Student Profile: Lisa Berwa, UGHE’s One Health Scholar, Speaks on her MGHD Year, Looking at Health Holistically & the Next Chapter

Lisa Berwa, is the recipient of the 2020 MGHD One Health Scholarship, an award set up by UGHE to promote an interdisciplinary perspective on health.

On Sunday 9th August, UGHE will graduate twenty eight students from its Masters in Science for Global Health Delivery (MGHD) flagship program, the fifth cohort the University has welcomed since its opening in 2015. Despite the unprecedented circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic, each and every student has had access to the unparalleled learning opportunities due to the dedication and commitment of UGHE’s leadership, staff, faculty and campus workers who help advance UGHE’s mission on a daily basis. 

Lisa Berwa is one of the twenty-eight students who will leave UGHE to join over 120 alumni from UGHE’s Masters program, now advocating global health equity within their respective fields. She is also the recipient of the 2020 One Health Scholarship, an award set up by UGHE to promote an interdisciplinary perspective on health, focusing on the interconnectedness between human, animal and environmental health. UGHE’s paradigm shift in training provides students the opportunity to explore complex challenges of today, such as this global pandemic, through a One Health approach.

We spoke to Lisa about the MGHD, the opportunities UGHE has presented her, and her plans for the future as a global health leader of tomorrow.

Lisa Berwa, MGHD 20, with classmates from MGHD Cohort 5 on a field trip within Burera District, near to UGHEs Campus in the north of Rwanda.

Q. What was it that attracted you to the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE)? 

A. I think it was this idea of a novel school. When I read up about UGHE, I realized they offered teaching in a non-traditional way. Their curricula was focussed around health equity, and how this applies within low-resourced settings. It was exciting to me that this was offered in a country like Rwanda, which is a developing country, but also my country of origin. I studied the curricula and it seemed to me to combine everything I wanted to learn, especially the opportunity to visit and learn from the communities, and the practical aspect of learning in a rural setting. 

Q. What surprised you about UGHE on arrival on campus? 

A. When I arrived at UGHE, I was excited to find that the program’s classes were really challenging the status quo. In each class we were always encouraged to ask ‘why’. Very early on at UGHE I found out that I hadn’t previously been challenging the systems enough, and from the MGHD, I learnt how to do this in an effective way and, importantly, a way that would benefit the end user. 

Lisa Berwa, MGHD ’20, with Vice Chancellor Prof. Agnes, UGHE Faculty, and classmates from her MGHD cohort.

Q. What lessons did you learn from your classmates during the MGHD year? 

A. First of all, I was someone who came from a different professional background from others in my class. My undergraduate degree was integrated science – looking at agriculture and food systems. When I arrived at UGHE I had learnt this aspect of human health, but not as much as some of my class colleagues. Sitting in the same lectures as doctors, or people who had had previous learning experiences on pharmacy and neuroscience was an incredible learning experience as I got to understand a variety of different aspects of human health just by listening to their contributions. It was amazing that this was all happening within one campus. 

As I came straight from college to UGHE, my practical experience was a little. I had been exposed to short term internships of between 8-10 weeks, but these were nothing in comparison to the experiences of some my class who had already worked in treatment centers in rural areas and, as a result, learned the realities of health in low resourced settings. I enjoyed learning from personal experiences of those around me. 

Lisa Berwa, MGHD ’20, with secondary school students from the Burera District for a UGHE-hosted Science Day on Butaro Campus.

Q. What have you taken away from your experiences learning from the communities surrounding Butaro Campus? 

A. We learnt a lot from our professors, but we also learnt a great deal from the community visits that were part of our curriculum. The thing that really stood out to me was their resilience. We visited malnourished families who were willing to share their story with us. The UGHE professors made it very clear to us all that the communities were vital to our learning; they reminded us that whilst UGHE are contributing to the community, we were also benefiting a huge amount from their unique insights and perspectives. This removed the power dynamic. Every time we met with community members, we walked away with more knowledge and, critically, their perspectives. These interactions are so critical. We have the responsibility to act upon their stories and advocate for policies that are truly beneficial to them. 

Lisa Berwa, MGHD ’20, and friends attending the UGHE-hosted Women Leaders in Global Health Conference in November 2019.

Q. As the MGHD ‘20 One Health Scholar, what have you learnt about the importance of understanding, and applying the One Health approach in global health?

A. One Health is composed about human, animal and environmental health. Often, in global health, people focus on one thing, doctors, nurses, health man providers – they often work alone, but this is not sustainable. If we focus on all aspects of health — human, animal, environmental — the whole response will be more effective from a human perspective as well as a cost perspective. COVID-19 has shown us the importance of One Health and how it plays into the success of a response to a pandemic. To protect humanity, we must protect animals and the environment too and understand how each affects the other. 

I also learnt that One Health is participatory, meaning it necessitates participation from the community. If you practice a One Health approach in the policies you are hoping to implement, you elevate the people you are serving from passive receipts of information to active participants in health policy and decision-making.

Q. Now, equipped with the tools and skills from the MGHD, what do you plan to do in your next chapter? 

A. My passion, built through the skills I have learnt at UGHE, is to be able to better translate complex information to the simplest form that speaks to the end user — the person on the ground fulfilling the practical health outcomes — more personally. I also want to combine this interest with my passion for food security and working with marginalized groups, with a particular focus on women and communities in rural areas that are often forgotten. 


Find out more about the MGHD program and other UGHE learning opportunities here