Mona-Mae Juwillie (Class of 2019)

photo of Mona-Mae Juwillie

  • honors senior International Studies major
  • with minors in Global Health and Sustainability
  • from Germantown, MD
  • studied abroad in Tamale, Ghana (Winter 2017) and Geneva, Switzerland (Spring 2018)
  • conducted research on maternal and infant mortality in Hamilton, Ohio
  • President of the African Students' Union
"Turn your passion into action. When I say that, I mean that there are a lot of opportunities that Miami provides, and with those opportunities come resources to make sure those opportunities happen."

Why Miami?

Mona-Mae Juwillie and an internship classmate from Kent State pose in a United Nations meeting room, Geneva, Switzerland.

"Growing up in the Washington, DC area, I've always surrounded myself with people with diverse mindsets and backgrounds. I didn't know about Miami until a high school friend who had done the Bridges Program at Miami said to me, 'I'm visiting this school right now, and I think you'd really like it.'

"After doing some research, what drew me to Miami in particular was the international studies requirement that includes study abroad opportunities. I've been on two study abroad programs through Miami: a J-Term experience in Ghana during my sophomore year, and then a trip to Geneva, Switzerland last summer.

"The people I surround myself with at Miami all really pride themselves on their diversity, and I'm happy to be able to live and work in this environment every day. My first year was really great. I lived in the Global Connections Living Learning Community (LLC), where I met other people who are passionate about international experiences and viewpoints. One of my best friends is from Botswana, and I also have friends from Kazakhstan, China, and other places.

"I've always been really interested in my family background. My parents were West African immigrants, so that's really what drove me to majoring in international studies and picking up minors in both global health and sustainability. Listening to the challenges that my family has experienced was a big motivation to study all these interdisciplinary subjects."

Best Miami Experiences

Mona-Mae Juwillie (right) and other women make alum balls as step 1 of the water business implementation process in Kpumi, Ghana.

"During my sophomore year, I did a winter J-Term experience in northern Ghana with a nonprofit organization called Saha Global. We helped to implement a water business in a village community, and last summer I was in Geneva, Switzerland to intern with a non-NGO organization focusing on international development and trade for low economic countries.

"Professor of anthropology Cameron Hay-Rollins, who students refer to as Dr. Hay, is one of the reasons why my global health minor has been one of the best things I could have done for myself. I had Dr. Hay for the first time my sophomore year for a global health seminar where we got to work in Hamilton to help with her maternal and infant mortality research. We were investigating why black babies were dying, and by far this has been my greatest experience at Miami. The research has been archived in national records, presented at conferences, and explained in a website, PRIMED for Action.

"By contributing to this project, I was able to be creative and find a way to present the medical and health data to everyday people. After that global health course, Dr. Hay gave me the great opportunity to go to Hamilton to sit down and listen to the stories of women and transcribe their experiences. Each student group came up with its own digital story, which Dr. Hay and her research team used to continue working with the women. Since then I've continued to go back to Hamilton with her on weekends to help do the research. The final digital story was presented at a health conference in Cleveland.

"Another faculty member who has influenced me is professor of geography Ian Yeboah, who taught my courses on global poverty and geography in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Yeboah shares stories about his experiences in Ghana and is also the advisor to my organization, the African Student's Union (ASU). He's a great resource in terms of connecting us to other people in the greater Cincinnati area in getting us the help we need."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"The beauty of Miami's program, and the key thing about the liberal arts in general, is that I've taken core courses in economics, geography, health, political science, and writing, and I'm learning to market myself as someone with skills in policy analysis, writing and research, different geographical regions, economics, and health. All these little pieces have given me three different resumes geared towards different experiences.

"Another good thing about Miami was that I was able to make many of my high school AP courses work with the global Miami plan. I had friends at other schools who took the same things as I did and weren't able to fit them into the curriculum. The key thing that drives me in international studies is the development side, which is where global health and sustainability fit in. Some of the things that African parent immigrants tell their children is to make sure you really take advantage of the education you're given and find a way to make your ancestral home better. That's always been one of the driving things for me.

"International studies is so broad and interdisciplinary that it's hard to determine just one career path. I really like non-profit work, so I'm applying to the Peace Corps to work in international development and global health. I'm driven by the grassroots, but if I can find myself in a governmental organization that would be ideal. I can do that kind of work both here in America but also in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, where clean water access, basic electricity needs, and other aspects of daily life can be a struggle. When I visited Liberia, for example, many people were running generators, many of which didn't even work. That's why I've found many Miami courses providing me with the general knowledge that I need and motivating me to look more into things myself."

Empowering Ghanaian Villages to Create and Maintain Access to Clean Water

Mona-Mae Juwillie holds two Kpumi babies while Mom looks on.

"If I had to summarize all the opportunities that I've been pursuing, I would say it's turning passion into action. That's been my drive since I started at Miami. My research experience with Dr. Hay in the city of Hamilton on infant mortality, where we examined statistics on nutrition and healthcare access, gave me the skills to participate in my study abroad trip in Ghana.

"The program was hosted by Saha Global and based in Tamale, which is the capital city of the Northern Region of Ghana. The focus was to provide clean water, which of course is fundamental for a lot of other things. For example, if you have clean water you don't need to send kids to fetch it every day, allowing them to spend more time in school. We taught villagers why clean water was important, because children can die from diarrhea. We often went house to house, explaining oral rehydration therapy to parents and how it's connected to clean water and reducing the rates of diarrhea in children. It was a great opportunity to tie everything together.

"Often, the fathers would be away farming, giving us the opportunity to also focus on women empowerment, since Ghanaian women often don't have a say in many things outside the household. Our information was also disseminated to their children, so when they had to collect water they would know that clean water was important.

"The Northern Region of Ghana is dry like a savannah, as opposed to the richer land to the south, so there are many villages that don't have regular access to a fresh water well or pump. When I was there in December, it was the dry season, and Tamale's water source was being shared with other villages as well as animals. Everyone was drinking this water, which we found tested positive for E. coli.

Ghana's Ministry of Health helped us locate villages in the region that had clean water challenges. Along with an interpreter, we would present ourselves to the village chief to ask him about the quality of their water and offer an alternative. We demonstrated a special process to create clean drinking water and show them how to sell this water to residents at a very cheap price. The chiefs would nominate three women in each village to be trained to help manage this water business, and from there the nonprofit provided them with a 600-liter water tank and a metal water stand for the rainy season. Once everything was set up, we taught the women a process to turn their dirty water into clean drinking water: about 24 hours for the particles in the dirty water to settle, then a few more hours for the chlorine to clean the water, all using simple, reusable, inexpensive items. I drank the water myself, which was kept in a special container that kept it cool.

On opening day, when the water was ready, all 23 households in the village came, like a little ceremony. Fathers and children brought their buckets, and the water was sold for about 10-20 cents per 20 liters. All this money was kept in the village to be used to purchase more chlorine tablets and whatever needs the village had.

A key part of international development is learning how to monitor and evaluate such projects, and I got to do that by going house to house and collecting data. Education and community dissemination by interacting directly with people is also very important, and this has driven me to continue exploring this field. When I came back to Miami, I conducted more research on my Ghanaian experience and worked with Jonathan Levy, director of the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability, to present at the Undergraduate Research Forum."

Advice to Students

"Turn your passion into action. When I say that, I mean that there are a lot of opportunities that Miami provides, and with those opportunities come resources to make sure those opportunities happen. I found the Saha Global program through my connections with ASU and was able to make that opportunity work for sustainability and global health.

Miami makes a lot of things work, so students should take the opportunity to make sure not to let anything stop them from pursuing what they might be interested in — all that experience adds up! If others can find a way, you can find a way too."

[March 2019]