In high school, Samaria Aluko — currently a senior studying biological science — was a sprinter, a passionate, intense, focused runner who could run the 200-meter in under 27 seconds.
She doesn’t run anymore, but she channels that intensity and drive into improving and saving lives and maintains her laser-like focus on radical compassion.
“People are dying, here and outside the country,” said Aluko, an Acworth, Georgia, native who plans to use her degree from the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to launch a career in international medicine. “When you imagine becoming a doctor, it seems like a glamorous job: the white coat, ‘bragging rights’ and an impressive paycheck. But the purpose of being a doctor is trying to save lives. If that requires me to go someplace where it’s a little dangerous or less Insta-worthy, I can do that. I want to do it.”
Aluko takes part in homeless outreach in Athens, Georgia, and works with refugee communities in Clarkston, Georgia. With her mentor, Professor Juliet N. Sekandi in the UGA College of Public Health’s Global Health Institute, Aluko has participated in research to understand barriers to health care access in refugee communities in the U.S. and to effective treatment for tuberculosis in developing countries. Her drive to help isn’t born out of blind idealism. She’s learned about the world’s challenges and tries to chart a course to help solve them.
“My parents raised me in a Christian household, and I believe this calling is my way of being an example of Christ's love,” Aluko said. “If I see something that’s wrong, I want to fix it. My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned to me by the Lord."
This spring, Aluko became the first recipient of the college’s Broder-Ackermann Global Citizen Award. CAES Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Josef Broder and his seven siblings endowed the annual $1,000 award in spring 2017 in honor of their parents, Hans Broder and Margrit Ackermann.
The Broders’ parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Switzerland in 1952 to run a dairy in Stockbridge, Georgia, ensured that their children had an international mindset even as they grew up surrounded by rural Georgia farmland. The siblings wanted to recognize students who are driven to build international lives, either by working or studying abroad or by engaging with the international community in Athens and at UGA.
“We wanted to recognize (our parents) not only for everything they did for us but for being globally minded,” Josef Broder said. “Coming here opened doors for all of us, and we wanted to pay them back for the gift they gave to us.”
More than two dozen students applied for the inaugural award, but Aluko’s ability to embrace local communities while never losing sight of the global community made her stand out.
“Samaria’s personal commitment to providing modern health care on a global scale is truly remarkable,” Josef Broder said. “She has devoted her studies to understanding different cultures and languages around the world. Her work with infant mortality in Uganda, communicable diseases in Peru and the homeless in the Athens area exemplify her passion for creating a healthier world for all citizens. Samaria’s hands-on efforts to advance health care and alleviate hunger and poverty across the world captures the true spirit of the Global Citizen Award.”
Aluko is the child of an immigrant. Her father is from Nigeria, and she’s one of seven children. Born in New Jersey and raised in Georgia, Aluko’s parents always emphasized the importance of reaching beyond her comfortable surroundings to find ways to help.
She works with UGA’s African Student Union to share African culture with the broader university community and is constantly exploring new cultures. She has studied abroad in Ecuador, where she strengthened her Spanish language skills, and Scotland, where she addressed food insecurity and agricultural education. She’s currently learning to speak Korean and Yoruba.
In addition to her degree in biological science, Aluko is earning an Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health through UGA’s College of Public Health. Through UGA student group MobileHealth@UGA, she is developing an app to equip pregnant women and mothers with the information they need to have healthier pregnancies.
MobileHealth@UGA is also collecting old cell phones to redistribute so that women who don’t have a smartphone can use the app. Uganda has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world because women often do not have access to prenatal or postnatal healthcare or self-care information. But at least 65 percent of adult Ugandans have access to a smartphone, according to a Pew Research Center study, and apps, like this one through MobileHealth@UGA, are a reliable, low-cost way to empower mothers with the information they need to protect themselves and their children.
When Aluko graduates in May 2018, she plans to spend a year working with a medical clinic operated by Hands on Peru before attending medical school.
To hear the Broders’ story and learn more about the Global Citizen Award, visit youtube.com/watch?v=a-4ABR80HyA&t=3s.