Reflections after 6 months
I can't believe that I have been back to Switzerland for a month already. It's been some rocky weeks since my last blog article, and I needed some time to reflect and process my whole experience and change of rhythm.
From July 2020 to January 2021
I started my journey in the middle of 2020 with three objectives, I wanted to volunteer with animals, study One Health and simply expand my horizons. I had no clear plans beyond the first two months, and I was hoping luck would be on my side, in addition to my flexible mindset. I am grateful that my journey was mostly unaffected by the global pandemic, and in fact I look back on these 6 months as a much-needed breath of fresh air. You can see below the maps of where I have been.
About volunteering with animals
I already shared with you my volunteering along the way in a detailed manner (see blog posts of the categories Romania, Bulgaria and Mexico). If I had to summarize the top 3 activities of a volunteer in any companion animal shelter, these would be:
Walking-training dogs/playing with cats
Cleaning plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy environment free from diseases and parasites, especially in a shelter where animals are close to each other. I think we're all familiar with the consequences of an epidemic by now...
Feeding is quite an obvious one. It can take substantial time when animals are free roaming; you need to ensure there are no conflicts for resources and each individual gets their share of food.
The walking/training of dogs and playing with cats is the fun part: it certainly did keep me fit by walking miles each day - albeit in Mexico you are limited in where you can go and have to get up early to avoid the scorching heat.
Another aspect that I touched upon towards the end of my trip is fundraising. As for any non-profit organization, these shelters are funded with little money, usually drawn from donations, sponsorships and selling small merchandising (head this way if you want some inspiration). It goes without saying that running a shelter requires more than love, sweat and motivation: vet bills, animal food, medicine and utility costs can easily reach a few thousand bucks each month.
The story of Madi, the lady running the shelter in Chetumal (Mexico) where I volunteered over Christmas, particularly touched me. In order to help her financially, I created a fundraiser on GoFundMe platform: Check it out and if you can, any donation is appreciated.
I had zero experience working with animals (beyond the fact I grew up with cats at home) and neither did I volunteer previously. This experience taught me that even one person - you or me - can make a difference and have some impact. All it takes is motivation & courage to make the first step.
Studying while volunteering and being on the move
I shared a bit less about the post-grad studies that I began in September. It's been an intense first 10-week semester and I felt it was difficult to vulgarize the content, especially at the pace it was being released. Each week: 1 lesson to watch, 4 scientific articles to read and an activity to complete on top of debating with fellow students on the course dedicated discussion board. The time investment is tangible and 10 hours per week is clearly a minimum.
Studying in parallel of volunteering was working out well for me, as I'm quite disciplined and I would sit regularly throughout the week to read and complete all the activities set out in the study plan. The intellectual stimulation on top of the physical challenge at the shelters was something I was looking for. However the assignments were not as straightforward as I expected, and the challenge to write essays has been real for me. It's not all glam and perfect: internet connection is sometimes spotty in Mexico and even my computer started failing me and requiring more and more frequent reboot after a screen freeze (I blamed the hot climate!). Towards the end of that first semester, it became more tricky as the temptation to spend time idle by the pool/beach or discovering new sights instead of studying was growing. Luckily by December 14th, my last assignment was handed in and I could enjoy one month study break without opening my computer.
I am still as fascinated as when I started the course about the potential of One Health.
The interconnection of human, animal and ecosystem health is becoming apparent to most of us when observing the global events unfolding before us currently. The One Health approach aims at breaking down silo-thinking and bring transdisciplinary experts closer to design solutions to global health challenges. I feel there is still a lot of work to do, and raising awareness is certainly one of my passions. When my friend and former colleague, Claire Murigande, reached out to have a conversation about One Health on her Podcast Narratives of Purpose, I gladly accepted. You can listen to the episode here.
Expanding my horizons
My third objective was not clearly defined, and for a good reason: I want to stay curious and embrace doing new things as opportunities arise, decide in the spur of the moment, get inspired by others. It's not something I do as frequently back home, as I got a well-defined work agenda & routine, weekends planned out and in fine little space for creativity.
I had fun gaining some "design skills" thanks to Canva, writing this blog, learning Romanian and practicing Spanish thanks to Duolingo. The best of it was that I could apply it immediately and was able to converse with Mexicans, this made a big difference to my trip. I am really fond of Mexico as a whole, its food and culture, its superb nature, and their people are an integral part of it. Friendliness and openess are two words I'd use to characterize the locals I met. What started often as a simple chat with a street food vendor or at a restaurant turned out often in engaging conversations. Things aren't always possible or as fast as in Switzerland, yet most Mexicans I met along the way handle situations with a smile and find a solution. A great example of positive mindset and a reminder to be grateful for what we have, instead of focusing on what we don't.
I was asked at work to do a short presentation about my sabbatical when I returned to the office in January 2021. As I was taking a step back and contemplating on my learning, I remembered the intentions I had set when the year 2020 began: Joy - Simplicity - Kindness and I created this "flower" around it. If anything held true throughout this year, these 3 words for me are.
I usually finish my articles with a preview of "what's coming next". Now that my sabbatical is over, and I'm fully back at work, you may wonder if this means this blog is slowly going to turn into an antiquity... well, yes and no. Yes, my journey has less highlights to share to keep you entertained and I won't be writing as frequently as I used to. No, because I'm embarking on a new professional journey and my passion to help animals won't stop!
This journey will take me to a new continent and even an island: Singapore. I will stay with Takeda and transfer to a new role in Patient Advocacy & Public policy for Emerging Markets. What this means concretely: I'll build bridges between patient associations and my company (e.g. a pharmaceutical firm), get patients' voices heard and understand how we - collectively - can strenghten healthcare systems across Latin America, Middle East/Africa, India and Asia Pacific. There is a lot to be done, and I'm eager to get started. This will bring me one step closer to an area which I'm deeply interested in and connect with global health: Access to Medicine.