It was a warm spring day when Leah Paz strolled through Kerckhoff Patio, searching from behind her sunglasses for a table in the shade. Her 5-foot-8-inch frame, full of her signature boisterous energy and enthusiasm, lightly traversed the open space to sit down for a casual chat.
The graduating senior, majoring in political science and minoring in Hebrew and Jewish studies, has always had a passion for community service and global health — heavily influenced by her Jewish values and exposure to the ever-constant tikkun olam. Now, Paz combines her interests and puts them into action by serving as GlobeMed at UCLA’s internal president.
Founded by students in 2007, GlobeMed is a philanthropic organization that promotes global health and social justice. Since then, its network has grown to engage 1,500 undergraduates at 50 university-based chapters throughout the United States. According to their website, “Our chapters are partnered one-to-one with community-based health organizations in 18 countries throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America. Fundraising and on-site efforts at each chapter contribute to one or more of six key areas of impact: Maternal Health, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, Nutrition, Income Generation, Communicable Disease Prevention, and Capacity Building. Through their involvement today, our students and partners commit to a life of leadership in global health and social justice.” At UCLA, GlobeMed currently boasts 45 members, ten of whom are on the executive board.
Paz began her GlobeMed career when she was just a freshman, searching the enormous activities fair her fall quarter for clubs with which to get involved. “I originally was pre-med,” Paz remembers, “and so when I got here freshman year I thought, I should join a medical organization. But, I have always been interested in global health as well… so I wanted to find something that was an international health-related organization.” And thus, GlobeMed at UCLA gained Paz’s heartfelt commitment for the next four years.
Paz was inspired to switch her major after listening to her two friends (one of whom was a sociology major, and the other was a political science major) talk about the classes for which they were signing up. Paz recalls their excitement with enrolling in “cool classes on education and human rights, for example,” and in comparison with her own misery in her south campus classes (“I just did not like what I was learning”), their paths seemed much more interesting to Paz.
Slowly, Paz came to the realization that there was, as she expressed, “no reason for me to be taking those classes, especially since GlobeMed made me realize that there are so many ways to impact health in the world other than just being a doctor.”
After graduating this spring, Paz hopes to get an internship in Israel through Masa Career Israel, a five-month professional internship program. Paz hopes to build a career in public relations — specifically, for a nonprofit organization.
“As I got more involved with the Jewish community, I realized that a lot of organizations are nonprofits, and there are lots of ways to approach nonprofit work. I think that there is a nonprofit for every interest, and I think that the people who work for nonprofits are all good-hearted people, and there is good energy there,” Paz states firmly, green eyes glistening.
When asked about what Paz would like to achieve in her lifetime, she responded, “I think very realistically. Ideally, I could just travel and not have to worry about money and meet amazing people and go to amazing places and learn about what they are doing to improve their communities, the way I hope to do.” She follows her dream with a short sigh before continuing, “but right now I am really interested in being able to bridge what I am good at and what I am interested in. I am good at talking to people and I am good at planning events, both of which fall into the broad category of public relations. I am interested in helping people and doing good in the world.”
“Leah holds some qualities of leadership that cannot be learned,” president of Hillel at UCLA Ronit Hakakha said. “Her outgoing, bubbly nature is not only infectious, but also approachable. She is very concerned about leading an incredible cause; but almost more so, she is dedicated to making sure that those involved in her organization are having fun while doing good in the world.”
Besides being involved with GlobeMed, Paz is a member of Bruins for Israel, has an internship through Israel campus coalition, and is also an intern for Repair the World (a Jewish social justice organization).
Paz admits that social justice is something that she has always been involved with, “whether it is doing things on a local level or thinking more globally.”
“I like keeping quotes,” Paz admits, smiling and laughing slightly. “When I find a Martin Luther King quote, or whatever stands out to me, I write it down in my phone all the time, I am sort of nerdy like that.”
Paz fondly reflects on the past year as internal president of GlobeMed, “One of the best moments was when one of the girls came back from the conference she went to and she was just blown away and realized how much she liked GlobeMed. It was a good feeling to know that I am a leader in GlobeMed, and one of the ways you realize that is when you watch other people in the organization realize it. You cannot tell them that they will love GlobeMed because you love GlobeMed — it does not work that way. And it makes me feel really good about what we are doing as a whole because I know that if everyone is excited then we are doing something right.”
In partnership with the Nwoya Youth Center in Northern Uganda, GlobeMed’s latest endeavor is to fund projects that “are focused on sexual health outreach to schools in the community.” Paz explains, “We teach them about puberty, how sex works, how to put on a condom, how HIV happens. There are so many myths in that region that it is scary. The one that I always bring up because it is surprising is that they think the HIV disease sleeps at night, so they think that if they have sex at night they cannot get HIV. Uganda is one of the few countries where the rate of HIV is actually rising, and that is terrifying.”
GlobeMed is also raising funds to distribute reusable sanitary pads to girls in Anaka, Uganda, who stop going to school for a week out of every month because they are embarrassed that they are menstruating, and no one has explained the natural process to them. Moreover, as Paz points out, “even if they know what it is, they do not have the resources to buy pads.”
GlobeMed also has a capacity building project, providing citizens with solar panels, motorbikes, and training on how to fix the motorbikes if they break.
“It is all about sustainability, partnership, and learning,” Paz proudly reiterates.
At GlobeMed’s weekly meetings, they pass around a small pink piggy bank called “be the change” and each deposit a few extra cents toward the funds that they raise, all of which go directly into their projects. GlobeMed recently reached their $10,000 goal, and is striving to reach $12,000 by the end of the school year.
When it is Paz’s turn to lead the meeting, she stands up, dynamic and strong in a short pink summer dress, iced drink in one hand.
“Leah is an incredibly active and engaging leader,” GlobeMed External President Caroline Nguyen reflects on their partnership. “From watching her flyer on Bruin Walk to seeing her lead meetings, I have come to appreciate the high energy and endless care that Leah brings to every part of her leadership experience. More than just focusing on our work, Leah always remembers that we need to create a supportive environment so that we can not only work as peers, but as friends. She has innovated all sorts of community building events, such as camping in Malibu to doing a scavenger hunt on campus, that have fostered the most warm and welcoming environment that I have ever been a part of. Her personality and dedication has pushed our organization forward and lifted our ambitions and spirits along the way.”
At one meeting in early May, Paz commends the group on their discussions about health issues which affect the global community.
“We all have different interests, different majors, different skills,” Paz speaks to the far corners of the room. “We learn from each other, and then we do what we can. We actually do something. We are not stopping at the discussion part.”
When asked about Paz’s guiding principles, she takes a moment to reflect, cycling through her many favorite quotes. She finally settles on one by Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist whom Paz recently had the opportunity to hear speak at a GlobeMed conference: “If you ever think you are too small to make a change, try sleeping in bed with a mosquito.”