I’m Back

I’m back in Nicaragua!

I’m working with the lovely Lindsey Leslie who served with me in the Peace Corps and now lives with me in Baltimore, as well as my friend William Garcia who is from La Dalia and taught me how to speak Spanish.  We are working together to do some research that will benefit school and ChatSalud.

Let’s back up.

SCHOOL is going well, though I constantly feel as though I’m treading water.  Not quite thriving and not quite drowning.  While I periodically choke on water, I’ve managed to stay afloat so far.  I’m currently getting my Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins and it is a super fun, 11-month accelerated program.  I’m focusing on behavior change and health communications and am involved in the mHealth student group (JHU Global mHealth Initiative) and the Peace Corps student group on campus.  This hands down explains my absence over the last several months.

April-December 2013 860

with other JHSPH students at the 2013 mHealth Summit in DC

CHATSALUD is also going.  We’re at a pivotal moment right now in which it can either go really well or flop.  We’re hoping for the former and actively trying to prevent the latter.  We’ve not yet piloted, but content on HIV/AIDS, safer sex, and intimate partner violence has been developed and is awaiting governmental approval.  In the meantime, we are going full throttle to transfer all of our work to a Nicaraguan organization.  This mostly involves looking for funding to hire a full time project manager.   Other work we’ve been doing with ChatSalud includes focus groups to perfect content, formative research (this is what I’m doing now and will talk about it next), building relationships, and testing out the system.  We’re going to try to do a mini-pilot in a small community using the website and Android phone app called Textit.in.  We’re hopeful that this will work out kinks before the system goes live and will help push the government to approve the content by demonstrating proof of concept.

Helen, a PCV in Nicaragua, conducting focus groups with youth to see what they think of ChatSalud

Helen, a PCV in Nicaragua, conducting focus groups with youth to see what they think of ChatSalud

RESEARCH IN NICARAGUA! Yes, this is the most exciting part!  I received a grant called the MPH Field Experience Fund Award from my school that is allowing me to travel to Nicaragua to conduct interviews with youth.  The interviews will serve a double purpose as my final Capstone project for my MPH and as formative research that will help inform the design, development, and launching of ChatSalud.  The interviews ask Nicaraguan youth about their access to sexual and reproductive health services and information in their communities, as well as their use of cell phones and how they would feel about receiving sexual and reproductive health information via text messaging.  So far, Lindsey, William and I have conducted a total of 25 interviews and we expect to complete approximately 40 interviews before Lindsey and I leave Nicaragua at the end of January.

rainbow in Terrabona, Matagalpa

rainbow in Terrabona, Matagalpa

In my absence being a grad student, I haven’t been able to write about quirky Baltimore life nor about the newest addition to the Spigel family.  Thus, here is one quick update on each:

QUIRKY BALTIMORE: My classmate Eric said it best as he gazed out the windows of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, looking over East Baltimore and concluded: “Welcome to East Baltimore, a developing country.”  In many aspects, it’s true.  Baltimore simply isn’t as developed as other US cities.  The electricity often flickers in and out, for example, once shutting down as I was finishing the last question on an online final exam for Biostats.  Yet, the story I want to share happened over the summer during a heatwave when the lights went out (la luz se fue) for a few days in a row.  Yes, it was disruptive, my groceries were destroyed, and elderly populations were seriously at risk of heat-related emergencies. Yet unexpectedly, all the neighbors commiserated outside while drinking Natty Boh’s and playing guitar.  It reminded me of my time in La Dalia when the luz se fue, and when I knew all of my neighbors.

Another effect of this, of course, was that I was worried about Mani having heat stroke in the house while I was in school all day.  As I went by to check on her one day, I saw two of my neighbors outside–one standing on a chair looking through her window while holding her infant, sun blazing down, and the other was the elderly man on our street that keeps watch of our block all day.  He was trying to help her.  I walked by and quickly learned that she had locked herself and her baby out of the house.  Meanwhile, the giant dog danced excitedly by the window.  My first instinct was to offer to hold the baby as she tried to break into her house.  As she tried to lift herself up, the dog licked at her face and she couldn’t quite hoist herself up enough.  I handed her the baby and in my dress, lifted myself up through her window, exposing myself to the world, and was able to unlock the door for her.    Quirky Baltimore indeed.

When la luz se fue, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) didn't quite know what to do

When la luz se fue, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) didn’t quite know what to do

AVA:  While home for winter break, my parents came home with an 11-week old puppy named Ava.  Mani and her are becoming fast friends and I shall now conclude this blog post by posting a series of cute puppy pictures below.  Bienvenidos a la familia, Ava.

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