A Career in Service
As is often the case, it was adversity that fuelled Shira Goldstein’s passion. For Shira, that adversity came in the form of a Ghanaian hospital. After suffering malaria, an appendectomy and three weeks of hospitalization, she was angry and frustrated. “I had to fight for my personal safety,” she said. “I left convinced that no one should have to feel like this.”
Her frustrations intensified as she watched people in the village where she volunteered for Youth Against Aids, a non-governmental organization (NGO) for AIDS advocacy, die from treatable conditions. When Shira returned from the hospital, she made a plan. She decided to purchase land, draw up blueprints and build a health clinic. This was during a year she took off from college, in what would have been her sophomore year. She was 19 years old.
Shira returned to the University of Puget Sound, where between classes, homework and college life, she worked on plans for the clinic, recruited volunteers and raised money. During the summers she returned to Ghana to build the clinic. In 2010 she established the NGO Afia Clinics International and the following year opened Hope for the Future Clinic on the Kata Peninsula of the Volta region of Ghana. Originally developed as an HIV clinic, it soon grew to offer a range of health services. Its doctors, health technicians and board of directors are all from the region, and it now provides full time jobs for eleven people.
Although Shira is still technically the director of the clinic and still fundraises for it, she has since moved on. In 2013 she went to graduate school at Trinity College, Dublin, where she earned a master’s of science in global health. This program added concrete business and administrative health care skills, such as how to scale salaries, to her credentials, and included a significant field work component, which she completed in South Africa.
Shira continued to travel to Ghana roughly every six months to see to the clinic, but at this point she needed to find a paying job. Having planned and built the clinic almost entirely from tenacity and grit, she realized she had few contacts in the NGO world. “I did what I did in a bubble,” she said.
Her grassroots efforts and concentrated work in the field, even while pursuing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, helped make up for her lack of contacts, and she landed a job with IsraAid, an NGO that provides disaster relief and long term support. Contracted by UNICEF in Liberia, IsraAid asked Shira to set up this new office and become its Liberia country director. Shira sets up systems and training programs for social workers and mental health clinicians to provide psycho-social support for ebola victims and their families, for example children who have lost their parents. Shira also takes care of finances, logistics and more.
Shira’s parents, Annie Wright Upper School science teacher Marian Schwartz and University of Puget Sound geology and environmental science professor Barry Goldstein, as well as Annie Wright faculty and students, inspired Shira’s pursuit of a career in service. The focus on inclusion, life skills and community at Annie Wright was a natural extension of the values she learned at home. Teachers such as Susan Bauska and Patty Nielson promoted empathy and connections among peers, and service to others became second nature for Shira. Service programs in school reinforced Shira’s passion to connect with the community.
For those who want to pursue service as a career, Shira believes strongly that passion, interest and experience in a particular area are much more valuable than a general desire to serve. “You can’t force it too much,” she said. “Being passionate about service is too broad and not very helpful. Find something that interests you in life in general. I guarantee someone will benefit from your experience in that area. The more experienced you are in that area, the more you can help. The more skilled people in humanitarian work, and the more they understand about the issue, the better able they will be to provide meaningful service.”