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Tapping Into the Tools in Your Toolbox

“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” --Abraham Maslow

My work in global health started as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in South Africa. I worked in the HIV/AIDS sector at a small, local NGO in rural Mpumalanga. I enjoyed working in the field at a community-level NGO, but after many years working at small organizations, I knew I wanted to experience working at a larger organization such as USAID.

After earning my MSc in Global Health and Development at UCL (formerly University College London), I started applying to jobs in the global health field and found this opportunity with Sustaining Technical and Analytic Resources (STAR). Since I spent the last 6 years living abroad and I was not ready to return to the States, I applied for one of the positions at a mission. When I was offered an internship at USAID/Rwanda, I immediately accepted.

Expanding my Global Health Experience

As a Global Health Intern in the Health Office (HO) at USAID/Rwanda, I have been able to experience the side of global health that I never experienced at small NGOs. I have been learning about how countries disseminate funding among partners and offices, how to develop programs, and how to work alongside host country governments.

Throughout my internship, I have been completing month-long rotations between the different HO teams: Community Health and Empowerment Services (CHES), President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), Health System and Service Delivery (HSSD), and Program Support.

As someone who wants a career in USAID, rotating between the different teams has allowed me to try new things and find out which aspects of USAID and global health I enjoy most. Most of my work in Peace Corps South Africa was with HIV/AIDS. Being able to work with the different HO teams has given me the opportunity to learn about different areas of global health, such as nutrition, malaria, and health system strengthening. I believe my experience on these teams will help guide my decisions about future jobs at USAID.

Merging My Skills and Experience

I have an MSc in Global Health and Development and a BSc in Communications. Although I always considered my degrees vastly different, and my switch to global health as a complete 180° from my work in communications, I’ve found that I use my communications degree a lot in my work. I’ve been helping the teams develop factsheets, one-pagers, and information documents about our HO activities to disseminate to implementing partners, donors, and the public. I love that I can use knowledge and skills from my background in my current job and field of work.

I am currently supporting the whole office, and specifically the program support team, preparing for our yearly portfolio review with the mission front office. We are compiling activity sheets for all the HO activities, writing narratives, and analyzing year-one data to see how these activities are progressing and if they are meeting their indicators and targets.

I also worked on PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) COP21 planning with the CHES team. As a PCV, I gained a lot of experience working with PEPFAR and HIV/AIDS. However, I was always on the implementation side. Now, I am working on the planning side and it has given me a new appreciation for the work that goes into planning these large programs. Having worked on the implementation side also gives me a unique perspective when it comes to planning.

With the CHES team, I also helped create a budget for a water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activity. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I created a 10-week Health Club activity to teach orphans and vulnerable children in my community about healthy living practices. I created a budget of 14,675 Rand for that activity, which, at the time, seemed like a large budget. Now, working with a budget of $30+ million, I can use my skills in creating a budget, while also learning how to create a budget vastly larger than the ones from my past.

What’s Next?

My internship was originally supposed to be six months but it has since been extended. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with USAID/Rwanda and the Health Office. I hope to apply to the Foreign Service and continue working for USAID in missions all over the world. I know that the skills I am learning and my experience working with the different teams is going to benefit my future career, whether with USAID or beyond.

My advice to students and young professionals who are considering working abroad is to take every opportunity that comes your way. A study abroad program is a great way to move abroad and you can even use that opportunity to volunteer or intern in your field to gain international professional experience. When you are ready for employment, apply to companies in the States that have offices abroad. This can be a great entry point to international work and can help ease the burden of work permits and visas. You may need to gain local work experience before you are able to move abroad, but it will be worth it in the long run. Either way, don’t give up on your dreams!

Morgan Stoner

STAR Global Health Intern, Health Office