My J-term internship was with the NGO Nomadicare that is based in Middlebury but works solely in Mongolia. Nomadicare’s mission is to improve herders’ access to health care in Mongolia by harmonizing traditional Mongolian and western medicine, thereby improving the quality of health care rural herders can receive. During my internship I primarily did research on other governmental and non-governmental organizations working on health care or traditional medicine in Mongolia, made contacts with relevant organizations, set up meetings between my organization and theirs, prepped the team I was working with before the meeting, recorded meetings, and followed up with the organization about next steps to take. I also managed social media to help promote the organization via Facebook, Twitter, a blog, and wrote newsletters. Overall it was a really interesting experience because I learned a lot about traditional medicine, ways to promote and create culturally appropriate foreign aid, and international NGOs working on health care.
Learning about traditional medicine taught me a lot about race, ethnicity and culture because traditional medicine is only practiced by certain groups of people and are often looked down upon. Further, there are many cultural and ethnic differences within traditional medicine practices. An interesting situation I encountered was that Mongolian traditional medicine overall has many similarities to Buddhist and Chinese traditional medicine. However, there were also regional differences within Mongolia. This phenomenon highlighted to me the superficiality of political boundaries in terms of ethnicity and race. Often people on either side of the Chinese-Mongolia border had a lot more in common than Mongolians living near the Chinese border and the Russian border. Their proximity within the Mongolian political state however, resulted in their medicinal traditions being classified as “Mongolian” regardless of its actual roots.
Meeting with all type of organizations in the health sector exposed me to many different types of approaches, ways of thinking, and funding structures, which helped me identify my career interests. Although what initially drew me to Nomadicare was its grassroots approach, my time as an intern for it demonstrated to me how the changes we effect are on such a small scale. It is hard to see how our work contributes to improving the overall state of health of Mongolian citizens. On the flip side, organizations working on changing policy like Asian Development Bank, seemed to work at an extremely slow pace because the changes are so all-encompassing. On the positive side, when the changes are made they have a large effect on the country.
Overall, my experience here meeting with so many different people and types of organizations has exposed me to the different options I have for a career in public health. Although it hasn’t helped me identify which path exactly I hope to take as I hoped it would, I am still much better informed and have solid experiences in a very small grassroots NGO. I feel as though a good way to build upon and complement my experience at Nomadicare would be to have a position at a much larger, international NGO so I have hands-on experience with organizations on both ends of the spectrum.