Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Research Motto: Listen, Understand, Trust

As this semester comes to an end, I am so grateful that all the experiences in the past three months have solidified my passion for hands on global health work within communities. Above all, I am immensely grateful for the people of Costa Rica that have allowed us in their lives and oftentimes homes as we end our semester performing our independent research projects. I have been more and more drawn to global health because I have seen the way it demands unique and crucial social skills – listeningunderstanding, and building trust. These three traits were particularly necessary for my group’s research project as we investigated the impact of social determinants – such as socioeconomic status, use of government assistance programs, social support, stigma, and self motivation - on an adolescent mother’s educational attainment. While our peers chose more quantitative projects such researching parasite load or bacterial load, I was very excited to be working with the only project that addressed a social issue. I found it intriguing to go beyond “What is happening in this community” and delve into “Why is this happening?” We spent days formulating an adequate research question then creating survey questionnaires that would effectively achieve the data we needed without being too intrusive on a delicate subject. This is where “understand” comes into play. For a successful project we had put ourselves in the shoes of a Costa Rican adolescent mother and brainstorm possible responses to our questionnaire. Finally when the Independent Review Board approved our research, the time came for us to “build trust.” With the help of local health technicians making phone calls, we were able to reach about 80% acceptance and 23 former adolescent mothers participated in our study! By building local contacts we built trust that permitted these women to not only allow us into their homes but also spare us time out of their day for no compensation or direct benefit to themselves.
            We had our appointments set for the next three days but we quickly grew nervous in anticipation of our conversations with these women. Now came the “listening” part. While some women were more timid than others, we approached each home with open smiles and politely introduced ourselves and thanked them for their time. Question after question, these women poured out their stories from their past even through the most intimate questions. At times I felt as though I was more nervous than them but intently listened with an open mind to these fascinating anecdotes and attempted to record their narratives as best as possible as they rightly deserved.
            While we woke up early to drive 40 to 60 minutes to scattered locations on bumpy, curvy, dirt roads, listening to each narrative made it all worth it. In the same community, each story seemed to have its own individuality. We can’t simply label adolescent pregnancy as an issue with a single cause. This is why global health is so important because we have the opportunity to understand how health problems are so often linked to social issues. While a doctor can prescribe pre-natal vitamins or other pregnancy aspects, who is there to empower these women to stop the cycle of poverty or the cycle of adolescent pregnancy? With the help of our professors, at the end of each interview we encouraged each woman to research programs for aid to return to school. Ultimately, our data showed a significant higher educational outcome in non-mothers compared to former adolescent mothers with a majority of former adolescent mothers not completing secondary school. After weeks of work, our research will be added to a compilation of Latin American adolescent pregnancy data but most of all I hope we have inspired at least one woman that she indeed has the power to finish an education.


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