Broaddus, Elena

Public Health

MSPH

Nepal

Nepal-Nepal Suaahara Nutrition Project/ Formative Research Intern

To support the Suaahara project team and address the communication needs of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs (JHUCCP) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This person will provide on-site technical assistance in the areas of behavior change communication and support the development of a public-private partnership strategy, contributing to the project's ultimate goal of increasing knowledge, awareness and acceptance of, improve attitudes towards, and motivate healthier behaviors in nutrition and hygiene within each targeted audience of the 25 INP districts, bringing about social and community change and the sustainable adoption of healthy practices. The intern will support the CCP team to capture, assess, synthesize, disseminate, apply and evaluate priority health and communication materials and tools for community dialogues. In addition, this person will also support the project's private sector strategy development in part by identifying and implementing private sector opportunities such as capacity building, product development, and marketing and distributing products and services that further the project's goal. The intern will support the CCP team in providing day-to-day technical assistance for behavior change communication, public-private partnership development, monitoring and evaluation activities and administrative needs.

The best part of living in Kathmandu this summer was the connections I made on both a personal and professional level, and deepening friendships I built previously when I taught English in a rural part of Nepal for a few months several years ago. These relationships provided both an incentive for, and an opportunity to learn the language. When I lived in Nepal before, I realized what a difference even the most basic phrases made in every interaction I had. This time I arrived determined to spend time every day studying the grammar and vocabulary books I had brought along. I studied daily for the first few weeks, and it did provide a useful base, but I quickly realized that a) the grammatically correct phrases I read in the books bore little resemblance to the language I heard my friends speaking, and b) there were many more interesting ways to learn vocabulary than from a book. Although immersing myself in a new language and culture was sometimes exhausting, the more I learned, the more I connected with people. Those connections were entirely worth the effort.

The first day that I went to meet the staff at RIDA (Research Inputs and Development Action), the Nepali research organization conducting data collection and analysis for the Suaahara program’s formative research, I expected a group of middle-aged professor-types. Instead, I found a group of energetic recent master’s degree graduates who were passionate about development work and addressing the challenges they saw in their country. Our similarities in age and interest, as well as their excellent English and willingness to deal with my terrible Nepali, meant I quickly had a group of friends as well as colleagues. I learned a great deal from them about the practicalities of carrying out field-work, and through long conversations gained a better understanding of Nepal’s education system and political and economic challenges. We talked a lot about the changes happening in Nepal—the dramatic increase in labor migration and remittance income, proliferation of private ‘boarding’ schools, transitions to wage labor and cash crops from traditional agricultural livelihoods, the indigenous rights movement, increased market access in even the most remote areas, migration to urban areas, etc. Listening to their interpretations of what was driving these changes and where the country was headed gave me a deeper understanding of what development and ‘being modern’ means for individuals in Nepal.

When I wasn’t working on the formative research with RIDA, I worked in the Suaahara office with the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) team. There too I found a wonderful group of people dedicated to the work they were doing and happy to explain the ins and outs of the program. I also had the chance to observe how a complex multi-sectoral program was structured and run. However, getting out of the office for pilot-testing materials in more rural areas probably taught me the most. I watched one of the CCP team members facilitate materials testing sessions with everyone from government officials to shy young mothers, always managing to engage the groups through a balance of humor and curiosity.

The internship taught me much, but at home I got a different kind of education. I lived with the wife of a Nepali friend whom I met several years ago working in an outdoor program in Hong Kong. He and their sons were still abroad, so she lived alone. Though I barely knew her when I arrived, one son had started college in the US the year before, and I’d gotten to know him fairly well—he even came to my family’s house for Thanksgiving. So she welcomed me with all the hospitality that Nepal is famous for, and taught me everything I needed to know: how to tuck the mosquito net in around my bed, how to wash clothes in a bucket and scrub all the Kathmandu mud out, which micro-bus to take to the office, how to get a good price at the vegetable market, what not to do at a temple, how to turn fermented rice into traditional ‘beer,’ the polite ways to address people and respond to questions… It involved a lot of hand gestures at the beginning, but we usually understood each other just fine, and she was happy to teach me choice slang terms and other valuable phrases.

One of my closest friends from my previous time in Nepal, the principal of the tiny primary school where I had volunteered, was also in Kathmandu for a training course. It was her first time in the city, so we explored tourist sites together, tried to navigate the bus system, and ate delicious food at her aunt and uncle’s house where she was staying. A high point in my summer came towards the end when I took the opportunity to go back to her village where I had stayed before and got to see her family, including her brother’s new baby girl, and many of the other people I had met three years ago. It also made me realize how much my perspective had shifted thanks to the knowledge gained from interning with CCP all summer. I saw the connections between things I had noticed before but not fully understood, like children far too small for their age, or the heavy work burden on women.

Though I still have far more to learn, my time in the Suaahara office and with the RIDA team was a crash course in everything from Nepal’s health system structure to barriers to breastfeeding and hand-washing—all factors that impact nutritional status. I also learned that while I have great respect for program officers and implementers, particularly in a large multi-sectoral project like Suaahara, I am very happy to stay on the research side. I really enjoyed the problem-solving involved in study design and field-work, and I loved the opportunity to see at least a portion of the formative research all the way through—from data collection, to analysis, to final report.

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June 2022

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