Imagine flying over the forests of Colombia in a chopper and landing in the middle of a battlefield with the noise of gunshots resounding through the trees. The people there are ridden with an infectious fungal disease from head to toe, leaving no room for clothes or shoes.
These are the battle-weary soldiers that Sherri Porcelain, lecturer in the department of international studies at the University of Miami, went to help.
Porcelain was 21 and in the Peace Corps when her work sent her to Colombia. She applied ointments and medicines to the soldiers and helped to revive the entire army. After three years of service, she was awarded commendations by the Colombian army.
This first experience involving the Peace Corps solidified her roots in community development, and humanitarian/disaster work. Following the Peace Corps, Porcelain went to Honduras.
“We went to visit a hospital and there were three or four kids in one crib, all had malnutrition. One kid had Vitamin B deficiency. When I asked the mom why she thought her child had that, she said bad soil, bad ground, evil spirits in the ground,” she said.
Porcelain went on to attain a degree in public health and world affairs in which field epidemiology was basic training.
Porcelain got a special opportunity in 2005. She was teaching a class called Global Health and Ethics when she received word that MTV-U wanted to attend her class and bring in Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, as a guest speaker.
Along with regular teaching, Porcelain has developed internships as well as trips for students so that they may actively engage in their learning not only through a text book but through hands on experience.
Her home is lined with framed pieces of artwork and crafts from various countries, from a stick used at political meetings held by the Kuna Indians to the dolls of Colombian street children.
Her pursuits are not only academic.
“I love to cook, introduce people to eating healthy, vegetarian cookery, tofu… People tell me I make the best tofu. I also love animals – I have an 85 pound dog from Germany and cats.”
Porcelain has taught since 1988 both at the Miller School of Medicine and Coral Gables campus, where she has earned a stellar reputation.
“I’ve heard that she’s a nice lady, and that she’s always willing to be there for her students. She also tries to get her students internships, which is awesome. I look forward to having her this semester and future semesters to come,” Alyshah Jaffer, a sophomore, said about his reasoning for enrolling in her class this semester.