From Alaska to Zambia: A Journey of Learning and Impact

It’s truly astonishing that nearly three weeks have passed since I arrived in Lusaka. My journey began on a Wednesday in late May, departing from my hometown in Alaska. After a day layover in Chapel Hill and a night in Cape Town, I traveled almost 10,000 miles to finally reach Zambia, feeling a mix of excitement, exhaustion, and being completely overwhelmed.

We are living in a city of almost 3 million people! Here is one of the busy roads outside of our neighborhood.

The first week was a bit challenging. I landed at an airport with no power, no working Wi-Fi, and no cell service. Fortunately, with the help of a few locals, I found my ride and was warmly welcomed. However, my card didn’t work at the ATM, and the local SIM card I purchased was malfunctioning. I was quickly introduced to “load shedding,” which involves prolonged power cuts throughout the day and night to conserve electricity, a necessity due to the severe drought affecting Zambia’s dam-dependent power supply. Despite these bumps, they seemed minor in comparison to the larger issues, and I was eager to get to work.

Overlooking the Zambezi River

This summer, I am serving as the Mixed Methods Data Analyst Intern for the PIKABU study through UNC Global Projects Zambia. Our goal is to integrate AI-generated, hand-held ultrasounds into regular antenatal care across six clinics in three districts in Zambia. The amount I learned in the first week alone was incredible. I had the opportunity to draft several documents, which we field-tested and finalized within days for use in our study conducting interviews. Work here moves fast, and it has been an amazing opportunity to learn about the logistics of the study and collaborate with the team. We visited one of the local clinics to meet with the community outreach team, aiming to improve communication and collaboration between teams. It has been insightful to see how work is accomplished here and how a study is accepted into the community.

In addition to working with the wonderful Zambian team, I’ve enjoyed doing independent research and learning, then applying this knowledge to tasks such as rapid qualitative analysis or time-motion studies. I’m excited to delve deeper into these activities in the coming weeks, particularly coding our responses!

Hippopotamuses popped up out of the water everywhere! We got to fall asleep listening to them in the river and wake up to see them lined up sleeping on one another as they floated down the river.

Work keeps me busy during the week, but my fellow UNC practicum student and I try to explore as much as we can on weekends. Our first weekend, we drove to Lower Zambezi, where we enjoyed river cruises at sunset and sunrise, spotting impalas, crocodiles, kudu, dozens of hippos, and three magnificent bachelor elephants. We even watched one cross the Zambezi River from Zimbabwe back into Zambia as the sun set behind us. This weekend, we hope to visit local markets and an elephant orphanage.

Over the past few weeks, we have settled into a nice routine and sorted out the initial challenges. We’ve bought candles, obtained our work visas, and mastered a makeshift charcuterie board for dinner. I’m excited to continue learning alongside my team. I feel incredibly fortunate to be here, actively engaged in improving maternal care for birthing individuals while working to increase access to antenatal care in rural areas.