By Kev del Castillo
This year certainly threw us a curveball. Under a different set of circumstances–one under which there was not a global pandemic that essentially canceled everyone’s plans–I would have been in Uganda to help the Global Livingston Institute (GLI) conduct health and social impact research in the community of Lake Bunyoni. This, among other work activities, would have expanded my international development profile in sub-Saharan Africa. Instead of moving forward as planned with an intensive summer that would have seen me traverse across three continents for various projects, I was forced to pursue remote experiences.
GLI, an organization that works to promote sustainable international development through a more stakeholder-centered approach, wanted to continue working with me in some capacity so they invited me to join a somewhat experimental research fellowship. Like many other organizations that rely on global interaction, GLI was forced to rethink and readjust its framework by facilitating virtual opportunities. My fellowship with GLI connected me with many foreign relations and community development professionals from around the world. The goal was to bring together like-minded scholars who are dedicated to reducing global inequities and disparities. Our working group then assessed innovative approaches to tackling these challenges. I interacted with diplomats, researchers, development practitioners, and grassroots NGOs to collaborate and exchange ideas through a series of seminars, lectures, and workshops.
One of GLI’s flagship activities is a live entertainment series that is put together in East Africa, with the aim of bringing locals, cultural icons, and civil society actors together to promote public health and economic development initiatives. Through these events, individuals are provided with a stigma-free environment to learn about health issues and to receive resources such as free HIV testing and sexual health services. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these events were canceled this year, limiting critical access to such resources. The research I was most engaged in focused on exploring how to move forward with these services in a world affected by COVID-19.
I also advocated for the expansion of the model to cover West Africa, particularly Nigeria, which suffers from relatively high levels of communicable disease and notoriously weak health services. I studied infrastructural, economic, and psychosocial challenges around such an endeavor. The intention is that once the current global health crisis subsides, GLI can continue exploring the implementation of these activities beyond East Africa. An intensive interactive presentation and discussion culminated the fellowship research, with contributions being added to GLI’s internal resource bank to be published and referred to as the organization proceeds with the expansion and diversification of activities in the near future.
While my research with GLI has come to an end, I continue to maintain the professional relationships that were conceived as a result, and I will continue to be a resource for them in the future. Through this opportunity, I have built important professional connections, expanded my repertoire of international development experience, and engaged in the noteworthy work being done by my colleagues around the globe. My appreciation is extended to the IPED program for supporting these activities and the other professional development activities I have pursued.