05/14/2014 03:49 pm ET Updated Jul 14, 2014

Service Corps: Broadening Approaches to Social Justice Issues

This post by Global Health Corps Fellow Delanie Ricketts is part of a special blog series focused on national service in support of the Aspen Institute's Franklin Project and its upcoming summit on national service. Global Health Corps works to mobilize a global community of emerging leaders to build the movement for health equity. Through year-long fellowships in the U.S. and worldwide, Global Health Corps fellows engage, serve, and are helping to lead this movement. Barbara Bush is the CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps and she also serves on the Franklin Project Leadership Council.

Service corps have been unique and formative experiences for me, helping me to develop my skills and commitment to social justice. Volunteering for Cal Corps, interning at the Peace Corps, becoming an AmeriCorps Bonner Leader, and now serving as a fellow for the Global Health Corps. My enthusiasm has propelled me from one service corps to another.

Serving one's community -- be it local, national, or even global -- with limited resources can present challenges that can make progress seem like a distant illusion. However, such challenges can also fuel efforts to change the status quo. As a current Global Health Corps fellow in Kampala, Uganda, my primary role is to design computer-based trainings for health care workers. Yet, many health care workers in Uganda don't have reliable access to electricity or the internet. Moreover, while I could sit down at any class at my university and find nearly all 200+ students on personal Macbooks, many health workers in Uganda, even recent graduates, have limited computer skills.

Although the challenges presented by a lack of infrastructure and computer literacy may be frustrating, they also inspire innovation. Currently, I am running a Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) blended learning course for nurses and midwives in Uganda. To help participants learn how to navigate the course's online materials and assignments, the course began with a two-day face-to-face orientation. To address the issue of limited internet access, participants were given CDs containing offline versions of course lectures, practicums, and resources. Participants were also given wireless modems and a data plan to access online course quizzes, case studies, and forum discussions.

One forum asked participants to discuss why only 58 percent of Ugandan mothers give birth with the assistance of a skilled provider. One midwife suggested that mothers did not go to health facilities to deliver since many facilities lacked skilled providers in the first place. She then commented that she would commit to training her co-workers to incentivize mothers to deliver at her health facility.

This midwife happens to works at a private health facility, which often do not give employees enough time off to attend traditional classroom-based trainings since traditional trainings often require at a least a week-long full-time commitment. As such, were it not for this online PMTCT course, this midwife may have not had the opportunity to participate in such a course. As a result, she may have not been empowered to train her co-workers. Not only can online trainings reach more health workers than traditional trainings, they can build computer skills while simultaneously building prevention, care and treatment capacity.

By innovating the way trainings are delivered to health workers through my Global Health Corps fellowship, I have learned the significance of approaching social justice issues with a creative mindset. Using a similar service model to the Global Health Corps, the Franklin Project is pushing for to provide more young Americans with "service year" opportunities. With more people serving and gaining better understandings of how to address issues such as education reform, health care policy, and poverty eradication, progress as a nation can become a tangible vision rather than a distant illusion.

Delanie is from Salinas, California and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in Peace and Conflict Studies and a minor in Global Poverty and Practice. As a current Global Health Corps Fellow, she works for the Infectious Diseases Institute where she designs computer-based trainings for health workers in Uganda.