|An Oak Island pirate in Baghdad|
|July 08, 2010|
Cathy Jane Bowes
Master of Public Health in health behavior and health education (1988)
Cathy Jane Bowes, regaled in a t-shirt with the slogan "To err is human, to aaarrrgh is pirate," gets up from her circle of friends at the Flying Pig, a coffee shop in Oak Island, N.C., to come to the aid of a stranger who is trying to unravel the mystery of WiFi access.
"You're not working, are you?" she asks suspiciously. It's Memorial Day, 2010, and the crowd seems even more relaxed than usual.
When the stranger admits he is, there's a bit of moaning among the locals. Still, Bowes proceeds. "Let me see if I can help," she says. But after it's clear that she can't, "Just tell your boss you can't do it today."
When Bowes, an alumna of UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health, leaves work, she says, she leaves it all behind - the worry, the stress, the emails, the country.
It helps that Bowes' Oak Island home is halfway around the world from her office, in Baghdad's Green Zone, where she is deputy director of the USAID Iraq Program Office.
Helping people is the better part of Bowes' DNA, but she traces her decision to enter health care to a car wreck, which broke both her legs and an arm.
"I was hit by a drunk and couldn't walk for a year," she says.
After being immobile for so long, it's no wonder she chose a career heavy in travel. But health care also was a practical decision. "I wanted a marketable commodity. Something that I could find work in wherever in the world I was, and health care was intriguing," she says.
Public health, in particular, appealed to her because, she says, "it's preventative versus curative. It's about giving people responsibility, being able to control their own lives."
After UNC Bowes worked for Medical Care Development, a nongovernmental organization in Maine, and soon was accepted into a fellowship with the United States Agency for International Development. A couple of years later she joined USAID full-time as a civil (stateside) servant.
When a foreign service position opened ("They were always in places nobody wanted to go," she says), Bowes consulted her daughter, Jihan (Arabic for "universe"), who was 11. With Jihan's consent, Bowes applied and was posted as the health officer in Guinea Conakry.
Cathy and Jihan returned to the States for Jihan's senior year of high school, and then Cathy was off again - to Angola, Pakistan, Bangkok, and a year ago, to Baghdad, where she spends almost all of her time in the fortified Green Zone.
"Any place I go I have to go in an armored vehicle with armed guards, even in the Green Zone," she says. "Outside the Green Zone, I have to go with body armor and in armed vehicles with lots of guards. I don't do that very often, maybe once a month."
A typical tour in Baghdad is one year, but Bowes recently re-upped for a second year. USAID is working with the minister of health on creating a primary care system in a country where medicine is almost half a century behind the times.
"The health system in Iraq is antiquated, because of sanctions not updated until the 1970s," Bowes says. "And it's very focused on a hospital model, so all of the money was used to keep hospitals going instead of to the primary care system. People haven't been trained in so long because they're using 1970s text books.
"You have to build in a sustainable system. There's no accreditation, so you have to upgrade the education system. During the Iraq wars the money didn't go into keeping the system up to par."
The private sector also has fallen apart; only one company is in charge of pharmaceuticals.
"We're really just providing technical assistance," Bowes says. "We're taking what's there and sort of helping it get right again. That's sort of relative, too. What's right for us maybe isn't right for them."
After Baghdad, Bowes expects another tour in the East, where her fluency in French and Portuguese, and passable Arabic, are most useful. Her new post has to be in a warm climate, she says. Not so different from Oak Island - which is never far away from her, no matter where she is.
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Special correspondent: Clinton Colmenares
UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Last updated July 08, 2010|