Making Medical Attention Less Scary and More Accessible Around the World

Malcolm Asher (center) at the 2018 Advocacy Summit. Photo: Jeremy Soulliere/Save the Children

When I arrived in Ghana, I had no clue what to expect. Going in, I knew there were two things I wanted to take away from the month-long volunteer excursion: 1) experience working in the global health field and 2) experience with a brand new culture. Little did I know, I would end up leaving with newfound passion and drive.
Since I was little, I’ve always been fascinated by medicine. I vividly remember going straight to the human anatomy picture books when I was in early elementary school and asking my aunts and uncles, who are almost all doctors, every burning question I had about the health care field. So when I turned 14 years old, I jumped on the opportunity to start volunteering at our local children’s hospital in Portland, Oregon.
It was there that my journey of advocacy began. I realized that extended-stay patients had a lot of fear and anxiety surrounding their hospital experience because of the isolation they endured. I also noticed that the large majority of kids, no matter their age or background, enjoyed drawing and creating art. My experience at the children’s hospital led me to want to volunteer with a nonprofit that worked on melting down the fear kids had around their hospital stay and reduce isolation through drawing. Unfortunately, I found out that there weren’t any nonprofits that focused on this, so I started my own called ArtPass.
Soon after, ArtPass started taking off and it was evident that there was global need for the programs and resources we provided. It was my desire to travel to Africa on a global health volunteer trip to gain real-life experience working in the field and offer ArtPass’ programs to a children’s hospital there. I decided on Ghana and booked my flights for a month-long journey.
During my trip, I had the opportunity to talk to health care providers, nonprofit workers and kids and their families about the issues they faced when it came to health care. I heard many stories of preventable fatalities in young children. I also got the chance to work with kids of all ages in the pediatric ward of a hospital and found that their fear around hospitalization heightened when they had nothing “fun” to take their minds off their illness. This extended outside the hospital where kids would refuse medical attention due to the fear around the hospital and stigma around hospitalization.
When I returned to the U.S., I had a clear image in my mind of the change I wanted to see in the world. I had two ideas: 1) expand ArtPass to provide art supplies to children’s hospitals in developing countries and 2) work with another established nonprofit to fight towards ending preventable childhood death. That’s when I discovered Save the Children Action Network. Their mission and vision aligned directly with the change I also wanted to see.
This week I’m attending the Save the Children and SCAN Advocacy Summit, where I will get to spend four days in Washington D.C. meeting advocates from across the nation and learn more about ending preventable death in young children and their mothers, and providing quality early quality education for children under five. I’m hoping that our time at the Summit will start to lead to the changes I know are possible in this world.

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Malcolm Asher is a Save the Children Action Network student advocate in Portland, Oregon. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of ArtPass, an NGO that seeks to change the way kids around the world experience the hospital through the power of art.