Category: Profiles

Board Member Wessen Kifetew Brings Passion for Global Health and Community Service

Wessen Kifetew, who joined Global to Local’s board of directors in the fall, has more than 15 years of experience in global health and community service. 

“Maternal and child health, women’s health, and equity in access to health care are my passions,” Wessen said. “These are big issues in global health, and also here in the Seattle area.” 

Originally from Ethiopia, Wessen earned a Master’s degree in Global Health from the University of Emory, Atlanta, and a Graduate Certificate in Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Leadership from University of North Carolina, Gillings School of Public Health. Her academic research focused on the impact of HIV/AIDS stigma on prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and she went on to work in global health operations management with U.S. government and international organizations. 

When Wessen moved to the Northwest more than a decade ago, she set out to understand health disparities and social justice as influential factors on policy, decision making, and on health outcomes of vulnerable populations and communities in greater Seattle.  

“I started volunteering, doing a lot of pro bono consulting work, and actively trying to get a good handle on what equity means, and why do we have these persisting health issues within communities,” Wessen said. In addition to providing pro bono consulting services to a variety of community-based organizations, Wessen is a member of the Washington State Coalition African Leaders (WASCAL), and also serves on the board of African American Reach & Teach Health, an organization responding to HIV/AIDS and other major health issues affecting African Americans and people of African descent. 

Wessen sees joining Global to Local’s board as an opportunity to support implementation of a strategy that has always interested her—adapting global health learnings to improve health in U.S. communities. More importantly, Wessen sees her role as a board member to bring the voices of the broader global community to the table.

“Working in global health, I’ve always thought, Why can’t we bring the experiences and the best practices to address some of the local health issues?” Wessen said. “There are opportunities for the public health community here to adapt best practices to address inequities in health and healthcare access, education, and in other sectors based on race and place. And I think Global to Local is in a position to play a big role in addressing these issues across diverse communities.” 

Wessen looks forward to supporting Global to Local’s growth beyond SeaTac and Tukwila.  

“I think we can help to address inequities and disparities in not just greater Seattle, but also in the broader international communities, similar communities who could benefit from the practices that we bring in,” she said. 

Tukwila Connector and Youth Leader Rinny Tun Has Big Goals

When Foster High School senior Rinny Tun learned about the Tukwila Community Connectors program, he jumped at the chance to join. 

Connectors serve as liaisons between city staff and Tukwila’s diverse communities, helping the city build toward more equitable community engagement. 

“Learning about the government is interesting,” Rinny said. “I thought it was important to get myself to do that, and then to help other kids like me connect with civic engagement.” 

Having served as a Connector for a year and a half, Rinny has accomplished his goal of serving as a bridge between the city and his community. 

“Meeting with city officials was very interesting because it gave me that network, and the resources to utilize in my own community,” he said. “Connecting with human services staff was especially good, because when I know community members are going through something, I can connect them with the right person.” 

Another benefit of the program has been building his own advocacy and leadership abilities. Niesha Brooks, Global to Local’s leadership and engagement manager, mentors the Connectors, and also has helped Rinny find additional opportunities to grow his skills and network. She encouraged him to join a three-day leadership development training with the Healthy King County Coalition that he found particularly impactful.  

“That’s how you connect with people. For leadership, that’s important. I used to be a little shy kid. Now I’m almost outspoken. I’m on my way,” he said with a laugh. 

A future in community service 

With high school graduation around the corner, Rinny has his future on his mind.  

“I want to go to college. And I want to hopefully be able to take on more tasks from the community.” 

Rinny is considering a career in medicine, with aspirations to “open a private clinic and help low-income families.” Or, inspired by his volunteer work with FIGHT – Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together, he might advocate full-time for criminal justice system reform. 

Whatever path he chooses, Rinny is committed to using his skills and energy to lift up community members who have been underrepresented — particularly Southeast Asians, refugees, youth, and people with low incomes. 

“I want to do something transformative. Helping people grow — go from low-income to middle class, get resources they need, overcome barriers, like language barriers — that’s a big thing,” he said. 

Learn more about our Community Connectors programs 

Contact G2L Deputy Director A.J. McClure: aj@globaltolocal.org or (206) 379-6051. 

Striving for Health in S. King County

G2L first heard from Monica Davalos, a mother and long-time Tukwila resident, at a “Community Conversation” where she shared her family’s daily challenges with health. Monica’s common experiences has given her the insight that has allowed her to be successful in her role as G2L’s Latina Community Health Worker. Together with G2L, she channels the concerns and issues community members face and uses this platform to continuously listen and amplify the marginalized voices of others to bring better health to S. King County.

For more about Monica’s journey from community member to community health worker at G2L, check out: http://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/in-s-king-county-an-extraordinary-effort-to-bring-better-health/