“Cohort” – The Power of a Single Word

During the past couple of weeks my co-fellow Lindsey and I have been working on our organization’s M&E narrative and technical reports for 2013 quarter 2. Time and time again, we come across the word “cohort.” Cohort could be the most used word in Malawi’s HIV/AIDS program. The program has five different areas with tons of cohorts, which make it very difficult to make sense which cohort is which, or what the word really means. Over the weeks, I have referred back to my dictionary but the definition always remains the same – “A cohort is a group of people who are around the same age, like a cohort of college students who have similar experiences and concerns.”

When I first entered this fellowship, a word was the least of my concerns considering our backgrounds; Lindsey, a biomedical engineer and me, a student of environmental health. Our team seemed to be strong, but maybe a little challenged in some more M&E technical issues. Well, I was wrong; definitions of the term cohort turn out to be a nightmare. Every time I think of this it takes me back to New Haven, to one of the Still Harbor sessions – “Understanding the Power of Narratives.” I will borrow their theme and call this – “The Power of a Single Word.”

In closing, I will share the lesson I have learnt in the 2 months of the fellowship; words are there to make communication easier, in some instances a single word may be over-used for different things. In the long run, this causes anarchy rather than making life easy.