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York Students Really Get To Know CPAR!

In the last few months, York University Students Lydia, Sara, Aisha and Dior have been able to really get to know CPAR and participate in a few exciting projects! They have helped our team tremendously with their work, and have learned a lot in their short with CPAR. This is what they have to say of their few months spent with CPAR:

Hello everyone! Working with CPAR for the past two months has been very exciting. Since my last blog post, I have started the process of developing locally tailored health promotion strategies for two different focus areas within CPAR’s Enhancing Sexual and Reproductive Health for Women and Adolescents (ESWA) project. 

I have been working on addressing early child marriage in the Amhara and Oromia regions of Ethiopia. It is important to note that there are significant disparities in early marriage between Ethiopia’s rural and urban areas. For instance, a young girl born in the Amhara region has three times the likelihood of early marriage than a girl in the capital city of Addis Ababa (Abera et al., 2020). The harmful-traditional practice of early marriage can result in many sexual and reproductive health (SRH) consequences such as sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, sexual violence, and serious pregnancy-related complications such as obstetric fistulas. As a result, my project partner and I developed a comprehensive communication checklist that identified possible health promotion strategies aimed at lowering early marriage rates in the ESWA project areas. Some of the intervention ideas we proposed to the grassroot stakeholders included women’s empowerment through community engagement and a sustainable approach to education incentivization. 

I have also been working on ways to address Ethiopia’s obstetric fistula burden. An obstetric fistula is a preventable birth complication that causes urinary and rectal incontinence due to obstructed or prolonged labour. Unfortunately, young women with obstetric fistulas often suffer from anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation due to pervasive social stigmas. Consequently, my project partner and I have begun brainstorming a culturally appropriate counselling strategy to help improve the mental health of women with obstetric fistulas in Ethiopia. There is a common misconception that a successful vesico-vaginal fistula repair procedure will eliminate all of the associated psychological implications. However, based on extensive research, I have learned that this is not the case, as the psychosocial effects of an obstetric fistula can linger well after surgery. I strongly believe that women with obstetric fistulas can significantly benefit from pre-operative and post-operative counselling to improve their mental-wellbeing and begin social reintegration. Overall, I love the work I am doing with CPAR to improve the SRH of young girls and women in Ethiopia, and I am looking forward to starting the next stages of my projects. 

Abera, M., Nega, A., Tefera, Y., & Gelagay, A. A. (2020). Early marriage and women’s empowerment: the case of child-brides in Amhara National Regional State, Ethiopia. BMC international health and human rights20(1), 1-16.
The last couple of weeks since my last entry, have been dedicated to self-reflection and preparation for the busy weeks ahead. A lot of my self-reflection this week has been in regard to my beliefs as someone who grew up in Canada vs. the cultural practices in Ethiopia. Despite having differing beliefs, it is important that I understand the cultural lens that influences Ethiopia’s sexual and reproductive health practices. I always thought that because my parents are Ethiopian, that I was already well aware of existing cultural norms/beliefs that affect health behaviours, but I am slowly realizing I have much to learn! Instead of Zoom meetings, most of our team’s communications this week was through email. This gave me extra time to start thinking about how I want to organize my learning portfolio as well as conduct outside research on sexual and reproductive health in Ethiopia. I’ve learned more about existing policies and cultural practices. The next couple of weeks is where our ideas and strategies will actually be implemented. I am excited to see the work my peers and I have put on paper, come to life. I’m awaiting feedback from a stakeholder for a needs assessment checklist that my partner and I completed. This checklist was created after we met with the field coordinator and he gave us specific insight on sexual health in Ethiopia. The interaction with the field coordinator was very eye-opening while simultaneously confirmed a lot of my research findings. I was also able to ask a lot of questions that helped me finalize my needs assessment checklist. At this point, I’m excited for what the next couple of weeks will hold.
I can't believe it is almost the end of March, and my practicum will soon come to an end. As I approach my final days at my placement and at York University as a Global Health student, I can't help but reflect on the past few months. In the months that led to my placement, I had been in discussion with my supervisors about the potential projects I would work on when I would start. Like most first days at a new position, my first day started early in the morning with an orientation meeting. Our supervisors welcomed three of my peers and me to the practicum. We were provided with information about the organization, the team and our projects. As I sat in my room, interacting with my new colleagues over zoom, I felt a sense of excitement and energy grow inside me. Since the beginning of the global pandemic, my university and work-life were confined to my room. At the same time, all my interactions occurred over a screen, demotivating me in some ways. However, listening to my supervisors speak made me realize that I am amongst the few fortunate enough to have such opportunities.

In the weeks that followed, I learned so much from the CPAR staff about NGO work.  I have always believed that to truly learn something, one has to apply their knowledge to practice. During my placement, I have interacted with professionals in the Global Health field, learning from them while also contributing to CPAR's initiatives. I look forward to continuing my learning and growth through this experience in my last few weeks. The Covid-19 pandemic has altered the world we once knew, reshaping society in unchangeable ways. In the years to come, the Canadian workforce will inevitably change due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The lingering effects of the long-gone pandemic will continue to shape our experiences as a society for years to come. Human beings have an exceptional ability to adapt and change to their circumstances. I find it extremely valuable to have worked with CPAR at a time where I can gain experience and develop skills that can equip me for what's to come after I graduate.   
My time at CPAR has almost come to an end, and I can’t help but wonder how three months flew by so quickly. In my last blog post, I mentioned how nervous I was about creating a Donor Communication plan for CPAR, and I am glad to say I successfully created one! It would not have been possible without my supervisor Brittany (Donor and Communications Coordinator), who constantly provided support. One of my learning goals for the practicum was to improve my problem-solving skills. While my supervisor assisted me throughout, she also ensured that I learn through the process by providing the tools needed to gain more knowledge and be successful while also providing constructive feedback on work submitted. Working on my project also allowed me to improve my research skills and gain new communication skills since my project was mainly communications focused. It consisted of creating content for CPAR, and I learned the importance of effectively communicating information to the public through words, images, and videos to advance an organization’s (CPAR) vision. There were several factors I wasn’t aware of while I created templates, such as ensuring that the content made was inclusive and accessible to all. I had to constantly remind myself that I was creating content for an international organization and not a school club. The real world consists of people with different backgrounds, age groups, and people with disabilities, which I had to consider.  While working on my project, I also got to see how much of an impact CPAR has in various communities in East Africa, especially in addressing social determinants of health, maternal and infant health, and the sexual reproductive health of women and adolescents. I had the opportunity to meet with the CPAR team in Malawi and learn about the various methods they use to communicate and spread information in multiple communities.

The CPAR team has been amazing throughout this entire process, and I am very grateful for having the opportunity to work with them. I look forward to completing the remaining aspects of my project and working on my poster presentation that highlights my experience at CPAR.