Tessa’s Final Blog

My last week in Swaziland is drawing to a close. Tomorrow I’m off to Cape Town, and 10 days later, I head back to the States! As excited as I am to explore South Africa, I’m almost more excited to return home. In addition to finishing up my various projects, I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week finalizing details for my return home (ie: apartment, job, insurance…) It is so weird to think I won’t be living with my parents or in a dorm. For the first time in my life, I’ll be supporting myself. I feel like it is even more of a transition—more of unknown territory—than going and working in Africa for the first time. It certainly is more permanent.

Anyway, that is what has occupied my mind as I started packing and saying goodbye to everyone. As sad as I am to leave, I’m also eagerly anticipating the next new experience. Coming to work here in Swaziland was the perfect thing to do after graduation. I certainly gained some perspective on health inequalities and on problems in developing world healthcare systems. But I also gained a great deal of perspective within my own life. I had so much freedom here to do what I wanted with the projects. Nothing was planned before I got here, so I got to do all the planning. And then, I was responsible for realizing the plans. The same goes for my life: I get to choose where to go from here, and I am the one who must make things happen. I definitely plan on going back to graduate school eventually to get my MPH, but it isn’t like before, when I knew that the next x number of years, I’d be in school regardless of other decisions I made in my life.

Working here also made me realize how important access to and quality of healthcare are, how difficult it can be to implement a seemingly simple project, and how there are always going to be unforeseen challenges no matter how well you plan, so it is important to be adaptable and constantly aware of what is going on. I have no idea what exactly I will be doing in 5, 10, or 25 years from now, but after working here, I am certain that whatever it is, it will be somehow related to inequalities in healthcare. There are so many resources and so much wealth in the world, and so much of it (even when it is intended to go to the sick and the poor) never makes it to those who most need it.

For example, a few months ago, there hundreds of packages of plumpy-nut sent to Swaziland. Plumpy-nut is a food supplement that is used to treat malnourished children on an outpatient basis, and it has been very successful in other countries that have started using it. It is supported and promoted by many organizations, including the World Health Organization. The doctors at the clinic were elated to hear the good news until the ministry of health declared that they needed their own specialists to look at plumpy-nut before it could be distributed. Knowing the snail-pace at which everything happens here, the elation was quickly replaced with extreme frustration. So, the plumy-nut sat here in Swaziland for months, only a few hundred kilometers from the starving, dying children, and there was nothing the doctors could do about it. Luckily a conference of sorts was held here with many international organizations, and one of their first questions was, “Why doesn’t Swaziland get plumy-nut here?!” Once they were held accountable for their behavior, the ministry took action, and now things are looking up. The frustrating thing is that there usually isn’t anyone holding them accountable, and in the future, a similar situation could occur again.

So I guess I will leave it at that. This internship has been eye-opening, to say the least. As much sadness and pain and needless suffering as I have encountered here, I have also seen just as many successes in the healthcare community, and I leave here feeling both hopeful and determined to stay an active member of this global community that strives to transcend political, social, and economic boundaries in an attempt to relieve the needless suffering that exists in the world.

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