February 12

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Final Blog – Reflections

The 6 months of my PULSE assignment with PATH in Dakar are now well over and I have travelled the 6,000+ KM to sit back in a Canadian GSK office. While I was in Dakar, I took two sets of photos to describe the passing of time:

Renaissance monument (which I referred to in my November blog): when I arrived in June (end of dry season), during the rainy season (Aug – Oct), and upon leaving in Dec (start of dry season)

Construction (by hand) of a building right next to my lodging: (note: when I say by hand I mean everything by hand. Brick-making, hammering of re-bar, cement pouring and shaping. Everyday day of the week except Sunday, 8am to after 6pm, no harnesses, no hard hats.)

And in terms of re-adjustment, coming from +30 degrees Celsius daily to this (below) just about sums up the adjustment:

Weather

Time has passed; the temperature has changed and now is the time to reflect.

Reflections:

All the things that were supposed to happen with PULSE happened:

  • I experienced the joys and struggles of the three pillars of the PULSE program (change communities, change GSK, change yourself) by spending a lot of time outside of my comfort zone. I am still processing the growth this has contributed to my professional and personal development.
  • I embedded myself into a new organization, tried my hardest to listen and learn before jumping to action and (re)confirmed that collaboration and partnerships are not only the best way of achieving results, but really are the only way in a complex environment like developing-country health care systems.
  • As a result of my experience, I return to GSK not only as a PULSE ambassador but also with a renewed appreciation for the work GSK is doing, and is trying to do, in settings like Senegal.

There are some reflections however that are less tangible, more philosophical. They were the mostly unspoken factors that surrounded the 6 months, aspects of life that at once present acute challenges yet also unprecedented opportunities.

Inequality is present more than ever. Despite the impressive reductions in extreme poverty around the world in the past few decades, the ratio of those on the next level up on the socio-economic ladder, those generally living on less than $2 per day, has grown. And the upper rung has gotten richer. In Dakar, this was evident in the prices of groceries, apartment rentals and electricity. My costs in this area surpassed (and quite dramatically) what I was paying in Toronto. Obviously, most of the >2M (and growing) people living in Dakar cannot afford these luxuries and so most have to deal with inconveniences that are often harmful to their well-being (think: lack of garbage disposal + floods that cause overflows in sewage). But like I mentioned, with challenges come innovation: a young, technology-focused social activist designs Cross City Dakar, an app similar to the very popular crossy road but with Senegalese features, to raise awareness of the dangers of the already numerous (and growing) population of street children. This app, designed at the West Africa Innovation hub that exists in Dakar, gets international attention and highlights two of the greatest forces in sub-Saharan African modern society: youth and technology.

There were so many other examples of this challenge-opportunity dichotomy. But, I will leave you with one more story, told to me second-hand, however it has so much truth and power in its simplicity that I have not been able to get it out of my mind. Its lesson is probably the biggest learning from my whole experience and one that I look forward to bringing back with me.

Flood

Rainy season, busy flooded road, hopping from dry space to dry space until the dry space runs out. The area rushing with water that needs to be traversed is not huge but represents getting to an important appointment on time (and avoiding a 45 minute detour) but also means stepping ankle-deep in literally faeces-infested water. Standing there staring at the water, wishing for rubber boots, calculating what speed would be needed to jump that far, swearing for not having left much earlier. Then, simply, a thin, tall, smiling Senegalese man picks up a brick and throws it into the rushing water and literally creates a bridge.  One step, one brick, another step, another brick and voila, I’m across. The bricks are everywhere, they are literally right in plain view but my mind, so used to thinking in a certain way, was not going to come up with that solution.

So yes, the world is changing, things are getting complex, but let’s not forget to take a deep breath and look around. There are challenges, sure, but there is also beauty and simplicity in the opportunities that surround us. Thank you to PULSE, PATH and GSK for allowing me to live such a unique experience – it will be one that I will forever carry with me. And of course, thank you to each and every one of you who followed my journey.

End