So, most of my blog has focused on traveling around Sri Lanka and seeing elephants. But I really have been doing actual productive work and research. My topic is how women in rural areas of the Kandy District, Sri Lanka access maternal health care. I created a survey tool to interview pregnant mothers, mothers with children, and midwives about my topic. The questions focused on how women access care, and whether there are challenges because of geography or language. With the help of four wonderful translators I was able to complete interviews with 142 women at 13 clinics. Five of the clinics were on tea estates, and eight were off the estates.
The interviews were exhausting but very rewarding. My translator and I would travel to villages on the days they were holding maternal and child health clinics and go interview women in attendance. After the interviews the midwives at the clinics would usually stuff us with tea, cakes, and fruit, and wouldn’t even let me wash my cup.
The interviews took a little over a month to complete, and then another few weeks to enter the survey responses into SPSS (a stats program).
Now I’m trying to write up the results, sorting through survey responses to figure out what’s most important and most interesting. The maternal healthcare system here is great; it is free, and women receive 6-8 visits at their home during pregnancy, and have access to clinics and hospitals for check-ups. This is particularly impressive when you think about the US and our current debate about healthcare and healthcare costs. A pregnant woman in America can expect to spend thousands of dollars on prenatal care and delivery and no one visits her at home. From my research it looks like language and geography still present challenges for women in Kandy District, but given the landscape, huge hills and terrible roads, the district is doing very well.
The best part of my research experience was working with my translators. My advisor at the University of Peradeniya Medical Faculty helped me find four young women, one medical student, and three pre-interns, who were able to work as translators. The waiting list for internships in Sri Lanka is long, so students graduate from medical school and work as pre-interns in the Medical Faculty for a year.
All of my translators had some difficulty understanding what I was saying when we first met because of my thick American accent. Luckily they adapted quickly and were able to understand me well after a few hours. I really enjoyed the chance to talk to women my age about Sri Lanka and the US and the differences and similarities between the two countries. Two of my translators asked me about Black people and how they came to America. Another asked me what I thought about gay people, because she had no idea and hadn’t met any. I was able to ask sensitive cultural questions about Sri Lanka. I learned that one of the fairly minor differences between the Sinhalese and Tamils is that Sinhalese people eat rice at every meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, whereas Tamils only have rice at lunch, and would probably eat hoppers, string hoppers, or pittu at other meals.
Now, after all that work, I’m packing up my house and getting ready to leave Sri Lanka.