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Sarika Walia, B.S. '21, MPH '22: Making Waves in Global Health

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Sarika Walia Alumni Spotlight

With an unwavering dedication to global health equity and social justice, the journey of Sarika Walia, B.S. '21, MPH '22, from the University of Maryland (UMD) to international arenas exemplifies the transformative power of education and passion. Walia's story began at the School of Public Health (SPH), where she pursued a BS+MPH through the accelerated program in Health Equity. Within the nurturing environment of SPH, Walia's passion for global health ignited.

“Taking health policy classes during my master’s program made me realize that I really had a hard time rationalizing my work solely on national health policy. I wanted to go abroad to make a change and experience helping out in international settings. I made it my mission to work for the United Nations (U.N.). Many of their sites are abroad and I never had the chance to study abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I took this opportunity to leave the U.S.”

After a year of working in healthcare consulting in Washington, D.C., Walia began to apply for internships in the U.N. Interested in continuing her passions for public health and prevention, she joined the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna, Austria.  Upon completing her internship, she worked as a project associate for the Global Rapid Interdiction of Dangerous Substances (GRIDS) Programme, where Walia was deeply involved in addressing the opioid epidemic with counter-trafficking initiatives and crime prevention on a global scale. 

During her time with UNODC she helped coordinate conferences and workshops attended by representatives from over 100 member state countries on enhancing global communications and targeted efforts related to the trafficking of dangerous substances. “This job taught me about the intricacies of working alongside global leaders in a larger system to influence policy and practice. It felt surreal to be a part of!” 

Wanting more fieldwork experience for a deeper understanding of ground level public health interventions, Walia later joined the Peace Corps Response in Kenya, where she now works with Pamoja Community-Based Organization, a local NGO in western Kenya. Through this organization, Walia champions HIV prevention, gender-based violence awareness and sexual health education. She works to educate orphans and vulnerable children, such as deaf and low-income children, about their sexual and mental health.  

“Understanding our rights over our bodies and being equipped with the knowledge to make healthy choices about our sexual and reproductive health is absolutely essential,” Walia states “to do this effectively in diverse settings, you have to utilize the intersection of culture, health and education.”

Walia's transition from the classroom to the field has been a profound learning experience. "The lessons I've taken from the School of Public Health have translated seamlessly into my career," she reflects. "From understanding health inequities to advocating for social justice, my education has equipped me with the tools to address real-world challenges."

With aspirations to work for international organizations like the United Nations in Nairobi and the World Health Organization in Europe, Walia aims to be a driving force for positive change – and she’s just getting started. She plans to continue being a public health advocate, with a passion for human rights and how they intersect with health. 

Sarika in the classroom
Sarika with colleagues
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