Los Quinchos — An Organizational Low-down

This summer, we are working as volunteers at Los Quinchos, a Nicaraguan non-profit organization that seeks to rehabilitate and offer hospitality to abandoned and mistreated street children from Managua, many of whom are victims of domestic and sexual violence, as well as drug addiction. The organization has four main projects: the Filter House in Managua, the Los Quinchos and Las Yahoska projects in San Marcos, and a career development project for older teens in Granada. The organization was founded by Zelinda Roccia, an Italian woman who, during a visit to Nicaragua in 1991, witnessed the devastating reality of so many homeless boys living on the streets of Managua (many of whom were orphaned by the Contra Wars of the late 1980´s); that same year, she uprooted her life in Italy to found Los Quinchos. “Quinchos” is an Italian word meaning “little rascals,” and it is the term that is used to affectionately refer to the boys in the program; four years later, Las Yahoskas (named after a river in Nicaragua) was founded to serve girls living in similar circumstances on the streets of Managua.

Displaying IMG_2012.JPG
The Filter House serves as the organization’s most direct link to the day-to-day lives of kids (usually ranging from ages 6 to 18) living on the streets or in abusive households in Managua. Every child participating in the Filter House program has been assessed by the organization´s “street doctors,” Los Quinchos staff (often former participants in the program themselves, and almost always trained in psychology/social work) who have spent a lot of time with the kids on the streets of Managua, and who have determined which children are living in unhealthy or harmful circumstances (often in their home life), and who, thus, are in need of a relocation to a more stable and nurturing environment. The kids usually live with their parents while participating in this part of the Los Quinchos program, but it is understood by all parties that the end goal is for the children to eventually live permanently at the Los Quinchos or Las Yahoskas sites in San Marcos (weekly weekend visits to San Marcos are an integral part of the Filter House´s efforts to smooth the transition to the more orphanage-like lifestyle at the sites in San Marcos). The Filter House hosts meals, academic reinforcement exercises, as well as various non-academic activities before and after school every day. Participants in the Filter House program usually spend between a few months and a year in this, the organization´s Managuan branch, before officially coming to live at the “finca” (farm) with Los Quinchos or at the organization´s Las Yahoskas site. Though we are not working at the Filter House site specifically, we felt that it was important to explain where the majority of the Quinchos and Yahoskas are initially introduced into the organization.

Displaying IMG_2202.JPG

Kener (age 12) at a trip to the beach

We are both working at the organization’s main site in San Marcos, a town located about 45 minutes south of Managua that is home to about 30,000 Nicaraguans. As we sit back and reflect on the parts of these past ten weeks in Nicaragua that we will most miss, it becomes clear that getting to know this quirky town has been one of many favorite parts of the experience. We have befriended a handful of San Marcos´ motortaxi fleet (one of whom asked for Rosemary´s hand in marriage this morning…he´s no longer our favorite); we know who sells the best street food, we know at a distance which of the stumbling men are drunk and which are the local ¨locos¨ (in local parlance); we know at what times we can grab a weak thread of wi-fi at each of the few available hotspots; and we know (and have occasionally been known to succumb to the impulse) where we will be offered free kittens.

Displaying IMG_2665.JPG

Fernanda (age 13) welcoming my kitty, Auturo, into his new home at Las Yahoskas.

 

An average day in Los Quinchos, Nicaragua?

Is it possible to speak of an average or regular day at Los Quinchos? Each day when we meet up to walk across town into work, we know that our expectations and previous experiences will serve at most as the crudest of compasses for the day ahead.

Displaying IMG_2177.JPG

On one particularly adventurous day, Jacob and Rosemary rented an ol´ clunker named ¨Chad¨(short for Charles Buckingsworth the Third- because he had the body of a used bomb shelter, but the heart of a king) to take a few stragglers to the beach.

Jacob is living with the family of Doña Marielena, the cook at the Filter House in Managua, and Rosemary is being hosted by Doña Marlene, the cook at the Los Quinchos Cultural Center in San Marcos. Needless to say, we have both totally lucked out with regards to our delicious meals! It usually takes us about 30-45 minutes (depending on how many friendly shop owners, taxi drivers and street venders we stop to chat with on our way) to walk from our neighborhood to the Cultural Center, which functions as the nucleus of the various Los Quinchos cites in San Marcos. We usually spend anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours tutoring some of the older Quinchos and Yahoskas who are studying and finishing their homework in the Cultural Center´s library before returning to their respective sites to prepare for classes that afternoon (in Nicaragua, most of the younger students attend classes in the mornings and older students go to school in the afternoon). Later, we usually split up to visit both the Quinchos and the Yahoskas. Rosemary is focusing the majority of her time working with the girls at Las Yahoskas, and Jacob is working mostly at la finca with the Quinchos, but we both spend significant time at both sites, getting to know and forming connections with all of the kids involved in the organization; both of our projects (explained below) involve both Quinchos and Yahoskas, so, especially as we have had to gradually devote more time to these respective projects, our time with the two groups has been practically split half-and-half.

Displaying IMG_2691.JPG

Jacob teaches long division to some younger elementary school boys.

 

Because there is no such thing as an “average” or “uneventful” day at Los Quinchos, there is not any specific list of activities or jobs that we will do every day while working at the Los Quinchos Finca or at Las Yahoskas. That being said, most days tend to involve: helping out with homework, leading academic reinforcement activities, leading group activities or team building exercises, playing soccer, helping out with chores, preparing for school, serving and eating lunch, accompanying the younger Quinchos and Yahoskas to the library in the Cultural Center during the afternoon, and assisting the other non-volunteer/full-time educators (who are usually former Quinchos or Yahoskas, or who are experienced teachers or psychologists). We also help out with and lead group activities and presentations when other delegations from various organizations are visiting the Quinchos and Yahoskas (the organization receives a substantial amount of its donations from delegations passing through Los Quinchos, just as our Haverford delegation did earlier this summer). In addition, we teach a fast-paced, after school English class to a select group of older Quinchos and Yahoskas who have expressed great interest in learning English, and who also maintain a high GPA in their other schoolwork; this course meets twice a week in a cafe nearby the Cultural Center, and this scheduled time for individual instruction with students who really want to learn has turned out to be one of the highlights of our week (except when the kids are scurrying off to smooch in the restaurant bathroom).

 

 

Displaying IMG_2033.JPG

In the course of a crazy week, Rosemary found herself accompanying ¨Romero¨ as he underwent a giant tumor reduction sugery

 

The Nicaragua Delegation (9 weeks late)

Okay, so for the sake of full transparency, we have slacked on this blog. We are posting now, with five days left in Nicaragua, out of sheer guilt. But the main reason we haven’t posted lies in the magnetic force that Los Quinchos seems to hold over us.* Every day is a ridiculous, moving, and sometimes story-worthy adventure at this organization that we have come to cherish, and we are happy to sit down and reflect for a few minutes about some of our experiences here.

*(The other reason is the absurdly unreliable internet and wi-fi)

 

We arrived in Nicaragua at the beginning of June for an orientation week with a delegation of four other students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr, all of whom are working at distinct sites around the country through an internship program sponsored by Haverford´s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. After several fascinating lectures on the history and political context of Nicaragua, as well as a presentation on the controversial proposed interoceanic canal project, we toured around the country to visit many of the different organizations associated with ProNica, the Quaker-based NGO that is supporting our internships. Jacob spent the first week after the delegation in Largartillo, a tiny village near the northern boarder, at a spanish language school. After working alone at Los Quinchos for a week, the value of working in a team this summer is overwhelmingly apparent.

We are all lucky to be supported in our internships by the power duo Ramon and Ada from ProNica. They periodically call us to check-in, or in the case of Los Quinchos, they drop by our work site, which is only 20 minutes from their house. Towards the end of June, our delegation met up in Managua to have a lengthier check-in and to gain a little emotional distance from the projects into which we had hurled ourselves. After attending a university forum on the Canal, we headed off to the beautiful Isla de Ometepe, a pair of volcanic islands whose shape must is and will always be the brunt of many crude jokes.

Having a weekend with new and old friends from Haverford simply reenforced our growing belief that embarking on an emotionally charged internship should be complimented by a support system of both those who are completely removed from the situation and those whose experiences are similar enough to provide sympathy and support.

 

Ojos bien abiertos (Eyes Wide Open©)

By Annie Kelly ’16 and Youkun Zhou ’17

A lot of interesting people find themselves at Ignacio Mariscal 132 in Mexico City. Casa de los Amigos is an international center for peace and understanding, or as we like to call it, one of the most unique homes you will ever find. Apart from being a community center with a long Quaker history, it is also a guesthouse for travelers, researchers, activists, and students and a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental sustainability, economic justice, and the human rights of migrants. On any given day in the Casa, you would find Spanish classes for migrants, or maybe a cooking workshop on how to make Salvadorian empanadas, offered by a former refugee who stayed in the Casa. In the guest lounge, there are the most interesting conversations between people from different countries and backgrounds, and every day people walk through the door looking for help with different needs such as clothes, food, or information. Work here is never predictable.

Volunteers with long-term guests in the Zócalo.

Volunteers with long-term guests in the Zócalo.

Our work in migration is mainly to provide a safe and homelike atmosphere for migrants as they settle down in Mexico. There are refugees here from all parts of the world with their own stories that we would otherwise never know. As volunteers here, we get to explore the city with them, accompany them as they look for apartments and jobs, and share breakfast and communal dinners with them. Once here in the Casa, you are part of a bigger community and support network in which all joy and sadness, troubles and triumphs are shared.

Holaaaa!!!

Holaaaa!!!

Another program that is important to the Casa is its work with local cooperatives. For example, Flor de Mazahua is a community of Mazahua women who make a living by stitching and weaving beautiful articles of clothing, dolls, and other products with indigenous elements. Cimarronez is another interesting cooperative that makes chocolate by grinding cocoa beans in a grinder powered by a single bicycle. Other organizations make jams, chili and honey. We also host a Feria de Multitrueke (a bartering fair) in which people can bring their own products and use alternative currency to shop. Events like this celebrate and value craftsmanship and individual talents as well as community.

Making chocolate with the bicimolina

Making chocolate with the bicimolina

Although there is always work to do at the Casa, we also work at partner organizations. Cynthia and Kerry go to Casa Tochán (which means “our home” in Nahuatl), a shelter for refugees that has a similar migration program as the Casa. Youkun goes to Fondo María, a feminist fund that is dedicated to offering accommodation, alimentation, and accompaniment to women who travel to Mexico City to have an abortion. Annie goes to Barrio Activo, a youth center in a neighborhood in the north of the city that strives for a safer, more peaceful environment for the kids who grow up there. The organization is currently hosting a three-week day camp in which 150 kids are participating with another 40 youth counselors helping out.

Annie with her group of kids at the summer camp, Atrapando Sueños - Construyendo Paz (Catching Dreams - Building Peace)

Annie with her group of kids at the summer camp, Atrapando Sueños – Construyendo Paz (Catching Dreams – Building Peace)

Our work has been as much fun and play as it has been rewarding and fruitful. It really does not feel like a summer internship because it does not feel like work. Rather it is our home, which we just happen to share with a constantly changing, but loving, caring and extremely devoted group of people.

Note: Ojos bien abiertos is a documentary that was shown at Casa de los Amigos.

Ojos bien abiertos – Eyes Wide Open – YouTube

Team ¨Los Quinchos¨ in San Marcos, Nicaragua

Better late than never? As we sit down to write our first blog entry about our summer internship in San Marcos, Nicaragua, it is worth acknowledging that we have already arrived at the half-way point of our 10 week internship.

To briefly introduce ourselves:

ROSEMARY: My name is Rosemary Ventura ´16 and I am a rising senior at Haverford College with a double major in Spanish and International Studies and a minor in Economics. I spent last summer working at an Impact Investing firm in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and much of my motivation for this summer´s internship stemmed out of my desire to work at the grassroots level with a smaller organization. Among many other things, the trade-offs between the two distinct strategies for social change have been fascinating to witness and discuss with my work-site partner and friend, Jacob.

JACOB: My name is Jacob Sweeney ´17, and I am a rising junior at Haverford College, majoring in Sociology. I am seldom happier than when I am working with/teaching children (I have been involved in numerous camps and tutoring programs in the last few years), so when I decided to search for CPGC internship opportunities earlier this year, daily interaction with kids was a must. I am so happy to have found Los Quinchos! I love so many parts of my experience here in San Marcos, from having heartfelt conversations with my host mom, to teaching geometry to whoever wants to learn. Parts of this experience have also been perplexing and often difficult to process (as is so often the nature of working with victims of trauma), so I am extremely grateful to be able to process everything that we have been through with Rosemary on our long walks to and from work every day.

 Jacob and Rosemary (and Jessica) looking distinctly like foreigners.

Jacob and Rosemary (and Jessica) looking distinctly like foreigners.

 

 

This is Hayley (BMC ’15), checking in from Copenhagen, Denmark where I’m conducting research on the Danish prison system as a part of the Senior Bridge program! 

It is an almost surreal experience, sitting inside my suburban Danish home surrounded a white fence and bathed with the near constant daylight afforded by Scandinavian summertime, all the while watching the social fabric of America crumble alongside our charred churches.

Tragedy was (and still is) everywhere on the internet, and after a while, I had stopped clicking. I didn’t like that I had sunk into a mindset where, in my beloved home, senseless shootings, police brutality and racial discrimination had become routine. Another? Another!? was the question I asked in disbelief every time I opened my laptop, and so for a few short days I tried to avoid the scrolling news banner on the side of my Facebook newsfeed where words like “arson” “murder” and “racist” were permanent fixtures. Instead, I sat down at the kitchen table – which faces a fairyland backyard: flowers that reach my waist, overturned children’s toys and even a chicken coop – and I read. I read on good old fashioned paper, and I highlighted and I underlined, and I learned what had already been learned about the Scandinavian prison system. One essay in particular is paramount in this field. A sort of “why prisons are so much better here” for dummies. And as I flipped through the pages of John Pratt’s “Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess” which I had already covered in pink scribbles, I made another mark, not knowing then, of course, that I would revisit that sentence again and again in the coming days.

My efforts at staunch media avoidance were short-lived, and soon I caught wind of the news of the capture of the New York prison escapees, both of whom were found and shot. One dead. In every article, law enforcement was praised for their “tenacity” and “bravery” in ending the three week manhunt “nightmare”, and the fact that they had shot at an unarmed man (in the case of the second escapee to be captured) was of course barely touched upon. But it certainly struck a chord with me, and after hearing the news, I flipped feverishly back through Pratt to find a sentence I had highlighted just days before. In a question to a Swedish prison governor about ‘“what was done about escaping prisoners, since none of the guards had guns and the [prison] walls were not exactly formidable[,] [h]e replied, “it is better to let the man go than to put a hole in him… we can always catch him later”’.’

Ah. So herein lays the difference between American and Danish criminal justice. It is not simply about the shorter prison sentences or cushy cells or even the universal social welfare. No, it was simpler than that. It’s about a respect for life and dignity and to ultimately grow a better society by building people up instead of breaking – or shooting – them down. And after nearly a month here, and watching from afar as home becomes less and less a place I’d want my children to live, I’ve got to say, it makes a lot of sense.

Here is a model (from the Prison Museum) of a typical Danish prison cell. Yes, that’s a TV. The museum curator was highly amused when I told him it was nicer than my sophomore year dorm room!

And on a lighter, more culinary note, here is a picture of Smørrebrød, a very popular Danish open-face sandwich dish of dark brown rye bread piled high with toppings like chicken meatballs, bacon, pickles, potato salad, herring…you get the idea. Yum! 

DSC_7471

Filming Ambler Food Co-op

(I must parenthetically begin by saying that, unfortunately, my underground/indie wordpress was coopted by the corporate CPGC machine. Consequently, it is now being hosted through their website, which, coincidentally, also uses wordpress.)

As you can see in that lovely picture that Anna took of David and Sarah, very professional film things were happening at the Ambler Farmers’ Market on Saturday. The basic premise of the shoot is that in exchange for helping us make contacts and meet people in Philadelphia’s cooperative ecosystem, PACA asked us to make a few promotional videos for local cooperatives. This one is for Ambler Food Co-op. The video will be complete soon and when it is I will share it here!

Ambler food co-op us just starting up and is still gathering new members. They hope to open a brick-and-mortar store location soon. Our promotional video will highlight what the community stands to gain from having its own cooperative grocery store.

The borough of Ambler was in peak form on Saturday morning. We probably saw fifteen or twenty dogs, which is always a good sign. Despite some technical difficulties (like not knowing how to use microphones or cameras), we were able to gather some neat footage and meet some people who feel very passionately about the ways in which a food cooperative will benefit Ambler.

Here are some cool pictures of dogs, bread, and people with cameras:

DSC_7456 DSC_7454 DSC_7469

 

Well, that’s sort of all I have for now. I’m going to say that I will post again soon but evidence stands against me. So, “Check back for more, I’ll post again soon!”

Death by Moped and Other Tales

It’s been three weeks since I landed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia amidst a haze of jetlag, dust, and sweltering 104F humidity.

Some things I have learned:
1.) Death by moped (“moto”) is a real danger that every pedestrian must dodge at least 10 times per excursion.
2.) Just because delicious Khmer food is $2-3 per meal does not mean that I don’t have to budget ~ I cannot continue buying a watermelon a day (it’s the heat ok, the heat!).
3.) Local markets always feature: vendors calling to be in Chinese (t’s funny how often my nationality and ethnicity confuse people here, but I will leave that for another post), dirty flip flops from a unique mix of grime, fish blood, and rain water, a respectable amount of haggling, and mangoes galore.
4.) Tuk-tuk (3 wheeled carriages attached to mopeds) drivers are much cheaper than their NYC taxi counterparts but also often have no idea where it is you want to go.
5.) Waking up at 5am is normal here because that is when the sun decides it would like to pierce your eyes through your flimsy window blinds.
6.) In case of internet outage, there are a surprising amount of cafés, pizza shops, and expat restaurants throughout the city – all with free wifi.
6.) Thunderstorms come without prior warning and disappear just as quickly.

and finally

7.) Teaching fine arts to high school girls who have all survived child sex trafficking and have limited experience in school is both incredibly difficult and surprisingly fun.

I’m in Phnom Penh for 2 months this summer at a school run by Hope for Justice, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of young women with prior experience in sex work. The Shine School provides education for its clients, with classes english, math, khmer, etc. While some students also take courses in the public high school, most attend only the Shine School, due to educational or trauma-related reasons. My fine arts program features: observational drawing and sketching, color theory, perspective, painting, sculpture, and maybe some fun with glitter and pictionary on Friday afternoons. At the end of the summer, we will show all the students’ works for a day at a local art gallery ( I know the girls will be most excited about the dressing up part)

For most of the girls, this class is their first exposure to the visual arts and I’m hoping that many of them will come away with more confidence in their ability create and self-express, both visually and otherwise. And maybe, just maybe, one will be the next Van Gogh and they will remember their old teacher when making millions at the art auctions.

First impressions: my students act like typical high schoolers – complete with giggling, whispered jokes, and love for games involving candy. I am constantly surprised by how friendly and enthusiastic most of the girls are and I’ve realized that speaking VERY SLOWLY in English combined with a mix of frantic hand gestures is key to communicating across language barriers.

In the weeks to come, I’m excited about exploring more of Cambodia on my free weekends as well as discovering new foods (minus the constant threat of traveller’s diarrhea, excuse me I am very open about poop talk) and learning how to better teach and interact with my new students.
Just the other day, a student voluntarily asked to take her art project home to work on and I think I almost cried.

Here are some photos!

Working on a giant Jackson Pollock project with acrylic and gold glitter

Working on a giant Jackson Pollock project with acrylic and gold glitter

 

Shot of a nearby street at Russian Market, oddly devoid of the usual traffic.

Settling into Rio Blanco, Nicaragua: My Musings

I sit here typing this email out on my phone as the rain pounds on the tin roof of our house. It’s so defining that my attempt to listen to NPR pod casts was thwarted because the words were drown out by the roar, it’s to be expected though, it’s the rainy season (or winter, as they say) in a Nicaraguan cloud forest.

As I reflect back on my week, my first week in my placement in Rio Blanco, I am amazed at how fast something becomes routine and how in some ways that is so welcome and other ways it’s not. I love that Spanish is flowing easily, I have broken down the initial shyness barriers with my host siblings, my family has started to treat me as a person and not a guest, I know the path to work, and I don’t have to guess and analyze every step and thing I do. That being said, I don’t
want it to become so routine that the amazement stops. The amazement at the clouds swirling around the mountains as I walk half an hour to work. The amazement at the sweetness of, and ability of, the aroma of pineapple to fill up a room. Amazement at the way laughter breaks down all language barriers.  And amazement at the opportunity that I have been given, just because I had the privilege to be born in the U.S, a white woman, to inspired and fantastic parents who instilled the value of education and sense of adventure (and desire to explore) in me from a young age.

This past week another thing has become clear to me, my entire time here is going to revolve around the fact that I am living on Rio Blanco, or more specifically Martin Senteno, a small rural community outside of Rio Blanco. Rio Blanco is a city of about 30,000 (including the surrounding rural communities) set in the mountains of Nicaragua. It is frequently called the naval of Nicaragua because it is in the geographical center of the country. It also, 20 some year ago, was in the center of the contra war. The contra war was a war funded by president Regan against the Nicaraguan Sandinista government for fear that they were communists, being funded by the USSR, and that they would journey up and take over Texas as a communist state. It was
devastating for the Nicaraguan people and while it is long past away from the memory of most people from the United States, it still forms the landscape I am living in here. The name of my town, Martin Senteno, was the name of a 6-year old boy who was killed by the contras during the war. The clouds that I find so beautiful, instill a sense of fear into a certain generation here because they were used as cover for the contras as they came into the area over the mountains.

The organization I am working for is 18 years old and was set up in the shadow of the war as part of the reconstruction effort. My boss, and the head of the organization, never went to school because it was too dangerous to make the walk alone to school during the war. Rio
Blanco is a town disproportionately populated by men because the efforts to reconstruct the infrastructure (construction in Nicaragua is a man’s work) are still in process. While there are many men here they are all the same ages, old and young, there are no middle aged men, in fact throughout Nicaragua in general there are very few middle aged men, because a huge number of them were of fighting age on the ’80s and were killed. Rio Blanco is a town that bears he direct scars of war and this continues to form the lives of the people living in it.

On another, less intense note, Rio Blanco is the dividing point between the Caribbean coast and the Atlantic coast, which puts me at a very interesting place in terms of the agriculture. We are the line between the ranching that takes place closer to the Caribbean coast and the cocao, coffee, and fruit farms that populate the atlantic coast. This means that people riding horses down the streets is just about as common as cars, and the part of me that loves farms and agriculture loves this. I am hoping during my time here to get out to some ranches and actually get an up close and personal with the agriculture and the differences on the two coasts, we will see, more to come.

IMG_3120

HITAP: Settling Down

DSC_0016

I never know how to start these things…

Introduction Take 1:

“Twenty-one hours later and I was finally at Suvarnabhumi Airport. I was hoping to get into the country before it got dark since I had no idea where I was going and I figured ”if you’re going to get lost, at least get lost during the day

That didn’t happen. By the time I got out of the airport (around 8:30pm), it was dark. And raining. (‘positive mindset’: showers of blessing. I was once told by my great uncle that rain means good luck so I was hoping the rain meant that coming to Thailand was the right decision and that my two months here would be nothing short of AMAZING).

Back to the airport [scene]: it’s dark; in a new place; don’t know what I’m doing.

In situations like this, I always think about the worst case scenario…”what’s the worst that could happen traveling at night in a country where you don’t speak and cannot read or write the language?” [Answer: you could get killed, kidnapped, robbed etc.] After coming to terms with the worst that could happen–For instance, thinking to myself: “what is death? Once you die, you die, it’s over, you can’t feel anything so no big deal”— (I take a deep breath; lift it all up to Jesus, and keep it moving).

By the way, none of those things happened. I followed the instructions and signs (stopped and asked for directions a few times) at the airport, made my way outside, and found taxis lined up  across the street. Pretty straight forward. Got into the taxi and told the driver where I was going but he couldn’t understand me so I showed him the address and the contact info of my hotel. He made a quick phone call and was given directions. All this happened in Thai so I just took a leap of faith and assumed everyone was on the same page and went with it.

You might be thinking: “you should have learnt some basic Thai” but honestly at that point, all the Thai I thought I’d memorized just kept on replaying backwards, upside down, inside-out, anything but the right way in my head so…

Lesson #1: Always have a map and addresses of where you’re going and contact info/numbers to call once you’re on ground. If you’re in a country where the written language is different, have addresses, maps, and contacts in that language as well.

Also knowing how anxious I can become, prior to traveling, I looked up the distance from the airport to the hotel (approx. 45 minutes) just to have an idea of how long it’s supposed to take. I might not know where I’m going but if a 45 minutes trip starts to turn into a 3 hour trip (assuming there’s no traffic), you know something is wrong.

Long story short: I made it to the hotel safely and I was met with a warm welcome. I checked in with family and friends back home, planned out things I wanted to get done the next day, danced—(yes, danced, it’s a bit of an addiction and I was sooo glad my suite had more than enough space to dance in), unpacked a few things, had my first Thai meal—chicken fried rice:

Chicken Fried Rice

Chicken Fried Rice

 

something I know I’ll like—the adventurous food network aspect of the trip will start soon enough so I figured just go with something familiar for the first night), and went to bed.

 

 

By the end of the first day/night, I also came to the conclusion that I need to do some serious work on my Thai because the less thai I know (the less I’m able to communicate), the more money I’ll spend: FACT.

A lot of money could be lost in translation lol (for instance, when I pay for something expecting change but don’t know how to express that and the attendant and I are left smiling, making hand signs at each other, laughing at what has become a game of charades between us, and eventually just giving up and going our separate ways).

Just realized, I didn’t even explain what it is I’m doing in Thailand:

I’m working with the Health Intervention and Technology Assessment Program (HITAP)—a semi-autonomous office that functions out of Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health. The office conducts research that evaluates the cost effectiveness and impact of various health technologies and interventions—pharmaceuticals, medical devices, community health promotion, and disease prevention among others (hitap.net). As an intern, I’ll be working with the research and management teams on both domestic and international projects. I’ll be spending most of my time at the Ministry of Public Health in Nonthaburi and at the University of Naresuan in northern Thailand conducting literary reviews, learning economic evaluation, and [tentatively] working on a cost effectiveness analysis project involving osteoporosis medication that may potentially be included in Thailand’s National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM).

On an academic note, I’m really interested in learning about accountability within health systems and see this internship as a great opportunity to do so.

I officially start on Wednesday and needless to say, I am beyooond EXCITED!!!

For more on Health Technology Assessment, check out this article.