Breaking the language barrier for public health
By Ayanna Robinson
MARMONT, Haiti–As an Masters of Public Health (MPH) student, community health advocacy is an area that I pursue with passion. We are trained to be culturally competent with educational materials that are culturally sensitive. Even still, reaching your audience, especially with health education information is not an easy task. It becomes a greater challenge when you do not speak the same language as your target population.
Upon arriving in Haiti I asked myself, “How do I reach Haitian women and educate them hygiene and reproductive health if I do not speak French or Creole?” I remember spending the first night in Haiti frantically trying to learn French and to translate my poster from English to a language more suitable to my surroundings.
But when it was time to present, I learned that the language barrier was not as great an obstacle as I had imagined. Communication occurs on different levels and I just needed to find a way to connect to the women, even with elementary level French. I gathered a group of women waiting to see the doctor and dove straight in, remaining friendly and warm. I believe the women could tell that I was genuinely trying to inform them. More importantly, I reminded myself the importance of the information that I was presenting.
How often would these women have the opportunity to be educated on their sexual health? The opportunity to empower women to make healthy decisions for their lives became extremely motivating. I was excited that the women were so receptive to the information, asking a few questions in the end. I was equally appreciative of the opportunity to provide needed education and to put a hands-on experience to my public health knowledge.
Ayanna Robinson is a second year MPH student at Morehouse Medical School. This is her first time to work in Haiti.