Astha Adhikari is from Kathmandu, Nepal. She is completing an Environmental, Safety & Health Management Masters Degree at the University of Findlay in Ohio. This summer Astha interned with the Tanana Chiefs Conference Office of Environmental Health through the NEHA National Environmental Public Health Internship Program.
Coming from a small developing country and getting an opportunity to fulfill those imaginings you have is a dream come true. The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) internship has just been like that. Three months of beautiful journey from the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Ohio) to the Home of the Nanooks (Fairbanks, Alaska) has been absolutely mesmerizing and enthralling at the same time. This wonderful experience has molded me into a better individual than I was yesterday. Despite lots of ups and a few down moments I can sum up my internship journey as the fruitful phase of my life. This transformation has filled my life with opportunities and a handful of experiences. From the very first day here at Tanana Chiefs Conference- Office of Environmental Health (TCC-OEH) to the final day of my internship I’ve collected life-long memories and invaluable lessons that I have learnt from all the different personalities throughout my internship. Every day has been a new chapter in my life with new hopes, knowledge and exposure to different places and people that would have not been possible on my own. When you come from a different country you have to be ready to tackle some serious workplace variances and the difficulties related to it. Things were not that easy for me, but not impossible either. Of course it was tough at times but I believe we learn from our good and bad days. Our failures will give us ways to push us towards success. We will only appreciate our hard work and efforts when we own it by ourselves. That is why things that come easy also go easy.
Ten weeks is such a long time I used to think before joining TCC, but again I wonder where those ten weeks have gone! I still have so many things to learn and explore, and I adore the beauty of this place. I guess the human heart is never satisfied. There will always be the thirst of achieving new things and that thirst you have will always make you enthusiastic towards your goal and purpose of life. TCC-OEH has given me that opportunity to explore, learn and grow from a little bud to a blooming flower. Flying every week to one of the interior villages of Alaska to work with the Alaska Native tribes and observing the efforts TCC has been putting in to promote the lives of these tribes was very pleasing to the eyes and satisfying to the heart. I was amazed to see the work that TCC-OEH has been doing to help these tribes get safe drinking water, quick access to healthcare services, emergency response and other public health services despite of the fact that most of the villages have no road services. The Tribes themselves work very hard to uplift their people’s lives, which filled my heart with pure joy.
My first work duty was preparing annual drinking water quality reports for village public water systems. During my internship I learned how to be a lay vaccinator and provided rabies vaccinations to hundreds of dogs. In every trip I traveled with one of the Environmental Health Specialists; they took me to the health clinics for environmental health and safety surveys where I learned how to inspect and address the issues. I also visited water treatment plants and learned about sanitary surveys and the processing of raw water into potable water. During my village trip to Allakaket and Alatna I got the opportunity to assist with conducting a brownfield inventory and inspection of properties with our Brownfield Technician. As a part of a brownfield property inspection, the Allakaket Tribal Council gave us a boat ride down the Koyukuk River to visit a property where buildings and other debris had washed to during the historical 1994 flood. Assisting TCC’s Communication department with relevant messaging during the wildfire season was another intriguing assignment. I learned how vulnerable the Alaskan wilderness is during the dry season and along with tribes, I too became more aware about precautions to be taken during the wildfire season. An independent project assigned to me added more valuable insights to my internship. It allowed me to dive deep into the findings from the Village Health Clinic survey reports from the last five years and to develop potential solutions to improve the most repeated issues.
Working in an organization surrounded by experts from different fields always gave me that positivity to move forward. I felt that I was a little kid just starting to walk on my feet with wings developing on my own and dreams bigger than my fears. TCC-OEH will always be that place where I learned, failed and got back to reach new heights every day and I can never thank them enough for the things I have gained here. To the people like me who come from a small country and get very little opportunity to live the dreams we have is a beautiful dream in itself. I remember when everyone in the office was astonished and eager at the same time to see where I am from and how I landed into TCC. My skin color would always raise so many questions to so many different people, sometimes in a positive way and often times giving me chills. But I always chose a positive way to take the people’s opinion which is why I only have the best memories from Alaska.
For me Alaska has surprised in so many different ways, be it watching people collecting fish in summer for all the year round; or learning about them hunting for moose and other creatures in that wild forest which is home to different kinds of bears; camping and hiking at the top of those beautiful hills; the different eye-colored huskies getting ready for snow mushing in winter in snow covered mountains; tribes preparing their boats for racing on the Yukon River; people dressing up in fancy attire for the Midnight Sun Run Festival; visitors from all around the globe simply enjoying the warm hot springs on gloomy days; sailing on a cruise in the sea to admire those alluring and captivating beauty of glaciers; or those breathtaking views of Northern Lights (which I missed as it is not visible in summer). Overall, all these days I have spent learning and experiencing new things in this place has been reminding me that Alaska’s beauty is unfathomable and you have to definitely come here to see what you cannot see in movies.
With the end of my internship and beginning of a new journey of my life I would like to thank all the people I have met, all the places I have been to, all the things I have learnt, all the memories I have made. There would have been no better place for an internship than Alaska and no better host environmental health department than TCC-OEH.