Oregon State University logo

Eyes wide open

Global health program creates a new worldview


Students in Botswana this past summer

Sometimes things fall into place perfectly. Such is the case with the new Botswana Global Health Program (BGHP), a collaborative effort supported by the Robert and Sara Rothschild Endowed Chair in Global Health, OSU and the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, the University of Michigan (U-M) School of Nursing and the Botswana Ministry of Health and Wellness. These entities have teamed up to offer students a hands-on experience that brings knowledge learned in the classroom to life in Africa.

Ministry of Health

The Botswana Ministry of Health and Wellness is one of the partners

The inaugural group, consisting of 10 undergraduate and graduate students from OSU and U-M; Sunil Khanna, the Robert and Sara Rothschild Endowed Chair in Global Health and Clinical Instructor Judi Policicchio of University of Michican’s School of Nursing; spent four weeks this past summer getting up close and personal with community health far from home in the village of Maunatlala.

For students interested in global health or community-based work, the BGHP is the perfect way to get such an experience. The program is set up for students from a wide range of academic backgrounds, including students studying public health, agriculture, forestry, veterinary medicine, engineering and social sciences.

While in Botswana, students worked as a team on projects related to everyday life and health in the community. Topics included:

  • Local culture, practices and beliefs
  • Examining infrastructure and its impact on people
  • Education and health infrastructure and services
  • Community food and nutrition
  • Outreach services provided by local clinics and health outposts

“My time in Botswana helped me understand a whole new worldview,” says MPH student Lauren Welch. “It changed me in ways I didn’t know I could change. I went into the experience expecting to come away with a greater understanding of health on a global scale, but I ended up returning with a million more questions.”

Giving back

The BGHP came to life thanks to the support and connections of OSU alumnus Robert “Bob” Rothschild and his wife, Sara, and their family foundation. The Robert and Sara Rothschild Endowed Chair was committed earlier this year to bridge OSU’s work in global health to a decade’s worth of work by Bob and Sara in Botswana.

“We’ve found OSU’s university-wide approach to community health to be a good fit with our family’s work in Botswana the last 10 years,” Sara says. “We believe the unique partnership of Oregon State, the University of Michigan and Botswana’s Ministry of Health is mutually beneficial to students and the communities.”

OSU’s Office of International Programs has committed to funding the first four years of the BGHP, and then the endowment and additional fundraising efforts will cover subsequent years. In addition to the funding, Bob and Sara have spent many years in Botswana and have formed and maintained numerous relationships with the Botswana government and local communities, making it possible for future collaborations to continue.

A sustaining relationship

Sunil, the Robert and Sara Rothschild Endowed Chair holder, has responsibilities to develop and sustain collaborations with U-M and the Ministry of Health and Wellness in Botswana. Working with their leadership, and OSU and Michigan faculty, the team works to provide assistance in the broad areas of health programs, including the development of new and innovative programs to improve child nutrition, train community health workers, empower youth by encouraging their participation in sustainable income generating efforts locally and other specific needs as identified by both the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the community.

Interns working

A work session

“I am so incredibly grateful for this support, which allows me to create an experiential learning program for students to really put into practice what they’ve learned in the classroom,” Sunil says. “Students engage with individuals, communities and cultures to understand the practice of public health, as well as a range of issues such as communicable and non-communicable diseases,  youth empowerment, sustainable health development, gender and gender-related issues and health systems related issues. It opens many doors for students as they begin to see the complicated nature of working with others.”’

While in Botswana, the group was able to work at libraries that have been established by The Robert and Sara Rothschild Family Foundation. The libraries ­­– 15 built since 2007 ­– are so much more than book collections. They’ve become community centers that work with various entities to offer healthy cooking classes, cultural performances, youth programs and HIV prevention discussions. “In short, they’ve become community centers and a conduit to educate people on social, food and nutrition and health-related issues,” Sunil says.

Public health in action

“This global health program is a win-win, a perfect example of a partnership that provides unique learning opportunities to our students while improving public health and access to community services,” says Javier Nieto, CPHHS dean.

“We are so thankful to the visionary work by Bob and Sara, who made this program possible by forming these deep and trusting relationships with the local community and the government of Botswana. This program models the University’s Student Success Initiative by providing cross-discipline experiential learning opportunities for our students through collaborative, hands on community-based work.”

Students who step out of their everyday lives and into a whole new world halfway across the globe are actively engaging in OSU’s strategic goal to provide transformative educational experiences to learners and to educate global citizens.

“Students who experience the world through education abroad develop cultural sensitivity and humility, and are exposed to working across disciplines, cultures and national boundaries,” Sunil says. “The students saw that real world issues can rarely be seen as black and white. Instead, the issues are complicated, and the solutions are shades of gray. There are no simple issues or simple solutions.”