In late summer 2015, Suparlan Lingga ’17 got on an airplane and left Indonesia to study public health in the United States, leaving behind his wife and two young daughters, then ages 1 and 6.
A PRESTASI Scholar, he already had considerable experience working for three nongovernmental organizations that help marginalized children and families by improving access to healthcare, education and sustainable employment.
Within three years of earning his master’s degree in public health, he was named program manager for the partnership between the Indonesian government and UNICEF. He loves his job and his mission of working to improve child and maternal health, education and safety.
“The goal is to ensure that the young generation, our children, will grow up in good health and have a quality education,” he says.
And UMass Lowell taught him, in ways both practical and policy-oriented, how to do that, he says.
Before applying for the scholarship from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Lingga did extensive online research and learned that people all over the world came to Massachusetts to study because of its reputation as a center for excellence in both health care and education. When USAID suggested four schools for him to apply to, he was excited to see UMass Lowell on the list.
“The place I most wanted to be was Massachusetts,” he says. “And I got a letter of acceptance from UMass Lowell, and I was so happy!”
Although his undergraduate degree was in public health with a focus on epidemiology, he chose health care management as his graduate concentration. His coursework introduced him to principles of management, budgeting and health care economics, along with public health practices and policy considerations.
His second-year practicum at Lowell Community Health Center immersed him in how to provide quality health care to a diverse population by emphasizing prevention and holistic care.
“I could see, practically, how U.S. health care for children and mothers works, and I could bring some of that back to Indonesia, like electronic medical records,” he says. “Lowell Community Health Center provides good quality health services even for people with low income, and I think this is very useful in my country.”
His first job after graduation was as a lecturer at the University of North Sumatra, where he’d gone to college himself. Next, he worked for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as a health manager for a year.
Then, he landed his dream job: coordinating with government agencies to implement Indonesia’s five-year plan with UNICEF. The goals for the 2020 to 2024 plan include improving primary health care and education for low-income children and families in rural and urban areas, as well as protecting children from mental, physical and sexual abuse in conflict zones, schools and juvenile detention centers.
Lingga hopes that someday he can return to UMass Lowell, this time with his wife and daughters, to show them the place on the opposite side of the globe where he studied during the cold winters – and found such a warm welcome.
“I had a great experience at UMass Lowell with the knowledge and experience of the students, teachers and staff,” he says. “I miss UMass Lowell.”