It Takes a Village

Scholarship recipient helps vulnerable communities around the world

Amie Filkow - 23 February 2017

As a teenager in Canmore, Alta., Lemonia Anagnostopoulos loved to travel. Regular trips to Europe with her family and her high school travel club sparked a deep interest in international development. Her father's stories of growing up in a poor mountain village in Greece without power or running water stuck with Anagnostopoulos.

She would later find herself working with some of the world's leading health and humanitarian organizations to improve the lives of children and refugees across the globe.

In the first year of her master's program at UAlberta's School of Public Health, Anagnostopoulos received a scholarship from the Indira V. Samarasekera Global Student Leadership Fund. The donor-supported scholarship made possible a practicum experience in Nairobi, Kenya. She spent four months working with the African Medical and Research Foundation. As an intern, she researched local attitudes about malaria and worked on a project to improve the health of children living in some of Nairobi's poorest areas.

The experience opened her eyes to both the complex struggles of the world's most vulnerable communities and to the many challenges of international development, Anagnostopoulos says. "Growing up in Canada, there's poverty here, but you don't get a sense for how hard it is for people [around the world]."

Halfway through her internship, Anagnostopoulos' project was put on hold, forcing her to find another one to complete her practicum. "I'm not happy my project fell through," she says, "but it's the reality of international development work. It was a great learning experience to say, 'This is what happened, now deal with it.' That's something you can't learn from a textbook."

After graduation, Anagnostopoulos went to work with the Red Cross in Larissa, Greece, near where her father grew up. At the time, Greece was front and centre in Europe's unprecedented influx of migrants and refugees escaping the war in Syria.

"My international experience, supported by the scholarship, expanded my view of the world beyond the health and social issues we see in Canada. It also showed me that I can accomplish things I didn't think I could."

As a project coordinator for the Red Cross, Anagnostopoulos worked to improve conditions for refugees stalled in camps throughout the country. She collected data and spoke to camp representatives to better understand migration trends and the needs of refugee populations. She also helped coordinate the logistics of moving people through the country so they could reach their destinations.

"The work in Greece was unpredictable, rushed and a bit chaotic," she says of her experience. "But my practicum in Kenya prepared me for that unpredictability. It helped me feel more comfortable with uncertainty."

Anagnostopoulos continues to find ways to apply her public health expertise to global humanitarian efforts. She's now working remotely with Global Soap Project, an NGO based in Rome that recycles soap donated by hotels, repurposes it into new bars and distributes it to vulnerable populations around the world.

"Soap is simple and inexpensive, but it's a really effective tool to improve the health of communities, especially refugee populations," says Anagnostopoulos, who coordinates the project's digital communications and social media. "I loved the idea from the moment I heard about it."

More than 1,000 UAlberta students study, work and volunteer in 40 countries around the world - a number that has increased because of the Indira V. Samarasekera Global Student Leadership Fund.