Here at Action Against Hunger Canada we have the opportunity to work with a number of talented interns and volunteers who help us in the fight against hunger. James Bao was one of these incredible interns who found us after completing a Masters of Public Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
James worked alongside ACF-Canada’s SMART team. In short, SMART is a methodology for conducting nutritional surveys to determine the prevalence of malnutrition in an area so that programs are informed by solid and reliable evidence. More specifically, James provided emergency survey support deployment, trained non-governmental organization staff, maintained the website, wrote donor reports, and worked on research projects relating to malnutrition and the SMART methodology.
What was the “pull” that brought you here and why did you choose us?
There were several reasons. I was always told that public health is huge and dynamic, and that it’s wise to dip your feet in working in all the different sectors to see what fits you best (e.g., research, non-profit, in-country, etc…) so I wanted to see how large NGOs like ACF operated. Working with SMART was excellent because it fit my interest of monitoring and evaluation, and how to really get transparent, reliable data to inform public health programming. Finally, having done a Master’s abroad, I wanted to be involved in how Canadians were contributing to public health globally.
What was your favourite part about working here?
It’s been a truly fulfilling experience. I’ve been able to understand how non-governmental organizations work on the inside, and have been exposed to new aspects of public health work like grant applications, donor reporting, and how non-governmental organizations work in partnership with many other organizations. For example, SMART works in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control on some technical aspects.
Ultimately, what made this all the most enjoyable was to have an energetic and supportive environment of colleagues that were always eager to learn about each other’s work. Even though we’re located in a headquarters office, physically distant from “the field”, it’s evident that my colleagues are passionate about what they do, whether it’s my immediate SMART team or co-workers in fundraising, advocacy and communications. They consistently are supportive and eager to learn about each other’s work.
What is the biggest thing you learned?
The most significant nugget of knowledge to take away from the internship is that getting good reliable data takes an incredible amount of training, planning, foresight and careful execution. You cannot just walk into an area and start measuring children to see whether they’re malnourished. When you know extensive resources will be allocated on these results, every proper step needs to be taken to ensure that the results we get are representative of what malnutrition actually exists out there. Otherwise, it could be resources wasted that could have saved another person’s life.
James Bao will be taking a “brief” absence from the world of humanitarian and public health work to study medicine at the University of Toronto. “I hope that my experience working with the SMART team and lessons I learned can complement my future work as a physician” James adds. Best of luck, James, and thank you for all of your hard work and dedication.