How Bolivia Is Changing My Perspective

Natalia Caprile2

Natalie Caprile, Sociology and Pre-Med ’18 

Before the Privett Global Scholars program, I had never spent more than two weeks outside of the U.S. The thought of changing that through such a challenging program was daunting. However, being in Bolivia and having the opportunity to open myself up to the people here, as well as listen to their experiences, has given me an increased understanding of the world and myself.

One of my most challenging and rewarding experiences thus far has been the work I have done with my organization, Vivo en Positivo. Vivo does work surrounding HIV and AIDS (primary and secondary prevention, direct support for people living with HIV, as well as their family and loved ones, etc.) throughout Bolivia. For my project, I am focusing on primary prevention among youth in Cochabamba. To meet this end, we are going to middle and high schools in five municipalities and performing training sessions on HIV, human rights, and discrimination.

To prepare for these trainings, I conducted research, created PowerPoint presentations, and designed an informative brochure. Even with all this preparation, I felt the nerves as we went to our first training. I did not have complete confidence in my ability to talk in Spanish about such a specific topic for an hour. I sat back and listened to my coworkers lead the presentation while writing down key concepts on the board and passing other materials out to the students.

At the end of the training session, my coworker asked if there were any questions. One student raised her hand, pointed at me, and point-blank asked, “What does she think? Why hasn’t she said anything?” I could feel my heart beating, but I responded, “Sorry that I haven’t been talking a lot–I’m still working towards speaking Spanish fluently. But, for me, the most important thing is that you all know your rights and have correct information. I hope that you can talk about this amongst yourselves and with your other friends and family.” The young woman who asked the question nodded her head at me in response. I survived my first session.

The next day, I was leading training sessions on my own in a different school. Though my coworkers have been helpful and understanding while I have worked on my project, I was pushed out of my comfort zone pretty quickly. Other than learning how to lead an hour-long presentation in Spanish, I have also learned how important transparency and honesty are in doing work with communities in which you are an outsider.

When I go to schools to lead sessions, I own up to where I am from and what I am doing in this community. I touch on what I hope to bring as well as what I have learned from people and experiences here, and I encourage students to ask questions or call me out if they feel it is necessary. After multiple sessions, I have had students (mostly young women) come up to me and thank me for coming, ask me for more information, or ask if we can lead these sessions in other areas of their communities.

At the request of one of the principals from a school in which we held trainings, we have already branched out with our sessions. We held two at an organization that offers food, shelter, and activities to local children with less access to resources. After finishing the trainings there, they asked us to come back and hold more sessions.

I love doing work that allows me to have interactions with people in communities in Cochabamba. This project has given me more than just public speaking skills or technical knowledge about HIV. I have been fortunate enough to have real conversations with students who allowed me to see into parts of their lives. Some of them have told me stories that have changed the way I conceptualize things like health, family, and responsibility. Because of this, I have gained a greater understanding of others and myself on a global scale. The way I see things has shifted. There is no going back from here.

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USF in D.C. is Unlike Anything Else!

 

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Gabbi McDaniel

I left Washington, D.C. more than four months ago. Whenever anybody asks me about my experience, my first response continues to be, “it was the best experience I’ve had at USF.” Then I gush for five more minutes about the opportunities I had, the individuals I met, and the impact this program had on my academic and professional career. Over these past four years, I’ve been able to join multiple organizations on campus, volunteer throughout the city at non-profits doing incredible work, and even spend a semester studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador. I’m beyond grateful for all of those experiences, but the USF in D.C. program is unlike anything else.

When I was accepted into the USF in D.C. program, I was ecstatic. I knew that I’d have the opportunity to live in D.C. during the first presidential election I could vote in, gain hands-on experience with a full-time internship, and synthesize my academic background with real-world applications. However, I never anticipated just how well USF in D.C. would prepare me for my future professional endeavors and instill in me a passion for the intersections between sexual and reproductive rights, policy advocacy, and international development.

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During the fall semester, I interned at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). UNFPA is the lead UN agency addressing sexual and reproductive health, maternal health, gender-based violence, and child marriage in the context of international development and humanitarian settings. As the sole intern in the office, I had direct access to UNFPA DC’s Director and our Advocacy & Communications Specialist on a daily basis. Together, our team of three, consistently worked to advance UNFPA’s mission within the context of the US government. I had the opportunity to advocate with my colleagues before the Department of State and Congressional members; attend countless conferences with other NGOs and government institutions focused on these issues; and represent UNFPA at advocacy and strategy meetings. Every single day I was exposed to the complexities of advocacy and the fight for improving access to sexual and reproductive health care around the world. Throughout the semester, I was awe-inspired by the intelligent and determined women I worked alongside who used their privilege to fight for social justice.

Now, I’m finishing up my final semester at USF and yearning to get back to Washington, D.C. to continue this vital work. I’ve been able to use the knowledge I gained in D.C. in my Human Rights Advocacy course and my Gender, Development, and Globalization class. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are inextricably linked with economic justice, racial justice, human rights, and national security. As graduation draws nearer, I’m seeking opportunities within human rights advocacy, communications, and policy analysis, with a particular focus on sexual and reproductive health. The USF in DC program provided me with a foundation to pursue these career opportunities and I cannot thank the McCarthy Center, Betty L. Blakley Scholarship, the Newmark Fellowship,  USF in D.C. professors, and my UNFPA colleagues enough for my experience.

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