Category: Reading & Writing

Lori DiPrete Brown

Today I am honored to be invited to comment on “Transforming Leadership in Global Health” at the CUGH pre-conference session offered by Women in Global Health. I am looking forward to meeting new people and seeing old friends! It is a great way to get ready for International Women’s Day. I’ve been given two questions to think about- so I thought I would think out loud a bit here on my blog in preparation for the session.

“What is one piece of practical advice you would give to someone starting out?”

It’s hard to pick just one – there are so many practical things to be done! Learn to drive a stick? Learn to change a tire? Learn to speak three languages? Take a self-defense class? Always carry chocolate? Maybe you should buy that quick dry underwear and have the courage to travel with just two pairs… I have not yet done all of these things, and practicality is not my strongest suit. I am more of a dreamer with practical friends…. but maybe I can narrow things down to two essential, if not always practical, pieces of advice.

First, always pack a book.

And by that I mean make time for, brake for, reading and the arts. It is important to stay curious, take the perspective of others, keep learning, and hold space for the passions of your youth. In some ways that raw young being will always be your most authentic self. Remember her. This reading is a way to honor the roads you didn’t take — maybe that of a poet, or a painter or a comedian. (I know I have a rockstar inside, and yes, I let her out now and then…). The openness that results from this practice will enable you to let wonderful things happen in life and work

Everyone feels alone at times — on a team, during field work, forty-thousand feet in the air…. and women leaders are no exception. We feel alone, divided, overwhelmed, not up to the task. We carry an extra stone or two, and most of the water. Books can be friends who love you in these difficult moments. You can lose yourself in one, or find yourself in one, or write one yourself.

Second, always be yourself.

And continue to become yourself. Be brutally honest with yourself about who you are and who you are not. Be critical about your work, and use feminist approaches to help with that – develop embodied, dialogic, subversive and truth-telling practices. Smile and laugh and sing when you want — and please be stern and scowl freely too! And then try to be very gentle with yourself — I’ll even use the word tender — and go about the business of getting the work done. That’s what leadership is. Knowing what the work is, and getting it done. Be warned — if you are pleasing everyone you might not be doing very much…. you may have lost your edge, or you may be sacrificing the difficult truths in a way that is at odds with what transformative leadership should mean. Try to cultivate humility, persistence and hope along with some fierceness or fearlessness in yourself. It will be necessary and essential if we are going to create justice for women, foster human thriving, and ensure the survival of our earth herself.

“How would you catalyze change to create a better future?”

There are so many ways to make change. I don’t think there is one right way. Rather the future depends on everyone doing what they can, from where they are, and as who they are. While all the time cultivating trust in the world, despite the odds.

For me right now, leveraging the power of higher education for a better future feels powerful and possible and important. We have started doing this in a gender-informed way at the University of Wisconsin through a campus-wide, local to global, women and wellbeing initiative that we call 4W – Women and Wellbeing in Wisconsin and the World. Our mission is to make life better for women and make the world better for all. We focus on developing leaders, and we work to bring research to practice and practice to scale. It is a great model that can be implemented at Universities of any size. I think we are unique right now, but my dream is that this would become a very ordinary kind of program -business as usual – so that universities become safe places for women and everyone to grow and thrive and lead. I’d like to see Universities lead here, so that the many societal institutions that are failing women right now, in fact, failing everyone, can follow the example, and change, and make life better for all.


“Little Library” Shorewood Hills, WI

I love libraries in every way and I wish we did reality shows and documentaries about them — go to cities or small towns anywhere and you can find your people. Readers and seekers and escapists and children.

People being frugal — checking out instead of buying, people using the free computers to look up their ancestors or to try to find a job.

Librarians who happen to have seen a documentary about that question you have…. and children being read to. And, with all the ands and buts of needing to create more belonging and inclusion everywhere — libraries come closest to “everyone is welcome” than almost every public institution.

And the free speech is palpable — the books that do not agree with each other sit beside each other on the shelves so respectfully — all honoring what a library IS.

I have cried in libraries because of all this.

So don’t prompt me about libraries when I have so much to do today. Don’t get me started…. Gotta go but gonna sing in the car now… about libraries…..



Welcome back from Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Togo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya,  Malawi, Ethiopia, Nepal, Germany, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam   — not to mention those of you who explored the global dimensions of improving health and well-being right here in Wisconsin!

After classes ended in May, nearly 200 of you set out to expand your understanding of sustainable global health and well-being.  You engaged as learners and change-makers with communities around the world.  It has been great running into you and hearing your stories on the Lakeshore path, State Street, coffee shops, and the library (really!) — a special thanks to those who have stopped by my office to share!

This year I will be blogging about field work, fall courses, global health networks, and books related to global health.  I would also love to feature YOUR WORK as your global health projects and ideas develop.

travelMy travels:   In ECUADOR I will be teaming with Instructor Janet Niewold to work with the Sumak Mayo women’s group on a women’s micro-enterprise and health project.   The women are selling jewelry and scarves, and are hoping to develop an eco-tour that highlights their rich indigenous culture.  In ETHIOPIA I will be continuing to collaborate with leaders on Quality Improvement in Emergency Medicine, and I hope to expand the effort to have hospital-wide impact.  There are many other broad-based initiatives going on in Ethiopia with leadership from Dr. Girma Tefera, Dr. Jonathan Patz, and Heidi Busse, MPH, so I hope to blog about their efforts as well.  Finally, I will be going to MOZAMBIQUE for the first time, to work on quality improvement in the pediatric department of a large public hospital.   If you see me between campus listening to a WALKMAN don’t worry, you have not slipped through a time warp into the 1980s — I am making use of my vintage equipment (cassette tapes!) to brush up on my Portuguese.

booksBooks Related to Global Health:  I will be reviewing a mixture of fiction and non-fiction related to global health.  I’ll be covering a pair of South African novels,  Ways of Dying by Sakes Mda and Disgrace by JM Coetzee, which I read during my recent visit to South Africa.  I’ll review  Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder (of Mountains Beyond Mountains fame) and I also have Inferno, by Dan Brown, on my desk.  That is about the World Health Organization – should be fun.  Of course I will cover this year’s UW-Madison GO BIG READ, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.  Also on my bedside table is La Linea by Ann Jaramillo and What is the What by Dave Eggers.  If you have books to suggest please post in the comments section and I will add them to the list, and maybe even review your suggestions first.

Global Health Networks: I will  blog highlights from my reunion at the Harvard School of Public Health, where there will be some workshops and lectures on leadership, and the American Public Health Association — the theme this year is Global Health.  I will be participating in an Roundtable on Inter-professional Competencies with a network of other universities –the concept note that I will present draws on insights from the global health teaching and lecturing that I have done at UW and at  John’s Hopkins University over the past 20 years.  Also, I will be presenting a “TED talk” at a Conference related to Care for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in April — so I will blog or tweet items of interest.


Teaching:  This semester I will be teaching Foundations in Global Health Practice for graduate students in the health sciences, and a new course, with Professor Nancy Kendall, entitled Education and Global Change.  I’ll also be doing grand rounds for the OB/GYN department, and preparing a workshop session for the residents at UW hospital.  These will be highly interactive sessions, and I will share key resources and insights here.

GUEST BLOGS:  I welcome these from all of you!  Please email your global health reflection with 1 or 2 images that go with it to and I will contact you about next steps.

GH Student Mailbox:  We have had some amazing email exchanges about your field work.  I am going to share some of these as blog posts (making them anonymous first) from time to time — so that by “reading each other’s mail” and sharing comments, we can all learn more about Global Health.

Lauren Redniss, author of “Radioactive,” UW-Madison’s GO BIG READ will speak on campus on Monday, October 15th.

It was a great weekend to stay inside and read the 2012 UW-Madison Go Big Read, Radioactive, by Lauren Redniss.  Put forth as a “Tale of Love and Fallout” that explores the lives and science of Marie and Pierre Curie, the book delivers on what is promised.  Then it heats up and starts to glow, shedding quiet light on other themes, such as the nature of spiritual love, the way gender roles shape what aspects of ourselves the world allows us to express, the experience of parental loss and migration, the truth of war, and the way human genius simultaneously creates beauty, awe and the capacity for self-destruction.

Marie and Pierre fell in love with each other and science in a way that cannot be disentangled.  Together they made careful measures with the sensitive instruments of physics, and spent  years sorting through tons of rock to achieve their goals.  They celebrated life with bike rides, adorning their handlebars with flowers in the springtime, and they enclosed themselves for long hours and years in a toxic laboratory environment that would hasten death for both of them.  They made remarkable scientific discoveries, and they participated in seances (also studying them with the physical sciences) with the seekers of their day.  They passed on a complex legacy to their children, who followed them to make significant contributions in the sciences.  Does anyone feel ordinary yet?

Identifying the genre of a literary work is usually straightforward, but Radioactive defies categorization.  Is it a children’s picture book, a science text, a biography, a philosophical treatise on ways of knowing, or a history book?  Is it fact or fiction?  Is it an entirely new genre — or simply an artsy scrapbook?   While a case can be made for all of these labels, I would classify it as non-fiction.  While it reads like a storybook, a closer look at the the narrative reveals that it is actually nothing more than a chain of of small verifiable truths.  By creatively assembling the facts, and citing scientific fact, letters, Marie’s dissertation, newspapers and the scientific journals of the day, Redniss creates a truthful and poetic space for readers to explore the meaning of life, love and science.

I look forward to discussing the book with students and colleagues throughout the year.  If you are in Madison, Wisconsin on Monday, October 15, 2012, you can hear Lauren Redniss talk about her work at 7:00pm in Varsity Hall, Union South.  Admission is free and tickets are not required.

Next Post

Half the Sky, the movie, just came out and can be seen at

Part 1-available till October 8th

Part 2-avalable till October 9th

Global Health Reflections

Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn  documents the hard truths about being a woman on this planet. While some of us choose our spouses, share parenting, and become doctors or astronauts, many are stuck in a cycle of poverty and suffering that includes unfulfilled potential, maternal mortality, slavery and human trafficking, prostitution and survival sex, every  kind of violence, and a lack of choice and safety in relation to their sexual and reproductive lives.  Because I work with programs that address the health of women and children, people often ask me what I think of the book.  Is all this really true?  Did they get it right?

I have read the book three times and each time I am more impressed.  In addition to portraying the lives of women with great dignity and respect, Kristof and WuDunn provide the reader with stories of resilience, cause for…

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Haiti After the Quake begins with an image of Haiti rising, as it always has, to free itself from suffering and shackles, both real and metaphorical.  How many people know that Haiti was the first country to abolish slavery, and that it’s national sculptural icon Neg Mawon  (“the free man”) survived the quake and still blows into a conch to call others to freedom?

Today the University of Wisconsin welcomes Dr. Paul Farmer to its Distinguished Lecture Series, so it’s a good time to post a review of his most recent book,  Haiti After the Earthquake.  Many are familiar with Mountains beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder’s award-winning account of Farmer’s work in Haiti.  For those inspired by that book,  I recommend reading some of Farmer’s own writing.  Well-researched and meeting every academic bar, they are also written in an intelligent accessible voice that does not apologize for its passion or its bias –a preferential option for the poor, and all those who suffer or are voiceless. Titles include Pathologies of Power, Partner to the Poor, and Infections and Inequalities.

Farmer’s 2011 Haiti account is true to what he is and has been.  He takes the reader with him through the days after the quake at an hour by hour pace, as he sees patients, tries to engage constructively in the policy development process, and even as he succumbs to fatigue, lying in bed rather than going to safe ground outdoors during strong aftershocks.  Thankfully, he cannot resist weaving in Haiti’s history,  and lessons from his experience in post-genocide Rwanda.  The book does not have the flavor of distilled wisdom, it is too soon for that.  Instead Farmer honestly walks us through complex issues, sharing his own questions with us, trying to imagine realistic scenarios of success, and, perhaps most importantly, channelling the Haitian spirit, insisting on hope as a moral imperative.

In addition to Farmer’s own story the book includes the voices of others who know and love Haiti.  Nancy Dorsinville brings us close to Haiti and its evocative language as she recounts the various ways people named the cataclysmic event.  The earthquake “tranbleman te,”  that thing “bagay la, “ and finally “goudou goudou,” which needs no translation.  One can hear the earth shake.   Walking around the camps with Didi Bertrand Farmer,  seeing her own daughter in the faces of girls who risk rape and abuse when fetching water or walking to the latrine, one is shaken from the protective distance we create between ourselves and disaster.  It could be us, it could be our children, and in a very real sense, it actually is.

Those engaged with Haiti have become familiar with the term “Build Back Better.” Before reading this book I was uncomfortable with the chop chop of that — it seemed to celebrate erasure for the Haiti that was, in the name of progress.  I worried that master plans would bulldoze local places and the small dreams of people who wanted to restore their own homes, streets, schools and churches.  But the voices of Haitians that come through in the book (particularly in the chapter by Michele Montas Dominique, where she summarizes the Voice of the Voiceless project), seem to embrace this idea as a way of making meaning out of the loss, and, provided that they have a say in the plans and designs, it is something that gives them hope.

Haiti Afer the Earthquake is a collection of voices.  People who have worked together for years, come together around a tragedy, and humbly try to record and make sense of it for the rest of us.   These are wise people, people who, I suspect, think and pray together. The book is a first step toward learning what it means to accompany Haiti, to walk with those who suffer, and to be a healing force when we encounter brokenness in our world.  Let’s build back better.

Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn  documents the hard truths about being a woman on this planet. While some of us choose our spouses, share parenting, and become doctors or astronauts, many are stuck in a cycle of poverty and suffering that includes unfulfilled potential, maternal mortality, slavery and human trafficking, prostitution and survival sex, every  kind of violence, and a lack of choice and safety in relation to their sexual and reproductive lives.  Because I work with programs that address the health of women and children, people often ask me what I think of the book.  Is all this really true?  Did they get it right?

I have read the book three times and each time I am more impressed.  In addition to portraying the lives of women with great dignity and respect, Kristof and WuDunn provide the reader with stories of resilience, cause for hope, and suggested  action that will make a difference.

The first time I read Half the Sky was just before Sheryl WuDunn came to Madison to speak about the book for our local Planned Parenthood chapter in 2011.  I sponsored a table with my neighbor and friend Joyce Bromley, and we decided to invite some of my global health graduate students to join us.  Sweta Shrestha, a “Madison girl” from Nepal,  Aaliya Rehman from Pakistan, Middleton’s own Roman Aydiko, originally from Ethiopia, and Chrstine Kithinji from Kenya.  The topics were difficult, but the evening felt like a celebration — these young women in my circle were saddened but not shocked by these realities. Empowered with education, they are hopeful about being leaders and making change.  As the crowd departed we found ourselves in a circle sharing stories.  Each of these women told of someone who had fought for her: an uncle who defied the family and took his bright young niece to school because he knew she could realize her dream of becoming a doctor, a mother who defied tradition and married for love (and she wore pants!), parents who braved the immigration journey to the US with their children, and a foreign sponsor who kept investing in a young African woman, by providing scholarship support.  All of these young women are leading international lives now, making a difference in public health work here in Madison, and staying engaged in  their home countries.  Sweta leads service learning programs for UW students in her native Nepal,  Roman is engaged in research and quality improvement in Ethiopia, Christine is building a clinic in her home town, and Aaliya, an obstetrician who is proud of her Pashtun origins, is now in Pakistan working to improve maternal mortality.

This fall I assigned the book to my global health honors class for first year students.  “The book made me tremble,” one student told me.  Rereading the book through her eyes somehow made what was already real to me more real.  The raw facts lingered, and the numbers and the truth of the stories sunk in.  Is this really true? I realized it would be almost impossible to tell a false story about the oppression of women and girls, because everything  you can imagine is already happening to a girl–just about every girl you could make up is actually out there.

The subject of the book came up with again with students in my global public health class this spring.  We  discussed the book over coffee before class, and someone asked if I would blog about it.  So I gave it another read through yet another lens.  This is a class where we focus on action: What is the problem? What are the root causes? What works? How can we close the gap between the world we are in and the world we want to be in?  That is our public health mantra, and Half the Sky did not let us down.

Educating women, creating livelihoods through mirco-enterprise, providing health care… these things work.  At the end of the book Kirstof and WuDunn suggest 4 ways to support the  women and girls all over the world who are trying to change their own lives.  It will only take about 10 minutes and it probably will cost you less than you spend on dog food or coffee in a month.

1) Make a people to people microlending loan  ( or

2) Sponsor a girl (Plan International or Womenfor Women International).

3) Mmonitor news about global women’s issues through or

4) Become a citizen advocate at  the Care Action Network (CAN)

I hope people will read the book and get involved.  As hard as it is to stare down what is happening to girls in our world, change is possible, and women and girls are surviving and rebuilding their lives.

There is a movie based on the book coming soon.  See trailer at:

What will the world look like in 2015? And how can we make it a place that offers sustainable health and well-being for everyone?  At the Annual Symposium of the UW-Madison Global Health Institute, Ruth Levine described the burgeoning youthful population that is projected to dominate the global south as an asset rather than a liability, provided that we make the right investments, and provided that we “Start with a Girl.”

Levine identified the years from 12 to 14 as a crucial time in a girl’s life, where risks to health and well-being can increase, and her choices, her world, can become increasingly narrow.  If secondary schooling is withheld, a girl is confined to the home, child marriage is encouraged, and she is exposed to abuse and exploitation, she is destined to be trapped in a life of poverty and suffering.  On the other hand, for about a dollar a day, we can provide girls with community-based supported, health services designed to meet their needs, schooling and economic opportunities that can help us realize human rights for girls, and, at the same time,  benefit from a demographic dividend that will enhance the well-being of everyone.  See the keynote presentation here:

If you would like to know more about this effort you can read the complete report,  Start with a Girl: A New Agenda for Global Health by Miriam Temin and Ruth Levine, and review related news and resources at:

Further, you can see what change looks like for individual girls, and join the movement to change things for girls, at  The Girl Effect, where there are stories about girls from a number of countries and lots of ideas about how to get involved.


What about boys, you might be asking yourself?  They don’t experience the same risks and narrowing of choice and agency that girls do, but their needs are important also.  This movement is about extending education and opportunities to girls alongside, not instead of, boys.  To really make change we will have to work with girls and boys, men and women, so that the rights of girls and women are respected, and they are allowed to achieve their potential.

On my recent trip to Ethiopia, I decided to reread Cutting for Stone by Ethiopian-American surgeon Abraham Verghese.  I first read it when it came out in 2009, a beautiful novel that  also provided a window into Ethiopia’s health system.  Now I wanted to test it out on its home turf.

From Addis I was less focused on the ways in which the book could “take me there,” since I was already “there,” working in hospitals, walking the streets, meeting people who had lived through the challenging times that Verghese described.  I wasn’t troubled by the license that Verghese had taken with some of the factual details relating to Ethiopian history or “Missing” Hospital itself…. He had told us it was fiction.  A fiction writer myself, I understood that sometimes you have to make some stuff up or move things around a bit to tell an authentic story. Would Verghese’s story and its messages about life and place and love and fate ring true?  For me, that was a more interesting question than whether his story corresponded to the material and chronological facts.

Reading from my hotel room in Ethiopia, where the hall light streamed into my room all night and the dogs began barking just before dawn,  I realized how much this novel transcends it’s particular setting, and speaks to so many of us who have been shaped by immigration, by separation, and by living in ways that leaves us with more than one place that we can plausibly call home.

Verghese tells us the story of twin boys, with two fathers, two mothers, two countries, and one woman they both love.   We all have so many possible lives and possible selves, and the story of Marion and Shiva his twin reminds us that it is hard to contain all we can be in one life and place, and it may be even harder to contain it in two.

The boys are attached a birth, share a bed, and then are separated by miles, oceans, time, revolution, and their own differences. The story unfolds through the eyes of Marion, as he tries to understand and reconstruct the truth of his past.  What happened?  And why?  There is always more than one answer — a double, an opposite, a twin.  The boys have two parents who raise them, and two others who gave them life.  Their birthmother, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, lived a prayerful life of submissive service, and, we are led to believe, also experienced the spiritual passion of Theresa of Avila.  Thomas Stone, their biological father, also had a divided life, on the one hand a focused, tireless and dutiful surgeon, and on the other a man possessed by binges of excess.

As I read in Addis I realized that many of the diaspora Ethiopians that I am working also have two lives and two places that are home.  I too, am divided, both the person who wants to go home, and the person who wants to stay.  Can we live these double lives, or does one of our selves have to sacrifice itself for the other?  Cutting for Stone asks this question and, as might be expected, shows that there is more than one answer.

For me the special thing about this book was not the fact that “it takes you there.”  In fact, when I look for scenes that capture what is like to walk the streets of Addis or be immersed in the setting, I find that they are few.  This made me realize that while I thought I was experiencing this place in a close up and personal way, Verghese was writing from a more intimate perspective, a surgical distance where the background fades as the human heart is dissected in ways that reveal truths common to all.  Verghese finds the truth and healing of our brokenness through the act of fiction, because, as he puts it,  “where silk and steel fail, story must succeed.”

Sitting at the Java Den at University and Mills before class,  I was not sure what to expect.  Students from PHS 370 were invited to drop in to meet me, connect with each other, and talk about local to global perspectives on public health.  I was armed with a computer, a short novel, and the New York Times in case no one showed.  But I did not even get to read one headline….

Maggie arrived first wanting to explore how to make global health work a part of her life.  Relatively new to UW, she is shifting from a political science focus to a public health focus.  She told us a bit about her work in Bulgaria where she worked with the Roma population.  this video portrays the challenges that this ethnic group faces.

Abby had been on the Uganda Field experience led by John Ferrick and James Ntambe and she has done a lot of coursework related to public health and health disparities.   Pascale who joined us later will participate in the same Uganda program next year.   Laura, a global health certificate student,  joined us and shared that she will be working with Araceli Alonso on the Health by Motorbike program this summer.

Tahiya joined later in the hour and very generously shared stories about her summer in Bangladesh where she worked in the Geneva Camp focusing on children with disabilities.  The camp, established in 1972 to meet the needs of Pakistani’s who were still in Bangladesh after the transition, is now a crowded multi-generational community.  The video focuses on the health risks for children in the camp.

Liz, who is doing an  honors project for the class, hopes to consider homelessness in Madison in a global context through case studies or oral histories.  Stay tuned as she may be willing to share her project in  class or discussion section!

I blog as a reflective practice and to share information and experiences with my students, colleagues and friends. Some of the topics that I will cover this semester include my upcoming global health work in Tanzania in March — I will miss a few classes but will make up for it with some blog posts!  Also, I am working with a group of students who are planning to go to Ecuador to do service learning in a community where I have worked for the past six years.  I am going to “back blog” for them from my journals, so I can share some of my favorite memories and photos with them  and introduce them to the community where they will work.  I am going to cover campus events like lectures by Ruth Levine, who is coming on March 14th, to our annual Global Health Symposium.

I am also planning to do some global health-related book reviews.  Coming soon Is Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, which takes place in Ethiopia.  I am also reading Haiti after the Earthquake by Paul Farmer.  I will review A Sand County Alamanac, by Aldo Leopold, to explore the implications of a his “land ethic” for a new global health ethic.  Finally, I will reread one of my all time favorites, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, by Leonardo Boff.   I wonder if it will seem as good as it did when it changed my life many years ago….

Please feel free to comment on this post or make suggestions for future topics!