Katherine Merritt on Navigating the Challenges and Unknowns

Being one of those strange individuals that really enjoys school, homework, projects, etc., I often find myself missing the hustle and bustle of being in an academic setting. I miss the challenge of finding a solution to an organic chemistry problem and the unknown of what an essay might turn out like despite having a clear idea for it in the beginning. Coming to Jamaica I thought these challenges and unknowns would, in a way, be no longer existent. But during my time here, I have come to realize that I have just as many, if not more challenges and unknowns in my everyday life that are often more difficult to find a solution to.

 One of the biggest challenges that I encounter weekly is the question of: How can we increase health education, especially in communities in which it is difficult or too expensive for some to obtain medical care? As someone who is interested in health care, to me health education seems like one of the most sustainable practices that can be done in a community. Many of the people who come to the clinic that I work at have never been taught what diabetes is, only told that they have “sugar.” Many other patients do not understand the consequences of high blood pressure and lifestyle changes that can be effective to lower this concern, but only understand that they have a “pressure pill.” Not only do the patients need to have a better understanding of the diseases that they have, but also lifestyle and sanitation changes that may lead to a healthier family and community in the future – one that potentially requires less medical attention and can recognize the implications of hereditary diseases.

 Another question that I experience firsthand in the course of my weekly schedule is: How can educational effectiveness be increased, especially in “bush” communities and for children with special needs? I recently found out that the primary school that I work at is ranked one of the lowest schools in the parish of Manchester for the GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test). This test serves as a strong marker of what high schools the students will be accepted into. It is not for lack of trying on the part of the teachers, so the question still remains: Why? And how can it be changed? At this same school, I also work with a child who has autism and another who has autism and ADD (through my understanding that is). Due to a lack of resources, it is difficult for these two young boys to receive the educational care that is needed, despite efforts from the staff at the school. Both of these boys have a great potential, but not one that is recognized in the educational setting that they are currently in.

 It is always easier to post questions and not give answers to them, which is, unfortunately all I can do for these big topics most of the time. Only having lived on the island for five short months, there is still much more that I can discover and many more things to learn about health care and education and ways in which these systems can improve. On the wide spectrum, though, these are not “Jamaica problems” but rather issues that occur around the world. I don’t have the answers, but a small solution is still a step in the right direction, and it is my goal by the end of the year to make this leap, regardless of how small it may be.

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