Latest Entries »

This morning I started my day an hour before class, at 8:30am.  It was 15 degrees below zero, but that did not stop my global health students from stopping by to talk about joining the US Peace Corps.  Later in the day Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet visited campus to announce that UW-Madison leads the nation in Peace Corps College Rankings, which answer the question “which University has the largest number of Peace Corps volunteers serving around the world in 2014.”   Seems like a good time to give a shout out to some of our  recent UW-Madison graduates who are serving in the Peace Corps around the world!

Readers may know Carybeth, Allison, Kevin and Monica.  There are about 100 more Badgers out there!  I invite readers to post pics and info about other UW-Madison PCVs in the comments, or send them to me at and I will add them to the body of this post.


CARYBETH REDDY majored in agricultural economics (CALS), worked for the Global Health Institute, did an international internship in Ecuador, and helped us to launch our Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace, which works to improve health and wellbeing through economic strengthening.  She is currently serving in Cameroon.


ALLISON FEUERSTEIN majored in Biology (CALS), received a Certificate in Global Health and participated in the UW -Madison field course in Nepal.  Before leaving for Nicaragua she took a graduate course relating to programs for orphans and vulnerable children to help her to better prepare for her Peace Corps Serice.


I first met MONICA RODGERS after  I gave a lecture in a global health class she was taking.  It turns out that I had served in the Peace Corps with her parents from 1983-1985!  Monica received a global health certificate, and did her field work in Ecuador focusing on micro-enterprise and health.  Here is is with her parents on the day she left for Peace Corps service in Peru. Two generations of Peace Corps Volunteers!

kevin king

KEVIN KING majored in Neuroscience and did an internship in India as an undergraduate. This UW Mad Hatter is now serving in Azerbijan.

It was great to have Peace Corps Director Carrie Hesseler-Radelet on campus.  In cased you missed here here she is, serving Peace Corps then and now…..


Thanks to UW-Madison students for inviting me to address the topic “Learning in Unexpected Places” at their November 23rd event.  It gave me an opportunity to reflect about global engagement that I did in my 20s in Central America –work in an orphanage in Honduras, a war zone in Nicaragua and a water project in a remote rural community in Guatemala.   Here is the youtube video and below is a text version of my reflections. 

Start Small,  Change the World  

Today I am going to talk about changing the world.  Perhaps I should have a narrower focus, and I did try, but I finally decided that besides saying I love you, or telling a really good joke, changing the world is probably the only thing worth talking about ever. Making change, addressing suffering, and mending the brokenness in our world should be what we dream about, and study, and talk about.  With teachers, with friends, with colleagues.  With people who are like us, and with people who are different from ourselves.  Visions of healing, peace, joy and abundance should inform our lives.If you are a young person who has had the audacity and heart to proclaim to someone older and wiser that you want to change the world, you might have had some surprising, even discouraging, responses.

They might say, who do you think you are? What makes you think you or your ways are best?  What right do you have to try to change other people?

Or they might say, Good intentions are not enough.  A lot of do-gooders have been ineffective.  Some have even done harm.  They will tell you stories, mostly true, of unfinished schools, half-built clinics, latrines with holes large enough for a small child to fall inside, and other efforts that have solved one problem, while creating another.  Worldchanging, as you have probably already guessed, is messy.

Another common response might be, There is plenty to do right here in your own community.  This, of course, is very true. It is easy to be drawn to the drama, the exotic, the faraway places, and sometimes hard to remember that changing the world includes addressing disparities and injustice in your country or neighborhood.  On your own street.   We all need to visit the familiar places in our lives with our eyes wide open.

Then there is the predictable, Things are more complicated than you realize. What makes you think your simple fix-it scheme will work? Don’t you realize that the cultures that you think you can outsmart are hundreds of years old?  Don’t you know that advanced study and assessment are needed before you can do anything at all? 

You might be told that the abundant, sustainable life that you want for all people is just not possible!  You are too idealistic.  To accomplish what you are proposing would take generations.  It is not possible to provide food, water, housing, education, and health care to everyone. It is not possible to live in a safe world where ALL people are free to express their identify and culture.

I can’t help but note that these messages about the impossible are spoken in a world that can distribute millions of Harry Potter novels in a single day; in a place where people think it is perfectly feasible to provide cell phones for everyone in the world; in a society where, in a given year, people collectively throw away enough food to satisfy the global food deficit.

Despite my refutations, though, the counsel you are receiving is valid. You must practice cultural respect and humility, embrace complexity, and consider the effectiveness, feasibility and sustainability of your efforts.  I come back to these issues again and again in my global health work, and I find new mistakes, and new pathways to something better, every time.

I do sometimes wonder  why we who mentor young people often start out with a long list of don’ts and cautions, instead of encouragement.  I suspect, there is some generational tension here.  Your hopes and confidence about what is possible remind us of all the ways that we, regardless of how much we might be doing, could be doing more. Your energy is wonderful. And terrifying.  

You keep things simple.  You ask simple arithmetic questions like “what if every student at our university sponsored basic needs for a child or family facing poverty in Milwaukee, Appalachia, Botswana, or India?”  Wouldn’t that add up? What if I tutor a child or build a well, or provide a sewing machine? Couldn’t that make a difference?  You use the sound and adequate arithmetic of a 5 year old, and it exasperates the experts.

 Thankfully you persist.  You are more globally interconnected than any previous generation. You are more able to embrace diversity. You are a generation of caring optimists. You are willing to try, take risks, ask questions, take responsibility for your mistakes, and try again.  The truth is, you are better able to assess and predict what is possible than we are.

I would like to share some ideas about being part of change in our world.  And this is where learning in unexpected places becomes so important. In my global public health work I have partnered with governments and NGOs, and mentored students in global efforts around the world.  Today I will talk about my early global health experiences, work that I did when I was in my 20s, as many of you are now.


In 1983 I left the United States for the first time.  I join the Peace Corps and was sent to Honduras.  My job was to provide counseling and support to teenage girls in an orphanage there. I lived with them, and also traveled with them to the villages where they were born to help them get their birth certificates.  These journeys took me all around the country, on buses, in the back of pick up trucks and on foot.

When I think about the lessons from that time that might be useful for you today, one particular series of events comes to mind.  I was having coffee one day with a Peace Corps friend who expressed concern that I was getting burnt out as a live-in counselor, and that I wasn’t really doing development work.  There was no sustainability to what I was doing, she said. No multiplier effect, like when you train trainers, or provide seed to farmers, who in turn provid seed to others. I was mainly counseling, comforting, and refereeing the girls on chores.  Kind of a gloried babysitter, really.  It doesn’t sound like world changing, does it?

A few weeks later I was involved in a fair at the orphanage.  We filled the dusty, colorless field near the children’s homes with games and fun for a day.  The girls and I dressed up like clowns to entertain the younger children. By the end of the day I was answering to the call “Payaso, venga,” which means “Come here, Clown.”   We had a piñata and candy. It was simple. A day at the fair. A magic day that we hoped the children would remember.

That night one of the girls came to my room to talk.  Carolina sat down on my bed and said nothing, clearly on the verge of tears.  I was sure it was boyfriend trouble again, and began to fill the silence with words of advice, solidarity, support, questions that might help her tell me what happened.  “It’s not that,” she said finally.  “I just miss her.” At 17 years old, after living in the orphanage for most of her life, she finally wanted to talk about her abandonment, and she had come to me.  I felt so sorry to have gotten things so wrong, to have missed the obvious sorrow.  I put my arms around her and she cried for a while, and I cried also.  She did not expect me to do anything more, and I didn’t.

After she left, I sat alone in my room and thought about the words “multiplier effect” again.  Suddenly I realized how arrogant and wrong that whole idea was.  It implied that comforting Carolina, being a buffer against her sorrow for a few hours, was not important enough for some one like me to bother with.  That a one to one return on investment was not acceptable when it came to the people like Carolina.  According to the multiplier logic of international development work, the fun fair didn’t measure up either.  Making joyful memories for children who had suffered so much?  That was, at best, a loss leader.

I let go of wanting to do great things just a little bit that day. I realized I wanted to be a person who has the time and heart to do small things. The small things that justice, friendship and compassion demand. In this case I had not done the small thing particularly well, but I could work on that, I could keep trying. I hoped that meaningful change could come from this kind of engagement somehow.  I took some comfort in arithmetic.  After all, one and one does make two. That was certain, multiplication aside.


During graduate school I went to Nicaragua as part of a health and human rights research team from the Harvard School of Public Health.  We were visiting a town in Chontales, which was as far into the war zone as we could go and still be relatively “safe.”   We conducted a household survey to document the impact of the war on civilians. Things like disruptions to the health care systems, damage to schools, internal migration, and various negative health impacts.  The results told the story that we expected, an important one, and we published them as planned.

For me though, the greatest learning occurred at the end of the interview, when I put down my clipboard and asked, “is there anything else you would like me to know.”  Then I leaned forward and listened.  I listened to what people said when they were free from the confines of structured questions and coded answers. When the clipboard was not creating a small barrier between us.  They told me stories about how the war had affected them. They talked about their fears and their hopes. They talked about how they might solve problems in relation to food, shelter, and getting the kids back in school somehow.

During the course of the interviewing we came to a house that had all the windows and doors shut, even thought it was the middle of the day.  I wasn’t sure if I should knock, but I did, and Juana and Fidelia, two sisters who lived together there let me in. After the survey they told me their stories.  Juana spoke briefly and calmly. She was married to a Misquito Indian.  He’d been a miner, but was now working as a day laborer. They were relocated by the government because their town was unsafe for civilians.  Her home was in a war zone. Violence or the threat of it was everywhere.  She looked over her shoulder when she washed clothes or when she walked upright in the quiet fields.  She heard gunshots in the morning.  Her sister Fidelia had a thin face and urgent speech.  She began to speak each time Juana paused for a moment.  It was sometimes hard to keep track of who was saying what.  Fidelia, a widow with eight children, had lost her husband when he was killed at a family party on their farm, along with nine other men and a woman who tried to defend them. Fidelia began to list the widows and count the orphans — 34 children in that small village had lost their fathers, a while generation of men were lost, she said.  Because of what they had been through, Juana and Fidelia were often afraid to speak out, but they wanted to tell me these things.  They wanted me to know, and they wanted me to tell someone else.

Research is an important tool for changing the world. I knew that before I went to Chontales.  But what I didn’t expect, was that the fact-finding survey that we had worked so hard to design would be the lesser source of information for me.  I learned about the importance of story, witness, solidarity, and hope.


A few years later I found myself in Guatemala working with CARE to develop a monitoring system for a water and sanitation program.  This took me to a remote village in Quetzaletango, to see the newly installed well.

We set out at sunrise (seemed earlier) and drove until the road ended.  A simple meal awaited us there — blue corn tortillas, beans, sour cream, and sweet coffee in a tin cup.  I am not sure if it was the early morning air, the hospitality, or the food itself, but I still remember this as one of the best meals of my life.  Then we hiked up to the village through the beautiful sparsely inhabited terrain.  We came to a river that had to be crossed on a walking bridge.  It was just a plank really, the width of a log with no rails.  Everyone in our party crossed with ease.  But I made the mistake of looking down, I hesitated, and then my anxiety spiraled. I was sure I would fall from this balance beam bridge down to the water below.  I stood there frozen on one side of the bridge, with the rest of the team on the other. A local woman happened to be coming up the path on the other side.  She smiled at me reassuringly – she did not speak English or Spanish, and I did not speak her language, Mam.  She looked to be 5 months pregnant, but she crossed over the bridge and extended her hand to help me cross.  Her kindness enabled me to look straight ahead and cross the bridge. I am not sure what I would   have done without her help.

When we arrived the villagers were assembled, waiting for us.  We sat in a circle and they told us about the water project. Until that moment I only knew that CARE had provided materials and assistance with building the water tank.  As the head of the water committee told us the history of the project, I realized the extent and intensity of the community effort.  What the NGOs called “the local contribution” included working with government over months to procure land rights to the site of the well.  It involved carrying every brick, and all other materials, up to the village along the route we had just hiked. It included building the water system, building the latrines, and deciding who would do extra work on behalf of the widows and the elderly who could not do their share.

The lessons of that day in rural Guatemala have echoed again and again in my work.  Communities are full of energy and desire for change. While outside assistance can be useful, if we look honestly at our successes, our contributions are always small when compared to the efforts and contributions of partners, local leaders and community members.  We who have the privilege of crossing worlds are constant recipients of hospitality, assistance, we are accommodated in ways that we don’t even see, and, mostly, we are treated with kindness.

As you can see from these stories, learning often happens in unexpected places.  In the background. On the way. While we are supposed to be paying attention to something else.

There is one more unexpected place that I want to mention.  That place is honest reflection in a quiet room. Reflecting in silence, writing in a journal, taking the time to savor and more deeply understand your experiences.  Honoring relationships with remembering, and being as honest with yourself as you can. This “unexpected place” is where we learn to live more, love more, risk more, and laugh more. This is where we change ourselves.

So you want to change the world.  You want to live the selfless intimacy, the giving, the solidarity, the friendship. I say go for it.  Dream about it, study it, talk about it, and most importantly, take action.  Personally, locally, and globally.  Sing all the songs while you are young, in as many languages as you can.

But go further. Do more than change the world.  Have the courage to work very very hard, for small things that you can change.  And do this every chance you get.  Have faith in others, have faith in the future, have faith in faith itself, if you can.  And when having faith is hard, do the math. If you have trouble with the math, ask a five year old for help.

Small changes are big.  They move the frontiers of what is possible – they are the galvanizing force behind big important changes. Acting in this way will align your values with who you are in the world, and you will end up being part of change in bigger ways than you ever imagined.   Start small.  Change the world. And let the world change you.

Thank you.

The APHA opening session on November 3rd in Boston was informative, inspiring, and energizing.

Sir Michael Marmot and Sarah Weddington, JD gave opening addrresses, encouraging us to pay attention to data, be guided by our dreams, engage with youth, laugh, and work together to improve health and well-being in the US and around the world.

marmot Michael Marmot showed compelling data that the United States is lagging behind other higher income countries when it comes to the wellbeing of children.  Again and again he made the point that we can and must do more to address poverty and improve child health.  It wasn’t so much that studies in the United States suggest this, but rather that the experience in countries with per capita incomes much lower than ours, like Latvia, prove it.  Just when I was admiring the quality and effectiveness of the presentation of data, Marmot shifted genres — from epidemiology to poetry.  Shielding children from the impacts of poverty and improving child health is supremely possible, he said.  Taking charge of the spin, Marmot diagnosed himself as an optimist, Quixotic, and idealistic.  He confessed to being a man who cries easily — the beauty of justice can overwhelm him, and so can the beauty of a healthy child. Channeling Sancho Panza, he asked us to be practical dreamers, and laid out some health improvements that can be achieved in the short-term with technical expertise, and a commitment to social justice.

In his final words Marmot gave us some practical advice.  “If you are not doing anything, do something,” he began.  “If you are doing something, do more.  If you are already doing a lot (like Sweden?), do it better.”  And then we were  back to poetry, as Marmot quoted Pablo Neruda.   “Rise up with me against the organization of misery.” And everyone did rise up to applaud.  Everything seemed possible!

Marmot’s presentation in 3 parts:

weddingtonSarah  Weddington’s story goes before her. As a 26 year old lawyer in 1971, she successfully argued Roe v. Wade, securing the possibility of safe abortions and choice for women. Today she came to share her wisdom and encourage us, as we work to improve health and well-being. Assessing the moment, she chose to talk about about how we could reenergize ourselves so that we can endure on the journey toward change. Like many of us she has been engaged in the same struggle for a long time, and like many of us she draws energy from working with young people.  She relies on laughter, she said, and conversation with like minded people.  She refuels herself with dreams and plans about how to lead, how to bring about change. She reminded us to honor those who serve in the military,  and also to question military expenditures that keep us from investing more in health.  She reminded us that no one wants to have an abortion — but that we can’t turn away from women and girls who have a right to choice, and a right to safe health care.  Learn from other leaders, she said.  To an audience accustomed to stacking up the data and explaining the footnotes she reminded us that less can be more. We should all slow down when we state our fundamental truths.  Slow down as you speak about justice and how evidenced-based public health practice can make the world a better place for everyone.

Slow down.      Speak about justice.    Make the world a better place for everyone.

Sarah Weddington shares her wisdom about leadership.

Review the online program with hundreds of presentations at  The online program is a great resource that allows you to learn about what is happening in your area of interest.  If there is a presentation you are very interested in I suggest writing to the author to see if they will share their powerpoint with you.  You may also find a presentation of the work on youtube.

On October 1, 2013, my friend Eva Villavicencio performed Maria Landó with Internationally acclaimed percussionist Juan Medrano at my home.  It was so incredibly special.  Here you can watch the video and read the english translation of this beautiful song.

María Landó (with English Translation)

La madrugada estalla como una estátua
Dawn breaks shattering like a statue
Como estátua de alas que se dispersan por la ciudad
Like a statue of wings that scatter throughout the city
Y el mediodía cánta campana de agua
And noon sings like a bell made of water
Campana de agua de oro que nos prohibe la sóledad
A bell made of golden water that keeps us from loneliness
Y la noche levanta su copa larga
And the night lifts its tall goblet
Alza su larga copa larga, luna temprana por sobre el mar
Lifts  its tall, tall goblet, early moon over the sea
Pero para María no hay madrugada,
But for Maria there is no dawn
pero para María no hay mediodía,
But for Maria there is no noon
pero para María ninguna luna,
But for Maria there is no moon
alza su copa roja sobre las aguas…
Lifting its red goblet over the waters….
María no tiene tiempo (María Landó)
Maria has no time
de alzar los ojos
not even to lift her eyes
María de alzar los ojos (María Landó)
Maria of the lifted eyes
rotos de sueño
broken by exhaustion
María rotos de sueño (María Landó)
Maria broken of exhaustion
de andar sufriendo
of living with suffering
María de andar sufriendo (María Landó)
Maria of the living suffering
sólo trabaja
she only works
María sólo trabaja, sólo trabaja, sólo trabaja
Maria only works, only works, only works
Maria sólo trabaja
Maria only works
y su trabajo es ajeno
and her work is owned by others.



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.


On  May 14th and 15th  the UW-Madison Global Health Institute and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds engaged with the Dalai Lama and an interdisciplinary group of global thought leaders to explore the potential contributions of  mindfulness meditation to sustainable global health.

We hosted two incredible panel presentations at Madison’s Overture Center and both sold out –  for those who could not be there or follow the live webcast, you can view recordings and transcripts of both programs at Change your Mind Panels.

All the presentations spoke to me in different ways.  Here are some highlights:

Chade MinTang, Google’s leadership coach and “jolly good fellow,”  told me that devoting 10 seconds every hour to compassionate intentions would change my life. I am definitely going to try this!

Richie Davidson, famed UW researcher, presented his research which convinced me that 30 minutes of daily mindfulness practice could help me to reduce stress, reshape my mind, and make me more compassionate.

Richard Layard, the economist co-author of the  UN Happiness Report, counselled me not to measure my happiness by how much money I make – We need to find a more sensitive instrument than gross domestic product, and he thinks a meaningful happiness index is possible.

Don Berwick, pediatrician and healthcare quality expert, shared some unsettling truths about health care –despite the medical miracles that can cure cancer, the system is not operating efficiently or equitably, and the high costs are keeping us from making other important social investments.

Dan Goleman, author of the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence, focused on, well, focus.  If you are not present to the moment, it will be hard to be compassionate and act on what you believe.

Ilona Kickbush, global health policy expert, shared a holistic view of health and well-being, and urged us to work toward health through all sectors of society.  Her leadership on the panel was wonderful, but she correctly pointed out that one woman’s voice is not enough in discussions like this, and she reminded us that we will all need to have the courage to speak truth to power if compassion is to be the dominant ethos in our world.

Jonathan Patz,  UW climate change expert and Global Health Institute Director, illustrated the importance of holistic approaches to sustainable global health, with an example from Borneo, where a well-intentioned plan to prevent malaria by killing mosquitoes rippled through the chain of life in a village and caused all the roofs to cave in.  It would have been a wonderful fable if it were not a true story!

Mattieu Ricard, a Bhuddist Monk reputed to be “the happiest man in the world,” reminded us that training the mind is truly possible.  Mental discipline can help us to control the impulses, ruminations and cravings that lead to appetites that function like harmful addictions, where we experience wanting without enjoying.

Ariana Huffington pulled the themes together, reminding us that we live in a unique moment, and that these powerful ideas can really make a difference. She also encouraged the audience to explore GPS for the Soul, which allows people to monitor stress and address it with relaxation and mindfulness techniques though a cell phone.  See Ariana’s instructional video here:

But what about the Dalai Lama himself?  What was it like to be part of a conversation with him?  What did he say to me?

CIHM CMCWThe Dalai Lama sat in a high back cushioned chair, wearing a Wisconsin cap, on the Overture Center stage before a crowd of thousands. It was like being in the presence of a wise, honorable grandfather.  He laughed at his own (clever) jokes and recited profoundly simple truths about compassion and peace.  He said we should all get together to save the planet.

The format dictated that the global scholars from  various fields would share their ideas for the Dalai Lama’s response.  He affirmed the wisdom of what they were saying, and encouraged them to go out into the world to tell others. He was expressing complicated ideas in his second language – which led to over-simplification at times.  In preparation for the event I had read speeches and teachings of the Dalai Lama (for a great collection by topic of interest see HHDL Teachings), so for me, his sometimes staccato statements evoked his written works and were meaningful.

By the time I took my seat for the second panel, which was intended to be a similar but not identical presentation for a second audience, things were pretty familiar. The Dalai Llama sat across from me on his chair, the audience was quieter somehow, and I was able to pretend we were in a living room together, engaged in conversation.  As time went on his comments were less like direct responses, and more like reflective holistic comments on how we might advance global health and well-being.  I leaned in, now we were getting somewhere!

He affirmed the role of science in changing the world, and made it clear that he espouses secular morality as the appropriate guide for global change.  Even though he is a religious leader, he relegates religion to the personal realm, and he feels that there is a common core of shared moral values that transcend particular religious or secular traditions. He wanted to be very sure that we understood that he was using secular in a way that was neutral to religion, and not anti-religion, and he also wanted us to know that he was including people who consider themselves atheists as members of this secular moral community.

He reminded us that the brain and mind are not one in the same!  He spoke of eye consciousness, of ear consciousness, of the power of full presence in physical labor  — planting a garden, washing a dish, singing a song  — these can all be sacred contemplative acts.  The mind should not be reduced to brain function. The way I heard it he was suggesting that there is still some mystery to human identity and will….

He insisted that it is very important to include the voice of the poor in the conversation about sustainable global health.  Environmental challenges and suffering due to poverty need to be addressed by all together, as one human community of 7 billion people. The architects of change must include the poor and vulnerable.  That is what he said.

He had mentioned education many times in the morning session, but in the afternoon he got to his point:  He feels strongly that education must go beyond imparting knowledge to cultivating morality.  He said, “the moral voice cannot be silent.”  And mindfulness practice and ethical training have important contributions to make to education.

He also spoke of peace and disarmament and stated that he is truly saddened that people use their talents to kill.  He focused on those who make bombs and guns, but this perspective extends logically to other kinds of products that kill, like cigarettes, and has implications for all endeavors that lead to the destruction and degradation of the environment through contamination, resource depletion, or the extinction of species.  To quote the Dalai Lama verbatim, “We must take more serious care about mother planet.”

Overall the events inspired me to rededicate myself to my contemplative practice as a Benedictine Oblate.  I would like to cultivate a more direct feed between the compassion and loving-kindness that I feel, and my actions. I look forward to continuing the “Change Your Mind” conversation, and I hope to discuss these ideas with more depth and rigor, and to include more voices.  To that end I would love to hear comments from others who were at the event or who have been part of the conversation through the transcripts or videos.

To continue this conversation or learn more about global health please visit my blog, Global Health Reflections at:

Lori DiPrete Brown



Mark your calendars for Wednesday, May 15, 9:30 am (CST) OR 2:00 pm (CST).   That’s the time to be still, take a deep breath…. and join in a conversation about compassion and mindfulness.  We’ll explore how these practices can help us to be more healthy and happy, to be more effective as leaders and public servants, to create healthy communities, and achieve sustainable global health for our earth. We’ll hear from UW-Madison scholars and global thought leaders who are exploring the policies and practices related to global health and happiness.   LIVE BROADCAST at the HF Deluca Forum in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (Free of Charge and Open to the Public).   LIVE WEBCAST  via

Don Berwick, health policy and health care quality improvement expert, and Ilona Kickbush, known for her leadership in championing a “Health in all Policies” approach to health, will talk about how we can improve health care and employ broad governmental and whole of society strategies to support true well-being.  Richard Layard, economist and co-editor of the 2013 World Happiness Report, will provide economic perspectives on how happiness and well-being might be measured. The conversation also includes Dan Goleman author of Emotional Intelligence and ECO Literate, and Chade-Meng Tan, google’s official “jolly good fellow” who wrote, Search Inside Yourself .  These experts will talk about how mindfulness can enhance leadership skills and organizational performance. You will also get a chance to hear from Mattieu Ricard, reputed to be the happiest man on earth. Ariana Huffington will moderate the discussion, sharing her own perspectives and insights as well.

Mindfulness? Compassion?  You might be asking yourself if this stuff really works…. UW-Madison’s world renowned neuroscientist Richie Davidson, who directs the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, says yes, and he will be sharing the latest research on what sciences tells us about the relationship between mindfulness and well-being. Then Jonathan Patz, who leads the UW-Madison Global Health Institute, will make the link to climate change and human health, and discuss how we can take actions that positively impact both.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama will honor us with his presence for the event, and will share his reflections and reactions as the conversation unfolds.

I will be blogging and tweeting (ldipretebrown,  hashtag: #CMCW2013) during events on Monday and Tuesday, and I invite you to follow me and comment below.


On April 13-14 Unite for Sight hosted its 10th Annual Conference on Global Health and Innovation.  Participants representing 50 states and 50 countries gathered on the Yale Campus to share ideas and experiences related to social entrepreneurship and global health. I have been to a number of global health conferences this year, but this one gets highest marks for new ideas and energy. This is a great gathering for students, scholars and innovators!


Tina Rosenberg gave the opening keynote, drawing on insights from her recent book, Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Change the World.  Identifying behavior change as a major public health challenge, Rosenberg challenged the conventional wisdom of public health approaches that provide sound, evidence-based information about behaviors such as drinking, smoking and poor eating habits.

The problem with public health experts, said Rosenberg, is that they have no idea how non-experts think..

Rosenberg went on to outline some key communication principles that have many implications and applications to Global Health.

  • Focus on motivation, rather than a flood of information.
  • The best messenger is “someone like me who has made the change.”
  • Marginalize unhealthy behavior –don’t emphasize the magnitude of the problem.
  • Tell people about their peers who have adopted the positive behavior.
  • It helps to support change by having a mentor AND being a mentor.
  • And Finally –small groups are powerful engines for behavior change!


We also heard from economist Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Colombia University and author of The End of Poverty. He talked about the amazing promise of information technology for global health – ehealth, mhealth, smart phones, dumb phones, GIS systems – how they can all conspire to reach people with needed information and health services.  Sachs boldly pronounced that the Post 2015 Development Agenda could end extreme poverty and eliminate  hunger and preventable disease. He also encouraged us to join the club  — by engaging with the newly developing UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (  Visit the site, register as a follower, and stay up to date on state of the art solutions to development challenges in 12 thematic areas ranging from health care to food systems to sustainable energy.

images-12Pediatrician Dr. Sonia Ehrlich Sachs  talked about the One million Community Health Worker Campaign ( for Sub-Saharan Africa. And yes, she wanted us to join the club, too! During the final 1000 days before the end of 2015 this effort (by a coalition of established global health actors) aims to put one million new community health workers into service.  These would be salaried jobs for (mostly) young women, who are given 3 months of training and ongoing supervision and refresher training.  They will be formally linked to the Ministry of Health, assuring reliable supply chains and referral mechanisms.   Here’s what the program looks like, and there are lots of ways to get involved.


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…

View original post 663 more words