Leeda Jewayni graduated from the University of Maryland College Park in May 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Community Health and minor in International Development and Conflict Management. Leeda is currently working with Blumont (formerly known as International Relief and Development [IRD]) in Jordan as a Communications and Reporting Officer for a program funded by the Department for International Development (DFID). The program aims to strengthen the technical and management capacity of local governance structures in Syria through the implementation of service delivery projects, including the provision of medical equipment to hospitals.
In one sentence, what is public health to you?
Public health promotes the health and safety of the entire population through affordable and accessible programs, especially providing for the needs of vulnerable and under-served populations.
What inspired you to study public health?
My mother is a refugee from Afghanistan and fled the country in the 1980s after the Soviet Union invasion to go to India with her father and sisters. They sought medical treatment for my grandfather who was battling cancer. Decades later, I was able to visit my grandfather’s grave in New Delhi, and it was the first time I went to a developing country. It was an eye-opening experience for me - I saw firsthand how the lack of affordable and quality healthcare could be a huge impediment to a healthy and prosperous population. I decided then that I wanted to pursue a career in global health to help people in similar situations all over the world.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing public health is ensuring equal access to healthcare. There is a strong link between health and wealth - poor and vulnerable populations witness shorter lives than their rich counterparts, but with longer periods in poor health. Public health professionals should focus on eliminating these health disparities and achieving health equity globally.
Why did you choose public health at UMD?
UMD has an accredited School of Public Health and I liked how diverse the curriculum was for the Community Health major. I also thought the internship requirement was unique and vital in paving my career path.
How has your degree program at UMD’s School of Public Health shaped your career goals?
After graduating from UMD, I began working for an organization that helps the most vulnerable populations around the world – I started off as a Program Assistant at Blumont/IRD supporting projects in the Middle East that help Syrian refugees by providing them food and non-food items, and access to health services, including psychosocial support. I have travelled to Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon for work and was able to speak with refugees to learn about their greatest needs – food, water, clothes, and hygiene items. I am proud to say that the current DFID-funded program I am working on has helped make some of the communities’ dreams a reality, despite the harsh circumstances they are facing on a daily basis.
What person or experience had the greatest impact on you during your degree program?
I really enjoyed Health 490- Principles of Community Health II with Professor Zeeger. Not only was it a well-taught class, it was most relevant to my career later on with Blumont/IRD. I gained strong analytical and writing skills from drafting my first grant proposal and applied the skills I learned during class when contributing to proposals for work for large donors such as the U.S. Department of State and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Below, Leeda shares two pieces of artwork that can be found in one of the centers that Blumont/IRD operates in Za'atari refugee camp.