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.

POOPx and Capetown

The first week of December, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Total Market Approach and Sanitation workshop in Capetown, South Africa hosted by Population Services International (PSI). After a series of flight delays and arriving in the city late at night, I finally arrived to the Africa 15 Orange Hotel and was in awe. Constant power? Huge beautiful bedroom? Room service? A bath tub? Talk about GLAMOROUS.

I was so excited for my first experience in Capetown where I was surrounded by beautiful scenery and talking about what I always do (poop…duh) in a way that I never had before. According to PSI:

“The total market approach (TMA) is a way to improve market performance to equitably and sustainably increase the use of health products and services, with the vision of achieving universal health coverage.”

So basically, this is a methodology that can be used to determine market failures and how to best work to improve the sanitation problem on a local level. And it is brilliant!


I loved learning from WASH professionals from around the world in the ways that they approach behavior change communications and social marketing strategies as it relates to WASH interventions in their countries and communities. I even had the chance to contribute to the learnings of the week as a speaker and winner of the first ever POOPx! My 5 minute talk covered the importance of human centered design as it relates to product development specifically in the WASH sector. I used many of personal experiences with Wish for WASH as case studies for the talk as well! I had a blast!

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And following an intense week of TMA and sanitation talk, I had a couple of extra days that I spent exploring the incredible, global city of Capetown by visiting its beaches, drinking its wines, and experiencing some of its tourist attractions such as Robben Island and Table Mountain, which is now considered one of the 7 new natural wonders of the world! I loved my time in Capetown and cannot wait for the next opportunity to go back!

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)

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.

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.

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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.

Load Shedding

During my first few days in Lusaka, I have learned quite a bit about myself in terms what I need vs what I want to live decently and safely in order to begin the journey that I came here to take. From airport pick ups, to no global cell phone data, to transitional housing, to remembering to take malaria pills to sleeping with bed nets to remembering to not drink the water, I am learning everyday that this experience is designed to put me outside of my comfort zone in every way possible- which is inherently good if I actually want to become an equipped soldier in the fight for health equity. And I do; however, I have always thought that there was a fine line between challenging myself to grow by purposefully putting myself in “uncomfortable” situations and an inability to actually function. I am finding that that line is becoming blurred. Mainly as it relates to one thing so far: Load shedding.

When you first hear this term, you might think “HALLELUJAH! Jasmine is FINALLY learning how to simplify her life and not have so much stuff by shedding her ridiculous luggage load” or “Wow! Jasmine is already keeping a physical fitness routine to ensure that nshima (Zambia’s staple dish made with maize flour and water -white ball pictured below) doesn’t effect her weight!”
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While both of these are extremely important aspects of the life that I am hoping to adopt here in Lusaka over the course of the next year, neither of them relate to load shedding.

Load shedding (v): an action to reduce the load on something, especially the interruption of an electricity supply to avoid excessive load on the generating plant. AKA for about 10 hours a day the electricity and often times water supply are completely shut off. (see selfie below)

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At first this might not seem like that big of a deal or like a really first world, superfluous problem. But then you try to function.

Waking up with no electricity, going to work in the dark, taking cold showers if showering is at all possible, but most importantly, having no wifi (it took me forever to make this post go live). This means no predictable communication with family members and friends or my Wish for WASH colleagues which is not something I was prepared for at all. There is technically a schedule of when each region is expected to have outages, but from my experience so far, outages happen whenever and wherever. And technically a lot of places of work and other public facilities have back up generators that should maintain power; however, they often times require unsustainable amounts of maintenance. And even the local Zambians are struggling to adapt to this relatively new governmental mandate as it effects work productivity, is leading to the increase of job losses, and sometimes leaves middle or low income neighborhoods without power for up to days at a time. Not to mention how hard it is to cook or buy food when your stove and fridge might not have power which makes eating expensive and particularly challenging for everyone. This just reinforces the fact that this is not a struggle faced by a perceived ‘elitist’ American, but is felt by everyone in Zambia. Tapping into our survival mentalities, we are all trying to figure out ways to cope without giving into what often times feels like complete inefficiency or hopelessness because being hopelessness doesn’t help anyone.

Beginning a conversation on how we can shop for generators, wifi USB dongles, and leaning on our ZamDad (Eric, who is by the way incredibly tolerant and patient with us) to advocate for us for potential financial support during this difficult time from GHC headquarters has helped us find the positives in the situation. I know for myself that a year without predictable wifi is not going to work because of all of the online projects that I am currently working on in addition to me needing to communicate with my loved ones in order to maintain my mental and spiritual health throughout the course of this fellowship-not to mention the fact that my actual job at the Society for Family Health requires internet access; therefore, I have to find a solution in order to function. It is comforting to know, that despite how differently all of our ZamFam reacts in the face of this overwhelming challenge that we were honestly not prepared to face prior to arriving here a few days ago, we are all in this together.

In the face of struggle, I still believe that everything will work out the way it is supposed to because there is a greater plan. All we can do now is continue to persevere through this new and rough terrain with actionable plans on how to make the situation better for all of us.

We are challenged to search for the bright spots in this situation, and if we cannot find them, we need to find a way to make them for ourselves.

 

48 Hour Time Warp

Our last hours at Yale were a haze of emotions and events. Closing Dinner Party, crying, scrambling, packing, dancing, re-crying, delirium.

Sunday June 12th was our last day of training. We had our final Still Harbor session and final reflections before spending a 5 hour break repacking or buying our last minute toiletries or electronics. For me specifically, I had to pack one of my 5 bags completely before dinner in order to give it to my incredible co-fellow, Lute, who agreed to check it for me in an effort to creatively problem solve my over-packing struggle. I had to hurry all this packing to be prepared for our last fancy event and dinner.

6pm: We had our group GHC photo in the beautiful (by highly allergenic) Yale grass in the best outfits we could pull together given the crazy day of packing and days of traveling ahead.

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7pm-10pm: We found ourselves at the Omni Hotel in New Haven having a beautiful farewell dinner inclusive of delicious non-dining hall food, an amazing slideshow capturing our days of training, and a highly emotional candle lighting ceremony where we lit each others candles and expressed why we loved or were inspired by each other. I was honored to have been chosen amongst the first group by Barbara Bush who really expressed sincere interest in my work and gratitude for me joining the GHC family. I awkwardly became emotional really quick to the point where I was like hysterical by the time I was going to light Reena’s candle (whose literally been like my twin-aka little, young and brown- sister throughout training and even before we met!)

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11pm-3:30am: As our teary, emotion-felt session faded, we moved into the bar/dancing part of the evening. Presumably, at this point, your bags were supposed to be almost packed and to fight the inevitable jet-lag that lay ahead, you were planning to party all night and night sleep until you got on the plane. I tried to go with this plan as Reena and I went out with everyone, but found ourselves becoming zombies on the dance floor (mainly me. Reena’s like a profesh dancer!). Of course this meant that we needed some New Haven Pizza at 1am to keep us awake. After pizza, I had to subscribe to the delirium, and take a 45 minute cat nap before showering.

4am-6:30am: We loaded the busses in New Haven with our positive energy packets written by our peers and my choo-choo train of luggage. A couple of hours later we woke up from attempted bus sleep to find ourselves at JFK; it was about to get real. My brain was flooded to internal questions:

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How much will my luggage cost?

Will they let me bring this as a carryon?

Is my luggage even close to the right weight?

The anticipation was killing me. But I was trying to strategize.

7am-8am: Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 11am; so we had to wait. Sitting in line with all of our luggage was a fun bonding experience as we were in line with GHC Uganda fellows (aka the UCrew). We shuffled our order so that those of us that anticipated that we would be overweight (aka me…always) would go first so that others could potentially help us if needed which was AWESOME. Finally, it was time to check in.

8:30am-11am: 30 minutes of people ahead of me went and finally it was my turn. THANKFULLY, I had the best checker of all time who helped me go through with the minimum costs possible (aka FO FREE). PRAISE! Security was kind of intense, especially since Reena got stopped twice in a “random” search or a “let’s stop the brown girl but we aren’t racist” search, but I digress. All of ZamFam and UCrew were on the same flight and we all made it safely to the terminal. After some last calls home and some good-ol American McDonalds, it was time to board the plane…and DAMN! I had never flown Emirates before and it was seriously majestic. Good food, USB plugs, toothbrushes galore and there were STAIRS ON OUR PLANE! It was the freaking Titanic of the sky and even some of our GHC peers got upgraded to business class and got to fly upstairs!

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12.5 hours later, we found ourselves in Dubai. With a short layover, we were practically sprinting across the biggest airport I have ever seen in what felt like the hottest temperatures ever. The air was hot, the water was hot, EVERYTHING was hot. Yet somehow we sweatily made our way to another, smaller Emirates 7 hour flight to Lusaka. Since the first flight was so entertaining, it was hard to sleep; therefore on the second one, we literally all were paralyzed by fatigue. Only, barely opening our eyes for food, we all slept hard.

Who knows what time it was by now, but we woke up in Lusaka, which obviously called for a group photo. The visa situation was more challenging for some of us then others, but after about an hour we FINALLY MADE IT!
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But where were we going and who was taking us there?

Representatives from our host organization, so for me the Society for Family Health, came and picked us up from the Lusaka airport and brought us to our current transitional housing site. Fighting jet lag, we all went to dinner with Eric which transitioned nicely to a long night’s slumber and first night in Lusaka.

And that’s what I call a 48 hour time warp.