Students who visit the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva are often from theological or similarly Bible-related sections of educational institutions, but not always.
This year a group of secular students from a state university in the United States arrived at the World Council of Churches (WCC) to tap into work related to its health and healing programme.
“Every year more than 20 students attend the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva and also visit the WCC through its health and healing programme as part of their studies,” said Ken Slenkovich of Kent State University in the US state of Ohio.
As assistant dean at Kent State University’s Center for Public Policy and Health, Slenkovich said their visits to the WHA began five years ago.
During the visits, students and faculty learn about international organizations and are exposed to “an international pathway” in the world of health.
The WHA brings global health policy makers and leaders, as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to Geneva each year. This year a key item on the agenda was Ebola, which faith-based organizations (FBOs) play a key role combatting.
This year Kent State University brought 10 nursing students and 10 from the public health department to attend the WHA, visiting international organizations and NGOs.
Kent State University is a key provider of health care professionals in the state of Ohio and beyond.
The visitors also attend side events of the WHA such as the WCC’s 21 May onsultation entitled, “The future of faith-based health care provision”.
The students heard how FBOs play a key role in global health, especially in developing nations. Their visit to Geneva counts towards their degree programmes.
They learned for instance that in Zimbabwe FBOs cover 68 percent of health care delivery in rural areas. FBOs are the second largest health providers in that nation, second only to the ministry of health and child care in Zimbabwe.
“We are a secular public university but see a value in having a relationship with faith-based organizations as they are essential in the world health system, as we have seen today,” said Slenkovich.
“We are grateful for our relationship with the WCC. It is so enriching,” he said. “Some of the WCC staff members have spoken to our students.”
Slenkovich said the Kent State students began their relationship with the WCC through Dr Manoj Kurian, formerly head of the WCC’s programme for Health and Healing, who now serves as interim coordinator of the WCC’s initiative, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.