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  Think Globally,
Act Locally

By Martha Thomas
Photo by Keith Weller

Shannon Michel thought she'd seen everything. As a social work student at Washington University, she had visited families in impoverished St. Louis neighborhoods, and later, as a Peace Corps volunteer, she entered the barrios of Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic, to assess conditions and teach families about good health practices.

But when she began working for the School of Nursing's Community Outreach program, she witnessed "another dimension of poverty." Divided families, condemned housing, and drugs lead to "health implications far more severe than in any place I've ever been," she says. She recently worked with a family of six living in one room. The mother was infected with HIV and the children all suffered from lead poisoning.

Nathan Whitman, who taught English in Mongolia as a Peace Corps volunteer before coming to Nursing, had a similar reaction: "The poverty levels in Baltimore are not much different from what I saw in Mongolia," he says.

Michel and Whitman are among 35 returning Peace Corps volunteers currently enrolled in the School of Nursing through the Peace Corps Fellows program. Of the 32 universities that offer fellowships (some 300 fellows are currently enrolled nationwide, and all receive some form of financial aid from the universities they attend), Johns Hopkins is the only one with a nursing program. And for that reason, says Michele Titi, director of Peace Corps Fellows/USA, it's the second most popular site -- after Columbia University Teachers College, where the fellows program began in 1985. Titi has found that fellows routinely draw from their overseas experiences to deal with problems they encounter back in the United States. "They're not put off by the harsh realities because they've most likely already dealt with harsh realities," she says.

Many of the Hopkins Peace Corps fellows plan to return to developing countries once they have received nursing degrees. Maia Holden worked in the west African country of Mauritania where, she says, she "felt frustrated because people needed more than I could give." She plans to return to Africa with a non-governmental organization once she has completed the nursing program, hoping that her health care training will make her more useful to those in need. Shannon Michel, on the other hand, may remain in the United States. "You don't have to go far from here," she says, "to find meaningful work."

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