IHP Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care (Spring 2)



Washington, DC Spring 2012 Letter Home

By Trustees Fellow Janelle Little and Health and Community students Zina Huxley-Reicher, Tamara Joseph, Nicola Lew, Sheba Mathew, Natali Senocak, Kelsey Shimamoto, Lucia Xiong, and Menghan Zhao

Dearly beloved,

Hello from Washington, D.C.! We are the IHP Health and Community Track 2 group composed of 34 students from various colleges across the United States; our traveling faculty, Shanti Avirgan and Lee Rosenthal; and our Trustees Fellow, Janelle Little. We were welcomed to D.C. by our amazing country coordinator, Jeremy Ogusky, a potter and HIV/AIDS activist. Following orientation and our goodbyes to loved ones, we traveled to the William Penn House, a Quaker community hostel located in the vibrant Capitol Hill neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the Capitol.

Our time in D.C. has been spent examining local health disparities and contrasting models of social service and social change. Our first guest speaker, Alan Weil, director of the National Academy for State Health Policy, spoke about the role of states in national healthcare reform. The discussion of the US healthcare system continued with a presentation by Jacqueline Scott from Health Care Dynamics International, who raised questions about the dual perceptions of health as a commodity and health as a common good. These perspectives affect how healthcare is provided in various countries. We also had the pleasure of learning about another approach to healthcare access from a community health worker panel. The women on this panel gave us personal insights about the impact of policy to achieve greater health equity on the ground by bridging the divide between the healthcare system and communities. Inspiring peer health educators from Metro Teen AIDS, who also serve as community liaisons, spoke about the trials and triumphs of HIV/AIDS education and outreach in D.C., a city with the highest prevalence of HIV infection in the US.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we got hands-on experience in the D.C. community through service projects, which ranged from public park maintenance, to painting a homeless shelter, to shipping bikes to Sierra Leone. Our service projects allowed us to engage with the different neighborhoods of D.C. We explored these distinct areas more thoroughly during Neighborhood Day. For this exercise, we traveled to several neighborhoods and used participant observation research methods to gauge the availability of resources and services for promoting healthy lifestyles. These diverse observations were enhanced after our visits to local NGOs who provide social services such as equitable housing, legal counseling for survivors of domestic violence, and access to free STI testing and treatment. Other NGOs we visited emphasized social change through budget advocacy, the introduction of market-based technology interventions, and policy change through lobbying.

Learning from these professional advocates, we took their advice to heart by lobbying on Capitol Hill. We spent the day engaging with representatives and garnering their support on the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act, which redirects US foreign aid to fund a comprehensive approach to healthcare services abroad. This experience provided practical knowledge about the power we have as citizens and constituents.

We were grateful to experience many forms of enacting social change, including the direct action tactics utilized by advocates from Housing Works, Advocates for Youth, and the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. They shared with us their passion for the communities they serve, a commitment which allows them to sustain their activism despite financial struggles and public apathy. Outside the classroom, some of us engaged in social activism by attending an optional workshop on ending stigma, witnessing the Occupy D.C. movement, and participating in heated discussions at the annual Pro-Life rally in front of the Capitol.

In our free time, we explored the exciting cultural offerings in D.C., including the Holocaust Museum, the Botanical Gardens, a poetry slam at Busboys and Poets, and a Haitian musical performance. We sampled diverse cuisines, from Ethiopian, Thai, and Salvadorian, to delicious catering from Whole Foods. Our culinary adventures concluded with home-cooked meals from the student-country teams.

Inspired by keynote speaker Lawrence Guyot’s words from the first night of the program, we have spent our time in D.C. honing our critical thinking skills to ask better questions about the health inequalities we witnessed. D.C. was a fascinating place to begin our journey, as it seems to be a place where local, national, and international issues converge and clash. A common thread from our lectures, site visits, and personal explorations was the importance of bringing communities affected by health inequalities to the table. As we look forward to Brazil, we leave with a better understanding of the social determinants of health in the US and a stronger foundation for global comparison.

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Credits: 16

Duration: Spring, 16 weeks

Program Sites:
USA, Argentina, South Africa, Vietnam

Prerequisites: None. Coursework in public health, anthropology, biology, or related field recommended. Learn More...

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