It’s a remarkable thing when a book can change your life. For senior LAS major Sarah Phillips, reading Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains in 2007 did just that.

Sarah Phillips putting her global health education to use. Photo courtesy of Sarah Phillips

According to Sarah, “it validated my belief that one person can make a difference in the world.”

The book, a popular account of Dr. Paul Farmer’s work in a Haitian clinic, highlights his interminable effort for global health equity. Sarah, already itching for a medicine at the time, was bowled over by the formidable Farmer and stirred by his work for health in a global context. In her own words, “Paul Farmer became my hero and mentor.”

Recognizing parallels between her interest in medicine and Farmer’s focus on human rights, Sarah applied for an internship with his Boston-based organization, Partners in Health (PIH).

“My dreams came true in the summer of 2011,” says Sarah, “I had the privilege of working on Partners in Health’s ‘Right To Health Care’ team.”

While at PIH, Sarah met experts (including Farmer!), visited with patients, sat in on seminars and connected with students from around the country who shared her passion for global health.

“That summer ignited a fire in my belly,” Sarah said. “It taught me our role, as undergraduates, in the global health movement,” which Sarah defined as “an emerging field base on the belief of equitable access to health across geographic boundaries.”

Eager to share her newfound enthusiasm with the Colorado College community, Sarah searched for resources tailored specifically to college campuses. GlobeMed immediately stood out.

Conceived at Northwestern in 2006, GlobeMed is first and foremost a student movement. The organization connects US universities with health projects abroad. The partnerships have grown exponentially in the last six years.

According to the website, 1,500 students on 50 university campuses use the GlobeMed model to partner in a one-to-one relationship with 50 grassroots organizations across 4 continents. In short – the network is extensive.

“Many of the other PIH interns were involved in GlobeMed at their schools,” Sarah says of her discovery of the organization. “They talked about it all the time. I could tell it was unique to any other student organization due to its commitment to partnership and action. They inspired me help bring it to CC.”

Sarah’s hope turned into reality last spring, when CC became the 50th GlobeMed chapter in the national network. Spearheaded in collaboration with Sarah Freeman, a junior sociology major, the project became a catalyst for CC students interested in advocating for global health.

Their first act as co-presidents was to attend the GlobeMed leadership institute in Evanston, Ill., earlier this fall. While at the conference, Sarah learned that Alyssa Smaldino, GlobeMed’s Director of Partnerships, would be traveling to Africa in November to visit 13 of the organization’s health partner groups. The question was posed: would Sarah like to come along?

“I had already been planning to apply for a Venture Grant third block,” Sarah said. “So I was so happy to find out the dates lined up.” Eager to witness international health projects in action, Sarah eagerly agreed.

Presently in Ghana and visiting a wide array of different partnerships, Sarah hopes better understand the capacity of each organization in the GlobeMed network. The information she and Alyssa gather will inform the overall coordination of the network and help strengthen partnership support systems.

“I am assisting Alyssa in these capacity assessments,” Sarah explained, “qualitatively taking notes and occasionally recording the dialogue. We then translate this into quantitative numbers, which will get analyzed by [GlobeMed’s] national office when Alyssa returns.”

The data generated from these assessments will produce the content for the first GlobeMed East Africa forum, set to take place this summer, and further contribute to the ongoing strategic planning process.

The first component of the trip, a visit to Care Net Ghana in the Akatsi District, has already borne results. “We have found potential ways in which Care Net Ghana can share best practices with their community health worker models to better serve their communities,” Sarah enthuses.

In addition to her work on behalf of the organization, Sarah is taking this Venture Grant opportunity to interviewing Ghanaian students in the partner communities. The data collected will contribute to her thesis, in which Sarah plans to explore what students around the world are thinking with regards to health. “What does a ‘student movement for global health equity’ really mean?” Sarah asked by way of explaining her topic. “If this rhetoric does not leave North America, we can’t accurately call it a global movement,” she elaborated.

When asked what she is most grateful to get out of this experience, Sarah smiles (via emoticon – email is her only means of communication while conducting research). “It is my first time in Africa. Learning about West African culture and meeting GlobeMed’s partners has been a joy. I am also exploring capacity building, Ghana’s history and the present state, mostly by reading on our long, hot bus rides.”

With her commitment to global health, assistance from the Venture Grant committee and enthusiasm for her research, it is clear that Sarah has created the opportunity of a lifetime.

Camilla Vogt

Staff Writer

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