Out of My Comfort Zone

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By: Anna Dion, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Anna Dion, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.

A friend of mine recently shared an article from a Canadian newspaper suggesting how to encourage leadership in young people. The suggestion that stuck with me the most was that “young people, early in their careers should put themselves in situations where they face massive levels of discomfort” as one of the best ways of ‘learning-by-doing,’ particularly in professionally or personally challenging situations.

Over the past month, I have moved out of my comfort zone. I began working this month with the High-risk maternal and child health unit, within the Secretary of Health for the municipality of Pilar, Argentina. They currently run a long-standing program to identify and follow high-risk newborns in many of the rural areas surrounding Pilar, and when necessary conduct community autopsies on any domestic infants deaths. They do this together with the local health centers, however, they are often personally involved in visiting and supporting many of the families. I have been really inspired by their dedication and commitment to working with each child and each family case to do all they can with what they have.

Within this unit, I am developing a companion program for pregnant adolescents—to try to prevent some of the high-risk situations that lead newborns to fall under the care of my colleagues’ program. While I am not working in the areas of Argentina with the worst maternal health outcomes, I am in the province that, because of its high population density, contributes more than 50% of the nation’s adolescent pregnancies, suggesting that if anywhere, this may be one of the best places in the country to implement this type of program.

I have been busy developing plans, ideas and possibilities with different groups—thinking about how to provide incentives to both adolescents and companions to participate in the program; how to motivate already busy social workers, midwives and adolescents themselves to contribute to the development of the program…and then thinking about how to build in a mechanism so that someone can takeover the management of the program when my fellowship is over.

Am I feeling overwhelmed? Most of the time. Am I nervous about not being able to bring together the necessary people to build this program? Without a doubt. Am I loving the challenge and the possibilities? Absolutely.

These days, I couldn’t agree more that by pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I am pushing myself to learn how to create a program that incorporates the specific needs and wishes of undervalued adolescents and I am learning how to navigate within and between government and civil society systems to create something that lies in between both of them. What I am learning here will be invaluable in helping me develop my program back in Canada, as I expect to face many similar questions and challenges, and particularly as working with adolescent girls will be front and centre. I am extraordinarily grateful for the support of my mentor, Ashoka Fellow Alberto Vasquez, who has been a great sounding board throughout the process, as well as my new colleagues within the Secretary of Health, who from the start believed in the power of this idea.

Now it is just a question of giving the idea wings.