Rebecca Distler - Suva, Fiji
Department of Health Policy and Management, Global Health Concentration at YSPH
Global Health Initiative
Career goal: To consult on nutrition and non-communicable disease policies in low- and middle-income countries.
Internship outline: I worked as an intern for the World Health Organization, based in Suva, Fiji, in the Non-Communicable Diseases Unit. My work focused primarily on the Health-Promoting Schools initiative, a WHO program that partnered with local schools to help them develop health policies and strategies for improving their school’s environment, student nutrition and decrease risk for non-communicable diseases. We worked closely with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, and over the course of my time in Fiji I visited 19 different schools to work with them on developing their strategic plans and project proposals. I also conducted research for the Fiji Food Taskforce, a group of individuals various stakeholder organizations, to develop draft nutrition labeling guidelines for Fiji.
Value of experience: This internship is perhaps the most significant experience I have ever had; not only did it provide me the opportunity to work for the WHO, an organization I have always wanted to work for, but also a chance to work with individuals at all levels and from all organizations, giving me a very unique perspective on the program, and allowing me to design a national implementation plan accordingly. It helped shape my approach to my coursework this year, and helped narrow my career-goals and focus. I developed a much deeper understanding of what it is like to work in developing countries, nutrition policy, program management and project communication and marketing.
Best moment: Visiting schools on Kadavu, a remote island to the south. In order to reach Kavala Bay School, I had to take a half hour plane ride to Kadavu, a 2 hour open-boat ride (through the rain) to the village, and then complete another 20 minute hike through the rugged hills. Just reaching the school was exhausting, but seeing all of the hard work this tiny school had done on the program, and how excited they were to be a part of HPS, made every second of the journey worthwhile. My favorite non-internship-related experience was shark diving. Along with a team of divers, I descended 60 feet to swim (without cages) with bull sharks, nurse sharks and reef sharks—some of which were more than six feet long! That was the most exhilarating thing I have ever done … although I waited to tell my mom until afterward and with all my limbs still attached.
Rebecca Distler - Suva, Fiji
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- Visiting Nasavusavu Public School, one of 19 Health-Promoting Schools Rebecca worked with over the course of her internship. Here, a mural painted by the Fiji Red Cross and Peace Corps, promotes hand washing—one of the key components of the school’s work plan.
- Children at Kama District School brush their teeth during daily, post-lunch oral hygiene drills.
- Children at Khemendra Primary School perform their anti-drug song and dance that a teacher wrote for them as part of a strategy to make their school a drug- and tobacco-free zone.
- Developing school gardens is a popular strategy for improving children's diet. Here, students from Navai Primary School participate in gardening activities.
- A map of Fiji, depicting the locating of several HPS schools. The schools that are underlined are the ones Rebecca visited and worked during her 10-week long internship.
- School visits required travel to some very remote places. Here, Rebecca is on a two-hour boat ride to Kavala Bay School, on the island of Kadavu.
- Working with the HPS coordinator of Khemendra Primary School to finalize the school’s work plan and proposal for seed funds and to jump start several HPS initiatives.
- Rebecca’s tasks for the WHO included developing new work plan templates to make developing health interventions easier for teachers and HPS coordinators. Here, Rebecca discusses a new template with HPS coordinators.
- Fire dancers perform at a resort on Coral Coast. While fire dancing has its roots in Polynesian culture, it was also been adapted into Fijian traditions. Fiji is best known for its firewalkers, a practice that began on Beqa Island, just off Coral Coast.
- The colors of Fiji are astounding. Rebecca took this picture in Kadavu as the boat took her back to the airport.
- A reef shark appears during a scuba excursion to Namena Reef, one of the top 10 dive spots in the world. Rebecca and other divers descended to about 70 feet and were surrounded by the sharks and other marine life. Photo credit: Havard Fagerne.
- A red grouper appears in a reef teeming with marine life. Photo credit: Havard Fagerne.