The thing about public health education is that you can tell people as much information as you can cram into the time allotted. You can put together pictures and handouts and surveys and repeat the words you have prepared as many times as possible. You can create activities and ask questions and encourage class participation. You can stand in front of people and demand that they take their diabetes medication and stop putting so much salt into their diets, and for the love of the world, please exercise and wash your hands for at least 30 seconds. And they’ll probably nod at you and go back to exactly how they were doing things before. Not that I would blame them. The average person doesn’t wash their hands for a full 30 seconds; I probably don’t……gross, don’t think about it.
Increase in public health education isn’t perfectly linked to increase in public health. At the same time, knowledge is power. It’s one thing to put sugar and coffee in an open wound, thinking it’ll speed up the healing process, and have the wound get infected instead (true story). It’s a different thing to know the sugar and coffee will cause an infection and do it anyway. My goal this summer was to connect to people culturally, develop a mutual understanding and trust, and to deliver scientific facts. If I solely wanted to deliver the facts, I could have designed the curriculums and sent them via email to people in Brazil.
My favorite moment connecting with people was when I was at Nazare, the orphanage that I was living in. I was sitting next to a woman in her early 20s. We went on Youtube and she played lyrical videos of her favorite Portuguese songs. I sang along to words I hadn’t yet learned and butchered the pronunciation. She laughed at me. I laughed at myself. Then we switched to my favorite lyrical videos in English. She sang along to words she hadn’t yet learned and butchered the pronunciation. I laughed at her. She laughed at herself. It was great.
Brazil taught me that I Can Do It. That I can pick up a dictionary in a language I didn’t know, and form sentences and pronounce them in front of students, making a fool of myself, at the same time teaching them about things I really do believe in.
Brazil deepened my appreciation for health education and solidified my desire to continue this kind of work in the future. My plan has always been to go to medical school, but with the great experiences of this internship, I am now exploring the possibility of getting a masters in public health education as well.
I believe I fulfilled my main goal this summer: “This a teaching experience; I am here to learn.” I learned many things. I learned that everyone is a human being, and we all just want to be understood. I learned that sometimes you can just do what you can.
And sometimes that is enough.