Hi! My name is Laura Hoeker and I interned full-time with WAAF-IHCC from January 2022 – April 2022. I came to WAAF from the University of North Carolina Wilmington where I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in public health with a global health concentration. A year ago, coming to Ghana was nowhere in my plan. With COVID-19 persisting and boarders barely re-opening, I was unsure if international travel was going to allow me to complete an internship of this scale. But it happened! Looking back on my time in Ghana, I can say with confidence that it has been the most positive and influential part of my education thus far.

The staff at both WAAF & IHCC welcomed me with open arms. From the very start, I was included and immersed in the daily activities. I love the way WAAF & IHCC coordinates their interns because it truly allowed me to pursue projects within my interest area while still being exposed to and involved in all the amazing work that they have underway. The main projects I conducted were a program evaluation of the UNAIDS, WAAF led CLM Pilot Project and a baseline study to gather descriptive characteristics of young persons living with HIV. These projects tested my skills in qualitative and quantitative data collection as well as in providing culturally competent recommendations that would suit the environment and population WAAF & IHCC work in. In addition to the above, my daily activities varied based on the outreach events, trainings, meetings, and other activities going on. I can talk about all of these at great length, but I want to leave you with three key lessons I took away from it all.

First, time is precious and how you spend your time ultimately affects others. I had never paid so much attention to timeliness, until I was in Ghana. As someone who has always operated with the American mindset that on time is late, the social and cultural construct of “Ghana Time” quickly became my biggest teacher in patience.

Second, know your role and never be afraid to say no. While I didn’t necessarily apply this to my own life at the time, it is a critical lesson in personal and professional growth that I have left with. Throughout my entire internship, I was eager to be involved in everything… some may say a little too eager. Multi-tasking takes a whole new meaning at WAAF & IHCC, and while this is an important skill to have in a high-paced environment, it can also make you less efficient. Somedays, I would go to sleep questioning if I actually got anything done because I kept interrupting my own workflow to be involved in something that came up (and a lot of things tend to come up out of nowhere). The staff at WAAF & IHCC operate as a team and are always willing to drop what they’re doing to assist a colleague. But in any team, it’s important to know what your true responsibilities are and when to say no if it’s out of your scope of knowledge, skillset, or you simply have too many other things to finish.

Lastly, if you are passionate about the work you are doing, it’s not work and it’s worth whatever sacrifices that come with it. Before interning at WAAF & IHCC, I had never been surrounded by a group of such passionate professionals. I made it a point during my internship to sit in the different offices and listen in to what was going on. At times, the public health field can be frustrating and defeating.  Observing how the staff navigated the struggle of politics and maintained focus on the community and functioned with humanity, was a key part of my learning experience. I also want to say that, though I won’t name them here, there are a group of powerful women behind WAAF & IHCC. Their energy and focus radiate off them and I truly believe it is what keeps things running. I look up to this group of mentors and hope that I will live out my profession with at least half as much passion as they do. 

My time at WAAF & IHCC will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I know I’ll be back.

To the entire staff at WAAF & IHCC, thank you for EVERYTHING! You have had a bigger impact on me than I could ever put into words.

-Laura Hoeker

Bachelor’s degree in Public Health with a Global Health concentration.

University of North Carolina Wilmington