SMHS Gives Back to Local and International Communities

SMHS students paint murals for clinics around the world that operate on children to repair cleft lips and cleft palates.
August 27, 2012

Students paint murals and prepare bagged meals during the Commitment to Community Day.

One pillar of the mission of GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) is to improve the health and well-being of our local, national and global communities. At the beginning of each academic year, SMHS celebrates Commitment to Community Day — a day set aside for hundreds of SMHS students, faculty, residents and staff to give back through community-based initiatives.

Last week members of the SMHS community gathered at the Charles E. Smith Center to paint giant murals for clinics that operate on children to repair cleft lips and cleft palates and prepared more than 100,000 bagged meals to distribute to local community kitchens in the Washington, D.C., area and in Haiti. 
In addition to supporting the school’s mission, Commitment to Community Day serves multiple purposes for the SMHS community. It provides students studying medicine and health sciences with one of their first opportunities to work together. It also serves as “the beginning of a great journey of giving back to the community,” said Jeffrey S. Akman, SMHS interim dean and interim vice president for health affairs.

“Giving back to the community is important because it brings everyone together for a common cause,” said  Meera Mehta, second-year medical student and event co-organizer.  “As medical and health professional students, we get so busy with our education that it's so wonderful to be able to take time to give back and make a difference.”

This year’s event was planned to build on the success of last year’s event, when the SMHS community packed 60,000 meals for Somali children in refugee camps in Kenya. This year, the group’s goal was to pack 100,000 meals that will be distributed to families in Haiti and to organizations in the U.S. This effort was done in coordination with Groupon Grassroots, the philanthropic arm of Groupon, and Kids Against Hunger DC Metro, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Lakhmir Chawla, SMHS associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and clinician at the GW Medical Faculty Associates.

The meals that were prepared by the group were formulated by food scientists to provide a rich source of easily digestible protein, carbohydrates and vitamins needed by a malnourished child. The day’s projects began with an orientation, in which Dr. Chawla provided educational materials that helped the group learn about the importance of providing the correct food for children who are malnourished.

Additionally, the group painted murals that will hang in clinics across the globe where the nonprofit organization, Operation Smile, operates on children to repair cleft lips and cleft palates. Bill Magee, M.D. '72, co-founder of Operation Smile, helped to establish the organization after participating in a medical mission to the Philippines.

For most SMHS students, the act of giving back continues throughout the year, as many students continue to volunteer through the HEALing Clinic, a student-run clinic for medically underserved populations in the metro D.C. area, and through the many student-run organizations and opportunities organized by the Office of International Medicine Programs and the Office of Student Opportunities, including medical missions.

Support for the day was provided by the White Coat Initiative, an SMHS alumni-supported fund that provides first-year medical students with their white coats at the start of each school year and supports student programming, like Commitment to Community Day.

 “Each year Commitment to Community Day keeps getting bigger and better, and it is wonderful to see so many from the GW SMHS Community come together to help out the local and global community,” said Erin Matthys, a second-year medical student and co-organizer of the event.