Global Health: Advice for short-term service work from the CUGH

2 May

Last month, the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) converged at the downtown SF’s Hilton Hotel for an annual conference bringing some of the most innovative and experienced minds in the field of global health. As a student ambassador representing the UC Global Health Institute, an organization that represents all ten of the University of California campuses and their global health initiatives, I had the privilege of meeting and founders of organizations I admire, like Haiti Cardiac Alliance and connecting with faculty, residents, and other students deeply engaged in projects around the world.

Throughout various sessions and presentations, one common question emerged: how much of a positive impact do short-term medical trips have? And less subtly: are we doing more damage with short-term initiatives than good? These are questions that are deeply personal to me, as I have participated in and currently coordinate short-term service work for students in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. In attending CUGH, I found a community of like-minded individuals who are dedicated to asking these difficult questions as they design and implement programs in global health. As students looking to participate in global health programs, I believe we have a responsibility to research and understand the impact of the trips we will take. By taking the time to keep ourselves accountable to the work we hope to engage in, we can learn deeper lessons through our experiences abroad.

Interested in understanding the complexities of short-term service work? Here is a list of resources I gathered while at the CUGH on the subject:


Madres on Kiva

9 Apr



We are ready to take Madres to the next level, but need some extra capital to help us make that happen. We’re a small business, and this is how small businesses stay alive. 

You’ll be investing in 11 women and their 33 children, as well as the community into which they spend their money. 

Help us get there now. 



A quiet story of a morning in Haiti

26 Sep

This 5 min video captures perfectly and quietly, and in beautiful lighting, the true moments of a morning in rural Haiti (and much like in Los Pinos del Eden, just across the border in the Dominican Republic).

From the hair ribbons, to school uniforms, to the soft white chalk on a faded chalkboard, this story revels in small daily treasures, while also presenting the reality behind it.

Semi-edited thoughts from a plane

6 Jun


I absolutely love listening to bachata, the quintessential music blasting out of the countryside of the Dominican Republic.  It plays all day, every day, from the corner store, the car wash, and from your neighbors house while they’re moping the floor.  A handful of songs of the moment get extra air time, mixed in with some of the classics, and you never, ever, get tired of hearing them.  There is a moment in most bachatas when the twangy guitar, which makes bachata music what it is, skips up a cord, and that is the moment when things get extra spicy.  It’s called the requinto, and of all who do it, Anthony Santos is the king.  I like to think of it as the breakdown, when everyone on the dance floors takes a breathe and then they get funky.  

My life in the Dominican Republic, especially these last four months, have been a living requinto. I’ve been living with the volume on full-blast and the color set to the brightest saturation.  And, as I’m writing this, I’m leaving it all behind.  

I’m on a plane 30 minutes outside of San Francisco,  and we are scheduled to land early.  Early.  It feels like I’m also leaving way too early from the Dominican Republic.  And at the same time I need to bring back the way I feel and live to San Francisco.  I’m writing this as live advice to myself, to the moment when I’m lost and reaching for the bowl of M&M’s at my sister’s apartment, because I’m not sure what I’m doing back in SF.  

You are starting with a clean slate. You do not have to fall back into old patterns and old ways that don’t serve you, and never have.  Wipe it clean. You also carry so much happiness and so much expression of love with you in your heart, you’ve never felt more love than you do at this moment.  

Only bite when you are going to be nourished.  Only drink when you are satiating thirst. Live light and live happy.  Run your hands through your hair every day and give thanks to God.  Start the day off on your knees, in prayer, or meditation, or whatever the hell you want to call it. Seek out the raw, unedited, unfiltered, and uncaptured, never to be filmed moments of your life, every single day.  Run wildly, love softly, and let your heart soar and expand, and take in more even when its too much.  Close your eyes and dance to the music you are listening too, sing the words out loud, even if you are in a public place like an airplane.  There is a fire lit within you, and you are the one that needs to carry the torch and stoke the flame.  Seek out touch, and offer it voluptuously to others.  Ask things of the people who are important in your life.

There are no other nights out like the nights where music is at full blast and pulsing through your heart, and you have a good group of friends to sit with, cold Presidente flowing, and plenty of dance partners picking you out to dance with.  And then they play your favorite song.  And then your other favorite song. Remember there will be more nights like this to come.   

We’re descending now and I’m just getting started.  I don’t want it to end. 

#2: Weekly Inspirations and Wonders

10 May
photo (21)
I’ve fallen into the rhythm of spending Tuesday – Thursday in Los Pinos, coming down at around 4pm, usually with Madres artisan Yarilis, who heads down the mountain as she makes the trek to Neyba to get to her university classes by 7pm.  Its always refreshing to sign back online after several glorious days of being disconnected.  Here is what I love checking out once I’m home:  
  • Soul Surfer – the images are so far from what I’m living now, but they convey the lifestyle I want to live – minimalist, simple, beautiful, and pulsing with life.
  • Danielle LaPorte – I love this woman and everything she writes.  I get her daily truthbombs and love the pop of wisdom they provide.  I’m also a huge fan of what she preaches in terms of life design.  She asks “How do you want to feel?” instead of “What do you want to do?” 
  • Condor Trekkers & Quetzal Trekkers – In my last month living in Bolivia, I did a two-day trek outside of Sucre with Condor Trekkers, and their model and what they do has stuck with me. I dream of adapting this concept to what I do for Una Vida.  
  • SOIL – I’m exploring ways to innovate the way we build latrines for Una Vida, and have reached out to this organization based in Port au Prince and love learning about what they do.  

Burning up

6 May

ImageLast night rain fell like its never fallen before. Huge drops pounded on the tin roof, slipping through the cracks, soaking half of my bed – thankfully the half I was not on. This morning, creatures of all sorts are finding places to hide inside, and as I write this my computer seems to have collected a small family of ants.  

I woke this morning to voices in English – a collection of scientists here to study what the hell is going on with the lake and its constant rising – and mostly to escape the chaos occurring outside my door, I put on my Haitian fiestas (shoes pictured below), and went on a morning run to Bartolome. 


The road was slick and wet, the bean and banana fields bloated with water, the canal almost brimming over.  Life continued on despite the persistent wetness, and motorcycles zipped past me, calling out, “Rubia!”, “Americana!”, or the more common deep and curious stare.  I’ll usually smile and wave to those who stare, and a smile will crack on their face as they nod to greet in passing. Students in blue collared polo shirts picked through the mud making their way to school for the 8:00am bell (that usually sounds around 8:15).  At the crossroads that marks the edge of La Descubierta, travelers wait for transportation to pass by to either neighboring Jimani, or to head up the mountain to Los Pinos or beyond, often hopping in the backs of pickup or flatbed trucks, like the one I drive for Una Vida, hitching a bola, or a free ride.  

While on my run I’ve realized what an amazingly delicious two weeks I’ve had – they haven’t all been easy and I am still at the mercy of the incredible highs and lows of living abroad and the challenges of feeling like a foreign object, way out of her comfort zone, almost all the time.  And yet, I feel on fire.  I’m up early in the morning running, reading, writing, and out late at night dancing and doing all sorts of crazy and fulfilling things in between. I feel light up in a way only an impending change can bring.  I am, ultimately, a person who needs deadlines to get anything done, and I must realize that piece of myself may never change.  I’ve recently been obsessed with the concept of light and the idea that we all have an internal flame.  With two groups I recently hosted, I held a candle lighting ceremony to honor and reflect on the transitions and changes we were undergoing together, and to bond the group in the idea that sharing your light with another does not diminish your own.  As I ran, I realize I feel not only light up, but that I’m literally burning up – burning through what doesn’t serve me, leaving behind clarity and brightness.  Its a raw and wonderful feeling that I want to cherish and remember as I get ready to move back to San Francisco.  

A confession and a challenge.

3 May


Today, my former employer Chronicle Books is hosting its 5th annual volunteer day.  Once a year in the first week in May, the publishing company of beautifully designed books closes its doors and asks employees to spend the day giving back, engaging in volunteer service projects.  Back in 2009, the idea for the inaugural volunteer day was inspired by the publication of the book Change the World for Ten Bucks.  The book includes 50 simple actions, that although small, have a ripple effect that positively impact the world.  Somehow, I ended up on the book’s cover (see above).  

In addition to the fact that I despise this picture of myself, I felt a sort of sinking feeling inside me as the book came off press and hit shelves.  I wasn’t living with passion, intention, and purpose, and this book’s subject marked that, in a a giant red X, right over my heart. At my core, I was extremely embarrassed to be on the cover of this book. I felt like I was living a lie and not living up to my potential, and more importantly, not doing what my heart called me do.  I feel compelled to share this now, because although I’ve spent the last three years living abroad in service and in the name of teasing out my calling, and am about to start a program to work towards becoming a nurse practitioner, there is still one small piece that lives within me, and which I have yet to let come alive.  

So, from this confession comes the challenge, which is to myself.  One thing I have always felt called to do is just this.  Write.  And I hardly ever do it.  

It took me over a year to eventually get the courage to quit Chronicle.  I left in April 2010 and headed straight to the Dominican Republic, to lead my first trip for Una Vida. Since then, I have lived an incredibly rich, crazy, adventurous three years in San Francisco, Bolivia and in this tiny town, where I sit now, in the Dominican Republic.  And yet, this current chapter of life and work in the Dominican Republic comes to an end in exactly one month, on Tuesday, June 4th when I’ll depart Santo Domingo on a JetBlue flight bound for JFK at 10:25am.  

I have so much to share, and write, and process about my time here, and this is the space where that is supposed to happen.  So, I am giving myself the challenge to write, every single day, in the month that I have left here.  Because I know, once I go home, everything can and does feel like a dream.  So here’s to picking up the pen.  

Buenos dias, corazones

20 Apr




Weekly Inspirations & Wonders

19 Apr


My sister recently overhauled the way she writes her website, Six Twists.  I’m taking a cue from her and am going to do the same. In the same vein as her weekly links and inspirations, I’m posting what I’m seeing, feeling, reading, and wondering, right now, from the Dominican Republic: 

  • My heart is breaking as I look through this gallery of photos by Vlad Sokhin covering what modern slavery looks like in Haiti.  I never knew the name restavak, but see this same concept reflected in the Dominican Republic with Haitian children. This led me to discover the Restavak Freedom Project’s website.  
  • I’ve developed a friendship with a former Peace Corps volunteer also living and working in the DR, and in the last month she has visited La Descubierta and Los Pinos twice to introduce the method and model of her organization.  Her team at Community Enterprise Solutions works to train and empower women and youth to sell products like water filters, mosquito nets and solar lamps within their communities. In this way they introduce products with specific benefits and provide opportunities to earn income.  
  • I have major love for everything that Amber Rae posts on her blog, and spent a quiet moment at the apartment in Santo Domingo doing what she calls The Deathbed Exercise.  My top 5 feel sort of universal, but it feels good to put how you want your life to look on paper. 
  • Along the same lines, I’m reading Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star.  The only unfortunate part is that I downloaded it onto my computer, and so need to be connected to this device in order to read it.  Its the type of self-discovery, self-reflection I need as I’m about to start a huge transition, moving back to San Francisco, very, very soon.  

churches everywhere

23 Mar

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you — it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you… Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

-Anthony Bourdain