Rotary Scholar improves access to health care in Uruguay
Julia Lukomnik works on a house for Habitat for Humanity while studying as a Rotary Scholar in Montevideo, Uruguay. Photo courtesy Julia Lukomnik
Julia Lukomnik, a Rotary Scholar from Texas, USA, is working to improve access to health care for certain marginalized people in Montevideo, Uruguay.
She is there to pursue a master’s degree in health administration at the Latin American Center for Human Economy, with funding from a Rotary Foundation global grant. The grant supports Rotary's disease prevention and treatment area of focus.
“The concept of vulnerability in health refers to groups who, for whatever reason, have been marginalized and thus find it difficult to get the health care that they require, and which is a basic human right,” Lukomnik says. “My hope is that my master’s will give me the tools I need to do this.”
Lukomnik applied to Rotary District 5890 for the one-year Ambassadorial Scholarship, after hearing two former scholars speak about their experiences at Rice University, where she was a junior. By the time her application was accepted, however, the district had begun participating in the Future Vision pilot, which is testing a new grant model that doesn’t include Ambassadorial Scholarships.
Global grants can fund scholarships of one to four years, so Lukomnik applied for a Rotary Scholarship to pursue a full two-year master’s degree instead.
After completing her undergraduate studies, she says, “I knew I wanted to be in Latin America, and I knew I wanted to work toward improving world health and give back to the community in which I was learning. Rotary’s mission and the goals of the scholarship drew all the various puzzle pieces together into a nice coherent picture.”
While in Montevideo, Lukomnik is working part-time for a women’s health organization that is assessing the health needs of Uruguay’s transgendered population, which has a high rate of HIV/AIDS. Preventive care designed to get them to avoid high risk behaviors hasn’t gained acceptance.
“Our study seeks to understand why, and use this information to train medical personnel in how to best interact with the population and best attend to their needs,” she says. “It’s not the first time I’ve worked with vulnerable populations, but it is the first time I’ve been in such a grassroots effort, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience.”
In her degree work, Lukomnik is learning how to manage health organizations so that they adapt to change and evolve as needed. She says that immersion in a different culture has allowed her to grow as well.
“I’ve seen how other people in other places live. I’ve been able to reflect on my own culture and way of life, and what I would change, in a way only possible when you are distanced from what you’ve known your whole life,” she says. “These experiences will surely shape the rest of my life.”