Junzi Shi, Medical Student, Finalist
University of Cincinnati

I will never forget the moment when I woke up in a small rural village in the Philippines and saw people lining up in front of my host family’s house.

What drew the crowd was the solitary hose that guzzled sparkling water; it was the first spring water that had ever reached the village. People young and old came, not just to use the water, but to celebrate in it.

I was amazed when the esteemed matron of the village stepped up in her best dress and proceeded to shower under the hose. Then a young boy jumped in, shrieking with delight and from the cold. My team had lived in the Filipino community for nearly a month, working with a local NGO and villagers to build an autonomous mechanical pump and a five-kilometer delivery system with storage tanks and tap stands distributed throughout the village.

Even though there was more pipe to lay and cement to mix, this was the moment when I celebrated our achievement. We had done it! The water was flowing. I also jumped into the fray and felt the glorious chill of the water reach the soreness of my muscles. There is nothing quite like a shower. During college, I worked on two major research and implementation projects whose goal was to improve the health of underserved populations by addressing their basic needs. My work with biogas digestors and hydraulic ram pumps led me to Nicaragua, Peru, and the Philippines as well as to partnerships and interactions with engineers, NGO leaders, medical professionals, and even former President Bill Clinton. Moreover, I valued working with my peers as an interdisciplinary team, and bringing our knowledge of the real world back to the classroom.

My volunteer work with underserved populations in the community and abroad has not just been an “experience;” it has become a way of life. My goals as a medical student are to donate 10 hours per month to a volunteer organization and to travel abroad once a year to an underdeveloped area for medical outreach. Ultimately as a physician, I would like to establish a model for long-term quality health delivery that involves engineering solutions to basic needs such as water, providing permanent medical attention, and microfinancing to engage the community’s labor force and economy.

From my experiences abroad, I learned the importance of 3 principles crucial to global health projects: best practice, accountability, and autonomy. I hope that by joining Timmy, I can continue to learn these lessons first-hand, and eventually become an engaging global health leader. Once the water started flowing in the Filipino village, all the pieces seemed to fall in place. The villagers formed a water committee to collect maintenance fees, the local technician was trained to replace parts, and the people reorganized their lifestyles to include better hygiene. On our last day, I looked around at the newly-energized community; it was like I was never there, and in a way, that is how it should be.