Interview with Natasha Hoehn, Graduate Student at the University of Calgary
Can you give us a brief background of your research study?
I am interested in how the mental health of mothers may, or may not, affect the health of their children. Previous research has suggested that maternal depression may be associated with poor child growth, decreased cognitive development, and increased episodes of diarrhea. However, few studies have examined markers of physiological status that may predispose children to these adverse outcomes. By studying markers of physiological status, we can see vulnerability to disease before it manifests by taking a step back in the process of disease development. My research tests for correlations between maternal mental health and physiological markers of stress in children, which can offer new insight into the relationship between maternal mental health and child health.
How did your research go this summer while you lived in Los Robles?
While I spent two months in Los Robles collecting data in 2015, there was very little time dedicated to observing the everyday lives of mothers in the community. To gain the context necessary to help explain patterns in our “hard” data, I returned to Los Robles this summer to do participant observation research in a series of households. Participant observation, as the name would suggest, entails both participating in and recording everything that happens in a day. This involved cooking gallo pinto, hand washing clothes, and the occasional pig slaughtering (quite an experience for this city-raised vegetarian). Community members welcomed me into their homes, and allowed me to follow them around with a notebook for week-long periods of time. The insight gained from this experience will be invaluable in writing my thesis. Additionally, and more importantly, my experience this summer strengthened my connection to the women in Los Robles, and I hope the relationships we built together will extend beyond my graduate studies.
How did the community respond to results you shared from 2015?
The second goal of my time in Los Robles was to communicate preliminary findings from the data our team collected in 2015. To achieve this goal, I presented results in a series of community meetings that were organized and hosted by Brigadistas. While women were at times shocked by some of the more troubling statistics (4 out of 10 mothers may have problems with mental health, 3 of 10 mothers are at risk for developing diabetes. Etc.), they demonstrated an appreciation for the knowledge by asking questions about each point. Our team looks forward to continuing to work with the data, and being able to share more findings in the future.
What reflections do you have on experiences that stood out?
The people I spent time with in Los Robles were incredibly open and welcoming. My host family was always there to remind me that, even though I was away from my Canadian family, I had new Nicaraguan friends all around me. This was most evident on my birthday when I felt terribly homesick (and spent a good portion of the day wallowing in self-pity), only to arrive at a surprise party organized by my host mother. There were songs, and music, and special food, and I have never had such a special birthday celebration. While being away from home can be difficult, community members made it clear that they cared very deeply about me, and I will forever remember their hospitality.