I heard about the PLEN seminar from friends who had attended the conference in the previous years, and they described the conference as a life-changing and inspiring event. I was very unsure if I wanted to participate because I was not financially prepared to meet all the costs; however, one of my friends encouraged me to seek financial assistance from the school and also apply for PLEN scholarships. I managed to do this, and to my surprise, the process of getting scholarships from both the school and PLEN went much smoother than I had expected.
When my friends described the conference to me, I knew that I had to attend it because the setting of the meeting sounded like a platform where women can share their success stories to encourage and empower other women to unleash their fullest potential. I was very attracted to the idea of the conference because I have never been to an event that gives women such an important stage to share their experiences and also gives young women the opportunity to network and learn from each other.
The conference turned out to be everything I expected and even more because was incredibly inspired and motivated by all the women who shared the various ways that they have implemented change to health care policies for underrepresented populations. It was also very encouraging to hear the visions and dreams of the young women I met at the conference, for example, dreams of going back to their native countries to help build clinics and do all they can to help improve the health care system in their countries. The conference also taught me how can assert my presence as a woman of color in a world that is intentionally built to favor men more.
In addition to all the inspirational experiences I heard from the keynote speakers, the conference taught me to stop depending on other people to make changes to my problems. I come from a country that has a weak and failing health sector due to many political and economic instabilities of the nation. So many times I have found myself blaming the leaders of the country because they are not doing their jobs well enough. However, after listening to Faisa Ali, a speaker who talked about global maternal and child health, I had a wake-up call because she spoke about the work that her organisation does to help implement sustainable change in different health care policies. I was fortunate enough to talk to Faisa Ali after the panel session, and she mentioned that some changes that they have made are buying generator sets for hospitals that don’t have an alternative energy source especially in countries that have power failures.This made me realise that I can indeed be a catalyst of change to my nation and my community through having a career in global health policy. I have seen my own family and friends dying from the lack of resources and necessary equipment in hospital settings and it’s time I start becoming an advocate for underrepresented communities such as women and children.
I am a Biology pre-nursing major, and so I went to the conference with very little knowledge about health care policy and I came back with a great interest in international health policy because I realised that it is one of the ways that I can give back to my community. When I came back to school I couldn’t stop talking to other women about how life-changing the PLEN conference and I want to see other women go through this program because it is challenging women to be their own leaders in their various communities and occupations
Tiwonge Chirwa is a biology pre-nursing major at Luther College, graduating in 2019. She attended the Women in Health Policy seminar with an Ellie Shaw Scholarship.