By Resego Bokete, IGHS master’s student
If you are a prospective student and think you are passionate about a global health issue, you will soon find yourself, in fact, passionate about a lot more than just one. I came to the UCSF master’s in Global Health Sciences program confidently thinking I was open-minded as I had interests in HIV, malaria, water sanitation and the hepatitis B virus. Now, I am hardly halfway through the fast-paced and intense program and I have already realized that I was not as open-minded as I thought. I cared about these issues, but I have found myself researching more about and thinking of ways to actively contribute to issues such as diabetes awareness, violence against women and children and LGBTQ rights, to mention a few. There has never been a point in my life when I thought my knowledge was inadequate until now, because of the amount of information I have been exposed to. I already feel I can ACTUALLY make an impact in my community and the world.
I am in the field of global health because of my very first impactful global health experience in 2011 at the SOS Children’s Village in Botswana, an orphanage for HIV/AIDS infected children aged 5 to 17 years old whose parents passed from HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. I spent most mornings teaching 5-year-olds how to write, cooked lunch with the 7th graders and spent the afternoons playing fun and educational games with the entire age group. Every other day, I taught the younger kids how to hand-wash their school uniforms and play clothes. The hardest items to wash were their pure white socks, which would come back as brown as the sand of their soccer field. As hard as this chore was, it was one of the activities that strengthened my bond with the children. I taught the primary school students how to cook food like rice, chicken livers and phaleche – a corn-based staple in Botswana. I was responsible for taking care of the children, their well-being, and making sure they had food to eat and activities to do during the day. That experience was undoubtedly essential to shaping my career choice and led me to this master’s program.
Here at UCSF, one of our year-round assignments in the program is to discuss current events globally. In the first quarter, we covered an extensive range of topics including the discrimination of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico and President Trump’s executive order to rescind the ACA birth control mandate, to mention a few. This is one of many activities and assignments in the entire program that contributes to the widening of one’s knowledge on global health issues and really encourages critical thinking.
One of the highlights of this class is that individual opinions are not only freely and widely accepted but are encouraged. However, the nature of the program being the way it is, the majority of the time students’ feelings are unanimous about most issues. Don’t get me wrong, there has been an instance or two where we’ve had differing views with each other, but these were dealt with the most respect, which is a trait of our cohort that I have come to really appreciate. Being in a class with 38 other like-minded and yet very different individuals has been really remarkable and has given me the opportunity to be a part of a family that has the same ultimate goal: to address global health issues, become professionals in our fields of interest and actively make a difference through research, clinical professions, governmental organizations and/or academia.
In the last five months, I have realized that there is SO much I can do. I have already started thinking of major projects I could potentially start, from building a hospital in my home village Makuta, in Botswana, to spearheading a project that would make equipment like CT and MRI scans available in the current hospital that is 20km away from my village, in order to reduce the number of referrals to the national hospital that is more than 100km away. I also have thought about non-health-related impacts I can make, such as starting a post-secondary school STEM scholarship opportunity for youth in my village, as well as a community pool that would provide a place to cool down in the very hot area and swimming lessons.
Of course, these are just preliminary ideas. They are vast and clearly unpolished, but once you realize that ideas don’t have to remain ideas and can, in fact, become reality by your hands, they keep popping up in your mind. I am ecstatic to literally give back to my community, as well as to other underprivileged communities worldwide.