In May, Morgan Barbre ‘19 and Cambray Smith ‘18 traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark as delegates to the fourth triennial Women Deliver global conference. With nearly 6,000 attendees representing more than 150 countries, this was the largest gathering on girls’ and women’s health and rights in the last decade.
Barbre and Smith, nutrition science majors with second majors in religious studies and international studies, respectively, are both cultivating interests in global public health and human rights.
Since age 11, Smith has participated in service and learning trips to Mexico, India, Haiti, Ecuador, and Guatemala. These experiences focused primarily on providing medical care to orphans and other underserved populations; however, they also afforded her an understanding of social injustices and how to advocate against them.
“During my travels and studies, I’ve seen how children and women are the primary victims of poverty, abuse, and discrimination,” said Smith. “As the oldest of four girls, my gratitude for a safe and empowering childhood for myself and my sisters makes me realize how lucky we were to get an education, to be safe from sexual abuse, to be free to speak our minds, and to have some control over our futures.”
Barbre’s interest in global maternal health stems from her relationship with a home for special needs children in Antigua, Guatemala. When Barbre learned that many of the children’s disabilities – cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or some combination of developmental and physical delays – were connected to their mothers’ poor prenatal care or birth complications, she became intrigued. She began to see intersections between her interests in science, medicine, spirituality, and the psychology of healing.
Barbre and Smith discovered their shared passion for women’s health through a forum discussion on SPIFFY, the Park Scholarships’ intranet, and began to entertain the idea of attending the Women Deliver conference. Each applied for, and ultimately received, Park Enrichment Grant funding to offset their travel expenses and conference registration fees.
“I think we both saw the conference as a phenomenal opportunity to engage in the international conversation on global maternal health, sustainability, and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals,” Barbre said. “I spent the majority of my time at the conference completely starstruck by the delegates in attendance.”
During the four-day event, Barbre and Smith heard from presenters such as Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Margaret Chan, President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim, and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation. While impressed by these high-ranking speakers, Barbre and Smith were most moved by individuals who addressed issues of personal importance to them. For Barbre, this individual was Eva Nangalo, a midwife from Nakaseke Hospital in Uganda who spoke on a panel titled “Acting on Unmet Need for Midwifery Personnel.”
“What was so particularly great about her presentation,” said Barbre, “was her fierceness and dedication to her profession, one that had been passed through her family for generations. She spoke of midwifery as a calling, as an identity or personal truth rather than a job to be chosen. She combatted the panel’s stark data with vivid and visceral narratives.”
Smith’s biggest takeaways from the conference came from those facing and/or fighting discrimination – women who had been cut during female genital mutilation, people living with HIV due to rape, young men and women battling dangerous sexism in their communities, and individuals trying to end the practice of child brides.
“They live lives full of courage, hope, and action that allow them to break down the huge barriers to women’s empowerment,” Smith said. “In the United States, there is a train of thought that says feminism is no longer needed. I suggest that these people look at the little girls getting married to men far older than them, forced human trafficking and prostitution, and women like Malala Yousafzai who was shot for supporting girls’ education. These issues are most definitely still relevant, and not always limited to other countries. I also appreciated how inclusive the conversation was about boys and men; the speakers emphasized how all people – regardless of sex or gender – can and should be part of the solution to address global gender inequality and violence.”
The Women Deliver conference provided significant personal and professional networking opportunities for Barbre and Smith. Both relished the opportunity to spend time with Lianne Gonsalves ‘10, who works as a technical officer in the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Gonsalves spoke on a panel about female genital mutilation, where she explained the latest WHO guide for healthcare providers treating victims of this practice as global migration increases its prevalence in places like the U.S. and U.K.
As part of their Park Enrichment Grant impact experience, Barbre and Smith are planning several speaker events on NC State’s campus this fall. On September 8 at 7:00 pm they, as members of NC State’s chapter of Timmy Global Health, will host Gonsalves to discuss global health in the era of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Gonsalves’ talk, to be held in SAS Hall Room 2203, will be free and open to the public.
Through the connections of Diane and Jerry Cunningham, parents of Kelly Cunningham ‘14 and fellow Women Deliver delegates, Barbre and Smith also had the opportunity to interact with leaders such as Guttmacher Institute President and CEO Ann Starrs and the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s former and current Western Hemisphere Regional Directors, Carmen Barroso and Giselle Carino.
“It’s amazing to realize how political healthcare for women is, and it made me far more interested in policy as part of my career later in life,” said Smith.
She plans to attend medical school and earn a Master’s in Public Health, with the goal of conducting research related to girls’ and women’s health. Following the Women Deliver conference, Smith returned to her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, where she spent the summer completing a paid research internship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. There she helped recruit patients for an HPV study in an adolescent health clinic, and designed a statistical analysis plan for an earlier wave of epidemiological data that will become part of a manuscript.
Barbre spent the remainder of her summer break with a small, grassroots organization in Honduras, serving as a student-doula in a public hospital. Barbre supported nearly 20 mothers – mostly adolescents – through labor, delivery, and postpartum care. Looking beyond her undergraduate experience, Barbre would like to pursue social work and medicine in some capacity, and is exploring possibilities available through medical school, physician assistant programs, and licensure in midwifery.
“The Park program never attempts to make my dreams smaller than they are, but instead gives space for optimism and passion,” said Barbre.
Smith agreed. “The Park office and my classmates push me to seek more opportunities every day. They set an elevated standard with high-impact learning and service as an expectation and not an exception.”