To friends, family, and loved ones back home, Namaste from India!
e are alive and well, swiftly adapting to the food, culture, and environment here in New Delhi. We have so much to look forward to, but first we would love to share our journey and experiences so far, only three weeks into our 16 week adventure of a lifetime!
Anxious, ecstatic, restless, and unprepared were only a few of the emotions flowing through our learning community. The first two weeks of the program took place in Washington, D.C., after a two day retreat at Wellsprings in Germantown, MD. There, we focused on community building, safety, orientation sessions, an anti-oppression workshop, and a gallery walk featuring our posters. The stay there was beneficial to providing a safe space for us to bond, share our opinions, perspectives, and ideas. Moving into DC was an exciting time. We stayed in the HI Hostel DC, with up to ten people in a room full of bunk beds. We never hesitated to go and get out into the city to explore food and entertainment options and tour around the monuments and museums. Our classroom was located at a Quaker Meeting house near Dupont Circle, only a short Metro Ride away from our hostel. This provided a learning environment that stimulated our thinking and challenged preconceived notions while we also began to explore community, culture, and health in the local context of DC.
During those two weeks, we had the first session of our four courses. Dr. Rose Blake is our traveling faculty who will teach Research Methods and Health, Community and Culture through the IHP experience. RM investigates qualitative strategies study health in the communities we visit. During DC, we used this class as the basis for our case studies. HCC investigates medical anthropology and the ways we can approach human wellbeing. Dr. Sherrilynn Colby-Botel was the traveling faculty who taught Public Health and Global Health in DC. PH focuses on the social determinants of health, and how the DC socio-cultural landscape shapes people’s access to and experience with care. GH explores globalization and its connections to world health.
Our first days in the District of Columbia were filled with class activities. During our time in the city, we had many guest lecturers come speak at our classroom. Additionally, we traveled to a couple of locations for site visits around the city. Our first guest lecture was about the Affordable Care Act given by Maureen Hensley-Quinn. She clearly summarized the ACA in an informative, engaging, and interesting discussion about US domestic health policy and the politics surrounding the American healthcare system. Our next guest speaker was Yanique Redwood who started our discussion on the health disparities in the District of Columbia. We learned about the historical oppression by racism on black and African American residents of the district and how it translated to differential access and availability of health and social services. Our discussion on the social determinants of health and access to healthy foods prepared us well for our first site visit in the city to DC Central Kitchen. DC Central Kitchen is a social enterprise, job training institute, and social service to people with mental and social difficulties including formerly incarcerated inhabitants of the area and former drug users. DCCK uses peer group discussions and culinary job training to provide new opportunities for people. They engage the local community by addressing the food desert in southeast DC to provide fresh food options. The next guest lectures included topics such as the history of midwifery, environmental policy and health, and sexual and reproductive health international policy. Our last site visit in the District was to La Clinica del Pueblo, a certified Patient Centered Medical Home and a Community Health Clinic. La Clinica was created out of a need for health services for migrant and refugee Central American population after the Salvadorian Civil War. La Clinica provides medical care for all members of the community and specifically helps those who cannot access quality healthcare due to language barriers. They additionally have community outreach programs in HIV/AIDS, diabetes, sexual and reproductive health, maternal and child health, and others. Here is our class pet rock, Roxanne (haha, get it?) at DC Central Kitchen!
During our time in Washington, D.C., we also conducted Neighborhood Day, in which we divided into groups and explored various parts of the city to gain a close-up experience of life and community that exists there. The groups either went to Ivy City, U-Street, or East of Capitol. Each group was required to take field notes on the physical aspects of the community and our encounters. In each place, we also had to chat with at least three locals who could give us some insight into what is it like to live in their neighborhood. It was really interesting to hear their perspectives on the issues that exist in their communities. Although each place provided a unique experience, some common themes were gentrification, racial segregation, and a sense of community loyalty from those who live there. It was a very rewarding experience.
Our group of thirty students was divided to further study five different public health subfields (what we call our “case studies”) that we will focus on throughout the entire semester: Maternal and Child Health, Mental Health, Infectious Disease, Traditional Healing, and Environmental Health. Near the end of our time in D.C., our small groups were connected to different local organizations that worked within the subfields of interest. Each group spent half a day with its respective organization. The Maternal and Child Health group visited the Community of Hope Family and Birth Center to hear about midwifery and doula care that serves D.C.’s wards 5, 7, and 8. The Mental Health group went to the National Coalition for the Homeless and took in a colorful discussion about the ways in which homelessness impacts mental health. The Infectious Disease group went to HIPS to learn more about how the organization works to reduce harm for sex workers and injection drug users. The Traditional Healing group learned about the ways in which common herbs can be used as medicine during their visit to Red Bird Botanical. Lastly, the Environment group trekked Buzzard Point with a personal tour guide from grassroots community organization Empower D.C. The purpose of the case studies is to strengthen our qualitative research skills, so each group presented the qualitative research methods and strategies that worked and did not work during the organizational visits. These class presentations occurred the day after we visited the organizations related to our respective topics. We are all excited to continue exploring our case study areas in India!
Between all of the class, site visits, and retreat time, we found time to explore the city from many different angles. First, through food- lunches in DuPont Circle during class breaks and two collective dinners were great ways to bond. Our two collective dinners were the products of meal planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning teams that put on a delicious, large-scale fajita bar and breakfast for dinner spread in our hostel kitchen. We also had the opportunity to go on small-group Practioners Dinners with IHP alumni to get a better idea and ask candid questions of people who know the program the best. On August 29, we celebrated a triple birthday for Meghana, Erika, and Anna with cake and singing in our kitchen! When we weren’t eating, some found great exercise opportunities through running the city, going to hot yoga, or taking long walks. Of course, the national monuments and museums were a must-see for lots of us, from the Renwick Gallery to the Museum of National History to the National Mall (during the day and night!) Evenings were full of group conversations in our huge rooms or in the beloved hostel hallway. Some of us also met up with local family and friends to catch up before our long journey. All of this aside, we still managed to crank out some schoolwork in various coffee shops and cafes together before a farewell pizza dinner on our last night.
Now, we have moved on to the next chapter of our journey: India! We safely arrived on Sunday after an entire 24 hours of traveling. We are finishing up our first week in New Delhi and settling into our homestays, despite struggling from the jetlag and language barriers. We have visited crowded markets, tried new foods, and learned how to navigate the metro and rickshaws to get to class. We’re also looking forward to our trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal this weekend! Wish us luck on the rest of our time here, and look forward to our next letter home!
Lots of love,
IHP Health and Communities Track 1