2018 PFIG Recipient Alyson Lee

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Alyson Lee

Journal Entry #1 - June 30, 2018

When I was little, I had a grand dream of working in an office one day. While other little kids played “House,” I would play “Office” and pretend to answer phones at a desk. I fantasized about scheduling my life around that 9-5 and having my own cubicle adorned with pictures of my doting husband and children.

After my fourth week with Unite for Sight-- a global health non-profit based in New Haven-- I’m proud to say my childhood dream has come true (minus doting husband and kids). Each day,  I walk to a tall, glistening office building in the heart of New Haven, Connecticut. I have my own desk, there’s a perpetually full pot of coffee in the kitchen, and I’ve slowly been compiling a stash of “work shoes” that I leave at the office so I can slip on more practical slippers for the walk home.

Unlike my childhood games though, I do far more than answering phones. Overall, Unite for Sight works towards equitable global health care with a focus on sustainability and local empowerment. They work tirelessly to make sure their workers are actually listening to the needs of the community rather than entering with ethnocentric notions of what is best. On the day-to-day, Unite for Sight sends out volunteers to their partner clinics in India, Ghana, and Honduras. They also offer online courses in topics ranging from Community Development to Refugee Health. Unite for Sight’s big endeavor is hosting an annual Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale. Arguably the largest global health conference around, GHIC not only brings in physicians and public health experts but social entrepreneurs, non-profit managers, financial analysts, educators, authors, and more.

As an intern so far, I’ve worked on several different projects. Unite for Sight sends out volunteers to conduct research for their partner clinics. I then analyze these data sets and create a concise, informative summary to send back to the clinics. I’ve also helped grade certificate programs, exposing me to a wide range of topics. Before this internship, I had no idea what social entrepreneurship was or how it could be related to global health. After reading through the course myself though, I am encouraged by how diverse the global health care field is where even local businesses can have a huge impact on healthcare. I’ve also helped prepare for the Global Health and Innovation Conference by researching and evaluating potential speakers. This too has exposed me to the diverse array of professionals that fall under the global health umbrella.

Along with these more day-to-day projects, I have been working on editing and updating the specific online courses themselves—specifically a course in “Cultural Competency.” This course is mandatory for all volunteers and overviews the highs and lows of culture shock and the necessity of being culturally humble while overseas. Personally, it’s actually been very helpful. I spent a significant portion of my life overseas in Kenya. I wasn’t fully prepared for the throes of culture shock both in going to Kenya and coming back home to the States. Reading through the symptoms of culture shock and how to mediate them has been comforting for my own cultural journey.

All in all, it’s been a whirlwind learning the ropes of the daily non-profit grind. My favorite thing about this internship is that it’s showing me that anything is possible in global health care. As a pre-med, I’ve often worried about sacrificing my love for writing or graphic design for the sake of medicine. This internship has shown me that not only are those skills useful, but they can actually have a lot of crucial impact in global healthcare. While in Kenya, I saw first-hand a lot of the disparities in health care. It was easy to be disheartened and cynical about the future. Working with Unite for Sight has given me renewed hope for global healthcare. All to say...I’m excited for the weeks to come!

Journal Entry #2 - July 23, 2018

The past few weeks have flown by and I somehow find myself with only 2 weeks left at Unite for Sight. By now, I’ve found my day-to-day groove. I leave the house at 8:30 am, enjoy my 20 minute walk to the office in the balmy New Haven morning, promptly pour myself a cup of coffee, then pull out my laptop for the day’s work.

I’ve continued on a number of different projects from analyzing data to writing online courses for Unite for Sight’s “Global Health University.” After analyzing a few different data sets, I’ve seen the challenges of data collection in low-resource, cross-cultural settings. Data sets are often very small (less than 50 people) and spotty. Still it’s remarkable seeing what patterns emerge in the little bits of data I’ve surveyed. For example, one can infer that the more educated an individual is, the more aware the individual will be about various diseases and risk factors. Seeing the numbers to support this intuition though is very exciting as well as sobering. It truly emphasizes the impact education (or lack thereof) can have on health.

In addition, I have continued writing a course on cultural competency. One particular article discussed the ways volunteers cope with encountering deep poverty. Understandably, many volunteers are shocked and grieved by witnessing widespread poverty. Volunteers often cope by focusing on how “happy” the people are. It’s a common narrative—the brown-skinned boy in the slums may not have shoes or education, but he is so happy and content! While there are certainly happy people living in poverty, this viewpoint usually assuages the volunteer’s guilt about their own relative privilege and wealth. It ultimately protects the volunteer’s position and doesn’t actually instigate any action to change poverty. This article floored me. I have definitely fallen victim to this mindset—I focus on the smiles and ignore the distended bellies from malnutrition. These topics have been very challenging to read and can leave me at a loss for what to do. Still, the fact that these publications are out there being discussed and addressed is an encouragement. 

Some other highlights so far: researching Lupita Nyong’o as a potential speaker for the conference (i.e. watching her Oscars acceptance speech and crying in the office), editing the heartfelt blogs of volunteers, and mooching food off another office’s lunch meeting. All in all, while I have learned a lot from my work and research, I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie of my co-workers and bosses the most. The whole office has been so welcoming and encouraging. I feel very free to ask questions and they offer so much grace when I make a mistake. I feel like most of my working-academic life, I’m motivated to do well out of perfectionistic fear or to prove something. With Unite for Sight however, I am motivated because I truly respect this organization and want to deliver the highest quality work I can offer. This internship, I'm not just learning about global health but about a new kind of work-ethic that’s rejuvenating rather than draining.

Journal Entry #3

more information coming soon...