Interest in Public Health Leads To Connection With Youth Group In South Africa


Interest in Public Health Leads To Connection With Youth Group In South Africa

Benjamin Hill headshot seated

Benjamin Hill is a fourth-year student studying Global Development Studies and Religious Studies. Outside of his studies, the Filipino-American born and raised in Northern Virginia loves reading, comics, growing plants, and singing. The 2021 Center for Global Health Equity Scholar says to keep an open mind and take advantage of the opportunities at UVA.

How did you get interested in Global Health? Tell me a little bit about your work with Prof. Colvin?

HILL: During my second year, one of my close friends introduced me to Professor Colvin’s work with a South African youth advocacy group called Visionary Minds. He told me about the youth in townships surrounding Cape Town and the issues that they face. Fast forward to the pandemic, I received an email from Professor David Edmunds who advertised the research group and their need for more students. I applied and was accepted.


Benjamin Hill South Africa
Ben Hill and his research team during one of their zoom sessions. Photo Credit: Ben Hill


Our research group has been conducting online research with Visionary Minds and maintaining the university’s relationship with them through Zoom meetings, interviews and Whatsapp messages. We trade experiences with the youth in Khayelitsha, a township near Cape Town and assess their needs around education during the pandemic. Additionally, we’ve been working to connect Visionary Minds to the Movement for Change and Social Justice, which is a public health advocacy organization that works to improve the lives and health of the people of Gugulethu. We hope that these two groups will be able to support each other and co-create programming to improve and enact change in their communities.


Tell us about your Study Abroad experience.

HILL: During the summer after my first year, I had the opportunity to work for the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) in the Philippines. I lived and worked in Silang,Cavite for two months and it was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. It was very special as it was my first time visiting the Philippines. It was incredible visiting my motherland and seeing where my parents grew up.

My work with IIRR involved researching nutrition-sensitive programming in the Philippines and other ASEAN countries. My partner and I produced a 45-page literature review entitled,“Opportunities on Strengthening Nutrition-Sensitive Programs in the Philippines” which was used to create a primer used at IIRR briefings. I also had the opportunity to conduct field research at small, sustainable farms in the surrounding region.


How has your interest in global health influenced what you are studying?

HILL: One of my academic interests is theological bioethics. I am interested in learning about theology, gender, race, and class, and how all these factors interact with one another to influence the current inequalities in health care. Next semester, I plan on taking Emergency Medical Care as a more tangible approach to my interest in public health. I’m excited to learn about the basics of care.


What would be your advice to students looking for global opportunities at UVA?

HILL: I would encourage students to make connections with professors! If you take a class with a professor who has global connections or does international research, have a conversation with them. Inquire about their work. Ask about current global initiatives. There are so many groups of students that do research and work on global projects. If you know another student that is working on a project you are interested in, reach out to them.

I would also recommend looking at Handshake and the Education Abroad webpage! There are so many great opportunities at UVA, you just need to keep an open mind.