The 2015 Wallenberg Summer Travel Awardees
While a student at the University of Michigan in the 1930s, Raoul Wallenberg traveled across North America to observe and learn from people of all kinds on their own terms. This experience helped him understand the human condition, and shaped his lifelong concern for human dignity and humanitarian values. His heroic efforts to rescue the surviving Jews of Budapest are an inspiring demonstration of how one individual can make a difference, even under the most dire circumstances.
Each year, a few students are selected to receive Wallenberg International Summer Travel Awards. In the spirit of Raoul Wallenberg’s experience at Michigan, this award allows selected students to take part in a community service project or civic participation anywhere in the world. The award will support such experiences as volunteer work with a humanitarian organization such as a school, clinic or aid program, or the exploration of humanitarian issues not well understood in the US.
From the Dominican Republic to Uganda, these University of Michigan students explored the world this summer, working in local communities to understand the human condition and engage in service there. Please enjoy learning about their experiences and how they help carry forward Raoul Wallenberg’s mission in the world today.
This summer I was given the opportunity to work with an organization called Hogar CREA in Costa Rica. I worked with boys aged 10-18 that have had previous problems with drugs. As the middle class grows in Costa Rica, so many people are still left in stunning poverty and many of these kids wind up in facilities like this one. The organization is a live-in facility that works with the boys to uncover the underlying causes for their drug use and help them get back on the right track. At Hogar CREA I worked with students to get them caught up in school, tutoring them in several subjects such as English, math, biology and history. Additionally, I led several workshops with the kids on themes such as “Respect for Women,” “Self Esteem,” and “Mental and Physical Health.” This was a transformative experience for me as it showed me firsthand the differing levels of opportunity afforded to people. I was pushed to broaden my world view and examine myself and the ways that I could help others. Additionally, it forced me out of my comfort zone and allowed me the chance to experience life in a completely different way.
Master’s Student, Public Health in Global Health Epidemiology
I spent this summer leading a study in central Mexico on the association between exposure to untreated wastewater and diarrheal disease in children under five years old. Mexico City currently sends almost all of its untreated wastewater to the Mezquital Valley in the neighboring state of Hidalgo. Agricultural workers in the Mezquital Valley then use the nutrient-rich wastewater to irrigate their fields, potentially exposing them to harmful bacteria and viruses. We conducted a door-to-door survey, took wastewater and other environmental samples, and collected stool samples to determine how wastewater exposure affected diarrheal disease in children – the second leading cause of death in children worldwide. Living and working in the Mezquital Valley allowed me to see how a community’s health can be affected by industrial contamination. In addition to the wastewater canals, communities in the Mezquital Valley are exposed to a major oil refinery and a large electric plant. My continuing work in this area will also allow us to see how changing one of these exposures, through an upcoming wastewater treatment plant, can positively impact local communities.
Ph.D. Candidate, Nursing
I had the opportunity to spend two months in Kampala, Uganda working with a multi-disciplinary research collaboration called Global Health Uganda. I joined an established study, led by professors from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University exploring the cognitive impact of an intervention in child survivors of severe episodes of malaria. Though there are now fairly effective treatments for malaria, many children do not get access to that care before the disease inflicts permanent damage to the brain tissue. This trend has caused malaria to become the leading cause of cognitive impairments in sub-Saharan Africa. The intervention we used targeted the specific areas of cognition that are most harmed by malaria, such as memory, attention and problem solving. Though my trip was short and there is still much to be done, my eyes were opened to the impact that can be made through simply going. As Raoul Wallenberg chose to use his education from the University of Michigan in non-traditional and mighty ways, I’ve been inspired to take my nursing education beyond the hospital and into life through research and international collaboration.
Master’s Student, Social Work and Public Health
This summer I interned at Clínica de Familia La Romana (CFLR), a clinic located in the eastern region of the Dominican Republic. CFLR provides a wide range of physical and mental health services, and specifically emphasizes the prevention and treatment of HIV.
During my time at CFLR I worked on three projects. The bulk of my time involved creating a manual for the clinic’s support group for HIV positive youth. I wrote 15 different monthly curriculums, and created a new group format that emphasizes medication adherence and providing a supportive atmosphere.
For the second project I implemented a clinic protocol to ease the transition into adult services for HIV positive youth who age-out of pediatric services. This work involved developing a system to ensure the appropriate use of the transition forms located in patient files, writing job responsibilities for all team members, and creating process indicators to help evaluate the successes and needs of the project. Lastly, I spent two weeks completing a program evaluation for CFLR’s annual summer camp for youth with HIV using the evidenced-based Camp Program Quality Assessment (C-PQA).
It’s a challenge to compare my work to that of Raoul Wallenberg – a man who put his own life on the line to save the lives of others. Working on projects that improve mental and physical health care for youth with HIV, however, reflects the same drive and commitment to fighting the injustices that exist in our world and improving the lives of others.
This summer I was able to set up a program to help women who are afflicted with obstetric fistula in the rural communities of Kashongi and Kitura in western Uganda. Obstetric fistula is a preventable birth injury, usually caused by obstructed labor, that leads to incontinence, social isolation, and other devastating physical and psychological consequences. Working with the organization Progressive Health Partnership, which seeks to improve maternal and neonatal health in the area, I held focus groups with community members to discuss experiences and perceptions of pregnancy, delivery, and obstetric fistula. We identified women with fistula, formed a partnership with a local doctor who knows how to repair fistula and worked out transportation for women to get to this doctor’s fistula repair camps. In order to address the complex social and emotional needs of fistula clients, a thorough counseling guide was created and a local counselor trained to follow up with women before and after their surgeries. Additional resources, such as a flip book about fistula to educate community members and decrease stigma, were created. Through the Wallenberg Summer Travel Award, I strived to honor Raoul Wallenberg’s extraordinary legacy of humanitarianism and service to others by helping to bring some peace and healing to women with obstetric fistula.
Lucia Michelazzo Ceroni
This summer I had the opportunity to work with La Matria, an Argentinean non-profit organization that aims to better society through empowering individuals and communities. The empowerment occurs through a number of activities aimed to develop knowledge and skills regarding civic participation. It was an amazing learning opportunity to be able to partake in all the different modalities that the organization utilized to be able to reach people from different social sectors and build collective participation. My main task while working with La Matria was to lead workshops that were offered in underserved high-schools. In the workshops we engaged students on themes such as gender violence, bullying, gender diversity, and sex education among others. The workshops were organized in a way in which we were not only providing information, but encouraging all the participants to collectively reflect on the topics and look for solutions to the specific problems that they were facing.
How Raoul Wallenberg explored the world to gain a better understanding of humanity and positively impact society resonated a lot with my experience with La Matria. In many of the high schools I visited, even though I spoke the same language, there was a huge socio-economic and educational gap. Overcoming this gap and finding a common ground with the students was challenging, but one of the most rewarding aspects of this fellowship.
I lived in two areas of the Dominican Republic this summer, conducting needs assessment through interviewing physicians, clinicians, patients and other community members as well as observing clinical practices. In the spirit of the incredible legacy of Raoul Wallenberg, I hoped to accomplish something important and meaningful that would positively impact the lives of others.
With the data from my assessment, I created an extensive collection of need statements that can be used in the future development and implementation of solutions to those needs through organizations on campus, such as Michigan Health Engineered for All Lives (M-HEAL).
Specifically, my team of mechanical engineering students and I will design and prototype a device for low-resource settings to regulate patient temperature during surgery to prevent perioperative hypothermia and the complications that can occur. We hope to have the device reach patients and improve health outcomes.