I have now been in Zambia for almost two months and I feel very well acclimated to the lifestyle this country brings. I have made great connections to my coworkers as well as established my routine as a Lusakan resident. I am now considered a permanent fixture in the office and am incorporated in meetings and events as any other employee. I am being entrusted to take on more tasks and feel empowered to take initiative working on projects that interest me. While I have not yet had a chance to travel out to the field, I intend to take part in medical laboratory internal audit trainings in Kabwe, the capital of Zambia’s Central Province, as well as support PCI’s cervical cancer mobile clinic at a military base on the outskirts of Lusaka before I leave. This will be an excellent opportunity to visit the community health facilities I have read and written so much about as well as experience what typical Zambian life is like outside of Lusaka.
This last month’s work has had two main focuses – cervical cancer and mhealth. As mentioned in my previous post, PCI works directly with the Zambian Defense Force to eradicate HIV/AIDS in military bases and their surrounding communities. However, PCI understands that HIV infection does not happen in isolation, so it also implements programs in gender-based violence, orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV, women empowerment savings groups and cervical cancer screening. I have been working on a case study to determine the effectiveness of the cervical cancer program. This has included both data analysis as well as qualitative data collection. Since women with HIV are more likely to contract cervical cancer and cervical cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in women in Zambia, PCI has implemented an integrated approach to combine HIV and cervical cancer screening and treatment. My visit to the cervical cancer mobile clinic next week will serve to complement the data analysis I have done in my study. In addition, I have been working closely with PCI’s M&E and IT team to implement an e-health management record system. As there are a range of systems we could choose to adopt, we have taken part in software demonstrations and on-site visits to evaluate the system effectiveness for community health workers and health facility staff. I have been given the opportunity to take the lead on this initiative and report back to the team. It has been an enriching experience to learn how many different implementing partners are utilizing technology in their health programs as well as to understand how decisions like these are evaluated.
In addition to the work of my internship, this month has been filled with bonding with friends and coworkers as well as going on adventures around the country. My coworkers have done an incredible job of incorporating me into the team. They have introduced me to local food during our lunch breaks at the office as well as invited me to events including a Rotary Club induction party at a hotel in Lusaka (photos below). As well as the work itself, the relationship I have formed with my coworkers has solidified my desire to move back abroad after graduation. I thrive in environments working alongside local staff to tackle challenges together and learn from each other. I very much look forward to being on a team like this again in the future.
As the time continues to fly by, I have made it a priority to make the most of each weekend to see as much of the country as possible. In June, I travelled to Victoria Falls and South Luangwa National Park with interns from Princeton, Tufts and GHD. It was hard to believe that we could easily visit two of the most iconic settings in southern Africa. Our trip to Victoria Falls was a six hour drive through some patches of rough road. We spent the first day of our trip white water rafting and canoeing along the Zambezi River, catching sights of giraffes, hippos and crocodiles. We ended the night on a sunset cruise where we were stopped by a family of elephants blocking the road on our way back to the hotel. The following day we finally made it to the falls themselves where we drenched ourselves gazing at the cascading water just meters from where we were standing. The next weekend was a holiday, so we took advantage of the days off and made the 12-hour trek to South Luangwa National Park. We were told this was the best spot for a safari in the region. We were anxious the whole car ride anticipating all of the animals we had been reading about in their natural habitat. However, what we experienced could not have been anticipated. Over the course of four game drives, we saw breathtaking sunsets, leopards chasing their prey, a family of elephants and giraffes drinking out of the river, a pride of lions migrating across the park in the dead of night and a group of hyenas finishing off the remains of a lion’s dinner. We all agreed by the end of the weekend that this trip was one that would stay prominent in our memories for life.
As I embark on my last three weeks in Zambia, I hope to learn as much as I can from my coworkers, explore as much of this beautiful country as I can and expose myself to every aspect of this culture I can learn from. After spending two months creating a life for myself, it will be truly devastating to leave all of this behind. However, I intend to make the most of every moment as I know the time will go by very quickly and before I know it I will back in the classroom as if this was all a distant memory.