Sunday, April 8, 2012

Alumni Profile: Lindsay Cope, Nuru International & Former UVP Intern

Lindsay Cope interned with UVP in Butongole during the first year of the Healthy Villages Program in summer 2009. She currently is the Healthcare Program Manager for Nuru International. She has a Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a BA in Psychology and Health Sciences from Boston College.

Uganda Village Project (UVP): Tell us a little about yourself – where do you work and what are you working on?

Lindsay Cope (LC): I am currently a Healthcare Program Manager for Nuru International, an organization that works to find community-based solutions to address extreme poverty. We use a community health worker model to prevent under-5 mortality, and operate within the realm of a holistic approach alongside our agriculture, microfinance, wat/san and education programs. I’m not sure how my childhood in Northern California fostered such a passion for Africa, but around the age of 7 I vowed that I would split time between both regions. Though I can’t claim that my every move on a varied path led me to achieve that seemingly whimsical goal—I can say I am thrilled to say I cultivated a more developed relationship with the place I found meaning at such a young age. UVP was definitely part of that process.

I was fortunate to attend Saint Ignatius High School and Boston College, which both put a huge emphasis on service and social responsibility. My parents also pushed me to value that same view, and supported my international exploration. At BC I studied psychology and health science, and after graduation I traveled, then began work for Micato Safaris, where I felt I could find a balance between an upbringing in the hospitality industry and my interests in health issues in Africa, for which they had a dedicated non-profit arm. Thanks to a great experience there I realized I wanted to be more intricately involved in international health, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. After Micato I earned my MPH at Johns Hopkins. A few days after graduation I hit the road for Uganda.

UVP: How was your experience working with Uganda Village Project?

LC: Working with UVP was the perfect opportunity to use the skills cultivated in during my MPH program in a live setting. It was the first year of the Healthy Villages Initiative, and our team was tasked with conducting a rapid needs assessment and create community and school-based participatory trainings on HIV, waterborne disease and malaria prevention. We also launched the first government recognized Village Health Team in the Iganga district. We partnered with PACE and the Red Cross to get this unit up and running, and stocked with commodities.

UVP: What was your biggest challenge working in Iganga? How did you deal with it?

LC: The list is long, and ranges from purposeful mistranslation to a bat infestation, but I think it is the constant, small challenges you see on a day to day basis which makes you feel like for every two steps forward there is a step and a half back. As long as you set manageable goals and remain positive, but realistic, you learn go get through the inevitable frustrations. It definitely makes you well-rounded personally and professionally, and gives you the ability to be a confident problem solver in a multitude of situation.

UVP: What is your favorite memory about your time in Uganda?

LC: There are so many stand out memories from my time with UVP including my introduction to maize, Sipi falls, having the opportunity to answer looming questions and dispel myths about HIV for a hall full of teenagers, and of course the team, but my memory of a young girl, Fatu will be with me forever. Fatu was about 3 years old, and she was extremely clever and engaging. For me she represented so many of the young kids who have the potential to thrive if only they had access to necessary tools to foster healthy growth, education and personal development. She is an inspiration for me to continue working in this sector. I still think of her often. Can someone please check on her for me?

UVP: What advice do you have for future interns?

LC: Know what you’re getting into and embrace it. You will face several challenges during your internship—it’s tough work, that’s why you’re doing it. But no matter what you encounter it will be a rewarding and educational experience for you and the community you’re working with.

Also, recognize that you can’t do it all. It’s a short period of time. Set your mind to do something that you can really dig into and that will be sustainable after you leave.

UVP: How has UVP shaped your career today and what you aspire to do in the future?

LC: Actually living in a community, in exactly the same way all the community members do, was an invaluable experience. There are very limited opportunities to do this. Most NGO workers live on compounds with amenities such as running water, flush toilets, electricity, etc. When I lived in Butongole we were able to experience life the way the community we work with does. We learned about the wonderful emphasis put on familial and neighbor relationships, the value of the radio and how to be resourceful.

We also immediately learned why simple tasks like washing your hands can be extremely difficult and often a missed step. We learned how long it takes to get water, how much time and resources it takes to boil it, and how heavy a 20lt jerry can is. I’ll never forget being the bud of several young girls’ joke as I struggled to get the can to my should, let alone my head, and splashed water all over me.

My current role at Nuru involves a keen understanding of determinants of health behaviors. Having had the opportunity to really understand some of them first hand makes a world of difference. We can’t just preach, “wash your hands” without considering in the many factors that are involved- many of which I never had to reflect on at home.

The challenges we faced also helped me to build important skills related to teamwork, community collaboration, communication, problem solving, commodity procurement, and participatory training. I look forward to further development in these areas as I continue to build my career in pubic health.

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