Living the Adventure of International Public Health Work


Meet Sonya Kibler, MPH, MS
Tufts University
School of Medicine, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy
Concern Worldwide
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Sonya looks back on her public health career and feels fortunate. During the short span since she graduated with her MPH and MS in 2009, she’s already been able to live her public health dream. She’s literally traveled the world through her work and has seen the impact of her public health training on the lives of so many. She admits that she’s amazed to see how her work has come together in such a positive, altruistic way and is excited to see what the years ahead hold for her.

Finding Her Way to Public Health

Sonya studied agriculture as an undergrad at Virginia Tech. She followed her studies with a USAID internship in Guinea and then several years working with Irish and U.S. farmers. She later applied with Peace Corps, was accepted, and served as an Environmental Volunteer in Tanzania.

During her service in the Tanzania, Sonya realized that she needed a degree in public health to continue the work she was so passionate about. She returned to the United States and pursued her Master’s in Public Health at Tufts University, coupling her degree with a Master’s of Food Policy and Applied Nutrition.

South Sudan

Several months after graduating, Sonya found herself in South Sudan working as a Surveillance Manager with Action Against Hunger. Her work consisted of designing and managing surveys, training teams, analyzing data, and creating reports all while living in the challenging South Sudanese conditions.

Sonya describes the many challenges within the country that made her work especially challenging. The lack of infrastructure in her assigned areas resulted in a weak health system, poor transportation network, and expensive food prices. Insecurity and natural disasters were also a common occurrence. Illness and malnourishment is a common concern in South Sudan, even for expatriates, and Sonya witnessed this firsthand.  She lived in camps with minimal hours of electricity provided by generators, no air conditioning in the 100+ degree heat, and little ability to communicate home.

That said, Sonya also describes the incredible friends she made and experiences she had while working in South Sudan. She was able to witness firsthand the impact of her work and see the changes in individual lives.

Unfortunately, the funding was cut for her project with Action Against Hunger and Sonya lost her job. She returned home and took some needed time off after a life-changing experience.

Save the Children and Concern Worldwide

Her next MPH position led her to the Washington D.C. office of Save the Children. There she backstopped six locations and was able to travel to many countries she’d never been to before. She worked with Save the Children for two years until an office reorganization left her without a job. She took this as a sign that it was time for her next adventure.

Sonya soon found herself employed with Concern Worldwide in New York City. She was assigned to 6-10 countries, mostly in Africa, and traveled quite extensively for longer periods of time. Her work included grant writing, program design and coordination, research, mentoring staff, and filling gaps in countries where extra support was needed.

Sonya left Concern Worldwide after three years because she is making a shift from international to domestic work. She’s back in the trenches of searching for a job and shares what she’s learned are the best practices for finding MPH work.

MPH on the Job

Sonya states that everything she learned during her Master’s in public health program is used on a regular basis. The MPH provided her with a vast understanding of the world’s public health problems along with the tools to make an impact.

Her education has continued hands-on through her expansive employment and volunteer experiences. She’s seen lives touched by what she’s learned and is thankful that she got her education in fields as impactful as public health and nutrition.

Sonya’s Advice for MPH Grads Seeking International Work

Sonya has incredible advice for MPH grads who are seeking international work (so much that it needed to be its own article).

To summarize her advice, Sonya shares the mantra that has led her around the world and back:

Be open to adventure. There’s nothing more exciting than not knowing what tomorrow could bring.

Good advice indeed.

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