Rotarians that would like me to speak at their club or just meet to hear about my experience. Friends and family, lets start planning also for when I’m going to see you as well. New York people, I will be in NYC from January 15-20, at which point I will be leaving to go to Mozambique and pursue my next steps….its so unbelievable.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I can’t believe I’m living my dream. As a child, I never could have imagined the opportunities that I have now. Looking back at that funny haired little kid who loved to read National Geographic and stare out the window pretending she was someone else, who would have thought I’d get from there to here. I thank all of you deeply for your support now and in the future.

Please send me all your latest news, gossip, and just so stories. I can’t wait to hear each and every detail.

As usual, sending you lots of warm energy from the warm heart of Africa…


Blogger The Bear Maiden said...

My dearest Aparna, I am so unbelievably proud of you and for you, and I'm honored to have met you! And it was only a matter of months! I have kept up with your blog, even though I don't comment. I was usually too busy thinking about what you wrote :)

Hey... pairing schools is a WONDERFUL idea... please, is there anyway you could include my Sun's school? Where do we sign up? It's something they would love to do.

Don't forget about me when you get to NYC!!!!

I wish you a safe and peaceful journey home...

For news on my end, you gotta visit my blog when you can :).

11:54 PM  
Anonymous marla said...

Great to hear you are doing well and it sounds like such an intense experience! Thanks for sharing it :)

love marla
hugs and kisses

11:57 AM  

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