At Health Volunteers Overseas, we often talk about the transformative power of education. Health workers who are given access to hands-on training, resources and mentorship gain the confidence and skills needed to better serve their patients. Patients who receive vital information on how to manage the symptoms of an illness or injury, and reduce risk factors are empowered to better manage their health.
Implicit in our praise of education is praise for educators. Our volunteers are highly qualified health care providers, but they are also teachers, dedicated to sharing their knowledge with fellow health workers and those in-training in resource-scarce countries. Likewise, many of the local providers our volunteers work with are also teachers, passing the knowledge they gain on to the next generation of health care professionals. Frequently, the exchange of knowledge flows both ways, and our volunteers also gain valuable education through interaction with their international colleagues. None of this would be possible without health workers willing to assume the dual roles of provider and educator.
October 5 is World Teachers’ Day. This year, UNESCO is seizing the opportunity to remind the public: “The right to education means the right to a qualified teacher.”
The agency estimates that 69 million new teachers are needed to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of universal primary and secondary education by the year 2030. Much like the global health workforce shortage, the “teacher gap” disproportionately affects vulnerable populations—including the world’s poor. And we cannot address one shortage without addressing the other.
Health workers are needed, particularly in low-resource settings, to ensure children remain healthy enough to complete school, and pursue advanced degrees in fields including education. In order to increase the number of health workers serving vulnerable communities, we must invest in the education of the local health workforce in those communities.
By embracing the role of teacher, in addition to the role of provider, HVO volunteers and their colleagues overseas are building the capacity of the local health workforce to provide safe, compassionate care to their communities. As a result, more community members will remain healthy enough to complete school and enter the workforce, providing a much needed influx of professionals including primary and secondary school teachers.
Through the efforts of talented, passionate teachers, including HVO volunteers and many of the local providers they serve, education has the power to transform lives now and for generations to come.