|Koua Her, M.P.H.'18|
Born in Thailand, Koua Her, M.P.H. ’18, says his earliest childhood memories—before his family fled to the United States—are set against the backdrop of war. “We left a place we called home for the ‘Land of Many Opportunities’,” he explains. Throughout his formative years in the United States, Mr. Her says he became keenly aware of the pervasive, socio-economic disparities between various individuals and groups in his new country. “I noticed simple things such as a freeway that acts as a distinct separation between the higher socioeconomic neighborhoods and the lower socioeconomic communities and individuals facing discrimination because of one’s language, belief or culture,” he says.
Today, Mr. Her is working to eradicate those inequities in the area of environmental health and policy, working for a Minneapolis State Representative for whom he conducts research and reports data related to pollution in his district. “Through this process, we hope to identify evidence-based policy solutions to address the health impact of the community.” he says.
In his spare time, Mr. Her volunteers with HVK Children's Foundation, a community-based, social enterprise organization whose purpose is to improve the lives of underprivileged populations in West Africa such as Liberia. “This past summer, HVK launched its first community-based education program, Project REACH in Liberia. They trained 20 teachers at two of our partner schools on utilizing an offline education portal, Global Sustainable Aid Project (GSAP), equipped with reading and STEM education resources,” he says.
“When I look back at where I first started, I am grateful I was given an opportunity which allowed me to flourish into who I am today. I believe that knowledge is power, and everyone has the potential if given the tools to succeed.”
Here he shares his favorite memories as a student at NYMC and his views on today’s greatest healthcare threats:
Describe your path to NYMC?
Initially, I used photography as a platform to promote social justice for the silenced voices. I would tell stories by documenting taboo topics, such as different beauty standards around the world enforced by a patriarchy society. This passion drove me to participate as a member of the Saint Paul Youth Commission, where I helped to transform a recreational center into the city’s very first arts-based teen center. And this eventually led me to NYMC where I aspired to study public health to utilize it as the platform to promote social justice and social change for the silenced voices— both domestically and internationally.
Can you share a favorite memory from NYMC?
I am forever grateful for the friendships that I’ve formed during my time at NYMC. True friends are those that challenge you and support you in times of need, and I value all my friends for their continuous support.
One of my proudest accomplishments during my time as a student at NYMC, was having the opportunity to conduct my practicum at Community Dental Care (CDentC) based in Maplewood, Minnesota. At my practicum site, I assisted CDentC with their pilot program, MN Cavity Free Kids. My tasks included communicating oral health messages and providing oral health education to parents/caregivers in various languages including Hmong, Spanish and English.
What do you think is today’s greatest threat to public health?
The earliest causes of death among human beings used to be infectious diseases. However, through research, scientists were able to develop vaccines and antibodies that would treat and cure infectious diseases. Now we are in the transition of chronic illnesses and conditions that are the leading causes of death for humans. It is important to provide and deliver equitable services to every American regardless of their socioeconomic status.
We have the best technology and care in the world, yet we continue to lag behind in many important health and well-being categories. For instance, our infant mortality rate falls short, and we are ranked behind 27 other developed nations. It is imperative that the U.S. protects its most vulnerable members of its society and those populations that are most at-risk. It has always been the focus on treating illnesses, but we need to shift our focus onto the prevention of illness and the improvement and protection of the well-being of people and communities.