How Young Leaders Are Advancing Health Globally

To recognize World Health Day, we asked a few Resolution Fellows, working in health, to share some thoughts on why global health is important to them and how they are positively impacting their communities. Scroll down to learn more about the work our young leaders are doing in South Africa, Eritrea, Mexico, USA, and beyond, to advance health for all!

 

Children in Hamakuya, Limpopo, South Africa. Photo courtesy of One Sun Health’s Facebook page.

 

Can you briefly describe the aims of your venture? How does it seek to enact these goals, and how has the Resolution Fellowship supported these endeavors?

One Sun Health is a non-profit organization that aims to promote sustainable, locally driven solutions to public health challenges through community health education and social entrepreneurship initiatives in South Africa. In order to achieve this goal, One Sun Health engages communities, resources, and governing organizations in collaborative efforts to minimize the impact of infectious disease. The Malaria Awareness Program (MAP), a key initiative of One Sun Health, facilitates partnerships between health educators and community members in order to lead yearly in-village, interactive malaria workshops to raise awareness and improve knowledge surrounding malaria.

The Resolution Fellowship has supported One Sun Health’s endeavors through guidance and hands-on mentorship, linkage to pro-bono branding and legal services, and a large community network of experts and peers. The support from Resolution has been crucial in navigating ethical, legal, and strategic planning questions to ensure the sustainable growth of One Sun Health as a non-profit organization. Molly Simon, Sarah Cox, and Katie Guidera (Class 5) — One Sun Health.


The project I manage in Chiapas, Mexico, was born after experiencing a lot of suffering. To be born in a poor environment determines, in different ways, the chances of success in life. When I noticed all of the efforts my parents and my whole family had to do to support me, I decided to give back, and help my community. Indigenous people in Mexico, especially youth, deserve the best medical attention they can get.

Success in life is determined by two strong bases: good health and a good education. My venture, BuildingHealth, was created to bring opportunities to people who have not had the chance to receive quality medical attention. We work to bring free medical attention to indigenous communities in Chiapas, through access to health professionals, medication, transportation, preventative care, and more — everything a person needs to be healthy.

The Resolution Project has helped me to establish my venture. They offered me the best guides ever — professionals who have a lot of experience in my field. Everything we need, Resolution can give to us. We developed a lot of our program thanks to the guidance they offered through our Guides in Mexico City and San Francisco. Martín Solórzano (Class 7) — BuildingHealth.


Rahwa aims to strengthen maternal and child healthcare in rural Eritrea and, ultimately, the Horn of Africa region. Rahwa means “freedom from hardship” in Tigrinya, the primary language in Eritrea. Our model has emerged from (i) the ideas and priorities of the women we work with and (ii) insights from interventions that have been successful in rural contexts globally. Rahwa trains and employs women as Maternal Health Agents who support women in their own communities by (i) providing critical health services (i.e., diagnosing tuberculosis among pregnant women) and accompanying women to hospital visits; (ii) fostering trust-based communication between families and clinicians; and (iii) collecting previously unavailable data on community-level reproductive health indicators. In addition, Rahwa eliminates financial barriers by making childbirth and immediate postpartum care free for all women who birth in a health facility. The Resolution Project has been critical in Rahwa’s development by connecting us with not only seed funding, but also a community of fellows and mentors, topic experts in various areas (i.e., fundraising), access to potential partners and supporters, among other valuable resources. Hanna Amanuel (Class 8) — Rahwa.


The HIRCULES Health Hub seeks to ensure community members know about local resources and are therefore able to easily access them through health information desks at local libraries. Libraries are trusted centers for research and learning, as well as an accessible support system for all community members. By presenting information in a comprehensible manner, we are able to reach people who never had access to focused health information. Our initiative was created through a collaboration between health departments, federally qualified health centers, community-based organizations, public libraries and Northwestern University undergraduates. While small in scale currently, it has the potential to expand to libraries around Chicago and change the way we access and utilize health resources.

The Resolution Project has provided valuable support and mentorship throughout this project and particularly in our efforts to expand and institutionalize our initiative.

Since its inception in October 2015, the HIRCULES Health Hub has answered hundreds of health information requests and connected patrons to a number of local health resources, organized several health fairs and events at the public libraries, and trained over a hundred students as health information navigators. Odette Zero (Class 8) — HIRCULES Health Hub.

Yordanos, a Rahwa Maternal Health Agent from Mai Aha, Eritrea.

 

Why did you decide to work in health?

We believe that health care is a human right and that all people should have access to high-quality care. Health is an exciting sphere in which there is constant innovation and always opportunity to do better and increase impact. In a world where health disparities are rampant, we have a passion for supporting vulnerable populations and promoting community innovation and collaboration. Molly Simon, Sarah Cox, and Katie Guidera (Class 5) — One Sun Health.


When I was 7 or 8 years old, one of my close relatives was very sick. My parents couldn’t find any health support in my hometown. As a result, my relative got even sicker, so my parents had to sell almost everything to move them to the closest hospital, which was 3 hours away. Fortunately, my relative was fine after this crazy adventure.

I was born in a place that is classified as the poorest area in Mexico. Our people have no money to pay for private medical attention. We have no money to pay for college.

Fortunately, my story is a success story, and that is because of the extra efforts my parents put in. I decided to support communities suffering a similar situation as me and my family have, by offering them health support. That is the reason we visit paces where almost no one can reach, even government institutions. We bring medical supplies to people who can’t pay for them. We try do our best to bring them good opportunities — at least in health. Martín Solórzano (Class 7) — BuildingHealth.


I was first inspired to work in healthcare at the age of fourteen in a community hospital in rural Eritrea, where care providers engaged in community development projects and had lived in the particular community for decades. They imagined themselves not only as clinicians, but also as community members genuinely interested in the wellbeing of patients. Hanna Amanuel(Class 8) — Rahwa.


During college, I spent a summer collecting diabetes illness narratives from women and teaching English to children. This experience solidified my desire to work in community health. I fell in love with working with people and communities, collecting and analyzing stories of life and illness, and being able to make someone’s day brighter and healthier. I learned that diabetes management, like many chronic conditions, requires much more than access to medicine. My life experiences have taught me that one of the most meaningful things you can do for someone is show that you care, and the best way to do so is through active listening. Odette Zero (Class 8) — HIRCULES Health Hub.


A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to work as an intern at a Community Health Partnership (CHP) clinic in rural Illinois. My time there exposed me to various health inequalities that communities in the United States deal with on a daily basis. These issues, from the lack of health care professionals to barriers in accessing health insurance, were immense obstacles for marginalized, minority, and low-income community members. In many of these instances, the lack of cross-collaboration and coordination among key community organizations resulted in many of the patients not accessing the proper care or resources they needed. Udita Persaud (Class 8) — HIRCULES Health Hub.

 

Photo courtesy of HIRCULES Health Hub’s Facebook page.

 

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced working in health? How have you overcome or learned from these obstacles?

Working in the field of global health requires tremendous coordination, collaboration, and cultural relevancy. Our Malaria Awareness Program’s curriculum aims to increase knowledge and awareness around the transmission, prevention, symptoms, and treatment of malaria using concepts established by institutions like the WHO, Department of Health, Malaria Control, etc. By addressing misconceptions around malaria, MAP strives to empower individuals to develop new behavioral habits that result in a decrease of prevalence and incidence in the region. We discovered early on in our venture, however, that in order to effectively drive change, it’s essential to understand and work within local cultural norms and local beliefs. Local concepts are beliefs that are learned at a young age. New, often conflicting messaging, is ineffective if there is no trust or mutual understanding. Instead of merely providing information about malaria that has been scientifically proven, we learned how important it is to build upon existing ideas. Although we may know that spraying DDT, for example, unlike witchcraft, is proven by the WHO to be effective in preventing malaria, rebuking witchcraft completely may cause skepticism and disbelief. Instead of contradicting all local teachings, we learned the importance of building upon existing concepts, relating to the communities, reframing scientifically proven methods as “other effective methods” and explaining how and when it’s necessary to utilize Western medicine concepts in addition to local practices. Molly Simon, Sarah Cox, and Katie Guidera (Class 5) — One Sun Health.


The government is the principal impediment to getting things done in México. When they notice you are doing something well, they block you. We don’t understand why. They didn’t show any interest in our plans, even when we just asked for advice, not money, nor health professionals. All we were looking for was advice and maybe some supplies to start working.

Another challenge was getting approval to work with the indigenous communities that we wanted to work with. It is always a challenge and a risk at the same time. They are accustomed to a certain style of living, so when someone from outside their community tries to explain how to be healthy, sometimes they feel offended. But, we look for the best way to implement our programs with their customs. We work with different lead contacts in the towns, to support them first, and then their community. Martín Solórzano (Class 7) — BuildingHealth.


We have faced several challenges along this journey. A key challenge has been navigating interactions with organizations and individuals who use a particular language that does not align with Rahwa’s mission and values. We are wary of actors that seek to represent the women we work with using images and language reminiscent of colonization (i.e., the stereotype of the rural-dwelling African woman as simply needing more ‘awareness’). In this process, we must constantly re-evaluate ourselves and each other to ensure that we are mindful of the words and images we use to represent the women Rahwa intends to support. Hanna Amanuel (Class 8) — Rahwa.

 

A Malaria Awareness Program in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga. Photo courtesy of One Sun Health’s Facebook page.

 

What are the thoughts running through your head on World Health Day? What does this day signify for you?

World Health Day is exciting for us because it represents a chance to give voice to the issues and opportunities that we see in improving the health and well-being of people around the globe. In addition to it serving as a platform to share our work with One Sun Health, we all have personal and professional interests that intersect with other areas of healthcare, whether it be mental health awareness, or ensuring universal health care coverage. To us, World Health Day is a day to both shed light on the emerging challenges that our world faces, as well as honor the progress that has been made in so many areas of health over the past few decades. Molly Simon, Sarah Cox, and Katie Guidera (Class 5) — One Sun Health.


Everyone deserves to be healthy, because being healthy can determine your success in future life. World Health Day can serve as a reminder for people to make stronger efforts to provide equal rights for everyone, especially in health. Martín Solórzano (Class 7) — BuildingHealth.


I hope that World Health Day enables us to see the parallel and intersecting issues women who are particularly marginalized by their geographies, socioeconomic status, ethnicity/race, and other factors, face not only in rural sub-Saharan Africa, but also in places that have been elevated in the public imagination (i.e., the US!). Hanna Amanuel (Class 8)— Rahwa.


Overall, health systems and health services are becoming harder to navigate. With budget cuts and changes to health care, health information and resources are constantly changing. University students are a great medium to help provide and connect community members to qualified, holistic, and reliable health information in the community.

I wholeheartedly believe that the work we do has the potential to make a difference in our community for years to come. I have had the privilege of talking with and learning from people who come to the desk, sharing life lessons with me as I share health information with them. These interactions have contributed to my strong sense of duty to HIRCULES and the people we help through the Hub, an infectious passion for improving the lives of others locally and globally. Odette Zero (Class 8) — HIRCULES Health Hub.


I believe that health is a human right, and that every person, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, and age, should have the access to quality care. Udita Persaud (Class 8) — HIRCULES Health Hub.

 

Martín Solórzano working with a patient in Chiapas, Mexico. Photo courtesy of BuildingHealth
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