With a passion for international health, Lauren Baur traveled to Uganda this past summer to complete an internship.
“It was an opportunity that came up, and it fit my interests and my desires and what I would want in an internship,” she says.
In Uganda, she went to work for TERREWODE, the Association for The Re-orientation and Rehabilitation of Teso Women for Development. TERREWODE is a women’s rights and women’s health organization that fit within Baur’s international health studies and her focus area of maternal and child health and the interplay of nutrition and disease.
At TERREWODE, she focused her efforts on helping to combat obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury that occurs when there’s prolonged obstructed labor. As a result, the baby often dies and the woman is left continent of urine and feces. She spent much of her time on writing grants so TERREWODE can partner with an organization called the Worldwide Fistula Fund to raise money to establish a fistula care facility within Uganda.
Because women who are suffering from obstetric fistula often are isolated from their families and society as a whole, Baur was able to work with a variety of volunteers, heading out in the field and going from home to home to look for these women.
In fact, one of the things she enjoyed most about her trip was the amazing people she was able to interact with.
“The organization only has five full-time staff, but they have a network of over 1,000 volunteers,” she says. “I was able to work very closely with them, as well as meet some of their volunteers and go through training and workshops.”
Baur says her involvement living with a family and in the culture while she was in Uganda was as much of a learning experience as actually working for the organization.
“It was eye opening in the sense that a lot of the stuff that we talk about in our international health classes was reality for these people every single day. It came up in conversation just with the family I lived with and in the experiences that they were facing. It just brought it to a whole new perspective for me,” she says.
One thing Baur asked herself all summer was why would these 1,000 volunteers do this work, especially considering the lack on incentives.
“On the very last day of the workshops we met with the fistula survivors themselves. I was not expecting the emotional reaction that I had when they were just pouring in the room for this all-day workshop, and all of the sudden I realized why these volunteers did what they did. Because of the women with their smiling faces, some of them carrying their kids, it was an overwhelming emotional reaction from me that I wasn’t expecting,” she says.
Baur recommends that other students go out into the field and get this type of experience.
“I think coursework and the classroom environment is important for getting the foundation, but you really develop the skills and a greater passion for your work when you get to go out and see the people you’re helping,” she says.
“I’m definitely glad that I had this experience. I had some reservations about going and I was very nervous, but overall it was definitely life-changing and also just helped me confirm that I am in the right place and I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.”