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ASU students commit to boosting global health, starting with Uganda

ASU students Megan Atencia Anna Simperova
September 24, 2014

Arizona State University is on a mission to empower its students to enact powerful and positive social change. One outgrowth is its relatively new GlobeMed chapter, helmed by undergraduate honors students Megan Atencia and Anna Simperova.

Atencia, a global health major, and Simperova, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in biological studies and a minor in family and human development, serve as co-presidents of the nonprofit. One day, they hope to work as physicians – an intensive care doctor and a pediatrician, respectively. In the meantime, they are getting community health experience while taking their spirit of service to the next level.

GlobeMed partners its chapters with communities to create sustainable health solutions specific to the communities’ needs. ASU’s chapter is matched with ICOD Action Network in Lyantonde, Uganda, and focuses on families and orphans affected by HIV/AIDS.

Rather than simply throwing money and supplies at a crisis, the GlobeMed model invests in learning about community issues and working with the local partner to determine the best ways to create lasting change. Examples include building housing and sanitation structures and providing microloans for farming and income generation purposes.

Founded in 2012, GlobeMed at ASU is composed of roughly 25 active members whose academic programs range from anthropology and biological engineering to sustainability. The group is diverse, representing various ethnic and religious backgrounds, with several international students and first-generation Americans.

Each summer, the chapter typically sponsors two to four interns who travel to Lyantonde for an average of five weeks to assess needs within the partnership, take metrics of success for past projects and act as a liaison between Lyantonde and ASU. This year, Sophia McGovern, a double major in creative writing and global studies, did the honors.

On the ground, McGovern was able to solidify the chapter’s partnership, put faces to names and immerse herself in the culture while witnessing the daily lives of people in the community. The experience, which she calls “all-around amazing,” helped her understand areas for improvement in the partnership, such as extending the scope of assistance for a previous beneficiary who was provided a home.

“Because of this, we are working to add income generation to our housing and sanitation project,” McGovern says. “We sat down and designed a microloan program after last year’s beneficiary showed us land she had cleared for potatoes. After the house was built for her, her life was so filled with hope for the future that she told us what she needs to be completely independent: money for potatoes. In five months, she’ll have paid us back, and that money can go toward the next beneficiary’s income generation.”

Seeing a need

Most of the GlobeMed at ASU members found their way to the group through in-class presentations or ASU-sponsored events like Passport to ASU. But their reasons for caring about global health issues are unique.

Atencia spent her youth living all over the U.S. as a military kid, but she is profoundly connected to the island of Catanduanes in the Philippines, where her parents were born and raised. In 2013, she interned in the hospital and rural clinic in her mother’s hometown. Here, she saw first-hand how the locals struggled to survive – sickened by being forced to drink from the same water sources where farm animals relieve themselves, weakened by malnourishment – while trapped in a vicious socio-economic circle.

“There exist man-made systems and structures globally that prevent people from fulfilling their potential, which, to me, is a staggering loss to the world,” Atencia says. “People who could advance technology, science and art are instead stagnant in a village simply trying to provide food for themselves, unable to work their way out of the cycle of poverty and into a better situation.”

She notes that the global health program in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences equips her to “analyze these systems and work to break them down.”

Before choosing the program, Atencia was planning to become a musician. A lifelong performer, she came in contact with people who were mentally, emotionally or physically unwell, and noticed that music touched them in healing ways. She credits music with instilling in her the desire to heal others and pushing her toward a career as a physician dedicated to addressing all aspects of wellness.

Heeding the call

For Simperova, the call to help others came early. She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t interested in being a pediatrician. However, it wasn’t until college and joining GlobeMed that she realized how critical a role global health plays in the sphere of medicine.

She immediately and strongly identified with GlobeMed’s mission to provide housing and sanitation for orphaned children in Uganda.

“Working toward a sustainable future starts with children, as they are often the most vulnerable when their basic human needs are unmet,” Simperova explains. “By giving them a roof over their heads, access to clean water and a place to go to the bathroom, GlobeMed is helping them reach their full potential. In reality, we are investing in the progress of humanity while attending to the health needs of the community.”

Simperova is particularly interested in issues surrounding prenatal and maternal health, and her work with GlobeMed provides a real-world look at these challenges. As poverty is endemic to the Lyantonde community, most women do not have access to ultrasounds, prenatal vitamins, clean water, medical information or treatment. Poor infrastructure in rural villages makes transportation to health centers or hospitals difficult and sometimes impossible, which increases the risks of complications for mother and child.

“Most of us cannot imagine not having clean water for a day, let alone during the course of a pregnancy and childbirth. By installing water tanks, we can begin to make an impact on the lives of our beneficiary families,” she says.

GlobeMed at ASU members believe in the model of community partnership and have seen real results come from it. They point to their methods as sustainable and empowering, unlike those of some nonprofits, which engender dependence. As Atencia puts it, “We are contributing in ways so that in the future, we no longer have any work to do in Lyantonde, Uganda, and (we can) leave this community with a better foundation to stand on.”

Get involved

Atencia and Simperova encourage those interested in shaping global health from a grassroots perspective to connect with GlobeMed at ASU. Membership is open to all.

The GlobeMed at ASU chapter meets from 5 to 7 p.m., every Thursday, in SHESC 265, on the Tempe campus. For more information, contact