Alumni Spotlight: Jasmine Burton

Jasmine Burton is an Atlanta native passionate about improved sanitation and health equity. Participating in the CDC's Summer Public Health Scholars Program, a Human Rights Fellowship through Humanity in Action in Warsaw, Poland, FIMRC's spring break volunteering opportunity in Alajuelita, Costa Rica, and a Global Health Corps Fellowship in Lusaka, Zambia, she has had the opportunity to learn about and experience the public health needs and disparities in the world around her. Jasmine's specific design passion is to improve community health by means of redesigning WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) infrastructure such as toilets in collaboration with these resource-constrained communities. According to UNICEF, 2.5 billion people lack hygienic sanitation facilities and 768 million people drink unsafe drinking water; of these people, women and girls are disproportionately burdened by poor sanitation and water inequities. These statistics are what motivates her to pursue work in the fields of social justice and health equity and what makes her passionate about the success of her social impact start up Wish for WASH. Ultimately, Jasmine seeks to utilize design to advocate for universal health.

When did you volunteer for fimrc?

I volunteered for FIMRC over my spring break in 2013. It was my first experience working in a low resource setting in a health related field, which gave me great insights as to how health systems operate in developing countries. I loved the hands on field experience that the FIMRC staff provided despite the lack of my health related academic background. After being taught how to do basic things like calculating weight or taking blood pressure, I was able to tangibly add value to the clinic in Alajuelita which really helped me solidify my passion for global health. Regardless of your age, background, culture, education or any other differentiating factors, global health equity affects you and people from all fields have the power to make a difference.

What is your favorite memory from volunteering with fimrc?

Beyond feeling empowered to be able to make difference in the global health sector despite my really different background (as a Product Design major at Georgia Tech), my experience with FIMRC also enabled me to create meaningful relationships with other young professionals in this space. My favorite memory of that trip was when my roommates and I ate dinner each night with our host family who spoke very little English. It was an incredible reminder to me of the value of communication as both a personal and professional life skill. I was encouraged to practice my rusty Spanish speaking skills in an effort to connect. And the one thing that I walked away from that trip was that you have to be able to effectively make a connection (with service providers, manufacturers, clients, patients, donors, investors, doctors, etc) in order to build trust in order to become an informed and intentional advocate for health equity.

what led you to wish for wash?

In 2011, as a freshman at Georgia Tech, I was inspired to do something about the global sanitation crisis at a women’s leadership conference. I learned from a Georgia Tech alumna and one of my current mentors, Susan Davis of Improve International, that nearly half of the world doesn’t have access to a toilet; of those people, women and girls are disproportionately burdened. Specifically, I learned that pubescent girls in the developing world frequently drop out of school as a result of their schools lacking toilets. As a product designer and woman in higher education, this reality angered me so much so that I left the conference and called my mom to say “I know what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to design toilets.” This declaration about my destiny was made at the wise age of 18 and was fueled by my design education. I was learning that many product designers design trend products that are fashionable for 5-10 years, but that are then thrown away. I knew that I did not want to design something that would be thrown away when a new style becomes trendy. Three years later, I had the incredible opportunity to design a toilet for the Kakuma refugee camp as a part of an interdisciplinary senior design capstone at Georgia Tech, and that led to the birth of the SafiChoo toilet and then later Wish for WASH as the organization to house its development.

what has been your favorite travel experience?

I have a passion for learning about people and about how people see and experience their environments. As a product designer, ethnography and qualitative research is integral to creating products and services that actually add value to the lives of the intended end user. This same notion that I have internalized from my field can be abstracted to my passion for traveling. In addition to seeing and immersing myself in how other people interact with their world, I am also propelled to see and be humbled by the vast beauty of nature and how it defines the constructs of our realities. With that said, traveling is an integral part of season of life that I am currently in as I seek to learn more so that I can one day create more positive impact on this world. Thus far, my favorite and most terrifying traveling experience was when I went to Devil’s Pool (or a small body of swimmable water just before the enormous Victoria Falls waterfall) with some of my Global Health Corps cohort in Zambia last year. It was a truly unique experience that definitely pushed me to my limits but that also gracefully juxtaposed beauty and terror in a way that calls for immense respect to nature and its power. After all, life begins at the end of your comfort zone!

Posted on July 26, 2016 and filed under Alumni Program.