July 8, 2012
Author: Quynh Nguyen
Almost a week has passed since I arrived in Panama. The weather is as expected of any tropical countries: humid, sunny, and full of sudden rains. Our group got a chance to see all the famous touristy places of Panama such as the Panama Canal, Panama Viejo (Old Panama), and the coastal way with high rises on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. When we actually got to “get out hands dirty”, we visited a unique community called 24 de Diciembre. We visited the newly built regional hospital, the clinic, and nearby school.
On a beautiful Thursday night, we (the 15 students from the MPH program), led by faculty at IPR and in Preventive Medicine, Professor K. Dwyer, Professor L. Baezconde-Garbanati, and logistician Rosa Barahona, all got invited to dinner. It was on this night that I met some of the most inspirational women in Panama. Dra. Cynthia Guy is a Panamanian anesthesiologist who lived and worked in the United States and has moved back to Panama a few years ago. She founded an amazing foundation called “Oir es Vivir”(“to Hear is to Live”). This foundation provides information and testing for hearing loss children and adults. This is a fast growing organization that is well recognized in Panama. The first moment I met her, she welcomed me with a warm smile and a firm handshake. During her speech, she told us that she founded this foundation when she moved back to Panama after 30 years of living in the United States. When everyone else just wanted to sit back and relax during their retirement, Dr. Guy started a foundation from scratch. Looking at her, I would have never imagined that she has MS (Multiple Sclerosis).
Dra. Guy in the pink, Chole in blue, Sra. Barahona, Lourdes Baezconde Garbanati, Kathleen Dwyer, and Chloe Smith (from right to left).
She introduces our group to two other women, Se?ora Giovanna Troncoso Luna and Dra. Stella Rowley. Senora Giovanna Troncoso Luna is the current president of “Oir es Vivir” Drs. Rowley has helped Dra. Guy started the foundation and she is also a doctor at the Children and Women Hospital in Panama. Sra. Troncoso, or as we get a chance to fondly call her, Giovanna, gives an impressive presentation on the foundation as well as why she was involved in the foundation. Her youngest son was deaf at an early age and she did everything in her power to help him get his hearing back. She told us that no one was able to explain to her why, no one was able to give her any answers, and no one was helping her son. However, she was determined to never stop fighting until she found the answers and the cure for her son. Now her son is a handsome and successful young man that can speak and hear multiple languages. As a woman and a mother, she feels the needs to give back, to share her experiences, to help other mothers who maybe going through the same situation.
Señora Giovanna Troncoso Luna
Dra. Rowley is a wonderful woman who has a wealth of information. She is incredibly intellegent and devoted. She too is a mother and a well-trained physician whose does cochlear surgery. As a student who been living in Panama for less than a week, I had very little knowledge of Panama and it’s health system. My interest has always been on gender inequality and I was not able to comprehend any of this as an observer and foreigner at the 24 de Diciembre Clinic. I was surprised that as one of the higher income country in Latin America, Panama has a great income discrepancies and gender inequality. Dra. Rowley kindly provided the answers to many of the pressing questions that have been lingering in my mind ever since I started my practicum in Panama. As a physician, a mother, a woman, and a Panamanian woman, she was able to give subjective and objective views on gender inequality and the Panamanian health system.
All three women that I met at the party demonstrate that they each have very clear directions and purposes in their lives. They are smart and strong women that truly believe in their works. Just by talking with them and hearing their stories, I learned that it is important to never accept “no” for an answer and should always ask “why.” And, if you want to do something, never let age, race, and especially gender, stop you from your goal. In a “machismo” country like Panama, these women seem to break down every wall and dodged every bullet that comes their way. More importantly, through these women, I realized that sometime to find ourselves and our purpose in life, we need to defy the cultural role that was expected of us by society and even our family.
More about the MPH Panama Practicum
A group of 15 University of Southern California graduate students are researching public health in Panama City, Panama, for a two-week international practicum, organized by the USC Master of Public Health (MPH) program. The students have been divided into three groups to work on maternal and child health, vaccination, environmental infectious diseases, nutrition and physical activity.
One group will be surveying patients about the healthcare system at a local clinic and proposing interventions to improve vaccination, infant development and women’s health. Another group will be in the field responding to outbreaks of environmentally spread infectious diseases and working to control common vectors such as mosquitoes. The last group will be calculating body mass index measurements for elementary school students and developing methods to improve nutrition and exercise within the school.
During their trip, the students will also be attending lectures on Panama’s healthcare system and statistics as well as visiting a remote indigenous tribe. Before leaving Panama, each student will be providing a deliverable that is intended to improve health in Panama.
These blog posts have been re-posted here with permission and can also be viewed at panama.usc.edu.