Jan 21, 2016

#GlobeMed2030: How are we changing the way people collaborate?

On November 22, 2012, I reached the midway mark of a 6-week visit to GlobeMed partners, arriving in Mumias, Kenya, where I was greeted by the Ambassadors of Hope.

The Ambassadors of Hope are a group of kind, hardworking men and women from Kakamega County who met each other at a training for HIV support group leaders. When the training ended, they decided to build upon what they learned and continue working with their support groups by forming the Western Organization for People Living with HIV/AIDS (WOPLAH).

I visited them with Sarah Phillips, the co-founder of GlobeMed at Colorado College, four years after the founding of WOPLAH. While they were young and small, the trust they had with their communities and the essential nature of their work was palpable. By building community, income generating opportunities and learning spaces, WOPLAH is making it possible for people living with HIV to live well, together.

The time I spent with them in 2012 was at the beginning of their partnership with GlobeMed at Colorado College (CC), and I have been impressed with and excited by the intention, thoughtfulness, and effectiveness of their partnership ever since. I spoke with Edwin, the leader of WOPLAH, and two GlobeMed at CC alumni, Sarah Phillips and Molly Snell, about their time working together.

ALYSSA: When we first met in 2012, WOPLAH was still very new and small, and you’ve made a lot of progress since. What has changed at the organization from 2012 to 2016?

EDWIN: I want to appreciate the partnership between WOPLAH and GlobeMed at Colorado College because, at first, we were just thinking about how to increase income generating activities and support the community. Then when we initiated the community health dialogue [in partnership with GlobeMed at CC], we improved a lot. We have formed so many community health units whereby we have community health workers (CHWs) who are doing community health at the primary level and making referrals. We have [HIV] support groups, and now they have a number of different income generating opportunities, and we have increased the number of beneficiaries on board.

The community health dialogue is creating a link between the community, the health facility, and WOPLAH. Now the stigma tied to the vulnerable families has been reduced. For me that is so wonderful, and the partnership, it is making a change in the health of the community by creating income generating activities and helping the people access health services.

ALYSSA: What are the signs that show the stigma is being reduced?

EDWIN: One of the signs is that the number of people accessing ART [Anti-Retroviral Therapy] at the comprehensive health clinic is increasing, and people are going to the support groups. In fact, now people are disclosing their status to loved ones, and the care is now comprehensive at the household level. Now the community is even admiring the life of positive living and they are requesting support groups. We have increased by three support groups; we had one when you came, and now we have four.


ALYSSA: Sarah, when we were in Kenya together there were a lot of moments of learning for both of us as we came to understand what WOPLAH’s grassroots approach looks and feels like, and I saw you take that experience and apply it to the way you led and structured GlobeMed at CC. How did the experience of seeing the challenges faced at the grassroots day-to-day help you better understand and believe in WOPLAH in order to bring their work to your campus?

SARAH: I think that what they really taught us is the importance of a team. Coming back to campus, we realized [GlobeMed at CC] wouldn’t be successful if it was just my Co-President and me. We really needed to recruit an amazing team, especially because our goals were so big and we were new to GlobeMed. I think finding the executive board was the most important thing we did in starting the chapter. It was such a strong group of people, and recognizing the importance of that love and companionship, and how that can help you achieve your goals.

I’ll never forget when we were saying goodbye to the Ambassadors of Hope in Kenya and each and every one of them was beaming and so excited to be a part of it. It’s a reminder that you don’t have to know everything or have all the skills, but you need to find people who can fill those gaps. And if you have the same goals, then you can achieve great things.


ALYSSA: How do you integrate the work you’re doing with GlobeMed with existing community initiatives?

EDWIN: We’re called capacity strengtheners with the GlobeMed at CC students. We have our own expertise, so we link through the support we get and the services we provide. Where we don’t have the skills, we look for local partners and those who have the skills to capacity build with us and provide support on the ground.

The students are able to do the analyses about where we have weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and strengths, and then as the local partner we can look around and say okay, this support can come from this partner, and this support can come from this partner, so we have a comprehensive package of skills. My team is doing well and we have built capacity and we have strengthened our work. Because of this, we have local partners who come to us and want to work with us so we can reach our services into the community.


ALYSSA: How has the partnership been embraced on the Colorado College campus?

MOLLY: For the first time last year we Skyped Edwin and some of the other Ambassadors with our whole staff at our retreat, and even though it was hard to hear what he was saying, so many people were so enthusiastic to put a face to the organization. We came up with questions in advance, and the Ambassadors of Hope had amazing answers to them, which really put into perspective that they’re the experts, and we’re there to learn from them and support them as much as they learn from us.

ALYSSA: Since then, what do you think partnership has come to mean for the students in your chapter?

MOLLY: I think students like the tangibility of it compared to other projects at CC or in global health in general. You’re having calls every other week with your partner organization and asking “how are those 50 chickens we bought”? You’re seeing tangible impact while still dealing with macro issues. I think everyone liked that and felt important because they had a role, whether it was baking a cake for a campaign or organizing a benefit dinner or so many tiny, menial tasks that feel so small in the moment, but when you put it all together in a big event or a great globalhealthU session, it all comes together. It’s nice to step out of the academics of CC but still feel like you’re learning, engaging, and pushing yourself forward.


ALYSSA: After working together through GlobeMed, how are you collaborating with others in different ways?

EDWIN: Through the students, we have had a positive impact toward working with other partners. When they link us with other partners, the organizations understand that we have a global partner and they become interested in what we are doing on the ground. The link is so much easier because of the students. When they are on the ground, they can communicate with our partners, for example Article 25. They seem to understand us better because they already know of our work with GlobeMed.

MOLLY: GlobeMed is keeping me grounded in reminding me of what I want to be doing and reminding me of the value of equal collaboration and not treating people as if they’re below you because they don’t have the same title or degree as you. Like how WOPLAH works. Everyone has an equal say, and yes, some have more skills than others for specific issues, but if they weren’t all working together they couldn’t get it done.

I love talking to other alumni in Boston and seeing how people’s paths are heading toward a global health career no matter what they’re actually doing. Knowing that everyone has this in the back of their minds is really cool.

I don’t think I will ever develop my personal and professional skills working on a team as much as I did on the GlobeMed executive board. I learned so much about how I work and how I can work with other people. It was really cool and challenging at the same time.

SARAH: GlobeMed really impacted my first year out of college at Sacred Valley Health and the way I functioned as a volunteer in that organization. I helped them apply to join GlobalGiving, and now they’ve become a GlobeMed partner, so that was huge. My understanding of what they were capable of was transformed after being a part of the GlobeMed network because I realized they could be talking with so many other organizations and people. It definitely affected the way I worked at Sacred Valley Health and they really appreciated it.

Looking back on my experience, I don’t think I’ve ever been more psyched on life than senior year when I was Co-President of GlobeMed at CC. I was so happy about what I was doing and I really believed in it. I’m grateful to this day for the GlobeMed Leadership Institute because it gave me the tools I needed to be successful as a leader, and then leading that year gave me so much more confidence in myself and my abilities. I learned so much about the type of leader I was with my Co-President and our e-board. I still carry that with me today so I’m very grateful for that, and my relationships with the people are some of my most cherished friendships. I love GlobeMed. Forever.

How are we changing the way people collaborate?  

We’re changing the way people collaborate by supporting a grassroots organization in Kenya navigate new types of domestic and international partnerships. We’re changing the way people collaborate by showing students how to listen and learn from people unlike themselves. We’re changing the way people collaborate by connecting communities across the world.

We’re changing the way people collaborate by putting respect, open-mindedness, and mutual growth at the heart of what we do. GlobeMed at Colorado College and WOPLAH’s partnership exemplifies this spirit, building more passionate and able global health leaders through shared ideas, experiences, and perspectives. As we look to 2030, we’re excited to see how these forms of collaboration can and will change the global health landscape.


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