A World of Difference: Global Health on I Street and in India

As the daughter of a diplomat, my life has been characterized by an endless cascade of people, places, opportunities, experiences, and contrasts. The theme of my past two summers has been global health, but my current internship working in monitoring and evaluation at CapacityPlus is almost the antithesis of my volunteer work in a rural eye hospital in India last year.

Two very different summers
Although I shiver in the hyperactively air-conditioned Washington DC office, I enjoy my own cubicle complete with a laptop and phone and big swirling chair, and I appreciate immensely the opportunity to interact with colleagues who’ve led incredible lives. I take lots of notes, work on compiling an indicator compendium to measure the state of human resources for health, and am starting to learn how global health is affected on a policy level.

However, I can’t help but constantly think of the contrast between the comforts of this office and the lives of people who have no access to health care. I feel extremely removed from the people whose lives we are working to save, and miss the perpetually renewed sense of purpose garnered from living and interacting with poor populations.

Last summer, sweating in 118°F heat without air conditioning, I sat in a plastic lawn chair and taught young health workers how to enter patient information into an Excel file from the volumes of ratty notebooks that constituted their data collection system. Despite many frustrations over lack of resources, planning, and infrastructure, I found intense satisfaction in watching desperately impoverished individuals undergo sight-restoring surgery and I loved spending time with health workers and patients.

In the future
I look forward to beginning the master’s in health science program at Johns Hopkins University this fall, where I hope to apply some of my internship experiences to my classroom learning. Although I do not yet know how I will contribute to the field of global health, the past two summers have taught me that improvement is possible even if inequality is inevitable. I realize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, progress is not a linear process, there are an infinite number of ways to better the lives of others, and patience and perseverance are at the heart of change.

Photo: Pooneh Vafaee. (Sylvia Kauffman, center, with two patients waiting to receive free cataract removal surgery)