Out of Africa

Name: Saznin Mehta

Year: Class of 2012

Hometown: Alexandria, VA and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Area of Study: Public Health Studies, History minor

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It has always been a lifelong dream for me to work abroad. Ever since I declared as a public health major, I’ve been looking for opportunities to work at an NGO or multilateral organization, particularly in Africa. Experiential learning has always been my style, so I knew that having the opportunity to see public health in action would fulfill me more as a student than any book or class ever could (not that I don’t enjoy my courses at Hopkins!). When my parents moved to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity to work at one of the many organizations in my new hometown.

When I went home this past winter break, I interned at a small USAID-funded health systems strengthening project. Its main aim is to facilitate greater autonomy and efficiency of the local and regional health centers through more stringent accountability measures and regulation. This internship allowed me to travel with the staff to various clinics and hospitals near Dar Es Salaam, and I witnessed firsthand how this project’s efforts have significantly improved healthcare delivery in the regions it has been able to work in. They have been able to better facilitate the use of government funding for preventable diseases and are making great strides in reducing waste and inefficiency in treatment. However, rates of acute diseases are still quite high, and Tanzania still lacks a sufficient healthcare infrastructure to deal with rampant health problems. I finally realized how foreign aid fits into the bigger picture and how hard it must be to coordinate and implement such lofty public health projects in a developing country.

The greatest part of that internship was being able to apply what I had learned at Hopkins to a real-life experience. Just the semester before I took a class that gave me a lot of background on public health and development, so building upon that store of knowledge by seeing it unfold in front of me was awesome. I was able to start spring semester with a whole new perspective, and the experience has definitely helped me in the classes I’m currently taking. After enjoying myself so much in Tanzania, I knew I wanted to go back to Africa. Luckily for me, JHU’s public health department is offering a great program in South Africa that allows students to take classes at the University of Cape Town and even intern with an NGO.  I jumped at the chance to apply and am awaiting a response from the department. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to continue my experiential education in Africa this summer!

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