Advice for Working with Community

Fellows from the Fall 2022 cohort
  • “Listen to everyone! The community is made up of so many diverse people and everyone has something unique to share.” 
  • “Be patient. Although your project is #1 priority to you, the organization has 20 other urgent topics they are working on.” 
  • “Be mindful of layers and multiplicity of experience that happens within a community – don’t overgeneralize.” 
  • “Try your best to take off the Harvard cap and jacket!! And be human. Helps a lot!” 
  • “Building trust takes time – which means your project might move slower than you expect. Don’t rush it – better to involve the right people than missing them in order to get the work done.” 

These are a selection of “Advice for Working with Community” captured at the debrief session with the first cohort of Rose Service Learning Fellows when they returned from the field in the fall of 2018. Five years later, with the return of the 10th cohort, many of the themes around listening, engaging, humility, patience, trust building continues to resonate. The act of passing advice and learnings from one cohort to the next is a tradition that has been established as part of the Community Engaged Learning Fellowships Program. Comprising the Rose Service Learning Fellowship, the Winokur Fellowship in Public Health and the Global Mental Health Fellowship, Community Engaged Learning (CEL) Fellowships at Harvard Chan support students and post-doctoral fellows across the school in all degree programs through a cohort-based model where fellows make new connections with each other to share observations, questions and challenges, and to reflect on their own approach to public health research and practice.   

Fall 2022 Rose Service Learning Fellows share advice for the next cohort
Advice from the Fall 2018 Rose Service Learning Fellows cohort
Advice from the Spring 2019 Rose Service Learning Fellows cohort

Community Engaged Learning requires fellows to take on the posture of a learner, to articulate one’s positionality in relation to the issue being addressed, and a willingness to be proximal to the people most impacted by issue. The practice of critical reflection is emphasized to challenge assumptions and beliefs and make meaning of the learning experience  

Telling stories from the field has been a way for fellows to make meaning of their learning experiences. These narratives are important for elevating the voices and lived experiences of community members and the issues they are confronted with. Through these reflections, our students have shared about the need for testing and safe water systems in rural Honduras, the mental health needs and yet the resilience of young women serving as head porters in Ghana, the harsh realities of cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the stake of gunowners for policies around safety and environmental health protections. 

Community Engaged Learning Fellowships, Spring 2023 cohort

We’re excited to hear about the stories that the new cohort of fellows will bring back to share with us. Our Rose Service Learning Fellows are traveling across the globe and working alongside communities in Peru, India, Brazil, Australia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Madagascar. The fellowship is also supporting local Boston initiatives including the Family Van, Medical Justice Alliance, the Boston Public Health Commission and the Massachusetts Association of Community Health Workers. In Mississippi, our 4th cohort of Winokur Fellows in Public Health are working with the Community Foundation of Northwest MS to explore the impact of community based programs that address social determinants of health such as food insecurity and housing stability. At the JCK Clinic in Kabale, Uganda, a second team of Global Mental Health Fellows will be assessing the newly created EMR database and working with clinic staff to address maternal mental health.

Drawing on the wisdom of a returning fellow, we invite our new cohort to consider “the relationships you form may have more lasting impact than your project”. 

For more information about Community Engaged Learning Fellowships, please contact Jocelyn Chu.