Wish for WASH Pilot: The Build

 

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After over a year in the making, creating partnerships, raising funds, developing a strong team, and manufacturing our SafiChoo 2.0 for testing, the Wish for WASH beta pilot has FINALLY begun! Coming out of 2014, with just a foam prototype, one of my best friends and incredible teammate, Katie, and other interested people who wanted to contribute, the prospect of moving forward was daunting as I felt like there was no foreseeable light at the end of the tunnel. Consequently, coming out of 2015 following a 100% funded Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, I was flooded with a host of emotions. I felt an overwhelming sense of social media burn out but was simultaneously filled with extreme joy to finally see that Wish for WASH, my baby, finally had the means– the funds, the product, the team and the partners— necessary to get a beta test started.

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Not to say that early 2016 was a cakewalk. Despite the Indiegogo exhaustion which was paralleled with an all-encompassing excitement that enabled Wish for WASH to hit the ground running in 2016, I had to quickly learn how to navigate customs regulations, international commerce fees, and transport logistics.  Once the toilet was in country, in addition to coordinating travel itineraries for the Wish for WASH team members who were willing and able to travel to start the build, I persevered each day to identify and follow up on the necessary steps to get approval for the pilot. This season of life was definitely proof to me that to be a social entrepreneur you must be willing to wear many hats, and often times, stacked on top of one another. From team visionary, to team travel agent, to team financial director, to team partnership relations developer, to team logistics officer, the past few months juxtaposed all of the skills that I have developed since the start of this Wish for WASH journey as a grand test of resilience, patience, and professionalism.

And by the grace of God, the Zambian toilet installation happened! 

Our incredible on the ground partners, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WUSUP), have helped me so much in terms of navigating cultural nuances and requirements while being amazingly supportive of our intention to use iterative and rapid prototyping practices in order to gain a minimum viable product that best meets the end user’s needs. Our manufacturing and shipping partners have brought our designs to life and enabled them to get where they needed to be at rates that we could afford. Our Indiegogo backers are passionate supporters who have enabled us to finance this toilet test and it’s been awesome to see how happy people are to receive their campaign perks as tangible proof that they are a part of our story.

And lastly, my incredible Wish for WASH team has continued to amaze me. Seriously, I am so blessed by them! They have taken off time from work, used school scholarships to help support their time in Zambia, had business meetings across 3 different time zones at weird hours to work out logistics problems, graciously responded to my slew of weekly emails, and patiently worked with me in the field to install the toilet despite the crazy and random obstacles that came our way.

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It is incredible to see an idea transform into a reality, but for me it is more than that. Despite what happens from here, I have learned to deeply appreciate the fact that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. As the founder of Wish for WASH, I am often the face of much of our work, but I am here to tell you that Wish for WASH is so much more than me; and for that, I am grateful. With my incredible team, partners and supporters, we created the 2.0 SafiChoo toilet, successfully fundraised for it, shipped it to Zambia (and have one also being built in Atlanta), installed it and now have amazing local people using and providing feedback on it. All I can say in retrospect is…Shit’s getting real and I couldn’t be more excited to see what happens next!

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Robben Island

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I spent a day learning some powerful truths about South African history on Robben Island, a place that jailed many of the black political prisoners during apartheid- including Nelson Mandela. We began by embarking on a ferry across the bay, and upon arriving to the island, we immediately boarded buses to begin the historic tour.

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The tour guide filled our bus ride with a host of historic stories with an intermittent joke which kept the experience lively. We saw leprosy grave yards where the unmarked tombs were the tombs of the blacks while the marked tombs were the whites. Our bus tour guide then explained that once the government declared that you were black, that that was your given identity and you were required to wear a Dom Pass (or an ID document that directly translates to meaning “stupid pass”). Largely the tour was highlighting the severity of colorism and segregation that was happening due to systemic societal injustices that ultimately led to apartheid within the country.

In the midst of these learnings, we stopped by the water side and saw African penguins and the beautiful view of Table Mountain from the island. There was such a juxtaposition of emotions and sites on the island. From the beauty of the scenery and wild life to the painful memories of the jails and segregated churches—I kept fluctuating from  enjoying my time in the most beautiful place on earth to reflecting back to a place of internal introspection as I digested all of the crimes against humanity that happened on this same ground.

And then we arrived at the Maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 17 years. Our bus tour guide dropped us off at the gate and a new tour guide led us the rest of the way—and he was unique because he was a former political prisoner who was also jailed in the Maximum Security prison.

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We wondered why he would ever come back to this place after the harsh injustices and severe mistreatment that he endured on Robben Island during the apartheid, and in his words he said “I also did let go”.

These were powerful words spoken moments before we had the opportunity to see Nelson Mandela’s jail cell. It was one of those moments that I reflected and thought about what the walls would say if they could talk.

Despite such a painful past involving so many severe social injustices, there is a strong and beautiful spirit of hope that is felt throughout the island. I smile because I too embody this hopeful spirit and work every day towards the creation of a more equitable and just future for mankind because the world is one.

World Toilet Day

November 19th may seem like just a regular day. Another Thursday. Another day of work. Same old, same old.However, for me, November 19th is THE day that helps remind me about why I do what I do. It is World Toilet Day. Now if you can imagine, toilet people are pretty unique. We are an eclectic bunch that is not afraid to use a well-placed curse word for more than just emphasis but for advocacy. The complexity of the sanitation crisis in our world calls for simplified jargon that everyone understands. I mean in what other field is “shit” considered a “technical term”?

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Toilet people are great. But beyond that, toilets themselves are great. Like we don’t even have to think about this so much in the western world, but the large majority of toilets that we are accustomed to gracefully and effortlessly get shit away from people. And that’s the beauty of them. In order for humans to be healthy, we MUST be separated from their shit and toilets help in this process. And that’s a fact.

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However, there are SO MANY people today that do not have the luxury of using a toilet that magically takes their shit away and are forced to confront it on a daily basis as a result of the wide spread practice of open defecation (or going the bathroom outside) and flying toilets (or going to the bathroom in bags that are then tossed on the ground or on someone’s roof) as well as the lack of sanitation education in many parts of the world. With this knowledge, World Toilet Day becomes an important day to educate about and advocate for a piece of technology that many people take for granted.

For my 2015 World Toilet Day, I attended an awareness event with my fellow GHC Poop Princess, Alexis, in the George Compound of Lusaka.

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Performances were held to grab the attention of the youth while ministers spoke to shed some light on the importance of toilets that was geared more towards the adults. Alexis and I met a bunch of cute new friends and we loved being in the field talking dirty about the importance of hygienic sanitation practices!

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HAPPY WORLD TOILET DAY because #everybodypoops!

 

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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)

Hang on Tight

Where did the month of October go? From recovering from September’s weekly excursions, to traveling around the US to see family and to hustle for toilets, this month has flown by. And despite all the change and the movement, I have noticed that I am in a perpetual state of advocacy for health equity and social justice- which is evidenced by the series of campaigns and experiences that I have lead or been a part of during this month listed below:

  • After touching down in Atlanta following 24+ hours of traveling and layovers, I hit the ground running by attending the 2015 Atlanta Pride Parade with my little sister. Atlanta, a community that struggles to embrace its identity, is both a socially progressive city while also being entrenched in conservative aspects of southern pride. This conflicting reality makes events like Pride particularly intriguing. Weary spectators in everyday attire stop to digest the scene on the outer parts of the city, but as the parade advances to midtown, costumes are present, music is loud and the pride of the LGBTQIA Atlanta community reverberates amongst all those who are present.#FILA #ATLPride

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  • Stop 2 on my October advocacy ride was on October 12th. Colloquially this day is known as Columbus Day in America, celebrating the “discovery of the new world”. But as we all know, discovering this new world came at a high cost-destroying a large majority of the Native American community and annihilating a huge portion of its people. Beyond the one sided perspectives that American history books boast, this became personal for me. As I have become increasingly knowledgeable and proud of my Native American heritage and tribal traditions, the celebration of this day became hypocritical -like a mockery. So in honor of the resilience of the Native American culture, traditions, and people, I proudly celebrated Indigenous People’s Day on October 12th as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day because I am proud to forever be a Delaware. #nanticoke #turtleclan

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  • Next, my GHC and ZamFam sister, Reena, had me thinking about #whyAllGirls matter on the International Day of the Girl. This day of social media activism is intended to show to the world why ALL girls are valuable ALWAYS because as 51% of our global population and the mothers of our future generations, girls have and will continue to change the world. Check out this fantastic piece the Reena wrote in honor of this day here.

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  • Moving to October 15th; it was Global Hand Washing Day. As a WASH enthusiast and toilet talker, hand washing is of course in my direct scope of work and is crucial in sustainable change as it relates to the global water and sanitation crises. Washing your hands acts as a DIY vaccine by preventing the spread of some really nasty diseases so remember to get sudsy yall because #everybodypoops!

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  • Following this campaign came the incredible opportunity for me to become an official Huffington Post contributor for the segment “what is working”, which is blog intended to combat the “if it bleeds it leads” journalism mentality. Never having experienced such a vast and international readership, my first post (an iteration of the “Because I can + Because I Have to” post) was more or less torn to shreds by critics. The deeply pitted emotion that resulted from the onslaught of so much criticism on a particularly vulnerable piece for the first time, really had me questioning whether or not this was the work that I really wanted to do. #findingmyplaceinthefightforsocialjustice

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  • Last on my October advocacy ride, was the launch of our Wish for WASH Indiegogo campaign to support our beta toilet pilot in Zambia next year. With very little knowledge or expertise in fundraising, I have learned just how much work it takes to gain money for a cause that does not directly benefit the lives of the donor, which is how most commercial products/services that I have known attract funding; however, our creative and determined team chooses to press on and are thankful for all of the supporters that we have attracted and all of those that we hope to attract before December 2nd! Help us gain #1000strong supporters by donating because #everybodypoops!

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While this roller-coaster ride of advocacy has been incredible and will only continue to grow since all of these issues are irreversibly interconnected, I have realized that it is essential that I step back to think.

Does being an advocate mean fighting for every cause with all of your heart?

Does being an advocate mean getting attacked for presenting your personal views?

These are questions that I have been asking myself. Advocacy is essential in the movement for global health; however, it can be a slippery slope if you are not intentional with your words and actions. As one of my mentors has told me, in order to be a successful advocate for social change, you have to be smart in choosing when, where and how you fight for your cause in an effort to make the most meaningful impact. Many social advocates suffer from empathy overload- or being incredibly empathetic to seemingly every social problem in the world leading to a depressing and exhausting existence. I have learned that it is important to set personal boundaries for myself so that I do not become crippled with paralyzing sadness; ultimately, being overrun with sadness disables anyones ability to push the needle of change for issues about which they care. I am still new to this work and am very much still learning how to navigate this space, but I do know that those who choose to intentionally pursue communications and advocacy have an under-appreciated mental toughness and commitment in order to start many of these controversial, taboo, and uncomfortable social conversations. I have gained a whole new perspective and respect for this work because it is extremely hard,  but it is also necessary.

Long story short, this work requires a thick skin, an ability to brush off the haters, the capacity to reflect and say “how can I express my perspectives better”, and the overall strength to hang on tight for the exhilarating ride of being a voice for social justice. I am still very much learning all of these things and now realize that it truly is a roller-coaster.

Female Condoms for All

Less than 1% of the condoms in the world are female condoms. Isn’t that peculiar? With the global population boasting a demographic with a female majority, why is the prevalence of and access to female condoms so low? 

Well, female condoms are similar to male condoms in their materiality and overall functionality; however, they differ because they are the only contraceptive option controlled by women which has the ability to protect them from both unwanted pregnancies and most sexually transmitted infections. Female condoms represent women’s empowerment and enable women to take control of their reproductive health on their own terms.

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Unfortunately, a host of barriers exist which impact women who seek to utilize female condoms. The widespread lack of education about the benefits of these condoms and the lack of education on the proper technique to use them hinder their effectiveness and leads to frustration to the user. Female condoms also challenge traditional gender roles as it relates to decision making and power in the bedroom; this can be viewed as a threat to masculinity in some cultures and communities. Statistics also highlight the fact that female condoms typically cost about $2 more than male condoms and may be perceived as a ‘less effective’ option due to confusing and, often times, incorrect user experience which decreases the product’s effectiveness.

Despite barriers ranging from a lack of product education, to the complexities of gender roles, to overall product costs, a series of country programs have proven that once people are educated on the proper use and benefit of female condoms, customers are born. Organizations such as Population Services International and its Zambian Affiliate, the Society for Family Health, have increasingly promoted awareness and educational campaigns about female condoms; consequently, a higher demand for them has been created. According to the Female Condoms for All UAFC Joint Program, civil society organizations, the government, United Nations agencies and the private sector are all required to begin improving the accessibility of female condoms by creating more low cost options which are widely distributed and available in even the most resource poor communities.

As a Design Specialist and member of the Communications team at the Society for Family Health (SFH), the top social marketing NGO in Zambia, I have seen firsthand the commitment of SFH to family planning and reproductive health advocacy. With an exciting new product in the pipeline, SFH stands at the forefront of conversations about what it means to truly have sustainably good reproductive health. My coworker Lute and I have participated in a female condom awareness campaign where we have posted myth-busting tips on social media, facilitated competitions such as Dance4Demand where people dance for access to female condoms, and organized a Pink Out day where the entire staff at SFH headquarters wore pink in solidarity for Global Female Condom Day. Our work led our team to be featured on a local Zambian radio station called Millennium to talk about the importance of breaking the stigma around female condoms through education and awareness.

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My support for reliable reproductive health and family planning services around the world has been solidified by serving as a member of this dynamic female condom promoting team in a country where gender equality is lacking, where in 2013 there were 12,500 recorded unwanted pregnancies in primary schools, and where the prevalence of HIV is documented in 14.3% of people between the ages of 15-49. These facts have been firmly registered in my mind during a time when there is an escalating debate in America about funding for Planned Parenthood. As a global health activist and a southern Christian female engaged in the fight for social justice, I believe in equity and have never had a stronger conviction about the dire need for comprehensive and affordable sexual healthcare for all people in order to overcome health disparities and for humanity to collectively realize its highest potential. I believe that with increased support and more widespread access, female condoms will change the game of reproductive health around the world.

I #standwithPP.

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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.

VMMC

This week, Lute and I had the privilege of attending the launch of Society for Family Health’s Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision Campaign (VMMC) with the rest of the Communications team. It was Tuesday, and we had just concluded a long VMMC meeting at the office when Lute and I received an email informing us that we were invited to attend the launch the next day! One of our co-workers agreed to pick us up at 6:30am near Kepa to take us to the launch in the Matero Compound. Of course we were sporting our VMMC tshirts and were excited to represent SFH at the event; however, it was SO COLD. Jeans and jackets were a must in terms of wardrobe that day!

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When we arrived, much of the decorations had been set up so we were responsible for distributing awareness information and setting up the pop-up banners in order to complete the branding for the event.

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Around 8:30am, the event began with a marching band to bring awareness of VMMC to the community. The event proceeded with a series of speakers including doctors and government representatives in addition to a slew of press. There was traditional African dancing and drumming and even a skit was performed that showcased some of the common myths and fears that barred men from moving forward with the surgery.

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The overall goal of the event was to break the stigma surrounding such a sensitive topic by calling for the cultural acceptance of VMMC because of how much the procedure has been proven to significantly improve community health. In fact, VMMC procedures reduce the spread of heterosexual HIV by about 60%, which is huge! Despite the weather and perhaps awkwardness that some people felt, overall the event was a success. And I even got to play the drums with some cute new little friends! I am excited for future launches that we will participate in at the Society for Family Health!

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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!

 

Society for Family Health

Work is officially in session!

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Lute has come to pick me up for two days now to take me to work since she’s an awesome co-fellow 🙂 The first day we caught a ride from a Society for Family Health driver and the second day we took a cab. Once we arrive at work, it is beautiful inclusive of a large, open floor plan space intended to physically embody the creative juices that are flowing to innovativley promote sexy topics like female condoms, male circumcision, and HIV prevention. IMG_2941IMG_2933

We will both be in the communications department at the Society for Family Health; Lute will be a communications strategist and I will be a design strategist, and together we bring a lot of personality and new perspectives to SFH! And the current GHC Fellows at SFH are incredible! They took us out to lunch at Deli (our new favorite hot spot and of course I found meat to eat!) and really have helped us get acclimated to SFH and life here in general.  Brittany is actually staying and working on another project at SFH and will be working with the communications team for the next year. WE ARE SO EXCITED that she’s staying 🙂

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I’m also excited about the opportunity to do what I love in the field that I love and for the amount of impact to which it could lead. I have been told that I will be the first official designer on the SFH staff and will be working on a host of cool projects ranging from websites to video editing to graphics to media to photography to campaign planning. Design is a hot commodity these days! And it is so incredible to be warmly welcomed into the SFH community, which is the Zambian branch the internationally renowned and incredible PSI, or Populations Services International. PSI-English-Logo-COLOR-200x124

So basically, Population Services International is a 501(c)(3) registered nonprofit global health organization with programs targeting malariachild survivalHIV and reproductive health. Working in partnership within the public and private sectors, and harnessing the power of the markets, PSI provides life-saving products, clinical services and behavior change communications that empower the world’s most vulnerable populations to lead healthier lives.

AKA this is an incredible organization that I am joining and it is exciting. But simultaneously terrifying. I love being the first designer in organizations that gets to set the precedent and define the boundaries of the job; at the same time, I do worry about the influx of work that I am about to be slammed with. Design work is needed in almost every SFH department and on every project, so I know that I am going to have to be diligent with my time management skills. I might even have the chance to travel for some promotional campaign work which would be incredible! I just know myself and am weary of my ability to stick to a really strict schedule for an extended period of time. So I guess it is time to grow up and just do it. I know that once we get our schedules down, our computers in sync, our emails made, our commutes determined and our lunches made for each day, we will hit the ground running and it will, no doubt, be exhilarating! Here’s to the start of another adventure within a series of inception-like larger adventures here in Zambia! IMG_2925

I cannot wait for my journey at the Society for Family where we are marketing for good health because I believe that design has the power to change the world for the better.