Career goal: Physician/pediatrician practicing in areas with minimal access to care
Internship outline: Meghan helped to conduct a needs assessment in various marginalized/indigenous areas of Hidalgo, mainly in Huixcazdhá, Altiplano and Huasteca. Working with a research team at Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey, in conjunction with government officials, the team set out to identify public health risk factors and steps that the community could implement in order to improve their overall health. By using a community-based participatory research approach, they hoped to develop sustainable and effective strategies for these areas which have minimal access to care. This project is part of a collaboration between Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey and Desarrollo Integral de La Familia (DIF — a government organization that provides resources and aid to families).
Value of experience: Not only did this experience give me amazing insight into some of the challenges marginalized communities face with respect to access to care and education, but it also highlighted how working together as a community can lead to miraculous things. For instance, Huixcazdhá (although isolated and with minimal resources) was able to eliminate malnutrition by distributing amaranth dietary supplements (produced within the community) and constantly monitoring height/weight. Additionally, the youth (La Pequeña Tribu), who work together to improve the community by picking up trash, planting trees, paving roads, building walls, decorating buildings and making/selling flavored water, are dedicated to their community and strive to be good role models for future generations.
Best moment/experience: My favorite moment of my internship was conducting a second focus group with three male secondary school graduates who were members of La Pequeña Tribu. During the first focus group it was very hard to get the boys to talk about their hopes for the future, what sort of activities they did in the town or even what additional resources they felt were needed. However, after being in the community for a couple of weeks, getting to know the kids by playing soccer and conducting workshops, they started opening up. Hearing these boys say they wanted more access to sex education was amazing. Not only did it emphasize the importance of getting to know community members in order to successfully work with them, but it also demonstrated that the boys felt comfortable enough to talk about an issue that was otherwise disregarded.
Funding source: Overlook International Foundation Fellowship
As part of the welcome ceremony to Huixcazdhá (the small, rural, isolated community where I conducted a health assessment) children of secondary school (grades 6-9) put on a welcome skit filled with dances, acrobatics and songs. These children were vital in helping the research team find the individuals to be interviewed.
In order to interview as many people as possible in the community, Meley Woldeghebriel (also a YSPH student) and I worked with two Yale undergrads, a Master’s student from Cambridge University, three students from Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey and four students from Instituto Tecnológico Superior de Huichapan. This photo is of the entire research team at our first encounter.
Huixcazdhá is a very rural community. The majority of its residents are either subsistence farmers or workers at the amaranth factory. In an attempt to understand what life is like working in agriculture, the research team woke up early and planted amaranth seedlings with factory workers. While we tried to keep up, the factory workers planted almost triple the number of seedlings.
This photo of Meley and I was taken towards the end of planting amaranth with the factory workers. Despite the fact that both of our fathers work in agriculture, it was a unique experience to see how much hard work goes into subsistence farming.
This photo shows the watering hole in Huixcazdhá, the stone walls built by La Pequeña Tribu and the setting for much of our fieldwork. However, upon our first arrival, much of Huixcazdhá was dry and barren due to not having had rain in three months.
After working in Huixcazdhá for a couple of weeks, each research team presented their findings to the community’s leaders. My particular project working with governmental organizations to improve access to care in marginalized communities will continue over the next 18 months. However, by working with community members, we were able to brainstorm short-term solutions for how to improve quality of life.