IVLP Impact Awards Alumni Discussion Series: Global Public Health


Through the IVLP Impact Awards Initiative, recent alumni of the International Visitor Leadership Program administer community impact projects that bring the experiences of their exchange program home to their communities and promote innovative solutions to shared global challenges. 

On Wednesday December 13, 2023, Meridian International Center hosted a virtual panel of IVLP Impact Awardees with projects that are addressing a variety of global health issues and the role of community initiatives in advancing health education. The panel was moderated by Jonathan Osei Owusu (Ghana) and the featured panelists were María Olga González Palacios (Guatemala), Sona Traore-Sesay (Liberia) and Asia Saleh Khattak (Pakistan)The Awardees discussed their IVLP Impact Awards projects, how their IVLP exchange program experience influenced their ideas and work, and the ways they are addressing a wide range of public health issues in their communities. 

“I thought, why can’t we have something that’s accessible, so that our marginalized communities...can find information and stimulate their children at a very early age…We want to see a long-term impact, that’s how you prevent violence, lack of knowledge, you develop it an early age.” – María Olga González Palacios, Guatemala

Some of the highlights included:

1. Education and public health

All of the panelist's projects focus in some way on providing reliable information and training to their communities with regard to the specific health issues they are each addressing. María Olga's project focusses on supporting new parents and caregivers of young children through education about the nutritional, psychomotor and language needs of children from birth to 3 years old. Sona's focus is on youth, and she described her goals, saying "The whole aim of the program is to offer education and awareness about sexual reproductive health education in my community."  Jonathan's project is about educating and sensitizing university students on drug abuse prevention, with the aim to shift the larger societal view from seeing addiction as a crime to seeing it as a public health issue. Asia's project is not focused on a particular age-based population, but rather is aimed at improving hygiene as a form of disease prevention on a community-wide level.

2. Addressing taboo topics

Before addressing Sona's project experience, Jonathan reflected, "I am an African, and I know some sexual reproductive health choices and discussions tend to be a taboo. How are you getting along to get people to have an open, informed conversation surrounding their health?" Sona responded that it was a big challenge initially, but she was able to tackle the issue by engaging a wider swath of the community, both leaders and parents of her participants. She clearly communicated not only what the workshops would be about, but also the importance of the content to the young generation. She even invited parents who were nervous about what their children would be learning to attend the sessions themselves. She reflected that "At end of the day, the very same community appreciated it...you have one parent informing their neighbor 'see my daughter attended this, or my son attended this, and it was really a wonderful experience for them. They have another section next time. Would you be willing to send your kid?' So, I think it's just about engaging the communities." Sona's dedication to patiently engaging multiple community stakeholders ultimately resulted in broader and deeper engagement in the project. Asia also spoke about the challenges of addressing topics such as open defecation and menstruation, and how to engage the community in practicing safe, hygienic practices. 

3. IVLP connections

María Olga shared an experience from her IVLP Women as Drivers of Social and Economic Change, organized by Cultural Vistas: “We started in Pensacola…I was able to see prevention. At the Studer Community Institute, they focus on prevention. The objective was forming...young community, to prevent violence in the future. I started to investigate a little bit more about this, and how can you eradicate gender violence in communities?... A lightbulb went off.” This lightbulb was ultimately the start of her IVLP Impact Award project. Asia also spoke about being inspired by her visit to the Manchester New Hampshire Mayor's office as part of her IVLP Empowering Women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Legislative Branches, organized by the Mississippi Consortium for International Development. Johnathan shared about his experience visiting New Mexico during his IVLP Human and Civil Rights for Marginalized Communities II organized by World Learning. He talked about the insights gained from the indigenous communities' use of traditional religion to prevent youth from engaging in violence or drug use. This inspired him to "see [what] we can do with prevention, and support policies that bring about public health: which is drug policies on treatment and see[ing] the way forward." Sona, whose IVLP NGO Management for AF/EUR/NEA was organized by FHI 360, explained, “[My project] came as an inspiration from my participation in the IVLP [in] 2022…at the end of it, one thing that stood out for me was highlighting my individual power to help and make a difference in my community.”

4. Inspiration for future work

Their IVLP Impact Award projects have been the catalyst for many Awardees, including these panelists, to begin thinking about plans and goals beyond the projects' scope as well. Sona explained that, “Of course, the project [does] not just end as soon as the IVLP…support ends. That’s why, when we take participants information, I go as far as…having their phone numbers or their parents phone numbers to be in touch…through this experience I’ve been able to build like a personal bond with some of my participants where I feel like they need extra mentorship, and also at the end of the day I also keep that room open for them to…reach out to me.”  Asia also spoke about the interest she had seen from community members, and the eagerness for more sessions in the future. María Olga shared her future plans to “focus on the parent workshops because if the parent is ready and prepared, they’ll be able to replicate it as well. We can impact many communities, and hopefully stimulate more toddlers and more children.”

“A [success] story…is how wonderfully the message from my IVLP experience has been replicated. That’s simply in the means of [the participants] trying to be ambassadors of impact.” -Sona Traore-Sesay, Liberia


If you have any questions, please reach out to the IVLP Impact Awards Team at IVLPImpactAwards@meridian.org.

If interested in attending more IVLP Impact Award events click here.

Project summary

IVLP Impact Awards Alumni Discussion Series: Global Public Health | December 2023
Countries: Ghana, Pakistan, Guatemala, Liberia
Impact Areas: Global Health
Program Areas: Global Leadership