USF College of Public Health MPH student Candice Whitely became increasingly aware of the discipline of public health while working with Doctors without Borders in South Sudan as a nurse practitioner.
“We were treating a malaria epidemic and I learned first-hand the importance of disease monitoring and surveillance, as it is the trigger point for the development of health intervention,” Whitely said.
Holding a MSN and BSN from Columbia University’s school of nursing and a BA from Palm Beach Atlantic University, Whitely understood that public health is part of the job as a nurse practitioner and enrolled in the COPH’s online MPH program to study epidemiology and biostatistics.
“I selected USF after reviewing the online MPH school options,” Whitely said. “I wanted to have the flexibility of an online program but also academic rigor, USF’s MPH program provides both.”
Working on her MPH degree, Whitely is also the director of operations for Sewing New Futures.
Sewing New Futures is a non-profit social enterprise that empowers survivors and girls at risk of sex-trafficking through career training, education, medical care, and social services.
At their center in Najafgarh on the outskirts of New Delhi, they work with a scheduled caste community that has traditionally engaged in prostitution. In India alone, 1.2 million children are forced and trafficked into prostitution every year. In the surrounding area to their center there are more than 30,000 women and girls at risk to this exploitation and over 5,000 already engaged in the sex trade.
Their aim is to give women a choice to break this cycle of intergenerational of prostitution with education, paid vocational training programs and employment either with Sewing New Futures or elsewhere.
“I wear many hats from management to programming. My role varies daily but often includes quality checking sewn pieces, conducting health camps, and developing monitoring program for our organization,” she said. “I also have to spend at least 10-20 minutes of every day dancing to Bollywood classics after lunch as part of our health promotion through exercise program.”
Her involvement started out slowly, beginning with fundraising and to eventually turning the center into a non-profit. She now lives between the between India and Florida.
Whitely said she loves the way they promote from within. The center’s seamstress and sewing room manager is a woman who joined their program in 2014.
“She was seeking an opportunity apart from prostitution. She is one of our biggest success stories,” she said. “Through our funding, she has completed one year of seamstress training and now runs a boutique out of the center, stitching and selling Indian garments for the local community. Through working for us she independently provides for her seven-year-old son and herself.”
Whitely said she has many great memories from her time working with Sewing New Futures.
“My favorite times at work are when we come together as a team and accomplish our tasks. For example, on days when we have a large order from our sewing center and we all get down and dirty with a needle and thread to complete the stitching,” she said. “At the end of the day we are offering an alternative employment to women and adolescents who would be forced to prostitute if our center did not exist. Having the chance to work alongside them and to reach their goals is a dynamic experience.”
Applying what she has learned during her time at the COPH, Whitely is currently developing a program to improve health outcomes for the women and children in their target area.
“Though there is medical care readily available, most women in our target population are not accessing it as they utilizing alternative care through traditional healers. My approach to the development of this program is definitely influenced by what I have learned so far at USF,” Whitely said. “Simply creating a program is not adequate; needs assessment, policy development, and then assurance is integral to the success of a public health intervention. Based on this, we are in the data collection and research phase…more to come!”
After completing her MPH, Whitely said she wants to work towards her PhD in public health. As an adjunct nurse practitioner professor she also plans to continue practicing and teaching in that field as well.
Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health