Global Healthcare; Starting in Brazil

Elizabeth Stasior ’17 reflects on her internship at CEDAPS in Brazil.

I hoped this summer to gain experience through a healthcare-specific internship, another step closer to my hope of attending a graduate school program for global healthcare. I hoped to serve an organization and learn along the way – getting to practically see an administration of healthcare.  I also hoped to grow in my Portuguese abilities as well as to have a valuable living abroad experience – when life at times turns into the classroom.

Through the internship at O Centro da Promoção da Saúde (The Center for the Promotion of Health or CEDAPS) I learned what daily life looks like in an office of a global health organization that runs various programs to benefit people in Rio de Janeiro and other locations in Brazil. I looked at the administrative side of running a project and received a sense of how community-based work and the administrative side of that work might connect.  As a global health minor, I have invested in learning about healthcare needs, and this experience was a viewpoint onto ways that one organization is working to benefit communities. There are always a variety of needs present in the world in terms of healthcare, and I’ve spent time with an organization that is practically working towards improving health.

Within CEDAPS, the focus on my own time was the project Ciclo Saúde that in brief works towards “the strengthening of basic health care and health promotion in Brazilian municipalities.” This occurs through a series of workshops, seminars, local meetings, and regional meetings to share about health education and determinants of health. I helped with administrative aspects of the project, seeing this initiative behind the scenes in an office setting; also, doing some digital design focused on different aspects of healthcare.

As well, I learned a significant amount of Portuguese from my time in Brazil, depending on the language for daily life. Prior to this summer, I invested in learning Portuguese continually over time. I began in the 101 level during my first fall at Middlebury, after spending two months in Brazil during my Febmester (a gap semester), with a desire to learn the language I had gained just a little of. I completed three years of attending Portuguese classes at Middlebury, either taking a Portuguese class for credit or auditing one. It was a dream come true to have returned to Brazil to stay for another extended period of time with such an ability to understand and communicate – a fulfillment of much grammar study, time at Middlebury’s language tables, and desire to learn. (I think I may have even passed multiple times as not obviously a foreigner to taxi drivers).

The summer provided unexpected learning opportunities as well… I had originally planned to work with the organization JOCUM in the favela of Borel in another part of Rio de Janeiro. Thank you for the flexibility and allowing me to pursue another option here! The time worked out with the job at CEDAPS less than one mile away by foot from the apartment of my host family, in a much safer part of the city. The experience of finding the internship at CEDAPS was one in which I learned the power of advocating for what feels right to me and reaching out; I identified and contacted healthcare organizations, using Portuguese, and was set up with an interview with CEDAPS.

I am also grateful for a connection with a friend from Brazil (who I met during my Febmester) who put me in touch with my host family. I gained insight into how things do and will work out as one takes initiative and pursues what will end successfully.

I am still grateful for the time I spent in the favela of Borel and gained insight into the realities of life there – a neighborhood with poverty, drug trafficking, and armed weapons. And yet, good people are doing meaningful work there, and it will continue to make a difference.

Moreover, the time in Brazil this past summer is a step in my desire to pursue a career in global healthcare. I plan on applying to masters of global healthcare programs and working in that field long term. This was a first real-world experience in terms of working for a global health organization. The experience reinforced the truth that there is a divide between the face-to-face, in-community work and the administrative work that backs it up. Both are needed and valuable. I have gained insight into how administrative work can be done effectively and what practical skills can make a difference in an office setting. In addition, this experience has only strengthened my confidence in my own ability to live abroad successfully, learn how to navigate a new city, and be a respectful guest and co-worker in another country and culture.

Also, in terms of professional development, the office experience I gained provided insight into future work plans and aspirations. In my desire to gain more fieldwork experience, I applied for a Watson Fellowship for the year after my graduation from Middlebury to complete a project connected to solving hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa. I am interested in spending time in nations that speak Portuguese as an official, national language (including Mozambique) and will continue to learn Portuguese as time progresses.

Thank you, Middlesex, for supporting me in an unpaid internship this summer!