Beauty in Strength

The first few months of 2016 have been transformational for me for a host of reasons, both personally and professionally. While work at SFH has picked up significantly and Wish for WASH has installed our first toilet, I have worked to grow myself on the personal front as well. Not that my professional developments haven’t required a lot from me personally, but a few months ago, I created a list of personal development goals that were much more intentional to building inner peace and strength.

Throughout my time in Zambia, I have learned more than ever that there is so much to life that is not under our control. And as someone who has always sought to retain control over my life–my space, my things, my relationships – this realization has been a huge shock to my system. I began to feel intensely uncertain about all aspects of my life and have become quelled by the reality that I no longer am in a controlled environment. I don’t live under my parent’s roof or go to school with X number of people, Y of which I would select and call friends or live the comfy lifestyle to which I became all too accustomed. I am thankful for my upbringing and my parents and everything I was blessed to have growing up, but I have officially left the nest; and rather than feeling aimless or confused, I have decided that I need to refocus my energy because its time for me to independently fly.

However, in order to fly, one must be strong—mind, body, and spirit—all of which I had admittedly neglected over the years as I lived close to family, friends, mentors, and communities of support who I knew would always help me if I really needed it. Putting 8,000 miles between me and most of those people made me realize that I needed to find my center again. So with that in mind, I created personal development goals for 2016:

Mind: Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not enjoy reading. Sparknotes were my friend growing up and I always claimed “poor design” when I couldn’t intuitively figure out how to use something without reading the directions. I have since recognized my paralyzingly childish views and that reading is not only necessary but can be such a beautiful addition to one’s life. With that notion, I have charged myself with the challenge to read more with support from people in my immediate reality (shoutout to Kalin) to help keep me remain accountable for this goal.

Body:  Once an athlete, always an athlete. Growing up, I was required to work out as part of my weekly list of chores. My ex-military parents instilled in me the notion that taking care of oneself physically is an important part of life and should be habitual. But then college happened and excuses happened. I dabbled here and there but didn’t commit myself to anything regular. Additionally, the horrendous eating habits that I developed while in college soon became my norm. Since moving to Zambia, I have been exposed to some incredible people who have taught me the basics of cooking and food safety (shoutout to Effie) because Ramen and Easy Mac cannot be my food of choice for life. With that notion, I have charged myself with the challenge to develop a routine workout regimen and learn how to consistently cook at least 2 dishes each week. So far, so good! I am the master of chicken stir fry!

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Spirit:  There is so much release that comes with tapping into one’s spiritual self. And I believe that I had made great strides in intentionally living my faith during college with my incredible friends and growing church community. Then I moved away and things changed. After our GHC Quarter 2 retreat in January, I realized that I needed to actively strengthen my inner spirit through more intentional growth in faith in addition to seeking experiences in which I know I will witness and connect with God. Going to church more regularly than I have in recent years and speaking the Gospel aloud within my communities of support has been a step in the right direction. But beyond that, I seek to create more as He has created me. With that notion, I have charged myself with the challenge to create more, in all forms—painting, drawing, speaking, dancing, empowering, inspiring, and more so as to further realize my faith in my daily life.

As a young twenty something millennial, I find that it is often hard to learn how to let go while also finding purpose and meaning in a new type of worldthe real world. But I have come to learn that there is incredible beauty in inner strength; a type of beauty that I now know equips us with the ability to fly with great strength and on our own amidst the tumultuous winds of life. By intentionally developing through these personal development goals, I believe that I will be able to become the best version of myself despite life’s hardships. This I know to be true.

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Q2

A few weeks into 2016, and Global Health Corps had us fellows hit the ground running in the most rejuvenating way possible. This year long fellowship is set up in a way that requires quarterly reviews and group check-ins that are intended to provide us with not only the time to process our personal and professional growth, but also the space to socialize and keep morale high amongst the community despite the hardships that working and living abroad might yield. Maintaining high spirits while trying in enact positive and innovative change within our placement organizations or just in the name of health equity as a whole has proven to be, at times, exhausting, which is why these quarterly retreats are such a great and valuable re-energizing part of the fellowship. Most of us have experienced highs and lows throughout the year and will continue to do so as the remainder of the 5 months pans out. Calibrating personal and professional expectations while also seeking to leave a lasting impact has simultaneously proven to be a delicate challenge that most of us have or are continuing to face. Needless to say, bringing together groups of GHC fellows to discuss shared experiences and process their realities is cleansing.

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I was unable to attend the first quarterly retreat, which focused on experiences faced within country groups, as a result of my prior commitment to attend and present at the Humanity in Action “Arts and Activism” conference in October. So for me, Q2, or the quarter two retreat, was the first time I had the opportunity to experience the cleansing and inspiring nature of the GHC retreat system. In mid-January, ZamFam jumped on a small plane and made our way to Mfuwe, which was about an hour’s flight from Lusaka.

Q2 acted as a 5 day period of internal reflection and external processing between members of the ZamFam country team and the GHC Malawi country team, that are collectively known as the MalPals. Through co-fellow presentations, spiritually awakening lectures led by Still Harbor, and one-on-ones with GHC staff members including our fearless leader, Barbara Bush, in addition to the post session socializing and catch ups, I felt refocused and refueled for the second half of the fellowship to unfold.

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In addition to the internal relief the Q2 provided, there was so much natural beauty that surrounded us in Mfuwe, Zambia that made the experience even more enlightening. Staying at the Croc Valley Camp lodge, which was immersed amidst Zambia’s Natural Park and game reserve in South Luangwe, was not only beautiful, but it was also such a unique experience. I shared a room with 10 other girls in hostel style set up with mosquito nets draped across the room that made it feel much more lavish and helped compensate for the 1 toilet and 1 shower situation that the 10 of us were trying to figure out over the course of the 5 day retreat.

The roof to our hostel style room was tin and acted as the perfect tap dancing stage for the local monkeys and baboons that began dancing away at the crack of dawn. Speaking of monkeys, they were everywhere which was cool, but kind of terrifying. I never realized how much baboons specifically act and look like humans; one even opened the door to our room and walked in! Those opposable thumbs though.

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And in between heart felt sessions, as a group we got to experience a day and a night game drive through the South Luangwe National Park. Baboons/monkeys were frequent (per usual), elephants were friendly, giraffes were curiously cute, zebras sparked debates about if they were white with black stripes or black with white stripes, and hippos darted in and out of the bushes all of which made our experience so surreal. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any of the big cat predators, but our time in Mfuwe was still incredible.

These games drives were beautiful and really helped me to physically feel the vastness of the world and God’s creation which helped me to at least momentarily feel at peace with uncertainties that I was feeling and remember that everything and everyone has its place and purpose. It will all work out the way that it is supposed to. Thank you Q2 for reminding me of that.

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3 Truths for Living Passionately

Passion is powerful. Defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion, once it takes hold, it fuels life. Whether it is for someone or something, within your personal or professional life or a mixture of the two, passion is a youthful energy that stimulates both innovation and attraction while also acting as a form of communication that transcends age, culture, and language in a pure and raw form. It is beautiful. However, the level of vulnerability that is required to be truly passionate makes it, at times, painful.

For the past year, Wish for WASH, LLC has been the heart of my professional life because during my first year of college, my worldview noticeably shifted after I learned that nearly half the world doesn’t have access to toilets. This shift resulted in a powerful rush of shameless and uncontrollable passion beginning with my 18-year-old self declaring that I would design toilets to my now 23 year old self who is scrambling to make entrepreneurial ends meet in order to take actionable steps towards helping solve the global sanitation crises. People frequently say that I radiate passion for this work and that they really want to find “their toilet”- or something/someone that they care about as deeply as I care for improved sanitation and health equity.

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The frequency of these questions demonstrates the powerful pull passion has for so many people. But when asked “why are you doing this?”, I have to intentionally think about what it means to live passionately and how to maintain that energy. Truly living a life rooted in passion, as I have increasingly found, requires extraordinary resilience. Crazy entrepreneurial hours, constant troubleshooting, repeated failures, perpetual naysayers, or being completely heart-broken. These are just some of the unfortunate realities that come with living passionately.

So, what are some ways to keep going when your once youthful, inspiring, and persistent fire begins to wane? I often find rejuvenation and inspiration by knowing these three truths for living passionately:

1) Define and remain true to your personal core values

Whether it is for your personal or professional life, you must understand the ethics and life experiences that have shaped your worldview and determine which of your core values are unwavering. Knowing these values and reflecting on them regularly allows you to maintain your strength, because when you stand steadfast in your beliefs, you are better equipped to regain the stamina that is needed to move past the next obstacle. Clearly defining and embracing your personal core values allows you to build a solid foundation of confidence. These values will remain true in all aspects of your life and to live passionately, you need both your confidence and your conviction. The backbone of any passionate pursuit is often rooted in deeply held personal values that you want to share with others. This is an incredible resource to help in defining your core values.

2) Align your values with your skill-sets to determine how to add new value

This is your unique value proposition that allows you to improve a relationship, a work environment or the world. By working to blend your core values with your acquired skills, you can more readily find a way that you can add new value such as providing a new perspective, acting as a change catalyst, or adding optimization strategy to a work place. Clearly defining your specific added value goal is essential. As you passionately seek to leave things better than you found them, your mission will develop a sense of urgency and purpose. With the ever abundance of ‘external’ naysayers, you need to insure that your ‘internal’ team, or your inner circle, respects and supports your values. I have found that surrounding myself with unabashed supporters inspires me to reach for new heights and goals despite the odds.

3) Periodically assess whether you are actually creating value

Despite your best intentions and admirable goals, you must evaluate whether or not you are executing your value proposition in a way that is making a difference to your intended recipient. If you find that you are not truly creating your targeted added value, re-examine your personal core values and skill set, reevaluate your relationship or work place, and realign yourself to get back on the path that is fueled by your passions. Living passionately is not about achieving personal goals and accolades; it’s about making a difference for someone or something else.

Passion is contagious and if you are truly living in it, everyone around you becomes aware of your drive and commitment. Building a career or a life with someone that continues to fuel your passion is unbelievably fulfilling, but can simultaneously be painful as your heart or work can be harshly judged by others. I have found that staying focused on attaining my intended long term goal of helping to creatively rectify the global WASH crisis and keeping myself accountable for smaller, short-term goals by surrounding myself with people that continue to challenge me to grow in my passion has kept my fire for this work alive.

In the end, Wish for WASH has opened my eyes to just how hard it is to live passionately, and as a young social entrepreneur, I am still learning the importance of taking time to reflect on my personal value development as a way to build up resilience and intentionality within my work. Despite the barriers our team has faced in project management, manufacturing, business development, and fundraising, we continue to persevere in our toilet hustle because we deeply believe in utilizing our collective business, research, engineering, and design skill-sets as tools in the fight for health equity.

What I believe is working for humanity is when people find their passion, and they fight for it in accordance with Howard Thurman’s sage advice: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

As 2015 comes to an end and a new year begins, I encourage you to begin your search to find “your toilet” while also supporting ours here because #everybodypoops. (Find the original Huffington Post article here)

STEM in the Social Sector

Sanitation is a story that is often untold. It tends to be the elephant in the room during conversations about global issues; silenced by cultural taboos and disgust, despite the fact that of the 7 billion people in the world today- everybody poops. According to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, approximately 2.6 billion people in the world today do not have access to toilets, and many practice open defecation — or going to the bathroom in full view of other people — which leads to a host of both mental and physical health problems. The fecal waste often times contaminates local water sources leading to the spread of WASH (or water, sanitation, and hygiene) related diseases costing the lives of about 4,000 children every day.

In 2011, as a freshman at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), I attended a conference, and my eyes were opened to the enormity of this problem. I was listening to a dynamic speaker, Susan Davis, founder of Improve International, who spoke candidly about the extent to which the global WASH crisis has created health inequities around the world-particularly in developing countries. Her speech captivated the attention of my 18 year old self as she revealed that pubescent girls in the developing world often times drop out of school because their schools lack toilets. The information churned in my head as I realized that many girls are hindered from advancing their education because of the lack of something we often times take so much for granted- a safe and hygienic toilet. The anger and discontent that was spurred from that knowledge catalyzed the work that I do today.

I am now an alumna of Georgia Tech, an internationally renowned STEM university, and I earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design, a degree rooted in engineering thought processes and hands on building. But beyond my degree and the prestige that my alma mater boasts, that 2011 conference and the words of Susan Davis truly transformed my life as I pivoted from worrying about design aesthetics to focusing my education on helping to solve social impact related issues with design thinking. Over the course of my collegiate career, I immersed myself further into the social sector via humanitarian oriented programs to better understand how to promote and produce sustainable projects in the developing world, while simultaneously founding my social startup, Wish for WASH, LLC– an organization that seeks to bring innovation to sanitation through culturally specific research, design and education. An interdisciplinary team of students and recent graduates from Georgia Tech have helped propel this company forward, and we have recently produced our first professionally manufactured prototypes.

In summer 2014, our team participated in a multi-agency pilot to assess toilet designs in a refugee camp in northern Kenya after being the first all-female team to win the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize Competition, the largest undergraduate invention competition in the United States. After assessing user feedback and incorporating incredible ‘IDEO formulated’ human centered design principles, we have redesigned our Safichoo Toilet system and are preparing to launch a beta pilot in Lusaka, Zambia in 2016 (more of which can be found on our current Indiegogo page)

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My passion for toilets is weird, but it is also necessary because social impact designers, engineers, coders and makers are essential in creating products and services that innovatively advance mankind. However, beyond just WASH, my journey has led me to put out a call for more people from STEM fields to pursue social entrepreneurship and work in the social sector. In a world suffering from extreme poverty, malnutrition, violence, and inequity, we need more doers, creators, and makers working in this space in tandem with the policy makers, international development officers, and business professionals to create holistic and interdisciplinary solutions to more effectively make sustainable change. My generation, building on incredible learnings from generations past, has an increasing need to do work that leaves a lasting impact on the world in the most sustainable, solution oriented way possible. This is evidenced by the rise of incredible millennial run social organizations such as Code4Rights, Sanivation,LuminAID, TOHL, and Embrace in addition to many more. These organizations highlight the fact that Gen Y is seeking to do more that create socially oriented products and services but is also very actively testing the waters for different ‘for profit for good’ business models such as B-Corps and hybrid models. Because significant money is required upfront to manufacture and iterate new physical product designs, technical and product driven companies may benefit from avoiding the classic ‘non-profit’ status sought by traditional social enterprises and according to Harvard Business Review “selling equity to mission aligned investors [may make] good sense” via impact investing depending on the situation. In addition to these entrepreneurial ventures, many existing humanitarian organizations have a need for socially minded makers such as UNHCR’s Innovation team.

As a recent college graduate and blossoming social entrepreneur, I have a lot to learn; but for now, I stand by my call to my fellow STEM colleagues. You are needed at the table and in these humanitarian discussions; we need rapid prototypers, coders and engineers in addition to people with business acumen in these global conversations to help create the innovative solutions that will genuinely improve the lives of those who suffer most from systemic injustices and disparities. We need you to see this sector’s work as a valuable way to make the most out of those strenuous and costly degree programs. As a Georgia Tech graduate with a heart for humanitarian work, I know first-hand that increasing STEM professionals in the social sector will have a vital role in helping make our world a more livable and just place for everyone. Join me in answering the call. (see original Huffington Post piece publication here)

Let’s work the way you work

After graduating from Georgia Tech, you feel so full of potential, and so ready to go out to make a huge and memorable impact on world as soon as possible.  And all of these feelings are extremely valid because being equipped with an incredible education and powerful critical thinking skills while simultaneously being surrounded by inspiring change-making peers ultimately challenges you to be the best version of yourself possible. For me, this collegiate environment activated the ‘achieving’ part of my personality; thus, planning and efficiency have become integral parts of my existence a  result of being bred in a culture of ‘doers’. At Georgia Tech, we are taught to see problems and creatively work to devise ground breaking solutions. This task-oriented, incredibly efficient STEM mentality, coupled with lifelong teachings from both of my parents with military backgrounds, has made me value the concept of working smarter rather than working harder.


With the coming of age of my generation, Gen Y, the western business world is bracing itself for massive changes as millennials advocate for increased flexibility, transparency, and independence in the work place in an effort to create an environment that stimulates valuable output for each individualized person. Most of my work experience throughout my collegiate career mimicked much of these values as I freelanced, made my own hours or worked remotely on task oriented projects where I could largely work when and how I needed in order to produce the most meaningful content. Additionally, as a blossoming social entrepreneur and creative humanitarian activist, I have begun to translate the work ethic that I learned from Georgia Tech into my professional life, on my own terms and in my own way-which usually means working in the most efficient way possible while simultaneously challenging conventional institutions and strategies in the name of progress and innovation.


However, ‘efficiency’ has different meanings and different rankings on lists of priorities to different people from different places who work in different sectors of society.  Moving to Zambia and deeply immersing myself in a non-profit, non-American, and traditional corporate work place has definitely been a culture shock for me. I joined the Society of Family Health (SFH) immediately after an intensely inspiring Global Health Corps training, so I was prepared to make immediate impact within my first 90 days and to hit the ground running. However, I have quickly learned that in order to make meaningful impact, you have to gain people’s trust and show respect to the culture of the organization before trying to push the needle of change. SFH is an incredible organization that I am blessed to be a part of, and in my first few months here, I have grown to learn the value of taking a step back and slow down my constant quest for forward progress to simply listen and observe. And it has been a big and important professional development adjustment.
 I initially spent several days feeling frustrated with myself. I felt like a burden or that my ideas were not being embraced or that I was not achieving the aggressive goals that I had set for myself all of which made the “achieving” part of my personality feel neglected. This neglect often manifested as a form of candor that can be perceived as aggressive in many non-western countries and in many non-profit settings. I have recently realized how selfish that mentality has been. As much as this experience is about developing myself as a professional, I am still an outsider to this organization and its culture; thus, in order to be embraced as a valuable member of the team, I have to listen and translate the principles of  my empathic design work into the work place. Rather than allowing myself to feel like a burden, I have actively begun asking questions and seeking ways to get ‘doable’ tasks assigned to me. Rather than feeling offended when my ideas are not embraced, I now recognize that I approach problems with a western perspective that is not always correct or applicable in every context, despite how awesome or efficient the idea may be to me. And rather than giving myself lofty, high reaching goals, the “achieving” part of my personality has found satisfaction in setting feasible and attainable goals each week in order to ensure the continuity of my contributions to the team. Advocacy is essential in social impact work, but it has to be smart in order for it to be effective. It is important to discern when to advocate for yourself and your ideas and when you should sit back and work with what you are given in an effort to learn and build trust. Trust is essential and is the only way to get things accomplished within a team.


I am the sum of my life story’s parts including military-based efficiency, STEM teachings, and an entrepreneurial work ethic; however, in order to effectively work as a member of a team in this global space, I have to understand how to approach problems with an open mind and learn when I need to advocate for myself or my ideas versus when I need to respectfully sit back and say “Let’s work the way you work”.

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Adaptability

In preparation for our Global Health Corps training at Yale University, we all had to prepare ourselves for work in the field through a series of personality assessments. Luckily for me, I love personality assessments and comparing my results from now to 5 years ago in an effort to track my growth as a creative and social justice oriented professional. The medium for this personality assessment was the well-known Strengths Finders Assessment-an assessment that is one of my favorites after taking it 4 times now.

The beauty of this assessment is that it lists your strengths from 1 (top) to 34 (bottom) and the top 5 are the most essential in understanding your leadership assets and weaknesses. Over the course of the 4 times that I have taken this assessment, there have always been a few constants that appear in my top 5 strengths-activator, connectedness, and strategic.  While their placement in my top 5 has shifted as I have grown and matured, these traits have proven to be embedded in my character and my approach to leadership and life in general.  According to the assessment,

Activator: People strong in Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.

Connectedness: People strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.

Strategic: People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

Clearly these traits are demonstrative of several of my character strengths as well as (ironically) some of my character flaws. However, this particular round of top strengths that were listed for me truly reflect where I am in my life right now with “adaptability” listed as my number one strength.

Adaptability: People strong the Adaptability theme prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.

For those of you who know me well and have seen me progress with my work with Wish for WASH over the past year, you know that this word-adaptability- encapsulates my character so much so that I say that I “go with the flow” for almost every aspect of my life these days. Many people believe that I say this phrase as another toilet pun, but it is so much more. Evidenced by the fact that I just up and moved to Zambia after being accepted into this fellowship in May after randomly completing a post-baccalaureate certificate at Georgia Tech this past spring while simultaneously trying to launch the new iteration of Wish for WASH’s toilet in both Atlanta and Zambia, life for me is crazy and unpredictable. While I was raised under a very disciplined roof and was taught the value of planning and goal setting, I am in a place in life where the “now” is consuming me. How will I eat today? How will I pay my bills today? Where am I living tomorrow? –are questions that have recently bombarded my newly independent brain, pushing out a lot of the discipline and planning mentality that I was raised with and leaving me in a place of adaptability. Which is both good and bad.

In terms of survival and living, adaptability has been proven to be necessary evidenced so far during my time at GHC. From Yale dorms to my first room in our transitional housing site in Lusaka (Belevedere) to my second room in Belvedere to my room and roommate debacles in  the Kepa Apartment complex, embracing this sense of adaptability has helped me maintain sanity during this time of uncertainty and room hopping. And in retrospect, it has made it all the more sweet to finally unpack and nest in my room in Kepa. While I may come off as high maintenance in some ways, my sense of adaptability has proven the opposite in other ways especially in situations like this.

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In terms of long term future planning, the sense of “adaptability” makes life a bit challenging at times. Focusing on the “now” has distracted me in a lot of ways from accurately preparing for future events like I did throughout my childhood. Luckily, my communities of support inclusive of my incredible parents have really helped keep me be aware of and accountable for my future-helping me to plan for applications and timelines so that I can be prepared to take my next steps of life in the next years following this Global Health Corps Fellowship despite my brain being overwhelming focused on surviving the “now”. “Adaptability” is crucial in this field of work especially as a twenty something year old learning her place in the grand scheme of life; but for me, that “adaptability” and even carefree spontaneity that is my life these days is necessarily balanced by having overarching goals that I strive to achieve daily to ultimately get me where I hope to one day be. I am still learning to find balance in this crazy adventure of life.

From Poop to Sex

I am known for being the poop girl. Poop princess. Poop fairy. “Everybody Poops” girl. You name it! I’ve heard them and embrace them all because for the past 4 years-arguably longer- toilets have really intrigued me. From loving my Betsy Wetsy doll and my potty training toilet to analyzing toilets as an abstract form of windows during Common First Year as a freshmen in college (check out that video and I am at 55 seconds), I have somehow always found my way to toilets. It’s like a magnetic force or something.

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Yes, I do understand that the aforementioned statements are just plain weird; however, once my middle school self realized that weird is actually pretty cool, I have fully embraced it. I say all of this because I feel like this connection that I have felt to understanding toilets and using them as a tool for health advocacy has really prepared me to be a full fledged sanitation activist who strives to learn more about this space everyday.

Over the course of this last year, I have been in situations where I talk about poop-like everything related to poop including genital cleansing- with giggly 4th graders, with “Im too cool for school” high schoolers, with corporate American  middle-aged suits wearers, with strangers, with loved ones—with anyone and everyone. And I love it A part of the overall mission of Wish for WASH has always been to help normalize toilet talk because you cannot fix problems that you cannot talk about.

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And then, the universe conspired and I ended up in Zambia working at Society for Family Health as a reproductive health advocate and designer and I was very overwhelmed. Maybe it is my southern, faith-based and cotillion- taught roots that have always made me squeamish around public conversations about sex. So much so that I would excuse myself during the STI lectures in middle school for fear of passing out or often sit silently during sex conversations during high school table gossip. There are some things that I viewed strictly as private matters-and sex has always been one of them. This point of contention between how I have historically thought and my global health career trajectory hit me hard during our first week at SFH when Lute and I were in a board room meeting with our male colleagues where the conversation began by discussing vaginas in relation to a new female condom design. I was in shock.  IT GOT REAL REAL QUICK. Going on a tour of the condom warehouse the next day where we saw circumcision models used to teach people how circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV in men by 60% literally made me almost pass out at first glance. 

I immediately reverted to my classic reaction of discomfort and a severe case of awkwardness-leading me to question myself. Am I actually capable of doing this work? I began to analyze myself and  was later reminded by several members of my ZamFam that my innate reaction to reproductive health speak was exactly the same as most people’s reaction to toilet talk and things like genital cleansing. And that’s when it clicked for me.

While I may not be working on exactly WASH or toilets at SFH, much of the work being done here is extraordinarily similar because we are normalizing the conversation surrounding a historically taboo topic and advocating for health equity in a space that is long overdue for some serious innovation while simultaneously working towards women’s empowerment and social justice. That mouthful of a sentence- that reality-changed my thought process and approach to this work entirely. I don’t work in siloed spaces of just WASH or just reproductive health. Whatever I do, I will work towards social change and health equity which ultimately DOES make me capable of doing meaningful work beyond my sphere of comfort.  

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NOW I am excited to bring my creative ideas to the table on how to engage people in the sex conversation so that one day all people are empowered to make educated decisions regarding their health and have access to contraception and care for the benefit of themselves and their families. Reproductive health advocacy and talking about sex is important, and I realized that feeling uncomfortable about it was a waste of time and energy. It was a waste of this incredible opportunity that I have been blessed with to learn and grow. Behavioral change is very difficult, and not being weirded out every 5 seconds while in perpetual sex conversations is a process that I have committed to take moving forward. In order to truly have an impact during my year here, I HAVE to engage in these conversation and realize that life aint always pretty or comfortable, but that there is an inherent beauty in realness that has the power to activate lasting and meaningful change.

WASH and Reproductive Health.

Poop and Sex.

Us and them.

To me, the lines of separation are blurred. They might appear differently on the outside, but in the end, we are all connected and are desperately needed in the fight for health equity. Screw squeamishness and awkwardness in these contexts.

Poop and sex are a part of the human experience, and it’s about damn time that we start acting like it.

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To check out more about how much I love being at the Society for Family Health in Zambia while working on Wish for WASH, check out my PSI article feature here!

 

Diaries of Denial

There has always been a part of myself that I have denied. I am one to capitalize on strengths and not necessarily improve weaknesses, which leads to a host of both successes and failures in my life. But more importantly, I think, is my level of self awareness and how that effects denial.

Throughout college, I learned that I really love personality assessments. I love learning about what makes me tick and how that effects my relationships with others. Most famously, I remember taking the renowned Meyers-Briggs assessment as a requirement of the Georgia Tech President’s Scholarship Program as an incoming college freshmen. Since then, I have fairly consistently been told that I am an ENFJ. 

ENFJs are people-focused individuals. They live in the world of people possibilities. More so than any other type, they have excellent people skills. They understand and care about people, and have a special talent for bringing out the best in others. ENFJ’s main interest in life is giving love, support, and a good time to other people. They are focused on understanding, supporting, and encouraging others. They make things happen for people, and get their best personal satisfaction from this. “(http://www.personalitypage.com/ENFJ.html)

I always LOVED this definition of myself and this portrait of my strengths while skimming over the sentences that reveal my perceived ‘weaknesses’.

ENFJ’s tend to be more reserved about exposing themselves than other extraverted types. Although they may have strongly-felt beliefs, they’re likely to refrain from expressing them if doing so would interfere with bringing out the best in others. Because their strongest interest lies in being a catalyst of change in other people, they’re likely to interact with others on their own level, in a chameleon-like manner, rather than as individuals.The ENFJ may feel quite lonely even when surrounded by people. This feeling of aloneness may be exacerbated by the tendency to not reveal their true selves.

This part of myself is not so flashy or exciting, like at all. It’s almost melancholic–like why are you lonely when you are around people? Snap out of it. But all of this is very true, yet I have never liked focusing on the fact that I have introverted tendencies because I viewed it as a weakness. I mean who even likes that word-“introverted”? It almost has a negative connotation to it.  I have historically associated the word with being weak or unsociable or quiet while extroverts have always been the movers and shakers from my point of view.

Boy was I wrong. 

Society makes us think that we have to be on all time. Doing exciting things or being with exciting people, a notion all the more heightened by social media enthusiasts like myself because “I have to keep up my image”.

How stupid is that. 

With increasingly more maturity (and with leaps and bounds more to go), I have realized that I have one precious and crazy life and I have to be at the helm. As much as I deeply love people and experiences, I know–and have always known–that I need to process and think and recharge alone. And that’s ok. In order to be the best self that I can be, I have to succumb to the needs of my personality or I will no doubt burn out before I am 30. What good would that be for anybody? Recognizing and adhering to my introverted tendencies is a sign of maturity rather than a sign of weakness.

The past week at Global Health Corps training has been the most incredible and emotionally taxing experience of my life. From saying goodbyes to the family, to meeting exciting new people everyday, to long incredible seminars requiring high levels of engagement, to constant social activities, to learning about security risks in Zambia, to stressing about housing when we move there, to figuring out how the hell I am going to repack everything before next weekend– IT IS A LOT of highs and lows. A lot of good and a lot of anxiety. Being fully emerged in this experience has truly helped me to embrace the introverted aspects of myself. It is ok to take naps or to spend a day on your own or to miss a social event. It is ok. Because it is what I need to be ok.

It sounds dumb, but at age 23 I am still learning that in the real world you really cant have everything.  You can’t go out every night and be up at 8am-fresh and ready to learn and engage with others while also trying to still run your start up –at least I cant (send me some pointers if you are able to sustainably keep this going!) You have to stop denying your true self for the sake of others or for the sake of your reputation. Just do you, and it’s so damn liberating.

With that I dispose of my Diaries of Denial and embrace the introverted aspects of myself because while I still feel societal pressures to always be doing and always be engaging with people, I am wired just the way I am supposed to be wired to accomplish what I am supposed to accomplish in this life. And that’s pretty cool.

Because I can + Because I have to

Over the past few years, I have been struggling to find my place in the fight for social justice. I was always angered by unfairness and injustices and in the back of my mind, I always thought that I would one day evolve into an extroverted and fearless activist; however, when the time came for me to consciously take strides in defining my role in this space, I was paralyzed by fear and quite frankly embarrassment. It was 2013. I was a rising 4th year at Georgia Tech, and I was about to embark on my first experience of  being completely immersed in the social justice and health equity conversation through a CDC sponsored program called the Summer Public Health Scholars Program (SPHSP). I was timid about my “other-ness” as I thought I was an “outsider” to this space; I was formally trained as a product designer at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a STEM institution, who appreciated brevity of instructions and action plans rather than having the social justicy vernacular or the debate mentality that comes with the territory of attending a liberal arts college or engaging in a humanities based major. Comparable with the rest of my life, I felt overwhelmingly different and was completely intimidated by my badass SPHSP peers who actively participated in protests in an effort to fight for basic human rights and who were well versed in what it took to become a thriving “professional” in this space. I felt small.  This small-ness was realized during the second week of the program when I participated in my first privilege walk. Our instructor lined everyone up at the end of a hallway and told us stand side by side. She said, “It’s easy. Just follow the instructions.” My brain immediately referred back to my childhood self that was totally in love with everything related to camp–including camp games such as Good Morning Mr. Fox. I approached this activity like a game, and I wanted to win. 

“Take one step forward if your parents went to college”

“Take one step backward if you grew up not knowing if there would be food on the table”

“Take one step forward if your parents tell you that they love you everyday”

“Take one step backward if you didn’t have books in your house as a child”

Unknowingly, this activity changed my life. Within minutes I was far out ahead of the majority of the group, almost in complete isolation, thus representing the enormous amount of privileges with which I have been blessed. That was the moment that I physically realized that because of my background and because of my incredible communities of support, I was well positioned in life–ahead of some of my amazing peers that were much more accomplished, intelligent, and resilient than me. And it wasn’t fair. I completely broke.  On the phone with my mom crying I tried to put into words just how unfair it was. I felt like a sham–trying to engage in the fight for social justice and health equity despite not experiencing nearly as much struggle or pain as my peers. As a bi-racial female who grew up in a predominately white and largely affluent suburban community in the American south, I felt that the discrimination and injustices that I grew up combating would never compare to that of my peers. And on top of that, how could I advocate and fight for communities that only accepted my peripherally? Never being fully embraced by the African American or Native American communities, but having a passion to fight for equity in these communities almost seemed patronizing compared to having my incredible public health oriented SPHSP friends who grew up in urban ghettos and on Native reservations be the true advocates for these communities. And this is just in America! How the hell could I even begin to advocate and push the needle of change on the global stage if I am always perceived as a privileged American who will never understand? This roller-coaster of thought just reinforced my internally placed notion that “they knew” and “I would never know”–that I would always be an outsider and did not belong in this field of work. I began to feel like there was nothing that I could do to help because I would never fully “know”. The intersection of my identities and my maturation as a social justice advocate has helped me digest how the concepts of power and privilege play out in my life on both the American and global stages.

As a part of the day 2 Global Health Corps training, we had an incredible speaker, Phil Wilson (President and Founder of the Black AIDS Institute), who spoke about his story. He told us about getting involved in HIV/AIDS work during the 80s when the epidemic was largely unacknowledged and severely stigmatized, more-so than today. He told us that in order to move the needle in the fight for health equity, we need to stop focusing on our “other-ness” and really focus on how we are all a part of a global family that needs to take care of each other in order to survive. He told us that as someone who was privileged to have access to treatment in today’s world and as someone who has lived a long, meaningful life despite having HIV/AIDs for decades, he fights for access to education and treatment because he can and he has to; in the marathon of life, you can always take another step towards social change.

This last statement really resonated with me and honestly brought me to tears because much of what he said is comparable with my personal struggle of being a person from a perceived privileged and, therefore, power oriented background engaging in this fight for social justice. Rather than feel embarrassed or like a sham, this speaker reminded me that with great power comes great responsibility because we are connected by a common human-ness, a concept that I truly began embodying last year.  I am a humanitarian design activist and I am engaged in the fight for social justice and health equity because I can and because I have to. My life is my message. 

I am forever thankful for my SPHSP and GHC families for challenging my ignorance and inspiring me to grow in ways that  I never knew were possible.

TEDxAtlanta

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April 28th 2015- I, Jasmine Burton, had the distinct honor of speaking at the TEDxAtlanta 2015 event entitled Bold Moves.

As the only student and representation of GEN-Y, I felt that it was an opportunity to share my story- my truth- in a way that I had not before.

At this point, I had spoken at several conferences and at various community and school events all about the chronology of the SafiChoo toilet iterations and the trials + tribulations of being a young and ever aspiring social entrepreneur.

But for this I wanted more. More personal context. More relatability. Just more. Even though it was a short talk, 7ish minutes, I wanted to deliver a message the connected me and the Wish for WASH story with anyone–with everyone.

“No matter which tribe to which I subscribe, above all else I am a global citizen and I design toilets that matter to people. Ultimately I seek to use my creativity to make the world smile.”

Crawl in to my brain for a minute and experience my story below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pzFVspHIYQ