Each summer, a plethora of grants and fellowships ensures that Bowdoin students have an opportunity to pursue what they are passionate about. Ben Pallant ’16, Aviva Mattingly ’15 and Jordan Lantz ’15 tapped three of these grants to dedicate their summers to addressing public health issues in Cambodia, Kenya and Maine, respectively.
Lantz remained in Brunswick on a Community Matters in Maine Fellowship, assisting at the Oasis Health Center, a free medical clinic. After college, he aims to pursue a master’s degree in public health. Mattingly traveled to several locations in Kenya with the support of the Preston Public Interest Career Fund, working with SOTENI, an NGO. In the future, Mattingly hopes to work in international public health as a surgeon. Pallant interned at Angkor Children’s Hospital in Cambodia, supported by the Strong/Gault Social Advancement Internship fund. His experience solidified his desire to pursue a medical degree and work in patient care.
The following is an edited Q&A with the three students.
What are your day-to-day tasks like?
JL: I work with the Community Prescription Assistance Program, a service Oasis provides to enroll patients in free prescription assistance programs. On average, we help around 250 patients receive $55,000 worth of medication when they could otherwise not afford it.
AM: I am closely involved with the AIDS Barefoot Doctors, who attend HIV/AIDS support group meetings where they give lectures on proper health management and hand out water purification chemicals]. I assess the successes and challenges of each group and collect personal stories. Other times I travel to visit SOTENI’s orphaned and vulnerable children. I speak to the students to evaluate their health status, academic performance, home and school life, and food availability. I also lived in the rural village of Mbakalo for several weeks and helped to improve their dispensary’s procedures and infrastructure. I helped staff build up their computer competency and created new ways to store patient and support group data.
BP: My main job has been data entry for a study of dengue [fever]. I also do data entry for other departments, including the microbiology lab. Otherwise, I’m doing everything from organizing charts of patients who have died to helping the logistics department computerize its inventory of medicines.
What do you hope to take away from this summer?
JL: I hope to gain a better understanding of health issues affecting underserved populations. For instance, because psychiatric medicine is so expensive, mental health problems often go unaddressed for those of limited means.
AM: I want to gain insight on the daily life of children in rural villages and the impact that AIDS has on the next generation. Working with SOTENI staff in the field will show me what tactics are working in the fight to prevent HIV and which should be improved.
BP: I have definitely already gained a sense of confidence that, no matter where I go, I can always meet wonderful people. (To be at home in all lands…) Also, I want to better understand the impact of foreign volunteers — I’ve seen a lot of cases in which volunteerism seems to be problematic in that the volunteer gains more than the people that they are supposedly working for.
What has been the most challenging part of your summer?
AM: The most challenging part of my internship is overcoming everyday obstacles due to the cultural barrier between the U.S. and Kenya. While they might appear simple at first, I soon realize that certain tasks in Kenya come with a unique set of procedures. For example, it would normally be a click away to have medical supplies shipped to your doorstep in the U.S. To purchase and transport large boxes of medical items to and from the market in Kenya takes all day (not to mention that public transportation runs neither on a schedule nor directly to our destination) – and it must be completed before the heavy afternoon rains!
BP: Siem Reap is an odd city in that it is actually quite small (less than 200,000 people) but it is loaded with foreigners and ex-pats due to a large number of NGOs. In addition, about 2 million tourists show up every year to see Angkor Wat. The city’s economy has become so built around tourism (and so many people speak English) that I hardly feel like I’m in a foreign city sometimes. It is challenging to get away from that aspect to get a sense of what life in Cambodia is like unrelated to tourists. (Also, the heat. It’s cooled off now that rainy season has started, so most days are a mild 93 or so and humid…)
What has been the best part of your summer?
JL: I absolutely love being in Maine for the summer! I’ve taken trips hiking, swimming in Sewall Pond, hiking at Morse Mountain, stand-up paddleboarding in Harpswell, and exploring small towns I had not yet visited.
AM: Undoubtedly, the most enjoyable part of my job is meeting the people in each village. My tasks with Aids Barefoot Doctors have allowed me to hear stories of those affected by HIV and further understand the challenges faced by not only the residents, but also by the staff members trying to aid the community.
BP: I think the best part has simply been the experience of figuring it all out on my own. I’ve had to both settle into a different lifestyle and make an entirely new group of friends, and both of those things have forced me to adapt and to learn more about myself.
How has your experience this summer changed your views on US healthcare?
JL: This fellowship has made me much more critical of the Affordable Care Act in that we need much more than it offers. It does not create a culture of universal care among Americans. Just because someone pays a monthly premium does not mean that person knows how to use their insurance. Our government needs to utilize every public health resource available to make using our health care a regular practice in order for our health outcomes to increase. The ACA is an important step and we as a country must lend ourselves to it in order for it to make a positive difference.
BP: My experience has certainly given me a new sense of appreciation for what exists in the U.S., particularly in terms of the quality of care and the extent of general medical knowledge. Preventative care is not as extensive here (there’s no such thing as a yearly well-child check-up) and transportation to the hospital can be an immense financial burden, so kids often show up to AHC sicker than they might in the U.S. …With that in mind, working at AHC has shown me some flaws with the U.S. system. Where I work, people will borrow money to pay for transportation knowing that their child will have full access to care once they arrive. At home in the U.S., there are people who could walk to a hospital yet might not have access to the care they need. This is something that is changing with the advent of national healthcare policy, but there is still a lot of progress to be made.