Helping Peru Prepare for an Emergency

by Kelsey Wheeler '14

Global Health Initiative Fellowship, Peru, Hospital Nacional Cayetano Heredia

All eyes were focused on the twenty-year-old Dartmouth student in the front of the room. Bridget Golob '14 looked back at the sea of unfamiliar faces and began presenting in their native language: Spanish. Her mentor, Dr. Raul Acosta, E.R. Chief at Hospital Nacional Cayetano Heredia, looked on quietly from the back. He had done much to prepare Bridget for this day, connecting her to resources throughout the city of Lima, Peru, and offering advice. But today, his primary contribution was driving Bridget into one of the city's slums, Villa Maria del Triunfo, to present her work on emergency disaster preparedness to community members.

Weeks earlier, Bridget had arrived in Lima eager to begin the off-term experience she had been offered through the Dickey Center's Global Health Initiative (GHI) Fellowship program and The Dartmouth Center for Healthcare Delivery (TDC), one of many on and off campus opportunities offered through the Dickey Center.

Jessica Friedman, the GHI Program Manager, explains, "A major goal of the program is to help students draw on knowledge gleaned from their Dartmouth courses and apply it to real-life settings." As a double major in geography and romance languages, and with previous experiences abroad, Bridget had prepared herself for eight weeks in Peru. She arrived tasked with learning about the needs of the local community, emergencies, and disaster preparation.

During the first two weeks, she realized that the hospital lacked the infrastructure to handle a natural disaster or a large-scale medical emergency. There were few connections between critical response organizations. Many of the local leaders didn't know each other. "The mayor of the district didn't know the director of the hospital," she observed. An organized response seemed unlikely in the case of a large-scale disaster.

Dr. Acosta, a champion of disaster preparedness development, connected Bridget to groups including the district Mayor's Office, Civil Defense, Rotary International, the Peruvian Ministry of Health, and a local school network.

Bridget recognized her energy would be best spent building a system that could last long after her departure. She was careful to focus attention not on herself, but on the message. After speaking to various leaders, she outlined the steps needed to implement a unified contingency plan and began taking action to introduce leaders and build connections between organizations involved in an emergency response.

Another mentor, Dr. Rob Gougelet, Director of the New England Natural Disaster Preparedness Center, told Bridget, "You will recognize at some point that they won't even need you anymore, they will know what connections they need to be making and they will just use those." He attributed much of Bridget's success to her attitude: "She was very capable, very self-sufficient, [with] a lot of self-initiative and dedication to the work we were doing." Ultimately, Bridget's work on disaster preparedness will have far reaching effects. For Lima, the threat of a large-scale emergency is a great motivation for establishing relationships among social service organizations, but those same connections will be useful in creating other social programs as the city continues to develop and grow.

For Bridget, this experience brought a unique international perspective to her education. It was an opportunity to affirm her passion for global health and gain hands-on experience affecting change. She will continue her work in global health as the Global Health Initiative Intern at the Dickey Center next year.

At the end her presentation in Lima, everyone seemed to have a question, Bridget recalls. "They were so interested, kids, adults, everyone, and they all wanted to learn more. . . . There's potential there, and it was so inspiring. If there's three million people, they have a voice if they speak together."

This profile was written by Kelsey Wheeler '14  as part of "Writing 10: Writing in the Workplace" taught by Sara Chaney at the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric.