Changemakers

Exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world.

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Changemakers: Leslie Hannay seeks to give women land ownership | 

“Changemakers” is our series exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world. If you know a young person (think “Millennial” or “Gen Y”) committed to change, global health and the fight against poverty, please send the person’s name, short bio and contact info to Jake Ellison at jellison@kplu.org

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

Leslie Hannay

Leslie Hannay, 33, is a fellow at Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights in Seattle.  

In many developing countries, when a woman’s husband dies, she loses not only her spouse but also the land under her feet, land that might have been her only source of income and sustenance for her family.

Leslie Hannay wants to help change that.

As a fellow at Seattle’s Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights, Hannay is working with women’s groups, policy makers and foreign governments to change laws to ensure that women own the land on which they farm and live.

Hannay is working on a project in northern Uganda in partnership with a small, local women’s empowerment organization that’s assisting women who have been affected by the area’s recent conflicts and in need of land rights. The work focuses on identifying the barriers to land ownership, which can include cultural hurdles. The solutions include making sure that women are a part of the dialog that shapes land policies.

“When women have secure access to land, they are better off and their societies are better off,” Hannay said. “It’s an important step to ending cycles of global poverty.” Continue reading

ChangeMakers: Erin Larsen-Cooper and VillageReach use business enterprise to promote public health | 

“Changemakers” is our series exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world. If you know a young person (think “Millennial” or “Gen Y”) committed to change, global health and the fight against poverty, please send the person’s name, short bio and contact info to Jake Ellison at jellison@kplu.org.

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

Erin Larsen Cooper

Erin Larsen-Cooper, 29, is a program associate with VillageReach, and a graduate of the University of Washington and Western Washington University.

In wealthy countries, it’s no problem for an organization to provide a single, narrowly defined service. In a poor community, it won’t always work to focus on singular goal, ignoring the existing challenges that can doom even the most well-intentioned projects.

Take vaccinations.

For the life-saving treatments to work, there needs to be adequate refrigeration during storage and delivery. So when Seattle-based VillageReach teamed up with Mozambique’s Ministry of Health to expand access to vaccines in the country, the non-profit organization realized it needed to help improve refrigeration as well.

But instead of simply handing out the propane needed to power the refrigerators used to chill the vaccines, Seattle-based VillageReach first supported the creation of a business called VidaGas. The idea was to create a self-sustaining business that supported the public health program rather than seek funding from NGOs or the strapped local government agencies. Continue reading

ChangeMaker: Susie Marks caring for children of Kenya’s slums | 

“Changemakers” is our series exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world. If you know a young person (think “Millennial” or “Gen Y”) committed to change, global health and the fight against poverty, please send the person’s name, short bio and contact info to Jake Ellison at jellison@kplu.org.

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

Susie Marks, 27, is executive director for the Seattle office of Hamomi Children’s Centre and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Michael Bang

Susie Marks

All that Susie Marks had meant to do was to drop off a donation from a well-meaning friend at an elementary school in Nairobi.

Somehow she wound up executive director of Hamomi Children’s Centre.

When she was a junior in college, Marks spent a year volunteering at a different children’s center in Kenya. She loved her host family and she sponged up the language and culture.

But the volunteering left her disillusioned. Instead of making a real difference, she wound up acting as a part-time sub for a paid teacher when he needed a classroom break. All around her she saw volunteers like herself either under-utilized or burdened with massive tasks for which they weren’t qualified.

When she walked into Hamomi that fateful day it 2007, they mistook her for a volunteer and put her in front of a class. “I felt like, ‘Here I go again. I’m going to teach and be ineffective,’ ” Marks said.

Then she realized that Hamomi was something special. The school, which serves children living in the area’s slums, had been running since 1999 on volunteer power alone. Its three Kenyan teachers were largely reliant on handouts themselves to survive. Their dedication amazed Marks.

“I was totally blown away by what they are doing. They are the best organization I’ve ever seen,” she said. She was thrilled to see a project that was initiated and sustained by people in the community. The model made sense – and it was working. Continue reading

Krycia Cowling: Everyone deserves food and a shot at health | 

Quick BIO: Krycia Cowling, 27, is a researcher at the Public Health Foundation of India, and has a master of public health degree from the University of Washington’s Department of Global Health.

“Changemakers” is our series exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world. If you know a young person (think “Millennial” or “Gen Y”) committed to change, global health and the fight against poverty, please send the person’s name, short bio and contact info to Jake Ellison at jellison@kplu.org.

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

Oh, the shiny objects that grab the attention of teens: the cute kid in English class, celebrity gossip, the hot new social media site. For Krycia Cowling, her interest was sparked by somewhat loftier causes, namely global health.

“I’ve wanted to do this kind of work since I was in high school,” Cowling said. “The one thing I knew about (global health) was AIDS patients in Africa. I think it was one of the first global health headlines I was exposed to.”

In October Cowling moved to Delhi where she’s doing research extracting information from databases and surveys for the nonprofit Public Health Foundation of India. Before her move she’d visited India only for a week. So far, it’s proving to be a good fit.

“It’s definitely shocking when you get here,” she said. “It’s overwhelming and over stimulating, but it’s funny how quickly it becomes your new normal.” Continue reading

Changemakers: Enlisting spiders to fight malaria | 

By Cyan James, special correspondent

A fresh crop of Changemakers has been identified by the Washington Global Health Alliance’s Be the Change student competition. Among the three first place winners was a group of UW students who want to enlist a spider to fight malaria:

Some 250 teams from the region’s high schools, community colleges and undergraduate universities submitted proposals aimed at suggesting solutions to problems in global health. Students came up with solutions to dealing with a number of problems such as the need for safe drinking water, obstetric fistula and HIV diagnosis.

Semi-finalists were treated to an Argosy cruise of Puget Sound Thursday to celebrate their works and recognize the winners

The “UW Spider Trio” said they put in a lot of work on their winning submission, as well as a lot of laughter and camaraderie. Spider Trio’s members Adam Tanaka, Christine Scullywest, and Roshan Mahoney learned of their first place award in the undergraduate category on the Argosy — and are among those who will be feted during a VIP reception at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in July.

The other two first place winners were High Five from Glacier Peak High School for their educational program designed to impart health and hygiene information in low-resource communities and Educational Advocates from Seattle Central Community College for their community awareness initiative on deafness. Continue reading

How a passing comment on an old medical test won a $100K Gates grant | 

Tom Paulson

Gates Grand Challenges award winner Kathleen Bongiovanni demonstrates how a simple idea may save the lives of millions of premature babies

Earlier this week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the latest 100 winners of $100,000 grants from its Grand Challenges Exploration program aimed at supporting high-risk, creative approaches to improving health and fighting poverty in poor countries.

Celebrated for funding “wild” and “wacky” ideas, this year’s batch of Gates Grand Challenge winners included proposals to develop, as the AP reported, unmanned drones to deliver vaccines, tattoos for monitoring pregnancy and a “tuberculosis breathalyzer.”

The Seattle Times followed up with an overview of the three local winners:

  • Kathleen Bongiovanni, a program manager at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, won for proposing a simple test to identify premature babies.
  • Two immunization technology improvement teams at PATH also each won a $100,000 Gates grant. Lauren Franzel of PATH won to do research using bar codes to improve vaccine delivery logistics. PATH’s Shawn McGuire and Nancy Muller got support for work aimed finding better refrigeration techniques during vaccine transport in poor countries.

None of these three local winners’ projects sounded too wacky to me.

PATH has long been a leader in creating new vaccine technologies so not much surprise or wackiness or wildness there.

Bubble check diagnostics

No, the wildest story here is about how Bongiovanni got the idea for her project and applied for the Gates grant despite a bit of skepticism about her chances from more experienced colleagues.

“It was just a passing comment,” she explained. Bongiovanni works in program administration for a project focused on respiratory diseases caused by premature birth at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. She is, in fact, pretty low on the totem pole. Her mentor there, Dr. Tom Hansen, is an expert neonatalogist and, well, an old guy.

During a routine meeting, Bongiovanni overheard Hansen talking about the ‘old days’ and this abandoned method of testing babies for respiratory distress by combining routine amniocentesis fluid with alcohol.

Hansen mentioned it in passing, she said, as he went on to discuss more sophisticated, modern analytical means for diagnosing respiratory distress in newborns.

“Basically, you’re just looking for foam,” Bongiovanni said. “It’s a beautifully simple and cheap test.”

Continue reading

Hooked on science by accident, Kimberly Choi puts it to work in the global community | 

Quick BIO: Kimberly Choi, 23, is a research technician at Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (Seattle BioMed) and a University of Washington graduate.

“Changemakers” is our new series exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world. If you know a young person (think “Millennial” or “Gen Y”) committed to change, global health and the fight against poverty, please send the person’s name, short bio and contact info to Jake Ellison at jellison@kplu.org.

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

Kimberly Choi wound up testing malaria vaccines on mice quite by accident.

“I thought I was going to study Spanish literature,” Choi recalled.

But in 2006, Choi was encouraged by a high school biology teacher to participate in Seattle BioMed’s outreach program, BioQuest, which gives students a chance to do hands-on research.

“I thought that scientists were one way, and I was another,” she said. Instead, she wound up liking the work and built her education around that passion.

Now Choi works at Seattle BioMed, an organization focused on testing and developing vaccines to fight infectious diseases.

Continue reading

Ines Tucakovic puts humanitarian goals to work doing TB research | 

Quick BIO: Ines Tucakovic, 27, senior clinical research assistant with Seattle’s Infectious Disease Research Institute

 

“Changemakers” is our new series exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world. If you know a young person (think “Millennial” or “Gen Y”) committed to change, global health and the fight against poverty, please send the person’s name, short bio and contact info to Jake Ellison at jellison@kplu.org.

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

 

Ines Tucakovic was only a child when she and her family fled the war in their native Bosnia. But her job at Seattle’s Infectious Disease Research Institute has a connection to home.

As part of the research team in the institute’s clinical immunology lab, Tucakovic prepares protocols for clinical trials being conducted internationally. The trials are for vaccines for tuberculosis and a parasite called leishmaniasis. Tucakovic also processes the samples taken from patients in Venezuela, Peru, India, Columbia and Sudan.

If Tucakovic and her team are successful and better vaccines become more widely available, they can curb some of the illnesses and deaths that are caused by preventable diseases – including diseases that killed people in her homeland.

Continue reading