Last week’s Women’s Health Forum provided an opportunity for Spencer Dirk ’20 to share some experiences from her summer 2019 Global Outreach Fellowship. She traveled to Shirati, Tanzania, to work with the Maji Safi Group. In Swahili, Maji Safi means clean water. The organization helps thousands to learn safe water, sanitation, and hygiene practices, using creative education methods to bring lifesaving practices into the daily routines of individuals.
In Tanzania, female hygiene and menstruation have traditionally been taboo subjects. Volunteers like Spencer work to educate and lift the stigma around female hygiene to empower girls and help them reach their full academic potential. The organization also provides reusable sanitary products to promote proper hygiene and prevent absences from school.
Spencer’s work during summer 2019 is just one of several Global Outreach Fellowships. Global Outreach, or GO, Fellows are selected to participate in innovative experiential servant leadership opportunities. Specifically designed for involvement with non-profit projects and organizations, the fellowships fund students’ participation in internships fostering engagement with community development issues while providing a meaningful appreciation of both the possibilities and the obstacles in leading effective change in these areas. The fellowships provide meaningful and potentially life-changing experiences for the students while benefiting the communities they have targeted.
Created through a grant from the Todd and Abby Williams Family Foundation of Dallas in 2007 to “cultivate the next generation of local, national, and global leaders” the program has sent students to sites around the globe over the past 12 years.
The 2019 Global Outreach Fellows have been reporting on their experiences throughout the fall term. The fellows and their assignments follow:
Shelby Bagby ’20 of Forney, Texas
Business Finance and Spanish major
Shelby traveled to Lima, Peru, and the rural city Pachacutec for medical volunteering with International Volunteer Headquarters. “The GO Fellowship really confirmed my passion for healthcare in Spanish-speaking populations.” Shelby credits her preparation for the fellowship to a Spanish major and her internship in Public Health. She hopes to attend medical school after graduating from Austin College. “A career providing for a community in need of a bilingual physician will be a fulfilling career for me in the future.“
Michaela Davis ’20 of Dallas, Texas
International Relations and French major
Michaela traveled to Antigua, Guatemala, to volunteer at a children’s day care through International Volunteer Headquarters. “I love learning about people and different cultures. What interested me was going away on my own and building confidence for traveling, as well as being able to make a difference in someone’s life.” This was Michaela’s first experience abroad and she credits AC’s language classes with helping her understand the culture and language. “It broadened my ideas and life in so many ways. I’m so happy I was given the opportunity to be able to make a difference in a person’s life but also make a difference in my own.” After college, Michaela plans on attending law school or earning a master’s in public relations.
Spencer traveled to Shirati, Tanzania, with the Maji Safi Group to learn about the interventions the organization was using to help spread water, sanitization, and hygiene education in the areas surrounding Lake Victoria. “I was particularly shocked by how receptive people were to the education we were offering … it led to large crowds of people listening and asking detailed questions for hours.” Spencer developed his interest to volunteer abroad in a socio-cultural anthropology course. “The class taught me how to think about and approach other cultures and their way of thinking.” After graduation, Spencer plans on attending grad school and becoming a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine.
Forrest Gardner ’20 of Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey
International Economics and Finance major
Forrest traveled to Peru to volunteer as a Financial Analyst for a Micro Finance Co-op called La Chu’spe Mide. This Co-op provides loans for women entrepreneurs in mostly agricultural fields. “The GO Fellowship gave me the ability to make a beneficial difference abroad while receiving hands-on work experience.” Forrest pins the most significant outcome of his fellowship as the opportunity to build relationships with people from all over the world. “I found it astonishing how I was able to meet people from completely different cultures and learn about their backgrounds. Subsequently, I was able to find multiply similarities with the majority of people I met, even though we grew up in totally different worlds.”
Weiheng “Holly” He ’20 of Murphy, Texas
Public Health major and Chemistry minor
Weiheng traveled to Kavreshthali, Nepal, with Volunteer Initiatives Nepal to work on a Public Health Campaign and medical volunteer work. “I realized that although I was placed to offer help as a representative from a first-world country, people of developed countries have a lot to learn from people of underdeveloped countries.” As a pre-med and Public Health student, Weiheng wanted to engage in a learning experience that combined both disciplines. “I was able to grasp the importance of engaging in an immersed cultural exchange experience, developing an appreciation and respect for individuals of different backgrounds.”
Matthew Li ’21 of Frisco, Texas
Psychology major and Chemistry and Public Health double minor
Matthew traveled to Hong Kong, Hong Kong with Mind HK to volunteer with event coordinating, PR, organizing database of statistics, transcribing interviews, and designing a mental health campaign. “Learning about determinants of mental health in public health and psychology courses helped me recognize them in the real world.” Matthew’s significant outcome was learning how privileged we are. “I learned a lot of about how to run a non-profit charity and I hope to learn more about grant writing.” After college Matthew plans on attending med school. “I am really passionate about mental health and reducing the stigma associated with getting treatment for mental health issues.”
Alyssa traveled to Cartagena, Colombia, to volunteer at Granitos de Paz, a preschool and elementary school, and at a foundation for children with cancer called Funvivir, through International Volunteer Headquarters. “I was inspired by the children that I worked with who were always so positive despite living in an area filled with poverty, and some of them living with an awful disease such as cancer. Alyssa said she has long had a desire to work with young children in some fashion. “I was inspired to one day devote myself to helping children and families in underdeveloped countries. I hope to be an educator regarding child health and development so that no child experiences what some of these children did.”
Tajal Patel ’20
Biology–Cellular and Molecular major and Art minor
Tajal traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, where she volunteered through Love Volunteers and learned about HIV testing and the importance of getting tested. “I walked in prepared to educate people about HIV and the importance of getting tested. I didn’t realize I would be acting as a counselor for the patients.” Once she completed training to be an effective HIV testing counselor, Tajal was put to work in a clinic in the slums of Nairobi. “I learned that there is a huge stigma around HIV and people are too ashamed to even get tested. We saw over 400 patients, each eager to interact with the foreigners and get their medicine for their health concern.”
Antonio Saavedra ’20 of Plano, Texas
Chemistry and Spanish major
Antonio traveled to Saldan, Argentina, where he volunteered through International Volunteers in the daily care of residents in a public nursing home because of his love of the elderly and because he wanted to offer care that would make a difference. “Even though the Argentinian people were struggling with economic and political issues, they were optimistic and very welcoming. I learned to incorporate that mindset into my everyday life, and I have been happier ever since.” He plans to be a physician involved in healthcare policy and quality improvement research.
Katie Seibert ’20 of Medina, Texas
Economics major, Spanish minor – Health Sciences
Katie traveled to Cusco, Peru with the nonprofit, A Broader View, and volunteered in a kindergarten class and in a hospital to provide assistance in the care of special needs children. “I wanted to serve abroad and improve my Spanish skills while working in a medical environment. I was also excited about the adventure of traveling alone. This project taught me so much – from learning physical therapy techniques and new medical terms to completing treks in the Peru countryside, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Her studies at Austin College gave her the confidence to take on this experience on her own. “Being exposed to fast-paced Spanish language daily forced me outside of my comfort zone and required me to speak Spanish even when it wasn’t perfect—and gain new confidence. I hope to take this new skill set and work with other Spanish-speaking communities as I pursue a career in medicine.”
Austin College, a private national liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas, has earned a reputation for excellence in academic preparation, international study, pre-professional foundations, leadership development, committed faculty, and hands-on, adventurous learning opportunities. One of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College boasts a welcoming community that embraces diversity and individuality, with more than 50 percent of students identifying as persons of color. The residential student body of approximately 1,300 students and more than 100 expert faculty members allow a 13:1 student-faculty ratio and personalized attention. This year, the campus recognizes 100 years of co-education and has had several opportunities to recognize the history of women and accomplishments of current alumnae. Austin College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that supports students’ faith journeys regardless of religious tradition. Founded in 1849, the College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original name and charter.