Medicine students raise awareness about poverty

By Emily Macphail

On Dec. 1, 2011, roughly 300 people will sit down to a meal in the Health Sciences building. Of these 300, 37 will be enjoying a generous steak dinner with multiple side dishes. The remaining 263 will have in front of them a modest portion of a vegetarian meal, similar to that which sustains around 90 per cent of the world’s population on a daily basis.

First held in 2009, the Rich Man, Poor Man Dinner is an annual event put on by the Global and Public Health Interest Group ­– a group of students from the university’s Faculty of Medicine — to raise money and awareness for various public health initiatives.

In 2009, the event raised over $13,000 towards the opening of the student-run clinic at the Calgary Drop-In Centre. The funds enabled volunteer training, clinic expansion and research, all of which are aimed at improving medical treatment access for Calgary’s homeless population.

In 2010, proceeds from the dinner totalled over $30,000 and were used in the start-up of a medical clinic in Bouly, located in Haiti’s Central Plateau area.

Organizers of the event are aiming for an even better turn-out this year and are hoping to raise around $50,000. The evening will be Tanzanian-themed, as this is where the Global Generation Fund — the recipient of this year’s proceeds — is based. Food and entertainment will reflect Tanzanian culture. Co-chair of the Global Consensus for Social Accountability of Medical Schools and family practice professor at the University of British Columbia Robert F. Woollard will be speaking at the event. He has assisted in developing community-based education in Canada and around the globe. He is currently working with Nepal, Indonesia and African countries on their primary care and accreditation systems.

A smaller portion of this year’s proceeds are allocated for maintenance and continuation of the work of the student-run clinic, which currently has about 42 student volunteers from the U of C medical school. The money earmarked for the clinic will be used for yearly operating expenses — such as clinic supplies and administration — as well as a speaker series in which physicians from a variety of specialities are brought in to educate DI clients on different aspects of health.

As for the proceeds going to the Global Generation Fund, organizers say they will likely be used partially to run a conference for primary health educators in East Africa.

According to first-year vice-president of Global Health Kimberly Williams, one of this year’s organizers, the initial Rich Man, Poor Man Dinner “started to try to create awareness and get the broader community involved in thinking about global impacts and things that are closer to home, [while] raising money for organizations that are making a difference.”

Although the dinner’s concept is not unique to this event, with similar suppers held by multiple organizations, the impact is still significant.

“Not only does it create dialogue about disparities in our global and local communities,” said Williams, but more importantly, “it looks at how we can close those gaps.”

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