Friday night. College campus. Normally these two phrases together conjure up images of house parties, sporting events, late night food truck visits and students generally unwinding after a week of homework and lectures. So I was rather impressed when I was invited to attend a student-hosted benefit dinner and speaker panel on a Friday evening at Georgetown University focused on the importance of nutrition in the field of international health.
These students, from GlobeMed at Georgetown, were spending their Friday making a difference, bringing attention to the important issue of nutrition, and raising much-needed funds for their partner organization Primeros Pasos– a health and nutrition clinic in rural Guatemala.
GlobeMed is a student network of university-based chapters throughout the US. Their main focus is on education and fundraising for the community-based health organizations they partner with around the world, like Primeros Pasos. Later that evening, we were able to hear from the founder of Primeros Pasos, Dr. Brent Savoie, who said the healthcare of an entire community in Guatemala wouldn’t have existed without the work of these passionate students.
Dr. Myrtle McCulloch, assistant professor of nutrition in the Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies, moderated our after-dinner panel. Many of her students, I learned, were in the room (and I do not even think they were getting extra credit to be there!) The panelists included my colleague, Kelly Hauser, a policy manager here at ONE with a focus on agriculture, nutrition and US food aid reform; Roger Thurow, a ONE fellow and author of several books including The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change; Jennifer Rigg, Director of Policy and Partnerships at 1,000 Days; and Dr. Savoie who is also a radiology resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
I was most excited to hear about the work being done as Primeros Pasos. Thanks to support from GlobeMed, they have been able to start a women’s education group and expand their focus beyond treatment. Savoie talked about women whose husbands were suspicious of them going to a women’s only group and how they helped the women convince their husbands that it is worthwhile. Savoie and his team offered them free medical service if they attended a session. It worked. The clinic has become so part of the community now that false rumors of a shut down had locals rushing to clinic in a panic, demanding that they stay open.
The students were very engaged and asked thoughtful questions of the panelists. I was most interested in the answer Roger Thurow provided to a student question about how biofortified sweet potatoes were actually being distributed and promoted in developing countries. Thurow’s answer: “Everything is painted orange!” He explained that in the beginning, no one wanted to touch an orange-colored food; it was not a color in their normal diet. So a marketing campaign began in local areas to normalize the color orange – orange shirts, orange signs, orange vendor stands, etc. Slowly people bought into orange and started asking “why orange?” Thurow’s report of what he’s witnessed on the ground brought a real and human feel to the issue of nutrition.
Once again, I am immensely impressed with the dedication of the students who ran and attended the panel. It is clear that they are already doing amazing work to help improve lives and educate others about issues of health and nutrition. I can only imagine what kind of impact they’ll make after graduation.
We already know that students have an amazingly powerful voice and are fortunate to work with equally committed students in our chapters across the country. Check out the ONE Campus Challenge and GlobeMed sites to find out what you can do on your campus to end poverty and improve lives.