At the age of eight, Sida Li CC ’15 emigrated from her home in Taiyuan, the capital of China’s Shanxi province.
Thirteen years have passed since Li left China, but she has always held in her heart her language and her home. This past summer, Li’s dream to improve the health of neglected populations saw her return to Shanxi province.
“I’ve always thought that the most concrete way I could help people would be to make them healthy,” Li says. “I want people to be well, and I want to be in a position where I am able to affect that.”
Li returned to China through the Davis United World College Scholars Program, which awarded her a fellowship to visit eight of the province’s state-level poverty villages.
Sida Li CC '15 delivering lessons on proper nutrition, handwashing tips and toothbrushing techniques. PHOTO: Courtesy Sida Li
Li and a team of medical experts hired from the province’s Huguan County Hospital performed physical examinations for over 300 children in the villages, identifying and treating pediatric diseases, distributing medicine as needed, and referring serious illnesses to county hospitals for comprehensive treatment. Li also delivered lessons on proper nutrition and hygiene practices to the members of each village. Additionally, she established an alliance between county hospitals and villages that will play an essential role in the continued healthcare of the villagers.
Li’s project finds its inspiration in her connection to her home country and in her overarching desire to establish peace in the world. Her actions are informed by an in-depth understanding that peace must first be realized on an individual level before global peace can be achieved. Individual peace, she says, begins with the assurance of personal health.
As both the granddaughter and daughter of doctors, Li grew up in hospitals, but has added her own flair to this tradition: a pre-med student, Li is majoring in political science and concentrating in visual arts.
The College’s political science classes have helped Li realize the direction in which she now plans to take her career.
“Coming here, I knew I wanted to be a doctor,” she says. “But now I know that I also want to go into public health. Policy is where there’s a possibility of affecting change on a greater scale.”
As chair of Columbia’s Model United Nations group, as well as a Community Advisor, a research assistant and a member of Peer Health Exchange, a program that brings health education to underfunded New York City high schools, Li is already affecting change on a scale that extends from the College’s campus all the way to Shanxi province, China.
Sida Li CC '15 hands out small gifts after a health lesson. PHOTO: Courtesy Sida Li
“I think the traditional view of a global citizen is someone who has been a lot of different places and seen a lot of cultures,” Li says. “But more importantly, I think it’s someone who respects and cares about other cultures — not just one’s own.”
As for her concentration in visual arts, Li says, “It helps me to see beauty in the world.”
Like many other students in the College, she has discovered that the arts and sciences inform one another. The Core’s expansive scope, she says, “cultivates informed citizens” who are equipped to affect the kind of change for which she is working.
“If anything,” Li says, “this project has made me realize there is so much more to be done.”
Read about other fellowships College students have received.
Sally Whalen CC ’17, from Spokane, Washington, is a student web editor for the Columbia College website. This story appeared in the 2013–2014 Columbia College Annual Report.
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