CHA's international outreach forums strengthen networks for health care aid

August 1, 2018


CHA partners with health care systems, universities and aid organizations to sponsor international outreach forums each year. The forums lay the groundwork for collaborations related to global health and emergency response in the developing world.

CHAs International Outreach
During a service trip a few years ago, nursing students from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn., and other schools test blood sugar levels and measure the blood pressure of coffee farmworkers in northern Nicaragua. Workers with elevated levels were scheduled for follow-up with the nurse at the farm's on-site clinic.

These forums bring together CHA members, representatives from other Catholic relief agencies and nonprofit organizations, members of religious congregations, professors and students involved in international health care mission work.

CHA and Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn., hosted a forum on April 16. CHA and Bon Secours Health System hosted a second forum at the health system's corporate headquarters in Marriottsville, Md., on April 19. Each gathering drew several dozen attendees.

Bruce Compton, CHA's senior director of international outreach, said, "We learn from one another, share resources, talk about potential for collaboration." Compton said CHA started the international outreach forums in the fall of 2013, and had co-hosted six gatherings prior to the meetings in Fairfield and Marriottsville. He said organizations share their best practices, give updates about their own projects and learn about CHA resources related to global outreach work. The regional meetings are intended to include those who have not been able to attend the Catholic Health Assembly, CHA's Global Summit or other national gatherings.


Each outreach forum is tailored to the co-host, audience and venue, Compton said. The forums hosted by universities are open to students from any academic discipline who want to learn more about international health care work.

Dr. Patrick Kelley, distinguished fellow in nursing and health studies at Fairfield University, said the forum allows people to learn and partner across disciplines and agencies. "It's very important to have gatherings like this to help build collaborations across boundaries."

His work at Fairfield involves growing the university's programming related to public health and global health. The Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies and the university's Center for Faith and Public Life were sponsors of the gathering.

Drawing from strengths
Compton and other speakers, including Msgr. Patrick Aris, coordinator of team leaders for St. Francis de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, provided information about how Catholic organizations collaborate to provide health care and alleviate suffering in the developing world.


Kelley said the organizations participating in the forum at Fairfield have common missions and values. Compton said some of the students in attendance likely were veterans of global service learning trips. When the nonprofit organizations and the professors and students come together, they can discover how they can draw on each other's experience and strengths. Attendees heard about inventive and proven approaches to improve efficiencies and overcome obstacles in international work.

Speakers offered several examples to demonstrate how university students can inform international outreach work. For instance, students in an economic development class at Fairfield partnered with the Catholic Medical Mission Board to provide a literature review of best practices on sanitation and safe water projects in the developing world. Engineering students at Fairfield are attempting to design a lightweight forklift that would be easier to ship to a disaster recovery area. They're assessing whether ballast added at the destination would sufficiently stabilize the vehicle and make it safe to operate.

Michelle Farrell, a Fairfield assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, spoke to those gathered about medical interpretation and how to work best with an interpreter when caring for people fluent in languages other than English.

Learning from others
Camille Grippon directs ecology and global ministries for Bon Secours Health System and she helped structure the daylong forum at the system's headquarters. Grippon said such gatherings provide an opportunity for networking and relationship building that enable a more nimble, collaborative response to crises and coordinated efforts in areas of sustained need.


Speakers at the Bon Secours forum represented nonprofit organizations that the system supports financially, or partners with for direct programming in the U.S. and abroad. One highlight of the day was a reflection by Sr. Rosalinda Pajuelo Ureña, country leader for the Sisters of Bon Secours – Peru, who spoke about disaster recovery following flooding in Peru in 2017. She thanked the aid organizations that responded.

CHA resources for planning and executing international medical mission trips and projects were the basis for a discussion about committing to quality, empowering communities, assessing programs and maintaining accountability.

To learn more about International Outreach Forums, contact Compton at [email protected]

CHA offers resources on international aid and mission trips

The following CHA resources on international outreach are available for ordering or downloading by members. The top three resources listed here are available at:

  • Guiding Principles for Conducting International Health Activities — This CHA resource, developed in 2015, offers Catholic health ministry leaders and others who participate in international projects six guiding principles for their international health activities.
  • A Reflection Guide for International Health Activities — This booklet is a resource for volunteers for mission trips to low- and middle-income countries to help them deepen the overall experience.
  • Short-Term Medical Mission Trips: Recommendations for Practice — This booklet contains 20 best-practice recommendations for U.S. organizations considering, conducting and evaluating short-term medical mission trips in low- and middle-income countries.
  • A Modern Day Parable — A simple parable opens this video about the promise and peril of good intentions in international health projects. Find it at


Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.