Tori Sung is a high school student from Canada who is a guest blogger and passionate volunteer for Vitamin Angels. Below she writes about her experience attending The Leadership Institute at Brown University’s Summer@Brown program where she learned about global health issues that effects some of the undernourished populations Vitamin Angels targets.
From the end of July to early August I attended The Leadership Institute at Brown University’s Summer@Brown program to study Leadership and Global Health. Not only did I learn about the many health issues the world faces, but I was also introduced to just how large disparities in wealth actually are and the myriad of reasons why health and economic conditions aren’t improving in many nations.
Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
“(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”
It’s great that the importance of health care is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but although it’s stated, we all know that this is far from reality. It’s horrendous that disparities in the availability and accessibility of global healthcare vary from none at all, to exceptional access, and everything in between.
Interestingly enough one of the most important lessons I learned wasn’t from the classroom, but from a Hunger Banquet. This activity was one of the most impactful experiences I’ve ever had. For those of you who don’t know what a Hunger Banquet is, I’ll explain. As people walk in to the banquet they are randomly assigned a colour and are told to sit with people that have been given the same colour designation. At the banquet I attended, we were divided into three groups. One of the groups had about 4-6 people in it and sat at a dinner table, while someone served them fresh vegetables, steak and various drinks. Another group had approximately 10 people in it and sat in a row on chairs and were served chips, beans and water. Finally, there was my group, which had about 25 people in it. We sat on the ground and received a small bowl of rice and a cup of water. The point was to illustrate the inequalities in food distribution and portion sizes around the world depending on where a person lives or their socio-economic status.
After we were done eating one of our teachers asked a simple question: Why hadn’t the people in the more “well-off” group, who had a TON of extra food, offered it to any of the people sitting on the floor? No one seemed to be able to answer this question. One person said “I didn’t know if we could, and how to do it. I definitely didn’t want to offer it and then have to leave some people out.”
I can promise you that everyone in that room truly cares about the inequalities and disparities that exist in the world, and that every single one of them wants to help in some way. When a discussion started, we all recalled when our parents used to tell us to eat our vegetables because there were kids in other parts of the world that were hungry who would gladly have eaten them. One girl in my class even told us that she used to package up her vegetables and leave them outside for the mailman to bring to those children.
As the discussion continued, the students concerns became apparent. Nobody was sure what the best thing to do was. Why can’t we just send food to those who need it? Do or can you even create a sustainable way that they themselves can produce their own food? And when you give an organization or country money to provide food, how do you know it’s really going to those in need? Whatever the “correct” answer to these and many other questions is, the importance of vitamin supplementation became even clearer to me.
Supplying essential micronutrients in the form of supplements provides a solution that can help people in need, while others are working toward providing more permanent solutions. Many people, worldwide, are exposed to waterborne diseases and parasites, or other illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. Young immune systems in particular require proper nourishment to attain good health and be strong enough to fight infectious diseases they encounter. Since many children do not have access to proper nutrition, they must get essential micronutrients from another source, giving them a chance for good health and the ability to lead productive and fulfilling lives. Malnourishment in children can lead to issues such as stunted growth, blindness, or an immune system working in overdrive. They need vitamin supplements in order to support their immune systems so they can fight these illnesses, maintain their health and in some cases, stay alive.
Studying and completing this Global Health course at Brown was an amazing opportunity. It was great to meet so many other teenagers who are interested and passionate about improving global health and are inspired to create positive change in the world!
"When you know better, you do better." - Maya Angelou
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