In My Own Words: “Mambo Vipi” from Tanzania
“Mambo Vipi” from Tanzania
He was absolutely glowing. An ear-to-ear grin split his face as he practically floated up to me and my fellow colleagues, grabbing his tattered shirt with one hand and pointing with the other to the little makeshift red HIV/AIDS ribbon attached to his shirt pocket. “Ninajua afya yangu!” he proclaimed in Swahili, which translates to “I know my status!” He was ecstatic about his results from the HIV testing day we had created and brought to his village as part of our HIV/AIDS awareness campaign.
After graduating from Pitzer College in May 2007, I traveled to Tanzania with two of my classmates, Joey Arnstein '08 and Andrew Tuller '07, for three months to volunteer with an international, nonprofit NGO called Support for International Change (SIC). Support for International Change is a fairly small NGO founded and run by recent college graduates that work to limit the impact of HIV and AIDS in underserved rural communities in the Arusha region of Tanzania. We worked with volunteers from several universities and colleges throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, Tanzanian teaching partners from the local Arusha universities, and an energetic multicultural staff. Together we created culturally sensitive, self-sustainable HIV education resources in ten villages.
As a volunteer, I lived in a homestay arrangement with my teaching partner, Stella, in two rural villages, first Patanumbe and then Nduruma. I created unforgettable relationships with my host families and survived several embarrassing Swahili bloopers (a shift in a single vowel can change your polite comment to something unprintable). I launched HIV awareness campaigns that included teaching in schools and the greater community, creating peer education and support groups to reduce stigma against the disease, offering free testing days with our mobile testing unit, and coordinating community events.
One of our most successful events included orchestrating a multiple village soccer tournament where the grand prize was a large goat and the second prize was two handsome roosters. The tournament, which we named “Mbuzi (Goat) Cup,” attracted between 800 to 1,000 spectators from several different villages per game and we used the opportunity to educate and offer testing to everyone in the community.
My Pitzer education was influential in nurturing my interest in public service. After my first year at Pitzer, I spent six weeks in San Jose studying in Pitzer's Health and Health Care in Costa Rica program, improving my Spanish and interning with a primary care clinic. In my internship I assisted a door-to-door health worker who conducted a healthcare census and educated people about health issues, necessary vaccinations and prenatal care. Costa Rica's universal health-care system meant that we didn't skip anyone; we visited undocumented Nicaraguan immigrant slums and wealthy missionaries.
The information exchange between health-care provider and receiver was substantial, and I felt fulfilled to participate in improving the overall health of the neighborhoods I visited, one house at a time. With the generous guidance of Professor Emerita of Sociology Ann Stromberg, I learned the importance of health care delivery in different cultural contexts and I found myself well on my way to a career in medicine.
When I returned from Costa Rica, I decided to pursue a degree in human biology with a focus in cross-cultural medicine, a major that allowed me to supplement technical science courses with anthropology and sociology.
One memorable course, Sociology of Fieldwork in Health and Medicine, enabled me to volunteer at the local Pomona Valley Medical Hospital and Center where I could utilize my Spanish with the Latino patient population. When I traveled to Barcelona, Spain, for my semester abroad, I did comparative research on Costa Rica and Spainís universal health-care systems and their response to influxes of undocumented immigrants.
My interdisciplinary Pitzer education contributed to my post-college decision to work for SIC. Currently, I am SIC's Claremont Colleges coordinator for 2008. I am excited to involve enthusiastic students in the kind of social change that a Pitzer education fosters. I have recruited and trained seven active and motivated students from The Claremont Colleges (five from Pitzer and two from Pomona) to volunteer in our 2008 summer and fall programs.
In mid-July I will return to Tanzania for two months with SIC, where I will be involved in managerial duties and will implement a smooth HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in our new villages. I am looking forward to returning to rural living, teaching safe-sex methods, eating fire-cooked beans, watching peer educators on the sidelines of dusty soccer matches perform their pledges to stay HIV free, and training future leaders for HIV/AIDS awareness.