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Jessica Drife: The Power of Personal Connection

Working in a maternity ward in Sierra Leone taught Jessica Drife things that can’t be learned from a textbook. “Understanding comes from listening, from creating personal relationships with people, and from respecting those people,” she says.

<em>Jessica Drife<br><br></em>Jessica Drife

After Jessica Drife represented Sierra Leone at a Model United Nations Conference, she knew she had to travel there. She spent a month at Magbenteh Community Hospital working in the maternity and pediatric wards.

“In the maternity ward, I saw more stillborn births than live births,” says Jessica, a senior at Alma. “I talked to the nurses, doctors and midwives on their struggles and the progress being made in the maternal health sector. These conversations changed my views entirely.

“I was convinced that educating women would cause dramatic increase in hospital births. And while I still believe education is key, I saw that there was more to it than that. There has to be more personal connection because in some ways the people are willing to take risks. While they know of the dangers, they have not been presented in a personal manner.”

Proof of the power of personal connections: A hospital worker asked one of the missionary doctors to give a presentation about Ebola to his village. But when the doctor and Jessica arrived, they realized that they would be presenting to children and adolescents.

<em>Jessica Drife<br><br></em>Jessica Drife

“They wanted us to teach them about Ebola, then they would take notes and go door-to-door throughout the village and spread the information,” says Jessica. “Philip — the man at the hospital who asked us to present — came to us the next day with a set of questions from the community. I was then tasked with looking up the answers and explaining them to him in a way that could be understood.”

Her experience, made possible by support from the Posey Global Leadership Scholarship program, taught her about things that can’t be learned from a textbook.

“True global leadership comes with understanding,” she says. “Understanding comes from listening, from creating personal relationships with people, and from respecting those people.”

Alma encourages its students to look beyond Michigan’s boundaries.

The Posey Global Leadership Scholarship provides opportunities for Alma students to travel anywhere in the world and complete a self-designed project. Since 2006, more than 280 Posey Global awards have been granted to students for research and service projects in 47 countries.

Story published on July 26, 2016