Delara Rajabi Abhari ’23, MPH ’24, is an advocate for global health both inside and outside the classroom. Last summer, she brought both together when she finished her public health science and master of public health finals and got on a plane with 20 fellow students headed to Athens, Greece. Delara spent a month providing medical services to refugees in the region as president of UMD’s Global Brigades chapter, a nonprofit organization of student volunteers and medical professionals who work alongside local communities and staff to implement sustainable health systems.
Delara received assistance with planning and implementing the trip as part of her Accelerator fellowship from the Do Good Institute. The program also provided an opportunity to collaborate with mentors and innovative students.
Next year, Delara will be attending the University of Maryland School of Medicine and hopes to continue helping vulnerable populations locally and abroad as a public health advocate.
She recently detailed her life-changing summer and the experiences that led up to it.
Where did your interest in public health begin?
I didn't hear about public health until my senior year of high school. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, so I applied for college as a biology major, but when I got in, I realized that I didn’t know if I wanted to do biology for four years. I would have to take pre-med classes anyway, and the topics in public health science were so interesting that I was compelled to apply to the school of public health. My public health studies have equipped me with a unique skill set for when I become a doctor, one that includes preventive and holistic care.
Why did you pick health equity as a concentration?
During my sophomore year, I was an intern at the Maryland Public Health Association. We hosted town hall webinars about vaccine hesitancy, and we found that a lot of people with low incomes and unhoused people were unable to sign up for vaccines. Seeing the unjust health barriers these people were facing sparked my interest in pursuing an MPH in Health Equity.
Describe your experience with Global Brigades.
I've worked with Global Brigades to allow more schools to travel to their sites so there are sustainable efforts annually. Over the past five years, our chapter has helped raise nearly $100,000 for medical supplies and medications in Honduras, Panama and Greece. In 2022, we helped serve over 400 patients at rural clinics in Panama.
In June 2023, we helped out in clinics in Athens to help Afghan, Iranian and Syrian refugees and immigrants. It takes a lot of planning to have 20 volunteers go abroad together. We had hiccups along the way, but everything fell into place and in the end, everyone was happy with the experience.
What has stuck with you since returning from the trip?
One experience with an Afghani refugee during an educational workshop we taught has stuck with me. He was one of our students, but he knew more about anatomy than we did. He told us he had dropped out of school to help his family pay for food, but he would save up his money to buy textbooks to teach himself anatomy. He was so resilient in the face of such harsh obstacles. It was incredibly inspiring.
How do you want to use your experience as an accelerator fellow in your future?
One of the major things that I would take away from Do Good is how important networking and speaking to other people is, even when it can be uncomfortable, because I was able to get such amazing ideas from others, although their projects were completely different from mine.
What advice would you give to a student interested in starting/joining a nonprofit?
Find what invigorates you. If there is a group of people or or some type of research or topic you're interested in, follow that passion because it ends up being so much more valuable. Your job will never feel like work for you when you do what you love.
- Public Health Science