Sammy Icaza ’12 learns that all global health is local
Sammy Icaza’s involvement in the NGO Unite for Sight was a chance encounter that turned into a perfect match. A Health: Science, Society & Policy (HSSP) major interested in global health and how health care is effectively delivered to the developing world, his main area of study is preventable diseases, especially the provision of basic eye care. So it “was an instant attraction to Unite for Sight” when he saw there was a Global Health Delivery workshop being put on by the nascent organization at Yale University.
Intrigued, he applied on a Monday and by the end of the week was attending a conference with other top young people in the field.
He stayed connected with the CEO of Unite for Site — a recent Yale graduate — and then applied to volunteer abroad through their Global Impact Fellowship program. His internship began in February 2010, when he started taking online courses on topics such as volunteer ethics and professionalism, eye health, and social entrepreneurship. Sammy says the online training he received was essential to the fellowship experience. The courses helped prepare him for his summer journey to India, where he was able to assist at an eye clinic in Patna, working with Dr. Ajit Sinha at the A.B Eye Institute.
Home city/country: Panama City, Panama
Major: Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP); minors in philosophy and economics
Clubs: International Club, Unite for Site campus representative, Community Advisor (CA); PHRONT
Awards and Honors: 2010 Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice
“Among the things I learned in India is how remarkable people are.”
He explains that Unite for Sight partners with local eye clinics like Dr. Sinha’s that provide year round treatment to patients. He says the organization is not comprised of foreign doctors “. . .who all of a sudden show up and give something. These are people from the area, who live there. And what is important about that is that they know the culture.” Trained overseas volunteers then travel to the local eye clinics to understand how to be useful and volunteer effectively.
Sammy worked with Dr. Sinha in his private and charity clinics, putting in long hours with the multitude of patients he would see each day. He says that throughout his weeks at the clinic he saw a minimum of 800 patients directly. What were especially interesting were the cataract surgeries, which he was able to provide subsidies for through Unite for Sight fund-raising and see performed without cost to the patient. He states that on Thursdays he would sit and observe the patients he had screened during surgery. “It is good to see someone you screened — she comes in, she gets the surgery, and the next day, and she can see perfectly,” he says.
This sort of direct result was a wonderful experience for Sammy — to see tangible change right in front of him. He says that most people do not recognize how important eyes are, how detrimental lack of sight can be, and how it can affect an entire family.
“80% of world blindness is preventable,” he says.
This tangible impact happens on a daily basis in Dr. Sinha’s clinic, where Sammy says he learned a lot. An educated and highly respected surgeon, Sammy knows that Dr. Sinha could live anywhere, but he chose to live in Patna, because that was the place he could make the most change. Sammy asserts that Dr. Sinha was a remarkable role model and says, “The main thing I drew from living with them and working with them [Dr. Sinha’s family] was their commitment to social justice — and honestly their love for the world.”
Born and raised in Panama, Sammy finds inspiration in Dr. Sinha and his commitment to service at home. He states that he would like to become a doctor, a wish that originated from seeing the health problems in Panama first hand. Yet before he learned about Unite for Sight he did not realize how under-appreciated preventable diseases are. His internship has spurred his spirit of activism. As the President of the PHRONT (Student Philanthropic Front), and the Unite for Sight ambassador on the Brandeis campus, Sammy is continuing to pursue direct ways to impact those affected by health crises. It seems the sky is the limit for this motivated young man, though he knows he would like to return to his native Panama, start small, and then continue moving on.
Reporting by Kayla Dinces ’12