10/15/2014 11:21 am ET Updated Dec 15, 2014

Why Students Should Care About Global Health

Like most want-to-be-doctors, it only makes sense that an integral part of me is concerned with the well-being of others. In high school, I began volunteering at a local hospital and a few years later, I took part in a project in South America -- these two opportunities have inspired me to explore a life dedicated to solving some of the greatest challenges of global health and encourage other young people to get excited about global health as well.

Humanitarian aid is an interest of mine because it stresses the importance of giving back to a world that has given us so much. Everyone is talented in a way that can benefit others and, whether or not we choose to believe it, we have an obligation to use these skills and help those in suffering. It is difficult to see where you can start making a difference as a young person but getting involved in campus humanitarian aid organizations is a good first step.

Students from many diverse backgrounds, each with their own set of talents, come together to accomplish the same goal: Individuals studying health sciences, who are able to understand the need of communities, work alongside engineering students responsible for drawing up plans to build latrines amongst students studying development who understand causes and cultures. The various skills that people have, along with the shared passion for helping others, leads to successful projects all over the world.

These projects allow members to see change happening and acknowledge their part in it, which, additionally, has net benefits for the economy. A recent study from the University of California at San Francisco used projection modeling to show that for every 1,000 patients screened for common diseases in the developing world, roughly 16 lives are saved and approximately $85,000 was averted in medical costs. This is just one case of substantial economic and social gains created by a combination of expertise and a will to help -- and an example of how students can begin making a difference now. This study also stresses the need for sustainable projects, wherein locals do not have to rely on the safety net of aid workers to help treat them but instead have immediate access to preventative medicine.

I am the president of a club on campus called The Student Association for Medical Aid (SAMA), which was founded in 1995 by medical students at McGill University. We started out with projects in Croatia -- then in a state of war -- and Armenia. From there, we expanded to the Philippines, Haiti, Panama, Kenya, and most recently, Uganda. While our projects have focused on many different global challenges, we have recently discovered the value and immense difference we can make by directing our attention to projects related to medical aid.

For the past three years, members of our club have traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and partnered with medical students and doctors there to establish a health screening, treatment, and education program for homeless youth throughout the city. While we are constantly critiquing our efforts abroad and trying to improve them we nonetheless have screened roughly 4,500 urban youth since the implementation of our project.

SAMA also prides itself in community volunteering and emphasizes the importance of helping out locally in Montreal. Our organization volunteers with two local organizations: Santropol Roulant, an organization dedicated to community sustainability, including delivering meals to individuals throughout the city, as well as at a shelter for native women and children. Through our monthly volunteer shifts with these organizations, SAMA members witness the needs of the people in this community and come closer to understanding and ameliorating the challenges that locals here in Quebec face.

An important goal of all of our projects is to educate those we are helping to make sure our projects are sustainable once we depart. Our constitution reads, "We act as facilitators to reach our goals by providing humanitarian aid to individuals in need, and empowering individuals within those communities to help themselves." Empowering individuals can only be done through promoting health education. Our "Health Education Workshops" are just one example and a vital part of building relationships and directing attention towards health by teaching children about hygiene and girls about women's health.

Students are in a unique place to stimulate change in the world. We have the resources and a lens of optimism through which we view the world. Running and partaking in SAMA's projects is a small effort in comparison to the amount we are able to give back to our peers around the world. A dream of mine is to see more of my peers coming together and getting involved with global service. If 50 people have the power to raise enough money to screen 1,500 children, educate them about issues pertaining to health, and provide them with some medications, imagine what 500 people working towards the same cause could do!

For more information on the Student Association for Medical Aid (SAMA) please visit our website at, or email us at, attn: Rob. Follow us @SAMAMcGill