Sunday, March 14, 2010

Preparing a Poster for the Society for Applied Anthropology Conference

A poster. That sounds easy enough, right? This year at the Society for Applied Anthropology Conference, hosted in Merida, Mexico on March 24-27, I decided to present an academic poster. It is only 30x40, and contains simple and concise words. The best part is I do not have to write a paper or give an oral presentation. Hmmm. One big poster with few words versus one big paper/speech with lots of words. Which one sounds easier? Oh, how I was fooled! The simplicity of creating a poster was only in theory, not in practice.

The poster I am presenting on behalf of myself, Luke Manley, Andrea Caivano, and Sonny Patel is titled “Stripping Humanity: Suppression of Uyghur Human Rights.” It derived from a group project in a public health course, PM 525 Culture and Health, at the University of Southern California. Our project entailed finding a cultural group in Los Angeles or vicinity, learn about and from them, and identify a health problem. Wanting to challenge ourselves and be unique, we chose Ugyhurs.

Who are Uyhgurs, you may ask? For a brief overview, they are a Chinese (nationality) Islamic minority group primarily in Xinjiang Province, or as the Uyghurs prefer to call it--East Turkistan, which is located in Northwest China. There are very few Uyghurs residing in the United States. Los Angeles is one of the more populous Uyghur areas, with 50-80 Uyghurs including children, living in a county of 10 million people.

Identifying and finding them was a challenge. Once we created a relationship with a key member of the group, everything went smoothly considering time constraints (us and them), small population size, and expected delays that come with every research project. After learning from them and the plight they experienced, our group decided to do more than present their story to a public health class. We decided to bring attention to their situation on a much larger scale—to an international and academic community. Thus laid the foundation for presenting at the Society for Applied Anthropology conference.

The poster-making process was long and tedious. A good portion of the work goes to formatting, styling, and overall presentation, and another portion to content. Luckily, most of the content was already formed in a PowerPoint presentation given at the end of the Culture and Health course, where choosing and picking words to concisely convey the message was done ahead of time. This itself involves a lot of thinking and correctly choosing few words that tell a big story. Think how you would summarize a lifetime, or generations, of health disparities with a handful of words for each topic.

Formatting is my favorite, yet frustrating, aspect of poster-making. This is where content is cut to convey messages to the point, text and graphics arranged for reading ease and user-friendliness, and layout displayed for balance and looks inviting. This is also where every detail is closely scrutinized, making sure every bullet or text is aligned properly, spacing is correct, font is uniform, and everything is in its place. This is sometimes the most challenging part because the most minute detail can be easily missed, yet has a huge impact on the overall presentation of the poster. Needless to say, I had numerous revisions., and am thankful for the input and help from my fellow co-authors.

After logging in many hours, my poster was ready for print. Printing is quite expensive! I went to pick up my poster and ready to take my poster home, but noticed the poster did not print out the way I wanted. The headings had an off-color boxed shadow to it that other texts on the poster did not have. This was not apparent on the PowerPoint (original program I used to create the poster), or at actual size on the PDF. Unsatisfied with the results, I worked with the printing employees on identifying the problem, fixing it, and submitting it for printing once again. Turns out, the shadow resulted because the (Calibri) font for the heading was “Calibri,” and not “Calibri (headings).” I also learned that zooming in the PDF at 500%, or as closely as possible, revealed the off-color shadow that was not seen when viewing at actual size. Changing this minute and important detail, the boxed shadow problem was solved. I was able to print a second time at no cost extra and I got to keep the first print for free.

So much work goes into creating a poster that one does not usually foresee. There is much difficulty in condensing and conveying information in as few words as possible, properly formatting the poster, and dealing with unexpected problems. Was this worth all the trouble? In the end, a product is created with pride that can be displayed many times and offer a presentation without preparing a long oral one. Given those outcomes, the trouble was well worth it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

IGH Trip to Ethiopia

I have just returned from my first trip to Ethiopia. I went with an Ethiopian colleague from the Department of Preventive Medicine at Keck, Dr. Kiros Berhane, to discuss ways in which USC could partner with the Ministry of Health and agencies in the northern state of Tigrei to improve heath outcomes. Don Sheppard, President of the Los Angeles Futbol Club, joined us to explore launching a holistic community-based program that harnesses the power of soccer to promote health. The trip was inspiring and thought provoking and reminded me once again why it is that I work in the field of global health, and who it is that we are trying to help. Above all, I fell in love with the Ethiopian people.

My interaction with Ethiopian youth began already in Los Angeles when I was asked by Mending Kids International to bring a little girl who they had brought to LA for heart surgery home to Addis Abba. Meserat was

simply amazing. She was brought to the US for 5 months to under go heart valve surgery, but upon going home I had the feeling that for her, the medical care was simply an after thought. For Meserat, her host family and friends defined her stay. Her host parents had not only taken care of her, but loved her as their own child and

sent her home to a new life full of opportunity and support. Originally from a poor rural community in Southern Ethiopia, Meserat will now be attending one of the top private boarding schools in Addis with the financial support from her US host parents. Throughout the 24-hour trip, she clutched a book that her classmates in her 3rd grade class in Palmdale had given her as a going away present. She made me read and re-read the messages that they had written to her and told me funny stories about each of them and why she was going to miss her new best friends. We chatted across half the world in English – a language that she did not speak only 5 months before. Meserat’s humor, beauty, and resilience gave me a quick introduction to core qualities of the Ethiopian people before I even landed in Addis.

Addis, like much of Ethiopia, is a city in transition. Construction sites are everywhere you look. New modern buildings – in fact entire new communities – are springing up at every turn. The Ministry of Health (our first visit only hours after landing) is no exception, having just moved out of a dilapidated old building into a new high rise in the last few weeks. We met with the Minister of Health to discuss the country’s health priorities and how USC could help. Ethiopia’s health priorities are somewhat typical of other Sub-Saharan African countries; maternal and child mortality, HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, sanitation, and nutrition. The country has recently implemented an innovative new Health Extension Program involving thousands of trained community health workers in health clinics established in very district (approx. 25,000 people). These health workers are collecting critical vital statistics from their populace and reporting apparent disease outbreaks to the Ministry. We discussed how USC could potentially help to digitalize the data collection and make it more useful as a national surveillance system.

From Addis we traveled to Mekelle in the state of Tigrei. Tigrei is probably most well known to the US public as the site of the 1985 famine that resulted in the ‘We are the World’ campaign. It has also endured decades of conflict during the country’s civil war and wars with Eritrea, which it borders to the north. Drought, deforestation, and conflict have played a large role in destroying the state’s natural environment. However, after a few hours in Tigrei I forget these historical notes and instead was forced by my Tigrian guides and the reality I saw on the ground to define the state instead by resilience, community and development.

I was impressed by how the Tigreian people are working together to develop their country. Every Tigreian gives 60 days a year to civil service. During this time they plant trees and build terraces on the hills to reduce soil erosion. According to our guide, 800 million trees have been planted in Ethiopia in the last year. In every community we visited we saw new schools and health clinics. The Tigrei Development Agency (TDA) has built over 400 schools in the last five years as part of their campaign to turn makeshift schools into schools with walls. The schools have been built with support from the local communities and donations from Ethiopians living abroad. (There is a school that has been built with the support of the Ethiopian community here in LA.) We also saw the new health clinics built as part of the Health Extension program. They were not hard to locate, as they were beautiful large new facilities. The problem lies in what is inside the new buildings – not much. Everywhere we went (schools and clinics) the locals outlined their needs for books, reference materials, laboratory supplies, computers, and WATER. Water access is clearly a major challenge and one that I hope USC engineers can help with. From an outsiders perspective, the lack of quality computers and internet access also seemed to be a major barrier to providing the youth with a first class education. I hope that in the months and years to come USC can play a significant role in helping our Ethiopian colleagues get these critical resources.

I left Ethiopia convinced that we have committed partners that are dedicated to improving education and health care in their country. I am also committed to working with them to do whatever I can to help provide the amazing children I met with a first class education and endless opportunity. Fight on Ethiopia!