I’m Lorenzo, one of the SCOPE 2019 Fellows. I’ll be staying here in Gondar, Ethiopia, until December, where I’ll be working with my fellow SCOPE 2019 Fellow, Tess, and a study team from the University of Gondar on two projects – FLAME and LAUNCH – which examine a community engagement model utilizing a combination of religious leaders and health workers to improve maternal and neonatal health outcomes. I’ll be updating this blog about once every two weeks on SCOPE activities, cultural experiences, and a variety of other things!
Tess and I left Seattle late evening of Thursday, June 20th and arrived in Gondar early afternoon Saturday, June 22nd, where Adino Tesfahun, the SCOPE Program Manager was waiting for us. Nothing like being greeted by a friendly face after a grueling period waiting in airports and sleeping on planes! Overall, we were thankful for a relatively smooth journey (save for a missed connecting flight in Addis!) and that we and all our luggage reached Gondar safely. I’m also excited to be back – prior to entering my MPH program at UW, I worked for about a year and a half in Addis Ababa. I learned a good bit of Amharic and made quite a few friends, and though I won’t be staying in the same city, it’s nice to not have to start from Level 0. While it has just been a little over two weeks, we’ve been able to do quite a few things and settle into a routine. The morning usually starts off early around 6am with a 5k run nearby. There is a nice, not-so-crowded road with a decent grade and enough sidewalk space. A beautiful view awaits as a reward for reaching the top, just before we turn around. On rest days, it’s straight to breakfast. We normally stick to staple ingredients such as potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peanut butter, bread, etc. but we’re continuing to diversify our pantry and our recipe repertoire.
Afterwards we either walk or take a bajaj to the office, which is located at the University of Gondar College of Medicine and Health Sciences about 1.5 miles away. The walk is nice, as we pass by a bunch of breakfast stalls and people walking to church and to work. It’s also a decent workout, and my fitness tracker usually lights up at some point, saying I’ve reached my goal of number of floors climbed. We are usually walking at a quicker pace than most people, which I think is indicative of the faster, often more stressful pace of life in the US. However, the increasing frequency of downpours as the rainy season approaches will most likely have us using a bajaj or a minibus taxi in the future (or just work from home).
The office is spacious, well-lit, and has all the essentials, including a printer, relatively steady access to WiFi, a good bathroom, and various lunch spots in walking distance. Technically, it’s the editorial office for the Ethiopian Journal of Health and Biomedical Sciences, but several SCOPE paraphernalia such as posters of old projects, photos of past fellows, and copies of annual reports give it a SCOPE vibe. Here in this office we first met Dr. Getahun, our site supervisor and the co-Prinicipal Investigator of the LAUNCH and FLAME studies, as well as other members of the SCOPE team.
Though data collection won’t start for another 2 months or so, one of things in my scope of work that I’ve begun to work on is developing data collection tools for the LAUNCH study. Our project uses Open Data Kit (ODK), a robust yet open-source platform for collecting, managing, and using data in resource-constrained environments in the 21st century. Gone are the days of using pens and paper copies – our questionnaires will be deployed on tablets with which our data collectors will survey our study participants, and then afterwards the data will be securely uploaded to the cloud for analysis.
Our timely arrival to Ethiopia coincided with a few things that presented challenges. On the day that we landed, several high-ranking officials of the Amhara region were murdered in an attempted coup, prompting the national government to halt internet communications. We could do little work those first few days. Though it initially annoyed me, speaking with a few locals put things into perspective – the scope of the tragedy was far greater than the inconvenience of lack of internet access.
We also arrived at a time of an electricity shortage. This meant scheduled blackouts during the morning and evening. After you throw in unpredictable power outages from hard rain, there were times when we were unprepared and unable to cook breakfast or dinner. On top of this, our apartment was undergoing repainting and repairs!
Despite the circumstances, I am still thankful to arrive when we did. Unknowingly, we timed our arrival a few weeks before the graduation ceremony of the University of Gondar. This meant I could see one of my friends from church back in Addis Ababa, Kaleb, graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Logistics and Supply Chain Management. We were also invited to lunch by Adino and his family to celebrate his wife Desta, who also graduated with a Master’s in Public Health. We ate a lot of food and got to know Adino’s family a little bit more, especially their cute 15-month old son Leul!
My stay here will only continue to get more exciting, as we ramp up at work and get a better grasp of the language, culture, and surroundings. Stay tuned!