The Transition: Life after the GHC Fellowship
“The GHC fellowship is only the beginning of your Global Health Corps experience…”
It had been 13 months since we began our training to become leaders in the movement for global health equity and social justice in the United States, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Zambia and beyond. Two weeks of pre-fellowship training at Yale, quarterly workshops with other fellows in our placement countries throughout the year, midyear retreats combining all of the fellows in Eastern Africa, all of the fellows in Southern Africa and all of those in the United States, and finally the grand-daddy of them all, the end-of-year retreat in Rwanda for fellows placed all over the world.
These trainings, workshops and retreats gave us the tools we needed to excel in our placement organizations and to become the leaders the world truly needs.
And then, suddenly, they stopped. It all stopped.
In August 2015, my year was up, and I officially became a Global Health Corps Alumnus…I was no longer a fellow.
At end-of-year, they told us that the fellowship is just the beginning of the GHC experience. Watching some of my best friends leave Rwanda to fly back to America, Zambia, Malawi, Burundi, not knowing when I would see them again, being consumed by a sudden panic that I was unemployed, homeless and running out of money in East Africa with no desire to live anywhere else, I couldn’t help but adopt a fairly defeatist perspective about the promise that the GHC experience — perhaps the most rewarding opportunity of my life — was not over.
Any of us who have ever been through a major transition — whether between jobs, finishing school, moving to a new city, beginning or ending a relationship — know full well that transitions can be difficult.
I just didn’t think it would be as daunting as it was.
I returned to Uganda, back to my village in which I had been based, crashing with the new fellows at my placement for some time before finally shifting to Kampala with little more than a temporary consulting project in my hands and a generous (but dwindling) GHC completion award in my bank account.
Well, now what? How was I supposed to follow an experience that shaped who I am as a social justice activist, as an advocate for women’s health, as a human being?
I’ll tell you how — with a winning combination of ennui, missteps, and a complete lack of motivation. Hooray!
I felt like I had lost a part of myself, a part of my identity. I was no longer a GHC Fellow in Uganda; I was just another mzungu (white outsider) trying to find his place as a stranger in a strange (albeit extraordinary) land.
Of course I didn’t just sit around doing nothing. I completed a career changing consulting gig with Raising Voices, a Uganda-based organization that seeks to eliminate violence against women and children, and I continue to consult for Innovations for Poverty Action on a fascinating project looking at incentive packages to encourage polygamous men to include their spouses on their land titles. I spent over a month in the field, explored the country I love so much, and made a new group of friends that I truly cherish having around in Kampala.
Though for the past 6 months, I had not stopped missing what the GHC fellowship provided for me: the endless support, the unique opportunities, the travel buddies, and so many perspective-shifting discussions and debates.
I would talk to members of my fellowship class who had moved back the United States, and to those who had remained in Uganda and the other African placement countries. Everyone seemed so far away, even those who were still in country. I wasn’t sure how to get that fulfillment back.
Then something extraordinary happened.
Six months to the day after I completed my last week of work at my placement organization in eastern Uganda, Global Health Corps was once again transporting me and many of my Ugandan cohort to the shores of Rwanda’s Rumira Lake for the 2016 GHC East Africa Leadership Summit, also known as an alumni retreat. There I was greeted by alumni and GHC staff who had driven or flown in from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Zambia, Kenya, DRC and the United States. I was met with hugs, laughter, tears, familiar faces, and friends - old and new alike.
The weekend unrolled with career building sessions, discussions about the interior dimensions of a leader with Global Health Corps’ chaplaincy partner, Still Harbor, team-building activities, and all the mouth-watering Rwandan buffets we could ask for. Cultural dances, dance parties, shout-outs, group pictures — it was just like being back in the fellowship. The difference was a slightly different cast of characters — an amalgamation of many of the best and brightest alumni to have worked in East Africa. We led sessions on topics and projects we were working on, and I was even afforded the opportunity to give a GHC-TEDx presentation on sexism, allowing me to unfold more deeply as a leader within the GHC community itself.
I engaged in endless discussions with alumni about the work they have done since the fellowship and about their own transitions. Some had a very easy time shifting into their new lives, but many of us — more than I realized — expressed the difficulty of leaving the GHC fellowship and the community it provided. As we commiserated, I suddenly found myself feeling more deeply understood.
That’s when I started to realize what GHC staff and alumni had meant at our end-of-year retreat when they said that the fellowship was just the beginning of the experience.
The whole fellowship year was just the training process, a year-long hands-on workshop that allowed us to try our hands in new fields and job-tasks and discover what role we can each play in the movements for health equity, for poverty alleviation, for gender equality, and for social justice as a whole.
I reflected back on my transition in a new light that weekend. In that six month period, I made friends with a whole new class of fellows, forged some of the most meaningful friendships I have ever had, connected with other alumni that I never would have otherwise met, and even got an interview for what is now my current job via the GHC community. I received feedback on my writing, support in my career transition, and connections to new networks in Uganda, not to mention places to rest my head while transitioning into a new home in Kampala.
I realize now how extraordinarily lucky I have been — and continue to be — to be a part of this community.
Here in Uganda, I am surrounded by GHC alumni that I recognize as the future (and current) leaders of the country with which I have fallen so deeply in love. Together as a community, we are stronger than we ever could be alone. Through our successes, our triumphs, our struggles, our milestones, our laughs, our tears, and these moments where we get to reconnect, we are a family. We have each others’ backs, and we continue to encourage each other through everything we do.
We are here for each other. You are here for me, and I am here for you.
The GHC fellowship truly is just the beginning. As a proud alum of the 2014–2015 GHC Class, I for one cannot wait to see what it brings next.