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Global health summer school encourages hands-on learning about medical peace work

September 14, 2021

by Victor Chelashow, IPPNW International Student Representative, Kenya

The 10th Annual Global Health Summer School (GHSS) was hosted by IPPNW Germany, Medical Peace Work, and Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology and Social Sciences at Charite University. It commenced on 24 July 2021 and ran for a week, with the focus on “Climate Change and Health.” I was invited to participate and present on medical peace work courses and the practical approach we take at the Medical Students for Social Responsibility in Kenya.

Victor on a boat ride with Dr. Sabine Pfeiffer, who was one of his hosts in Germany

First, I had to book a visa appointment with the German Embassy in Kenya but the interview date given initially would not work for me as I had exams scheduled. The embassy was not making any new appointments due to the COVID-19 situation at the time. Luckily, I managed to reschedule the appointment to a week earlier, secured a Schengen visa, and was cleared for my visit to Europe.

I traveled to Berlin via Paris and landed on a rainy afternoon and was met by Dr. Annabelle Clement, an alumnus of the GHSS and organizer. Being new to the train system, she was so kind as to fill me in on how the trains and S-BAHN work as we traveled from the south of Berlin to Frohnau in the North where my hosts, Dr. Ludwig Brugmann (a longstanding IPPNW member) and his wife, Wiebke, lived. They would be one of the most beautiful and warmest couples I have met.

The first day of the GHSS and the subsequent days would be filled with academic input from professors and researchers from diverse backgrounds. International activists gathered with GHSS participants to discuss a variety of issues facing our local and international communities. The most notable examples include “Climate Activism in South Africa’s Coal Mining Region.” We explored how coal mined in South Africa is mostly exported to the global North at the expense of the local population’s health. “Resistance against and Alternatives to Extractivist Development in Columbia” shared perspectives from South America. Dr. Goebbels of IPPNW highlighted global militarism as a key player in the ongoing climate crisis. She facilitated a discussion on how strategic, operational, and tactical military objectives overlook environmental and humanitarian needs. She cited demilitarization as an essential component to reversing the climate crisis.

The environment around the GHSS was safe and encouraged hands-on learning, leading to participants taking full advantage of the experience to engage in unique discussions. This made the session I facilitated on a hot Tuesday afternoon more fun and interactive, with the majority of the discussion focused on participants’ experiences. We brainstormed the meaning of peace, conflict, violence, and the role we all have from our diverse professions, in promoting peace and ending violent conflict. The presenters broke down theoretical concepts that seemed complex into comprehensible discussions and encouraged practical approaches in global health issues. Among the typical PowerPoint presentations and Q&A sessions, a few presenters utilized art to share their messages of peace, including one presenter who played guitar while participants sang along to a traditional West African song. The “Theatre of the Oppressed” session featured acting, composing, and narrating poems to raise awareness on climate change and promote social and cultural changes toward a more sustainable world. Whenever we felt an overwhelming amount of content absorbed, the facilitators led yoga sessions and walking tours of the city to relax and reenergize.

GHSS students come back together after small group discussions to share ideas.

Participants were very lively, chatty, and enthusiastic about combating climate change. During breaks, experiences and perspectives were openly shared. I was thrilled to meet passionate people from all over the world keen to preserve Mother Nature, underscoring the importance of acting in harmony as climate change activists despite the diverse backgrounds. I made valuable friends and connections as well as fun memories.

The evenings climaxed with social activities and parties, allowing participants to interact outside of the GHSS setting. We visited local museums, parks, and watched the sunset over the Spree. One evening, I      attended a demonstration titled “Health for Future” to call for more decisive action from politicians to cope with the ongoing challenges in the face of the climate crisis. After the GHSS, I was hosted by Dr. Dieter Lehmkuhl and Dr. Sabine Pfeiffer who took me on a sight-seeing boat ride around Berlin and a bike tour along a nature trail in Hermsdorf. Lastly, I visited the IPPNW Germany offices to meet with their staff and student leaders to discuss further collaboration with our IPPNW international Student movement and our shared experiences on MPW Online Courses.

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