Saturday, May 05, 2012

I'm going back to Haiti!

Hi there!
For those of you who may not know me, my name is SunMin, and I am a medical student at University of California, San Diego (UCSD).
This summer I am traveling to Haiti, from July 21st to July 28th, to volunteer with an organization called Children of the Nations (COTN), which ministers to orphaned and destitute children in developing countries. I will be traveling with a team of 15 men from my church (Flood) to a region called Leogane, where the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake was located, just a few miles from Port-au-Prince.
I've traveled to Haiti twice in the past, and spent about half a year volunteering in various capacities. Haiti is very near and dear to my heart, and I'm really excited for the opportunity to go back this summer!
COTN's ministry in Haiti, which launched shortly after the earthquake struck, is still in its infant stages. Flood recently sent a large container full of packaged meals and supplies to COTN Haiti to help get their ministry off the ground. Our team will be there to help distribute the contents of the container. I don't know exactly what else we will be doing while in Haiti, but they will include building relationships with the children, vision-casting for COTN's ministry in Haiti, and helping with other hands-on projects.
To finance this project, each team member must raise $2235 which covers the cost of airfare, room and board, and travel insurance. I need to raise $500 of this by May 10th as a deposit for the airfare. The total amount needs to be raised by June 21st.
Will you consider partnering with me by supporting me financially or by prayer? Any amount of contribution will be greatly appreciated.
If you can't make a donation at this time, please help me reach my goal by spreading the word to friends you think might be interested in contributing.
Thanks so much for your support!
To donate, please click on the donate button on the sidebar or click the link below:

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Way Overdue Update

I keep making a mental list of all the things that I want to write about, but then I never have the time to write (or just forget about actually writing), and so the list keeps getting longer without any of them actually getting written. Obviously this hasn't been working, so I'm going to keep this one short, and not write about all the stuff I'd been thinking of writing.

First of all, sorry for the lack of updates all this time. Has it really been SEVEN months since I last posted anything on this blog? Well, apparently yes. And this post will be one of the last few, if not the last, before I leave India.

Speaking of leaving India, I will be flying out early morning on Saturday, May 14 (just as it gets unbearably hot & humid here!). After a 23-hour layover in Singapore, I will be traveling to Tokyo to visit my friends for a week. Then I will spend a few days in Seoul to see my relatives, followed by a few days with my family in SoCal, and then off to Oklahoma City to get hitched! Woohoo!!

To summarize my 9-month experience in India... I'm just thankful for everything. For all the friends I made from all over the world, for all the beautiful and exciting places that I got to visit, for all the fun times I've had, for all the challenges I've faced, and for all the life lessons I've learned, I'm just so thankful to God!

I realize I never actually wrote what my project is all about... it's a long story, so maybe I'll write more about it in another post. But briefly, things have been going quite well overall. As of today, all the fieldwork has been completed, and now I'm wrapping up data entry before I leave India. I'll let you all know if my study gets published (hopefully!).

I can't promise anything, but I will try to write about some interesting stories from India, and (more importantly) post pictures! But for now, I need to go take a shower or something 'cause it's so hot and humid here (AC in my room isn't working at the moment).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My First IRB Meeting

Last Wednesday, in the midst of the vaccinology course, I had a meeting with the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to get my research project approved. I had never been to an IRB meeting, but from what people have told me about typical IRB meetings, I thought that IRB committee would grill me on every little detail of the project. But then my project is an observational study using surveys, which means no risk to participants, so I wasn't too concerned.

When I arrived at the meeting place, there were a bunch of people waiting to be called in to get their study approved by the IRB. They all had a copy of their IRB application in hand, which made me realize that I probably should have printed a copy as well. Fortunately, I had a copy on my iPod Touch, so I quickly read through it to remind myself what exactly I'm supposed to be doing with my project. Well, apparently that didn't really matter, because the meeting turned out to be the easiest thing I've done for my project.

Basically, I walked into the room, which had desks and computers arranged into a very long rectangle, and I sat at the far end of the rectangle while one of the committee members summarized the objective of my study. I simply affirmed that that was what I was going to do by saying "yes." She noted that it's a well written study, another person representing the ethics committee said they had no objections or concerns, and someone at the other end of the room said, "Go ahead with your study." And that was it! It literally took no more than two minutes.

I wish all my future IRB meetings would be as easy as this one... but I suppose it can only get harder, like the one depicted below:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Three Weeks In Review

View My Vellore Map in a larger map
Hey Everyone, after three weeks of hiatus, I'm back!

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the first two weeks in a rural village called Kuvanur near RUHSA (see map) with the 2nd-year CMC medical students for the Community Orientation Program (COP). I stayed the first night with the guys at a school building, but I couldn't sleep too well because of all the noise they made (watching movies, playing music, etc) until the wee hours of the night. I don't mind sleeping out in remote places, but I think I'm too old for all the youthful late night activities (which I used to do when I was their age). After the first night I went back to Vellore each night with the staff, so I got to shower and sleep in my own apartment. So technically I've been "back" all along, but I just haven't had the chance to update my blog until now.

As you can see from the map, Kuvanur is a pretty small village. There are 371 households with a population of 1601, according our survey data. From what I gathered, many of them are farmers, but it seems there is a large variety of occupations and a wide range of socioeconomic statuses. This past week, the students analyzed the data that they gathered, made posters of the data, and presented them for the villagers to see. You can see a sample of the posters below along with some photos from COP.

This is where we held our meetings for COP.
The inside of the hut.
The school building in Kavanur where the boys stayed.
Inside the school building. The boys slept on the concrete floor.
Believe it or not, this is a woman's bathroom. How do they do it? There's a little hole in the corner that drains out... you can figure it out.
Another woman's toilet. This one is a bit more self-explanatory. Note that neither of the above models are for number 2.
This was our temporary garbage disposal and dish washing place.
Some of the medical and OT/PT students.
Kids from the village. They are cousins, and live next door to each other.
Water tanks like these are spread across the village. They are pumped with drinking water every 2 days for people to come and collect.
As part of the COP, groups took turns organizing games for the village kids each day.
As a service to the village, we cleaned up one of their temples one afternoon.
Students put up posters they made in the old school building.
A poster on population.
Can you guess what this poster is about?
I can tell what the graph on the left is showing, but not sure about the pie chart... maybe about how many are happy with their toilets?
Birth-control education poster made by some of the CMC med students. Look how happy (and wealthier) the family is with birth control!
Students performing for the village.
Some more dancing.
My COP group: me, Ranjana, and Nitin.
It was a lot of fun going around the village doing the surveys. Each group had a Tamil speaker, and both Nitin (the Tamilian in my group) and Ranjana (from Kerala, but speaks some Tamil) made sure I understood what was going on as we met with the villagers in our assigned area. So I felt very included even though I couldn't speak Tamil (thanks guys!). My group even let me lead the interview with one of the households, and they translated for me. During free times, I read some Colloquial Tamil to try to learn the language a little. I discovered that Tamil is surprisingly similar in structure and grammar to Japanese (and Korean). It's definitely a difficult language, but using Japanese as a reference has been quite helpful. Who would have thought Japanese would come in handy in India! Now I just need to find a good Tamil tutor so I can learn to pronounce correctly (assuming that's possible).

View My Kerala Map in a larger map
During the first weekend of COP, Lucy and I travelled by train to Kerala state (west coast of south India) for Anu Paul's wedding. Anu is a PhD student who works at Dr. Kang's (our mentor) lab, and is also a fellow Fogarty scholar. Her wedding was at St. Theresa's Church in Mahe. It was Catholic wedding rather than a typical Indian/Hindu wedding, so it wasn't as crazy as one might be, but it was really nice. I especially enjoyed the Malayali (Kerala) food. The fish taste so much better there than in Vellore. We stayed the night in Thalassery (8Km north of Mahe), and explored the city a bit the next day before we headed back to Vellore in the afternoon. Check out the map on the right to see where we visited, and below are some photos from the trip.

At Anu and Shijo's wedding, with the newly-wed couple!
My first train ride in India!
This is what berths (or beds) in sleeper class look like.
Toilet in the train. Everything basically goes straight down to the ground...
Boats in Mahe.
I found the Smart School in Mahe, but I couldn't find the other kind.
Overbury's Folly in Thalassery. A nice little park with a cool ocean breeze. Apparently it's a popular dating spot for couples.
Trying out some street food for the lack of better things to do.
I was told that banana chips are good in Kerala, so I bought a half-kg of them from this place..
Dried fish at the fish market in Thalassery.
During the second weekend, I went to Men's Hostel Day at CMC, which is the only day during the year where guests (other than family) are allowed inside men's hostel. Last weekend was Women's Hostel Day, which is the same deal for female students (but I was on my way to Kerala then). So each year the med students (all of whom stay in the hostel) put together a show and serve dinner to the guests, and invite them to see their rooms. I forgot to take a picture of their rooms, but here are some photos from the event.

At Men's Hostel Day, wearing my new dhoti, which I bought in Kerala. People were impressed that I tied the dhoti by myself, thanks to YouTube. In the back is a model of the Opera House made by the male med students as an art project this year.
Some of the male med students performed a short play called Blackadder. Simple, yet quite entertaining, and the guys did an excellent job putting it together in couple weeks.
A scene from Blackadder. The female costume (right) was a huge hit among the audience.

A vaccinology course lecture.
This past week I've been attending the 1.5-week long First Advanced Vaccinology Course in India at CMC. We have lecturers and students/participants from all over India and various places in Europe and the US. The course covers everything from basic immunology to history to the latest research and policies on vaccines. It took a little getting used to (and lots of coffee) being back to sitting in a classroom and listening to lectures all day, but it has definitely been an interesting and informative course.

Couple days after we got back from Kerala, I got a bit sick (probably flu or some viral illness), so I missed out on a few days of COP. I didn't feel too horrible, but I had to drag it out for the last week and a half. Thankfully I'm feeling 95% better now, except for the little discomfort in the belly, which comes and goes now and then.

So there you have it, my past three weeks! Thanks for reading if you got this far, and I always appreciate the comments. Praise God for an amazing experience so far!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

To the Great Outdoors

Yesterday I finally submitted my IRB application! Hooray! I'm not sure what's going to happen now, but at some point this month it's going to get reviewed, and hopefully it'll be approved. Now I'm working on the questionnaire that my fieldworkers will be using to interview my subjects. I'm really excited about my project, and I can't wait to get things going!

Today I decided to take things easy since I had been staying up late every night working on the IRB application. So I did some laundry, went to the pool, and joined the church choir at CMC campus. They practice every Sunday from 4pm until 6pm when service starts. I hadn't sung in choir since college (wow, that's 4 years ago...), but I still remembered how to sing and read notes (I definitely felt a lot sloppier though). It was a lot of fun singing in choir again.

Tomorrow I'm going to RUHSA (Rural Unit for Health and Social Affairs), which is a department of CMC that is located about 30-min drive from the main hospital. As the name implies, RUHSA serves the surrounding rural areas. (More info on RUHSA here). Lucy and I went to RUHSA about 3 weeks ago and got a brief orientation there. This time we're going with all the 1st-year (soon to be 2nd-year) CMC medical students and OT/PT students for a 2-week long Community Orientation Program (COP).

Basically, we'll be spending the next two weeks in a small village called Kavanur near RUHSA. In groups of 3-4, we'll be going door-to-door to collect their demographic, socioeconomic, and health-related information, while learning to build rapport with the people in the community. It sounds like a great learning experience. I'm really excited because this will be very similar to how my research project will be done (although it will be done by fieldworkers that I hire).

The boys will be staying at the village throughout the week, while the girls will be staying at a hostel in RUHSA. I'm guessing I won't be having much internet connection while I'm out there, so you probably won't be hearing from me for the next couple weeks.

So just to entertain you while I'm gone, here are some random pictures:
Everyday, a herd of goats are brought to a patch of land by the main road that is piled up with garbage. It appears that goats clean up all the edible garbage (e.g. paper), while people burn the rest. Hmm... doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it does make a lot of scent (it smells pretty bad—another good reason to have a bike, so I can zip past it while holding my breath)

A sign in the computer room at CMC campus library. Looks like the Lord isn't the only one who sees what you do there.

A mantis at the pool. This crazy insect attacked me while I was in the pool. It fell into the water, so I saved it. Then it kept following me... it must have thought I was its mate.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Four Weeks!

Another week has flown by since my last post. I've been pretty much slaving away all week working on my IRB application for the alcohol study... in my air-conditioned room. Okay, fine, it's not that bad. In fact I really enjoy it here.

IRB application hasn't been the easiest thing, but it's been quite interesting and exciting figuring out how to do the study. You pretty much have to think about everything that could go wrong, and plan ahead. Everyone has different experiences and ideas, so my protocol seems to change every time I talk to somebody. I'll tell you more about what the study is about once I submit the application (and know exactly what I'm doing). It's due this weekend, so I'd better get back to work!

In the meantime, here's an interesting sign I found at the hospital:

And here's a guard who keeps tender coconuts out of the hospital.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Three Weeks In

It's already been a week since my last update, and boy, does time fun when you're having flies (or vice versa)!

I've been relatively busy the last several days meeting with people, reading articles, and trying to brainstorm my potential projects. I have two potential projects that my mentor tells me are both very interesting and feasible, so I'm going to stick with them. I won't go into details yet, but one project is a survey on alcoholism, and the other is an educational intervention for diarrhea prevention. I'm starting with the alcohol project, and I have to submit an IRB application (basically to get permission to do research on human subjects) by the beginning of September... which is in one week! So I'm going to have to work really hard the next few days. Hopefully once things get going on that project, I'll start working on the second one. I will talk more about each project as time goes on.

Thankfully, it has not been all work the last few days. This past weekend I went to Chennai with a bunch of international students to do some shopping, eat at (relatively) nice restaurants, and watch a movie (Inception!) at a movie theater. Chennai is a much bigger city than Vellore, and it can be quite a hassle trying to get around by rickshaws. It seems they are much more used to having tourists and charging ridiculously high rates. If it's raining or late at night they would charge double or triple the normal rate! Thankfully we all got around safely despite the fact that one of the drivers was smoking pot before he drove, and another drove full-speed against a one-way street.

There were 20 or so of us all together from all over the place (US, Canada, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Nigeria, and Malaysia). It was a lot of fun traveling with them. It's sad that many of them are returning home soon, and some of them have already left. I suppose I will see a lot of people come and go in the next 9 months while I'm here. In any case I'm thankful that I get to meet interesting people from around the world, and make lots of new friends.

Here are some photos from this weekend:

We took a private bus from Vellore to Chennai.
On our way to Chennai.
This is where we stayed over the weekend.
Eric and I shared a room.
Our toilet and shower for the weekend.
You can't expect much for Rs 250 per night.
Annelie and Laura, two German med students
Xin-You and Vicky from UK/Malaysia and Netherlands.
Craig from Canada, and Fiona and Cionr from Ireland.
With Khalid from UK.
Idel from Ireland and Malcolm from Scotland.
Eric from Nigeria.
"Nachos" without nacho cheese?... um, yeah, nice try.
Grilled tenderloin! First time I had beef in India! They used a LOT of pepper on this.
Shopping at Spencer Plaza Mall
We found Subway at Spencer Plaza. They have two separate lines for vegetarian and non-vegetarian.
Fiona and Rozemarijn at Subway.
Eating my "Italian" sub with lamb salami and lamb pepperoni. 
Trying on some hats.
Three Danish girls and a German girl traveling by rickshaw.
Crammed into a rickshaw. There were five in the back, and I shared a seat with the driver.
With Sofie from Denmark at Copper Chimney Restaurant. Food here was really good. I highly recommend it.
Vigga and Anne from Denmark.
Eric, Idel, and Clionr.
Anne and her chicken kabobs.
My prawn curry. It was delicious.
Brownie with ice cream at the movie theater... yummm...
Getting breakfast at Vasanta Bhavan on Sunday morning.
Ghee roast for breakfast. It's basically a thin crispy crepe.
Annelie, Eric, Idel, and Clionr at breakfast.
More photo from breakfast.
With David and Warren from Northern Ireland.
This one is for Laura, our mutual friend in N. Ireland, whom I met in Haiti few years ago.
On our way back to Vellore.
We took three buses to get back home.
Not sure who she is, but billboards like these with her faces were everywhere for several miles on our way back from Chennai.
A colorful building with the same lady's face posted all over. Can someone tell me who she is?
Some random signs we found at the mall: