MPH Student Creates Global Exchange for High School Students

Holding the flag of Panama, these Spanish students at Sojourner Truth Academy are looking forward to a service-learning trip to the Central American country this summer. Leading the trip will be student Caitlin Canfield. Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano.

This summer, Caitlin Canfield will combine her love of travel with her commitment to service when she takes a group of Sojourner Truth Academy students on a service-learning trip to Panama.  Canfield is a master’s student in international health and development at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

A volunteer at the uptown New Orleans charter high school, Canfield saw firsthand how the school’s students, almost all from low-income families, had never had the opportunity to travel and “be a tourist.”

With the exception of Hurricane Katrina evacuations, “most have never been out of New Orleans,” Canfield says.  Calling travel a “transformative experience,” she decided to find a way to share it with these kids.

The trip for 10 students selected from the school will last 10 days and include service-learning projects in Panama.  Two nights will be spent in home stays with rural host families. All 10 of the students are in Spanish classes at Sojourner Truth, which has a social justice focus and requires community service.

Canfield designed the trip to have a variety of experiences — service, culture and environment — with opportunity for students to interact with local families and other teenagers.  “I love bringing all different types of people together,” she says.

To coordinate the trip, she partnered with Fundacion ProEd, a nonprofit that works with public and private school kids in Panama on community projects.  Tulane alumna Nanette Svenson is involved in the organization and has assisted Canfield with arrangements.

Costs for the trip — about $2,000 per student — will be covered 100 percent through fundraising activities such as raffles, letter-writing campaigns and events.  As part of her fundraising efforts, Canfield submitted a proposal to the SPTHM Student Government Association and was selected among 12 candidates to be the benefactor of an SGA Party with a Purpose.  Nearly all of this year’s SGA events have had a fundraising element, with proceeds going to various non-profits.

Canfield will graduate from Tulane in May, but intends to stay in New Orleans for the immediate future.  She would love to coordinate a reciprocal trip for Panamanian students. “That would be truly global,” she says.

To learn more about the Sojourner Truth Service Learning Trip, visit

–Dee Boling


About Tulane University SPHTM

Tulane's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine is the oldest school of public health in the country and the only American school of tropical medicine. Our mission is to advance public health knowledge, promote health and well-being, and prevent disease, disability, and premature mortality. This is accomplished through academic excellence in education of public health professionals, rigorous scientific research of public health problems, creative partnerships to advance the practice of public health, and innovative service to the local, national, and international public health community.
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