On November 4, six students shared their global service experiences as recipients of the 2014 Wallenberg Summer Travel Awards. This group, all U-M students like Raoul Wallenberg, were inspired to explore the world and gain an understanding of the human condition. They changed lives, including their own, along the way.
During his internship with the Centre for AIDS Programme Research in South Africa, Randy Dowding, a master’s student in Public Health and Social Work who received the Isabel Bagramian Summer Travel Award, worked in an area of KwaZulu-Natal, that has one of the highest incidences of HIV infection among women in the world. He coordinated a study project to develop analytic tools for public health workers to better understand the highly localized patterns of HIV infection, and to plan the siting clinics and services. His work helped identify the critical need to reach young adolescent girls with information and education about HIV. “I was in South Africa for four months, funded by the School of Social Work and the School of Public Health, but I didn’t get to embed myself into the community. The Wallenberg award allowed me that opportunity, and doing so made such a difference in the depth of the experience. This trip altered my career plans to focus on global health. I didn’t have the confidence to pursue global health before, but now I have the understanding, business and educational background that gave me the tools I need.”
Dana Del Vecchio
Dana Del Vecchio used her proficiency in Arabic that she has developed as a student in the Honors Program in Arabic, Armenian, Persian, Turkish and Islamic Studies, to intern with the International Relief in Development in Amman, Jordan. She took part in a program to develop public space by creating e-publication initiatives in twenty schools that included students, faculty, parents and the community. “This summer showed me what there is out there and what I’m passionate about. My goal was to build community in schools, helping participants feel more engaged and build more solidarity and connection to the community. I gave them tools and resources to make it what they want, to have ownership of the project. Planting a seed is what I want to focus on, getting students to take that leap of faith and explore.”
In his sophomore year, Harish Kilaru co-founded a student group, Rural Innovations in Medical Engineering, to develop affordable health diagnostic technology for under-resourced areas of India. A Health Policy and Community Program major, this past summer Harish took a prototype of a bilirubinometer to assess the needs in rural clinics for such a financially sustainable medical device that can test for jaundice and to identify other technological needs. “We planned this on our own, and some things didn’t pan out, but one way or another, things would come together with a new opportunity. I learned about systemic problems like staffing, process, and the need for policy level solutions. I now want to carry forward this mission by connecting with communities in rural Detroit to explore health disparities in domestic healthcare.”
Hea Jun Oh
Hea Jun Oh took her knowledge as a Nursing student to teach disease prevention to children in rural elementary schools in communities in the Philippines that bore the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan. “These are young kids with hope for the future, and I realized I can’t take things in my life for granted. These kids may never even go into the city. Little things I was doing might have one effect on one person there, to make them take care of themselves, or make them think about the world around them in a different way. This experience clarified my passion. Wallenberg’s spirit didn’t happen in one moment. I want to keep in touch with the world, be alert about issues, and seize the chance when it comes.”
Stuart Richardson, majoring in German and International Studies, spent his summer at the Documentation and Cultural Center of German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg, Germany, a museum and research center for the history of the Romani peoples, particularly the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis. He translated museum materials into English, maintained a database of documents and photographs from survivors, and did research on the documentation of the Roma genocide in the American press. “Over the summer, I struggled to determine my role. I asked myself, ‘What stake do I have in their fight for equality? Am I just complicating their effort?’ I thought about that, and thought about Raoul Wallenberg. He was not Jewish but recognized our need to act as humans, not as Jews or Roma or Americans. That’s a lesson for me. We need to act, to stand up for voices not heard.”
Nour Soubani, majoring in American Culture and International Studies, worked with Syrian women who are refugees uprooted from their communities by the Syrian civil war and living in uncertain and difficult conditions in Istanbul. Nour created a program to help build personal connections among isolated and vulnerable women who have experienced violence, loss and dislocation. “I went in thinking this is just a summer project, but I saw the effect the project had on the participants and their interest in continuing to work together after the summer ended. I realized this summer was just the first step. Now I want to continue here and add programs in Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine. This is something I’d like to continue for the rest of my life.”
About the Wallenberg International Summer Travel Awards
While a student at the University of Michigan, Raoul Wallenberg traveled across North America to observe and learn from people of all kinds on their own terms. This experience helped shape his compassion and interest in the wider world and the lives of others. The Wallenberg International Summer Travel Awards inspire students to follow Wallenberg’s example by taking part in community service or civic participation anywhere in the world.