Exploring Berlin

Ms. Mains: During our limited free time we explored the fascinating city of Berlin. We were able to see sights that recalled the city’s history from its Prussian period, through World War II and the Cold War, and into the present. On Monday after the conference ended for the day, we walked from the city center to the East Side Gallery, a nearly mile-long section of the Berlin Wall that stands as an international memorial to freedom. The Gallery consists of murals on a remaining section of the east side of the Wall, painted in 1990–a year after the Wall came down. The paintings express the excitement of the time and the hope that the end of the Cold War would bring about greater freedom and peace across the world.

Above: Images from the East Side Gallery (Eastern side of wall)
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Posing on the western side of the Wall, which is covered in graffiti

Tuesday night was the first night of Yom Kippur, and three of us attended Kol Nidre services at the Neue Synagoge (“New Synagogue”) on Oranienburger Straße in the city center.

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The New Synagogue facade

The New Synagogue was once the largest and most magnificent synagogue in Germany; it showcased the confidence of the established, assimilationist Jewish middle class of Berlin. In the Pogrom of November 1938 (“Kristallnacht”), the New Synagogue was attacked, though thanks to police action was spared major damage. However, during WWII it was severely damaged by Allied bombing. In 1958 the main part of the building was demolished.  In 1995 the building was reopened, though the main sanctuary and other parts of the building have not been repaired. Today the partially-restored building houses a museum, an archive, classrooms, administrative offices and the small sanctuary where we attended services (held in German and Hebrew with English prayerbooks available).

Germany, Berlin, Gendarmenmarkt Square, Deutscher Dom, Interior View of Belfry.
Interior of Deutscher Dom

Wednesday was our day for sightseeing. We took a long self-guided walking tour. First stop: Gendarmenmarkt, considered one of Berlin’s most beautiful squares, where we visited a museum on the German government housed in a historic domed building (the Deutscher Dom).

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Next we walked to Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin’s best known crossing point between West and East Berlin from 1961 to 1989. 89_02_05_gueffroyThe site features historical displays, including the harrowing stories of people who attempted to escape over (or under or around) the Berlin Wall, including 20 year old Chris Gueffroy (photo right), who was the last GDR refugee to be shot dead by the regime’s border troops. Nine months after his death, in November 1989, the border was opened when the Wall came down.

After a quick stop at the ultra-modern Berlin Mall for lunch, we paid tribute at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a large outdoor area covered with 2,711 concrete stelae of various heights, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. As one walks among the coffin-like slabs, the outside world and other people in the area seem to disappear and reappear, creating a sense of isolation and disorientation at odds with the orderly layout. We also spent time at the accompanying museum, which recalls the complex lives and final days of individuals and families lost to the Holocaust through haunting personal stories and artifacts.

We then walked to the nearby Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, and Mr. Kahrl outlined their historical significance. The Brandenburg Gate was built between 1788 and 1791, during the reign of Prussian sovereign Friedrich Wilhelm II. In modern times, the Gate is known as the setting for  Ronald Reagan’s June 1987 speech with the famous line:  “Mr. Gorbachov – tear down this wall!” (which could be heard on the east side of the gate as well). The Reichstag is the home of the German Parliament, the Bundestag. In 1933, a fire (the origin of which is still debated) gave the Nazis a pretext to suspend most constitutional rights, a pivotal moment in the fascist takeover of power.

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At Brandenburg Gate
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Bebelplatz commemorative plaque

Our walk back to the hotel took us along Unter den Linden, “Berlin’s Champs-Elysees,” with a stop at Bebelplatz, a public square where in 1933 Nazis burned approximately 20,00 books by by journalists, writers, scientists and philosophers (many of them Jewish) that were seen as a threat to Nazi ideology. The square is now the site of a memorial to the book-burning: a transparent plate on the ground provides a view into a stark, subterranean room full of empty bookshelves that could hold 20,000 books.

We finished our whirlwind tour just in time for dinner, packing, and preparation for our morning departure.

Conference Reflections

Shawn:  The conference has been a great experience for me, especially on the topic of access to medicine. As a high school senior, I am looking forward to a career in biomedical research and medicine, and am very likely to work in the pharmaceutical industry. This conference led me to see the deeper problems within the conflict between access and innovation, and also creative ideas in solving this particular issue.

Liam: The world health summit was an amazing experience that is difficult to define using words. Over the last 3 days, we have gotten the opportunity to be equals with people who make global change on a daily basis. One experience that I had was during a session on youth leadership in the health field. I had heard about this session from a woman from Vietnam who I had previously spoke to. She told me about how she had been doing work as one of the youngest physicians in Vietnam. But at this session on youth leadership, many young physicians spoke about their work and how to help empower youth in different communities.

During this discussion, people turned towards us from BHS to share our experiences as youth leaders in the world of global health. As I and others spoke to them, it was extremely empowering. To share, combine, and listen to ideas with such inspirational leaders was a fantastic experience. Along with this, the other youth leaders listened to what I had said and responded, giving valuable advice that I can use in the future for the BHS Global Leadership Club. In conclusion, this session was just one of many where it was amazing to feel empowered as a youth and contribute my ideas to a conversation where inspirational people listened and who I will be able to contact in the future, just one of many amazing experiences here in Berlin.

Milena: “Men should care because women matter!” It was those inspirational words from our own Mr. Kahrl that got people cheering, crying and excited to make a difference. On the last day of the conference, almost everyone in the Brookline High School group decided to attend a session called gender responsive governance. During the session, we got the opportunity to collaboratively discuss gender inequalities, why they happen, and how to fix them. One of the points that was brought up during these discussions was that women having equal opportunities would not only be helpful for the women, but would also be beneficial for men.

As the talk came to a close, the issue of involving men in this fight for equity was brought up, and the question of the best way to get men involved was opened to the three men in the room (all of whom were from BHS). Mr. Kahrl responded to this inquiry by saying that it is garbage to say that we should fight for equality for women because it will also benefit men. He went on to say a brief summary of all the essential rights women are not allowed, and finish by stating them at men should care because women matter. This statement caused a couple of students to tear up and the entire session to burst into applause. I think that those inspirational words deserve recognition and I thank Mr. Kahrl for showing us all what an impact it can have when you speak your mind.

Megha: The conference was an amazing experience that not only taught me more about the health issues around the globe, but it also taught me how to interact with professionals and people outside the little bubble we know in Brookline. Many of the speakers and attendees were extremely intelligent academics, which as a high school student, are people we are not used to connecting with. Personally, at the start of the conference, I was very intimidated by sheer number of professionals, and trying to talk to them was very difficult and nerve-racking. As the first couple sessions went by, however, it became easier to mold into the environment and begin interactions with random people and many times speakers after their presentation. The speakers were often very willing to answer questions and spend a bit of their time talking to you. They were very impressed at our being the youngest attendants of the conference and were very kind in offering their help whenever possible. During one session in particular, on cardiovascular diseases, the atmosphere was wonderful as there wasn’t a barrier between the listeners and presenters, but a whole group feel. Questions were asked in the middle of the speakers’ talks, and the room was a very open place. Even so, when I had a question, I still got very nervous to the point of my hands shaking as I took notes. Being high schoolers in a very adult setting is intimidating as you don’t want to look like you don’t belong by asking a dumb question, but I just sucked it up and asked. Maansi and Quinn had already asked a question, so that gave me reassurance. When I asked, I was taken seriously just like any other adult in the room, and that is a feeling I can’t describe. The speaker told me that my question was a very good one and when I talked to him after, we had a longer conversation about what I had asked. I was no longer afraid to put myself out there and it was very amazing to feel. Overall, the conference was an experience I would never trade for anything.

Mr. Kahrl:  Like at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in May 2016, Brookline High School students are the only high school aged participants at a global health conference, in this case the World Health Summit. Topics range from easily accessible topics like the use of drones to deliver health medication to more obscure ones such as translational health care and the opacity of the patent system in regards to health care.

In so doing, they find they can look beyond the conference to see possibilities for their own schooling now, whether to continue to attend additional conferences, organize events for Brookline High School, or pursuing individual opportunities like internships for themselves. Time and time again, students have made themselves part of these conversations, either during or after the sessions. In every session I have attended with students, they have asked insightful and thoughtful questions. They are often among the first people to raise their hands to ask questions. The questions are topical, insightful, and pertinent. They are willing to have their voices heard and emerge excited that they have both a chance to share with their peers the triumph of finding their own courage to enter this arena and simultaneously operate at this level and explore opportunities in global health.

Ms. Mains: It was great to see the students participating so fully in the conference (while being respectful of the expertise of the presenters and other participants). They clearly learned a lot of content regarding health issues, but also were reflective about how to make in impact. They took note of presentation styles and action strategies presented at the conference, and grappled with how one gets a point across successfully and how an individual or group can bring about significant change. I’ve been particularly impressed by how committed these students are to taking what they learn back to BHS and the wider community at home. It would be easy for our students to enjoy the conference experience, use the information for personal development, and go back to business as usual upon return. Instead they are already beginning to plan how to share their knowledge at BHS, aiming to involve a broader group of students in global health work and to make a real impact on health issues. For example, some members of the group have begun to plan a day of education for the BHS community on immigrant and refugee issues; they’ve already drawn up a list of people to contact within and outside of BHS. By taking actions like these, they are using what they’ve gained from this conference as a springboard to become local leaders in global health.

Mr. Gardner (parent of participant): I wanted to share this lovely thank you note from Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford, a key speaker at the WHS and an inspiring leader in the world of medicine and public health. …The BHS group [attended] her session and [met] with her afterwards.

Dear James:
Had a lovely meeting with your terrific daughter and her friends—clearly leaders of the future.  Think they enjoyed our Young Physician Leaders session.  Thanks for the connection and congratulations to you and your wife for a great young person!
Jo

JO IVEY BOUFFORD, MD
President
212-822-7201 | Office

The New York Academy of Medicine
1216 Fifth Avenue | New York, NY 10029
212-996-7826 | Fax

Tuesday, 10/11/16 – WHS Closing Ceremony

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Closing Panel

Bella: The last session in the World Health Summit 2016 was titled: “Women, Empowerment and Health: Equity and Agency”. This was a a very powerful presentation and one of the only ones that spoke about women in global health. There were very powerful and experienced women speaking that gave very insightful thoughts and opinions about how to better women’s lives all around the world and how to increase the amount of leadership roles that women hold in global health. However, I was very disappointed that this keynote presentation was left to that last block of time when so many people had already left. The main hall (where the presentation was held) had several empty seats when on the first day of the conference, people had to watch the presentation going on in an overflow room because the main hall could not hold any other people. Besides the disappointing attendance, I really enjoyed this informative presentation and the whole conference in general.

Lucia: Today after an engaging discussion on gender equality in global health, our group filed into the large auditorium eager to hear more and continue the dialogue on a larger scale. The final panel of speakers was entirely made up of women, each one incredibly accomplished and intelligent. This final panel also doubled as the closing ceremony. With that in mind, we hurried from the Gender Responsive Government workshop to the auditorium. We expected to see the room as packed as it was during the opening ceremony when even the extra overflow room was full. However, when I took my seat I noticed that most of the spots around me were empty. In fact, most spots everywhere were empty. In the earlier workshop, we had just discussed the issue of gender inequality within the fight for gender equality itself when we noticed that within the workshop of around 40 people there were only 4 men. We spoke about how odd it was that in such a male dominated environment such as the conference, so few men elected to come. The idea that men might not be jumping to talk about gender equality is not a new concept to me, but I don’t think I have ever seen it manifest so obviously.

At the closing ceremony, the spots in the room that were taken were mostly taken by women. Again, not a new concept, but still startling to see it so clearly. The session began and we listened to 4 inspiring women make a case for women’s health in a logical and passionate way. They spoke about pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, education, gender norms and many other factors that have strong impacts on the health of women and girls worldwide.

After each woman had spoken, time was given for a question and answer period between the audience and panelists. Before long, Maansi from BHS raised her hand to ask a question and a conference aid handed her the microphone. She thanked the panelists for their time and presentations and asked why, since gender equality is so important, was it scheduled as the topic for the last time slot? The closing ceremony is typically at a time when many people have already left to catch a plane, or beat the rush on the way out. This, in conjunction with the low male attendance due to the conversation being centered around women’s issues, really compromised the discussion. Before Maansi had even finished her question the audience began to clap for her. She had asked what everyone had been thinking. The chairwoman experienced visible discomfort before giving a wishy-washy answer and moving on to the next question. But after the session concluded, multiple people stopped Maansi to say they agreed with, supported, and even had tweeted what she said. Though her question was never really answered I think the fact that it was said was enough.

After watching several male doctors enter the room after the women spoke,  just to catch the President’s closing remarks instead of sitting through the actual session, I was fully convinced of the level of gender inequality within global health. Everyone had been thinking what Maansi said and I hope that next year the President of the World Health Summit will keep her words in mind when considering women’s health issues and their importance to people of all genders.

Tuesday, 10/11/16 – WHS Day 3

Emi:  Today was the third and final day of the conference, and during the “Strengthening Health Systems For Education and Training” workshop, I met Ms. Maria Kipele. She is a neurosurgeon from Tanzania who is currently completing her fellowship at the University Würzburg, here in Germany. She explained how from a young age, her parents encouraged her to be a powerful and independent woman and gave her a choice to pursue any career that she pleased. In her presentation she stated that there are only 5 neurosurgeons in the country of Tanzania; which is a ratio of 1 neurosurgeon to 10 million people. She explained how the doctors are absorbed; people train to be doctors but the limited amount of internships and the lack of hospitals cause these people to stop pursuing their medical careers.  She also said that she is planning to go back to Tanzania after her training here in Germany to be the first female neurosurgeon. After the workshop was finished, I personally talked to her about how influential she will be; especially to young girls in Tanzania. She was very enthusiastic about going back to Tanzania to help the people of her country and also be a role model for the young generation. Her story is just beginning and I hope that I will be able to follow her journey, where she will accomplish amazing and inspiring actions.

Maansi: I just attended an amazing conference session about cardiovascular diseases. It was held by a very accomplished panel that held an engaging and lively discussion that welcomed audience participation. I learned lots about a disease called hypertension, which is known as the silent killer. We learned about the impact of the disease on a global level and what we as individuals can do to help raise awareness. The message I would like to relay is to know your numbers. Make sure that you yourself know your blood pressure and you should remind friends and family to take care of themselves. This conference has been an incredible experience and I am very excited to attend more conferences!

Mr. Kahrl: After lunch, several members of the Brookline High School group went to an impromptu panel of four women who founded a group, “Women in Global Health”. They spoke about working to have more role models for women in global health and showed us their new website.

This led into a panel discussion, “Gender Responsive Governance: A Key Pillar for Women’s Health and Environment”. There were just over fifty people in the room for this important meeting. And there were only three men, all from Brookline High School. Towards the end of the meeting, one of the audience members pointed this out. One of the panel members said that women needed to do a better job at showing men that gender equality in healthcare will help men getting better healthcare because they will not be subject to gender stereotypes. Then another member of the panel turned to the three men at the conference, Liam, Ethan, and myself, if we had any comment.

I had been steaming since the start of the conference session. We were at a session specifically dedicated to Gender and Governance and, outside of two students and myself from Brookline High School, not one other male participant or leader from the conference was in attendance.

And so, I decided to comment. I said that I thought it was not simply unfortunate, but pathetic that so few males were at the session, and that I was tired of the talk of humbly trying to convince men to be involved in these sessions because it would help them too. Women are dying. They are dying because they do not have access to reproductive healthcare. And when women die, children die. This is not a matter of men’s health. Men need to be interested in this because women matter.

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KJ networking during a break

Emily/Becca: Empowerment of women in the healthcare field is essential. The workshop: Gender Responsive Governance evidenced this. The main idea of the workshop was beautifully summed up by Mr Kahrl who said that men shouldn’t care about women and their rights because of how it can benefit them, but rather because women are human beings.

Unlike  some other sessions, this one was geared more towards involving the participants and creating a dialogue that was inclusive and safe. After brief introductions, we split into 6 groups, each having around 11 people. The splitting off into groups was based on what topic you were interested in (ex: How Can Women’s Leadership Capacity be Developed?; How Do We Work Gender Equally for Gender Equality, etc). Personally we attended, “How Can Women’s Leadership Capacity be Developed?” led by Lourdes de la Peza of Management Sciences for Health.

We first directed our discussion towards what challenges women face becoming leaders, and the large gap in the number of women leaders and male leaders in healthcare. Some of the challenges that came up were:

  • Lack of strong mentorship for women from both male and female leaders
  • The hypothetical choice between family and work, and a lack of support structures in place for those who want to do both.
  • The vernacular we use when describing assertive women, and how it usually comes along with a negative connotation and reputation.

During this portion of the conversation women shared powerful stories of discrimination they had faced in the workforce, and challenges they had overcome. It was both inspiring, while also being upsetting that it is the 21st century and we are still facing the same issues of disrespect. The sharing of stories was very moving, and it was really cool to be surrounded by such a strong group of women. The sharing of challenges led to a discussion of strategies women could use to become empowered in the workplace.

Some of the strategies that we came up with were:

  • Acknowledging that  a women can be both a good mother, and a strong worker, and having the support structures to make this function.
  • Knowing that anyone can be a leader, it doesn’t have to come from the top, there can be leaders at all levels.
  • Having self confidence, and believing that you can be whatever you want if you put your mind to it, and that you can reach your goals
  • Reclaiming the language that surrounds assertive women. (Knowing that a woman being “bossy” isn’t a negative thing.)

We presented these challenges to the whole panel, and listened to others share on the topics they had discussed.The overall message that was collected from our discussion was that if we provide equity, and give women a chance, there’s no limit to what women can do.

Becca, Emily, Isabel, Maansi, and Lucia (not pictured) presenting discussion points at workshop on Gender Responsive Governance.

Mrs. Downey: Finishing an amazing session on gender responsive governance where 4 of the 5 group presenters were our BHS students! In a room full of professionals in global health from around the world our students were able to fully engage and participate with great ideas. Their leadership was recognized by their groups because they were chosen to speak to the full room. I can tell you that I was humbled by their poise and passion. They were an amazing example for Brookline High. Be sure to ask them about it when they get home!

Monday, 10/10/16–WHS Day 2

Becca: On the second day during lunch, about ten different startup companies participated in the finals of an innovation competition. The winner received a grant from World Health Summit to fund their project. We got the opportunity to see three-minute long presentations from each company, and gained an understanding of what makes the best presentation.

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Ones we found to be especially impressive were: a skin-healing technology that within a minute closed up wounds that otherwise would not heal (Cold Plasmatech http://www.coldplasmatech.de/ ), a tool that could detect malaria through an easy-to-use blood sampler (midge medical UG http://midgemedical.com/), an ultrasound connected to a phone app (winsenga http://winsenga.org/), and the winner, a phone game that monitors breathing through heart rate to help asthma patients (iFeel Healthy http://www.ifeellabs.com/). We had a great time viewing all of the presentations, and though we each had our favorites, the company that won was definitely a great organization. 

Isabel: Overall the experience for me at WHS 2026 was an incredible one. I learned so many new things that I would have otherwise never been exposed to. I also was able to network with people from all over the world.  My absolute favorite person from the conference was someone named Smart, and yes he was smart!  The sessions all were equally amazing, but looking back through my notes one of the top ones would have to be the session on mental health. One of the presenters was actually a film maker awho made a short film known as Breaking the Chains. The film was about the practice of pasung in Indonesia, which refers to herbal and spiritual ways to “cure” mental disease that also involves chaining and isolating the “patients” for long periods of time. This summer I had the experience of being able to work in a hospital in Boston and experiencing first hand mental illness through patients. The movie really hit home with me and has inspired me to  be more of an advocate in mental health. I did however just in general love the conference and experience as a whole!

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Scene from “Breaking the Chains”

Sunday, 10/9/16 – WHS Day 1

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Ready for the conference to begin

Quinn: One session I attended was called “The Science of Addiction.” I was slightly apprehensive in the beginning because there wasn’t much diversity in the speakers. The speech discussed the stigma surrounding alcoholism and addictions to drugs. In particular, the speakers discussed governmental policies on rehabilitation of addicts. An example one speaker used was Amy Winehouse. The singer was placed in a rehabilitation program that enforced an abstinence based program. When she relapsed, she drank an amount of alcohol that her body previously could have handled, but because her tolerance was significantly lowered, she overdosed and died. The speaker used this example to further his point that abstinence based rehabilitation programs aren’t always effective. After the session I asked the speaker who specializes in addiction in adolescence if cannabis is really a gateway drug. His answer surprised me. He said that because cannabis is illegal in most places where it’s used, people buying it are also offered highly addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroine. There are not indications that something within the chemical makeup of cannabis makes it a gateway drug. I found this extremely interesting because of the fact that I have been taught that cannabis is a gateway drug that will ruin your life in much of my education on drugs.

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Ethan and Liam interviewed for WHS magazine (to be published after the conference concludes)

Ethan: I had a fantastic time at the World Health Summit. In addition to learning more about my passions and meeting incredible people who are at the top of their fields, I was able to expand my horizons and learn about topics I had no prior knowledge in. When looking at the Sunday topics, I saw one on AIDS I was moderately interested in, but I made the spot decision to go to one about Neglected Tropical Diseases, despite not knowing anything about it. As it turns out, these diseases really are neglected, because I had never heard of the tropical diseases that affect over a billion people.

Not only did I learn a ton about these diseases, but I had the opportunity to talk with one of the speakers, and we found that we had opportunities for collaboration on an app idea I had been thinking about. I came to the conference hoping for more suggestions about this app, which would be a database and social network for global workers to share ideas and collaborate, and I was not disappointed. Not only did I meet people who could help, but I met people who gave me constructive criticism and advice on how to make the app inclusive of those who don’t have smartphones. Now, I feel much more confident about my abilities to develop this app and I know there are people who I can count on to help me. Hopefully, I can develop this app and have success with it as I look to take more action in the field of global health and development.

Arrival – Saturday 10/8/16

After a smooth flight, our group landed in Paris, passed through a long line for a security and passport check, and boarded the flight to Berlin with just minutes to spare. Upon arrival, our jet-lagged group managed to retrieve our bags, navigate the bus and Unterbahnhof (underground) system, and arrive at the Best Western Spittelmarkt Hotel.
After a brief break to unpack and refresh ourselves, we took a practice walk to the conference site. We followed this with a walking tour of our general area in Mitte (City Center).
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Impromptu map-reading exercise while on our walk. Can you spot at least 5 people holding/studying maps? (Note Soviet-era TV Tower in background.)

We walked along the Spree River and Landwehr Canal, admired the Berlin Dome, passed a park where at least three weddings were taking place (in the drizzle), browsed an outdoor art market, and found a restaurant that featured traditional German dishes (along with other options for those not up for schnitzel and sauerkraut). On our walk back to the hotel we enjoyed glimpses of Berlin’s “Festival of Lights,” an annual event when the city center’s  sights and monuments become the canvas for spectacular light and video projections.After a sleepy meeting to plan our first day at the World Health Summit, we went to bed at around 8:00 pm.