Answering that work-travel question

May 31, 2012


Anna Larsen
Program Assistant for Technology Solutions at PATH


I am a Program Assistant. For most, understandably, this job title does not conjure a vivid illustration of the role. As I describe it to interested family and friends, my day-to-day entails assembling proposals, reports, and presentations, setting up timelines and schedules for activities, assisting with meetings, and otherwise supporting the activities of my team. Still not very illustrative.


Where I go from there is what people-myself included-get excited about. I describe to them that I work at PATH—an international nongovernmental organization working toward equal health for all—within the Water and Sanitation Group-a team focused on reducing diarrheal disease-related deaths.

From here listeners pose questions and thoughts about global development, health, aid, etc., and fascinating conversations ensue. Oddly enough, however, almost every chat somehow winds around to the same question. And surprisingly it's not about what PATH does or about our work in increasing access to water and sanitation, but:

“Do you get to travel a lot for work?”

Until now, the answer has always been “no.” And because of this, talks have trailed onto other topics—something that has perplexed and even disturbed me in the past since I've assumed that departure from our conversation was due to my lack of titillating travel adventure stories.

Two weeks ago I returned from my first work-related travel experience where I had an eye-opening opportunity to assist in facilitating an evaluation of one of my team's most successful pilot projects in Kampong Speu Province, Cambodia. In the pilot project, rural households were offered small loans to purchase water filters which had been designed based on local needs and aesthetics. By increasing access through financing options, and by offering a culturally appropriate treatment option, PATH and its partners encouraged many households in the pilot group to acquire this water filter. My mentor and I arrived in Kampong Speu about six to twelve months after families had started using their new filters, to administer surveys about experiences with the filter, experiences with the loan process, and perceived changes in health since beginning to use this water treatment method.

Final results are not yet available for this evaluation, so my travel stories cannot include those details. But, I can tell you that I now understand the high interest in that aforementioned, popular question.

Prior to my travel, I could have rattled off PATH's upcoming publications about water, updated you on our newest proposal endeavors, and informed you of our latest project ideas in an effort to describe our work—all fascinating, conversation-enhancing topics, but I could not have recalled to you this:

At every single household I visited while assisting with the evaluation in Kampong Speu, I watched kids interrupt their play to run for a drink of water. And in the middle of remote, rural villages served only by contaminated streams and ponds they were able to turn a tap, fill a cup, quench their thirst, and return to their play, never having ingested deadly diarrheal disease-causing bacteria.

These are the “results,” “successes,” “travel stories” that drive our interest in global health. These are what people were seeking when they pose their work-travel inquiries. These are what keep our conversations going.

-- Anna Larsen, Program Assistant for Technology Solutions at PATH


For more information:

-- Anna got people to talk about diarrhea at a cocktail party, then wrote about it.

-- PATH's Vice President knows a thing or two about work-related travel -- and about the importance of safe drinking water.

-- Learn more about PATH's Safe Water Project.