Sarah Badju is a policy professional, using her knowledge of social and economic policy to support The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ achieve better eye health in the Pacific.
GHG: Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Sweden where the idea of equality and access to services is heavily embedded in society and where, quite frankly, you easily overlook that quality, free health care and education (even tertiary) is not available to everyone in the world. I think the notion of equity and social justice was something I’ve always been interested in and so off I went to university thinking I’d end up becoming a human rights lawyer to make change and fight for equality around the world. After realising that law was more than dramatic war tribunals and that it also included tax law, it was not really something I was so keen on continuing. I looked into other academic areas such as economics and history and got into the idea of international development.
My interests steered me to a Masters in International Development at the London School of Economics, where I focused on social and economic policy. This eventually led me to a policy research position in Fiji where the Pacific region all of a sudden became my world.
GHG: Tell us about your current role and how you came to be working for The Fred Hollows Foundation.
After my contract ended in Fiji, having gotten a real taste for the Pacific, my Kiwi partner and I decided to base ourselves in New Zealand, where Pacific affairs, development and culture is vibrant and alive. I decided that I still wanted to be involved in the region as much as I could and that was what eventually led me to being a part of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.
My role at The Foundation is as the Program Strategy Coordinator where I ensure our eye health programs in the Pacific receive ongoing support through relationship management with our stakeholders and donors, and preparing proposals for opportunities that align with our goals. I love being able to put my analytical skills to use in a way that benefits thousands of Pacific Islanders with their eye health. We get the most amazing stories from all over the Pacific where sight has been restored and people’s lives are reignited.
I am especially excited to be involved in public health through The Foundation as part of their sustainable and “whole of health” approach where I get to work on advocacy and public health messaging for eye issues related to diseases such as diabetes.
The geographic remoteness of certain Pacific Islands remains a real barrier to the work that can be done and it is not always easy to achieve everything that you set out to accomplish in places with limited resources. However, I like to think that we do a good job regardless of these challenges. Many Pacific Islanders have to travel huge distances to access some of the outreach services that we provide, but even the fact that they have heard of us and know that they might be able to restore their sight is a real achievement in vast oceans.
GHG: How do you keep motivated to work in the field of global health?
It really is the work that is being done. I am genuinely impressed by this field. In eye health, it is easy to get fast results through cataract surgeries – this means we can change a life in a day. It is incredibly satisfying to be a part of this change! In policy issues, processes are slow and take time, and results are rarely immediate. This is why I think that eye health is so appealing because it is simple and yet so significant. I find global health inspiring and that is why I am keen to be involved in public health messaging and advocacy issues as well.
GHG: How is the reality of your work in the global health field different from the dream you had of working in global health?
I honestly never thought that my background would lead me to global health, although I’m glad that it did. I have always been interested in public health, especially as it is a vital part of social policy issues. When starting out I think it is easy to consider development workers and humanitarians as these heroic figures who are independent and able to overcome all sorts of challenges. I now know that working with doctors, nurses, and dieticians is just as important as working with coordinators to ensure that surgical outreaches to distant islands are made possible, as well as engaging with the fundraising team that allows us to build sustainable eye health centres and diabetes clinics.
The reality is that it is a great team effort and a lot of paper work! Essentially, I’ve realised that it takes a whole crew to enable and deliver the results that we get to see. We all contribute to global health, just in a different way than I would have initially thought.
GHG: What are your tips for people interested in working in global health?
There are so many aspects to working in global health. If I did things differently, I might have become a water engineer or a public health professional with water expertise. I find water really interesting! But all in all, the interest is what will lead you to find work in global health. It is a matter of attitude as well, if you’re curious and open to trying new places and areas of work, you somehow wind up in the right place. At least that is what I’d like to think happened to me. I knew social justice was the underpinning reason I involved myself in international development and ending up in global health just happened naturally somehow.
GHG: Please recommend any interesting global health related websites that you particularly enjoy or would like to share.
We have loads of interesting “FRED Talks” on the website, where we invite experts in areas of health to discuss their work and what health challenges they are facing in the Pacific. I really enjoy the videos of the results from outreaches that take place, and also just reading about Fred himself because he was a pretty cool guy. Feel free to check out The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ website at www.hollows.org.nz and more videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/NZFredHollows.
Sarah Badju, pictured above, relaxing during her stay in Fiji where she worked on policy research.