First, a quick re-introduction — My name is Nathalie Figueroa and I graduated from Penn in May 2015 as a Health and Societies Major. I was born in El Salvador and grew up in the cosmopolitan city of Miami, Florida. My parents’ love for travel quickly became an uncontrollable passion of my own and has driven me to explore many languages and countries around the world. My concentration in global health exposed me to Indian society, culture, and history and drove me to apply for the CASI internship in 2013.
It’s great to be back in India two years after having interned at the Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (Chirag) through CASI. This time, I am living in Kolkata for 9 months as a Fulbright-Nehru English Assistant (ETA).
While hosting health camps in schools in the Kumaoni region of Uttarakhand I gained a firsthand look at the potential of schools as health promoting tools. We congregated in schools in different communities each week and saw them transform into clinics for vaccinating infants and classrooms that taught best practices for water purification and sanitation. My biggest takeaway that summer was how communities made schools access points for healthcare by incorporating health education into the schooling of children and families.
I applied for a Fulbright-Nehru English Teaching Assistantship grant in order to understand the classroom environment’s role in children’s health and how this can be used for public health projects. Schools have the potential to dramatically alter the prevalence of disease among future generations, while also improving learning. In order to integrate health education into the classroom, I knew I had to learn about the opportunities and obstacles that exist in incorporating these lessons into a curriculum.
Additionally, education has given me the tools to define and pursue my purpose in life with greater liberty and autonomy. In elementary school, my parents reminded me that no matter what happened, no one could take my education away from me. Education became the most valuable treasure I could possibly imagine. At the time, I thought it was my small stature that caused people to underestimate me, but I realized my ethnicity and gender played larger roles. As a student at Penn, I had the opportunity to delve into these sorts of inequalities. I became intellectually empowered to challenge and reinvent my social and material realities. Nonetheless, it took an organization that identifies leaders, to believe in the importance of reaching out to students whose potentials are overlooked. The Posse Foundation changed my life by fortifying my strengths and including me in a network of individuals committed to positive change. The dynamic support I received as a Posse Scholar provided me with a unique perspective of leadership-building methods that equip students beyond classroom education. For these reasons, I want to help students tap into their own potential and cultivate treasures of their own.
After two months, I realize that the variety of reasons that drove me to apply for the Fulbright-Nehru ETA are materializing, but I could not predict the immensity of lessons that have transpired thus far. I thank CASI for providing this platform to connect with others interested in health, education, and India and will continue to share this journey as time goes by.
If you are interested in applying to the Fulbright ETA program in our outside of India, please stay tuned for more updates and feel free to reach out! I would love to answer any questions and receive feedback!