Spring 2017 Fellow: Samantha Acosta, HelpAge USA

Samantha Acosta is currently a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with HelpAge USA, an organization which advocates and empowers older persons to secure, active and healthy lifestyles. In this capacity, she focuses on the organization’s Healthy Aging Programs, conducting research related to fundraising, partnership building and grant management.

Samantha recently graduated with her Master’s degree in Social Work from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, where she explored gerontology infused courses with both a national and international focus. She has also conducted field research in Uganda, where she collected data on older persons’ quality of life, along with perceived needs and barriers. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, Cultural Anthropology and Politics in 2014.

In the blog post below, she writes about her experiences in Uganda and the implementation of the Healthy Outcomes Tool.

Oli otya, Greetings from Uganda

In May 2016, I embarked upon my first trip to Uganda, where 12 Dominican University students and I had the opportunity to work closely with Health Nest Uganda, addressing the health needs and concerns of older persons by utilizing the Healthy Outcomes Tool (HOT). HOT is used as an assessment tool to evaluate an older person’s health status, functionality, access to health services, safety, and self-care. During this process, we traveled to four rural communities, where we followed up with older persons for the second round of data collection. By promoting the Healthy Outcomes Tool, the team was able to clearly identify barriers and obstacles that the older persons’ were facing in everyday life. Some of the obstacles addressed were mobility, distance to the health centers, whether medications were readily available, cost of medications, fear of being abandoned by family members, and property being taken. As we were able to gather and evaluate the given data, we addressed these issues and concerns with the leaders of each community. We gathered qualitative data on simple programs that could be implemented in order to create possible solutions for the barriers that were addressed. During our final meeting, a leader from each community joined to discuss what their personal community had decided to implement. The ideas were magnificent and suited each community in their own special way. I said my goodbyes to Uganda and the communities I worked with in May 2016, not knowing when I would return.

(Key older person leaders and Dominican University students, May 2016)

Thankfully, my story and work with Uganda and with Health Nest Uganda continued. Following graduation and after receiving my Master’s degree in Social Work, I decided to focus my studies on Uganda and how older persons are affected throughout the world. I collaborated with Kristin Bodiford, Health Advisor at HelpAge USA, learning about the issues of older persons and HelpAge’s mission to tackle those barriers. Through my work as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, I was able to return to Uganda in February 2017. During the second phase of my fieldwork, I was able to see the incredible progress that was made. Some communities incorporated singing, dancing and exercise programs in their regimen (photo below), while others focused on sanitation surrounding the latrines and handwashing, enhancing nutrition by building their very own catering business, and setting up regular check-ups within the community to test and treat non-communicable diseases. Witnessing this first hand was absolutely fascinating.

(An older person from Bugonga Village showing a Dominican University student the way they use dance and singing to promote healthier living and lifestyles)

I’m so thankful I was able to explore these issues in-depth and better understand the barriers that older persons experience daily through HelpAge and my Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship. This opportunity not only provided me with the opportunity to return to Uganda and continue my direct field experience, but I gained deeper insights on how HelpAge is working to address and assist older persons to be recognized more readily around the world and within local and national regulations.

Weeraba, Farewell, until next time.

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