My Orientation- Working with and for Women in Bogotá

By Ksenia Varlyguina, MPH ’12 in Population and Family Health

One of my favorite ways to pass the time on public transportation is to look at everyone’s noses. Pick a body part in a crowded place and notice how everyone’s is similar but individual, a symphony of genetic variety. In the first week of my practicum I learned that the same is true for vaginas. I spent 49 hours observing 12 pelvic exams, 6 counseling sessions, 3 procedures, 2 Pap smears. I have a renewed reverence for vaginas. They can accomplish things no other organ can! They’re amazing. Each one’s different, like noses, toes, kneecaps.

You may ask, “What am I doing anyway?” Using focus groups, questionnaires, observation and key interviews, I aim to help a family planning organization in Bogota, Colombia, improve their services to women. The formal description of my project sounds like this: a formative evaluation of provider and user perceptions of barriers and facilitators to contraceptive initiation and continuation post-abortion. It’s the kind of research that involves being around people, observing and asking them questions to improve services.

My work is the house in the left of the photo, and the mountains are to the East of the city.

In the past month, I’ve followed every type of provider, observing the reception area, counseling sessions, procedures, and follow-up appointments. Everyone has stretched and expanded to let me in, to warmly welcome me. I feel comfortable and grateful for my new home and colleagues—the doctors, nurses, psychologists, researchers who respect, appreciate and help vaginas—as well as the women they help. What an honor, this work, this project, this place.

Initially, a lot of the work involved sitting at a desk all day, everyday: sending emails, editing draft after draft of protocols and scopes of work and schedules, working slowly on a seemingly endless literature review.

The Director of Services graciously let me use her office to work on the third iteration of my literature review.

That was the uninteresting part, the part that makes people dislike research. I understand. I don’t like opening documents filled with more comments than text, editing the same paper 23 times, fiddling with citations. I get it. But, maybe, it’s worth it? All the persnickety, picky, flip-flopping that goes into making a decision about which questions to ask, how to ask them, when, to whom, by whom.

Ultimately, it will lead to the fun part, the focus groups and interviews, the doing and not just the writing.

View Ksenia’s personal blog to read more about her adventures.

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