Initiative Inspires Global Citizenship

by Steve Charles

November 11, 2014

Last summer, Bilal Jawed ’17 and Stephen Batchelder ’15 were traveling with Peruvian medical students and 11 Wabash men during the College’s Global Health Initiative (GHI) trip to Peru when they approached a bridge that seemed too dangerous to cross.

“We were on a school bus and there was a small stream that meandered through the valley,” Batchelder recalls. “The bridges that crossed this stream were simply planks of 2x4s and plywood.”

Their goal that day was to survey and provide basic medical care for people in Kera, a village just 30 miles outside Huanaco.

“Every time we got to one of these bridges, we’d have to pile out of the bus with our supplies so the bus could cross over,” Jawed explains. “Those stops added hours to what could have been a short trip. We saw how even basic care for these people out in the middle of nowhere faced many obstacles, yet something as simple as a paved road or a bridge could provide more help than you can imagine.”

“For me, it was a symbol for what it means to serve, but also for the challenges facing this work,” says Batchelder, who joined Jawed, Ryan Horner ’15, and Chris McGue ’16 last Friday as they described their work in Peru during the College’s Global Health Summit.

The summit served as the first meeting of the GHI Advisory Committee, the alumni doctors, researchers, and aid providers who, along with Crawfordsville healthcare workers and Wabash faculty, are setting the course for the initiative. The GHI’s mission is to transform the lives of students through global public health education, investigation and service and in so doing to effect positive change in underserved communities globally. It is one of four co-curricular initiatives in which students apply the liberal arts to urgent or emerging issues in the world.

Already in partnership with two universities in Peru for research, immersion learning, and student/faculty exchanges, the GHI has begun focusing on local health issues, as well. Jawed interned with the Montgomery County Health Department last summer, and other students in the program worked with the Montgomery County Free Clinic.

The Advisory Committee is considering how best to expand and sustain the program, and Wabash Dean of the College Scott Feller said the students' presentation provided substantial evidence of the initiative’s value.

“We want our graduates to be able to tell the story of how their liberal arts education changed them and how it helped set them on the path to their next phase in life,” Feller said. “In the committee’s interactions with the GHI students we saw how the program is such a powerful catalyst for both transformation and how effectively the students were able to communicate what they have learned.”

“Members of the committee were greatly impressed by the impact that the global health course and their time in Peru had on the students, and how they've internalized and carried that forward,” said Professor of Biology and Global Health Initiative Director Eric Wetzel. “I was heartened to hear that other alumni would be happy to participate. Including alumni mentors in the program will greatly strengthen the student experience as well as the program’s sustainability. I was greatly encouraged, excited, and inspired by this first meeting.”

“Our wide-ranging conversation also highlighted that global health is just a lens through which we can focus the liberal arts.”

“We were very pleased with our first Global Health Summit and we are grateful to the members of the Advisory Committee for helping us think through this important initiative,” said Wabash President Gregory Hess. “We were able to discuss the program as it exists now under Professor Eric Wetzel’s leadership, and explore new ways to deepen and enrich the experience for our students. While the advisory committee is made up largely of doctors and health professionals, there was consensus that the real take-away for our students from the GHI is clearly liberal arts in nature—leading effectively and living humanely.”

As the students concluded their presentation, an alumnus noted that one of the goals of the initiative is, in Professor Wetzel's words, "to disturb students' lives"—to make them aware of needs in the world and how they might be met through their liberal arts education. As all four presenters nodded, Jawed offered words that capture a sentiment offered by many of the students applying their liberal arts education through the programs of the GHI:

“The world is getting smaller—I want to be a global citizen in this shrinking world.” 


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