University of Utah launches Doctors Without Borders student chapter

Story and image by ANNA STUMP

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, is an international humanitarian organization whose mission is to expand accessibility of medical care for those affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care. These efforts include providing doctors, nurses, logistical experts, water and sanitation engineers and administrators to over 70 war-torn regions and developing countries across the globe.

Doctors Without Borders emphasizes “independence and impartiality.” The organization provides support to those in need regardless of political, religious and economic factors. Working as a private entity allows MSF to follow its own moral code and operate in any way it sees fit. Because MSF is a non-governmental organization, all of the services and operations are driven by the selfless work of volunteers.

Two of these volunteers are Julia Case and Kelsie Lee. The freshman roommates at the University of Utah are working toward bringing a student chapter to life on campus. Both women were exposed to the organization’s work at an exhibition that left them hungry to help in any way possible.

They attended MSF’s exhibition “Forced from Home,” which took place at the Salt Lake City Public Library in late September 2017. The interactive experience was designed to expose the realities of the global refugee crisis to those who attended. While walking through the exhibit, participants gained a closer look at some of the disturbing challenges faced by the 65 million asylum seekers displaced from their homes due to war and persecution.

FORCED FROM HOME

A tour guide leads participants through the exhibition and shares the hardships of traveling through the Mediterranean Sea.

During the tour, participants experienced what it would be like to gather essential belongings with dire urgency. The group had a 20-second time limit to determine which five items they would take with them on their arduous journey into the unknown. Constrained to only five items, participants were forced to decide which necessities were more crucial. For example, debating between a blanket and water or food and money. This activity gave participants a taste of what a refugee experiences while scrambling for necessities during a time of emergency.

Motivated to act

The exhibition emotionally impacted Case and Lee to the point of seeking ways they could lend their hands to MSF, despite neither of them having any medical knowledge.

“When our guide finished taking us through the exhibit, Julia and I were really eager to do something,” Lee said in an email interview. From here it gets a little blurry, but all I remember was spontaneously writing down that we wanted to start an MSF chapter at the U, and next thing I know we’re here, with the chapter expected here on campus at the beginning of next semester.” The student chapter should begin in the Spring of 2018.

MSF currently has student chapters on campuses across the country that work closely with the organization to unite students who are passionate about MSF’s mission to provide lifesaving care to those who need it most. MSF collaborates with each chapter, and provides the resources needed to plan memorable events such as fundraisers, map-a-thons, film screenings and Doctors Without Borders field staff presentations on campus.

Future goals

Both Case and Lee are hoping to hold up to four events in Spring 2018 semester. One event in particular is a “Walk 4 Water.” During this event, students will walk to raise awareness of the demand for clean drinking water in countries with limited access and help raise money to provide sterile water and drinking wells to developing countries in need.

For Kelsie Lee, fundraising walks are no foreign activity. She herself has participated in a Walk 4 Water and has helped organize a community-wide walk for charity. At the age of 10, Lee went on her first service trip to Uganda. On this trip, she witnessed the hardships faced by those who walk miles for water, struggle to find food and are exposed to sometimes fatal diseases such as malaria.

“Walking for water specifically is such a cool concept because it really puts into perspective the fact that women, men, and kids all around the world walk miles upon miles upon miles for water every day, and sometimes it’s not even clean water. When people come out and get involved in these walks, they are walking for those people,” Lee said.

The freshmen are also working toward having a field worker from MSF visit campus. The volunteer will speak with students and faculty about the organization’s current projects and share the various ways one can support refugees from home. Case is thankful for the opportunity the student chapter will present to students who want to help but have no idea where to start. “This club offers a unique experience of being part of a global organization, and we as students can help with pressing issues on the other side of the globe right from our own campus,” she said.

Both women are eager to further the reach of the MSF program through their projects at the U.

“Doctors Without Borders has been very open to allowing us to not only plan out our own ideas for fundraisers, but also giving us choices as to where the money goes. It could go anywhere from helping the refugee crisis, to medical needs, to water. The options are endless, which is why I’m so proud to get to be a part of something so awesome, that really just wants to help in any way possible,” Lee said.

 

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