An Unconventional Orientation to Global Health

Global Health Corps Fellow Samantha White with President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton in Lilongwe, Malawi. President Clinton & Chelsea visited Clinton Foundation project across Africa.

Clinton Health Access Initiative

My first weeks as a Global Health Corps (GHC) fellow with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) in Malawi were radically different than I had imagined.

The orientation period at my previous jobs included the usual: reading and signing paperwork, attending meetings, and getting introduced to new people. Well, I definitely did my fair share of reading and signing papers (this must just be inevitable). I also attended meetings, albeit they were in rural villages beneath the shade of trees. And, I certainly met several new people: my supervisor, colleagues, and health care workers. And topping the list:  former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea Clinton!

President Clinton and Chelsea were in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, to attend a series of meetings for the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), an initiative of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, which is one of the 44 partner organizations working with GHC this year.

CHAI kindly invited all of the GHC fellows based in Lilongwe to join them for a meet-and-greet with the former first family. President Clinton thanked the CHAI staff and the GHC fellows for their dedication to solving global health inequities. While I am lucky to have supportive parents who continue to share words of encouragement, there is nothing quite like a pat on the back from President Clinton to amplify my motivation to continue to pursue a career in global health.

Having recently completed my master’s degree in public health, I believe that I learned as much in my first two weeks in Malawi as I did in any semester-long course at school. Just the other day, I was listening to health workers of community-based organizations in Nkhotakota talk about the challenges they face in referring patients to get tested for HIV.

Barriers such as stigma seem more realistic and difficult to manage in conversations than they do in peer-reviewed articles. However, solutions also seem more promising when they are born from community members rather than from classrooms thousands of miles away.

I am quickly learning my greatest asset won’t be my ability to draw a logic model. Instead, it will be my ears and my fearlessness to ask provocative questions. If it means helping to promote positive social change, then I am ready to listen and inquire.

Admittedly, these first few weeks have been exciting, educational, and undoubtedly exhausting. But, if they are any indication as to what the coming year has in store --bring it on! Please!

Samantha White is a GHC Fellow working for EGPAF in Malawi. Click here for more about EGPAF’s new class of GHC Fellows