Marketing & Communications

BG alumnus leads volunteers to serve the world's poorest


Tom Egan '95

Tom Egan '95 changed his major twice before he landed in Dr. Elizabeth "Betsy" Rice Allgeier's psychology classroom, where he realized his urge to help people and to participate in the global movement to alleviate poverty. He admired Dr. Rice Allgeier for her global perspective, and her recollections of contracting a tropical disease as she researched African tribal groups early in her career.

"She almost died, and all this for the cause she was trying to study," Egan said. "I thought she was the most genuinely fascinating person I ever met, so I took every class she taught and conducted research with her. I did everything I could just to learn more from her."

Now that Egan is leader of Esperança, an Arizona-based nonprofit that provides public health services, food and clean water to three of the world's most impoverished nations, he credits his BGSU education and inspiration from faculty emerita Dr. Rice Allgeier for helping him to realize the major impact he might have in the world.

Growing up in Buffalo of "half Asian and half Caucasian (descent,) I was the diverse one," Egan recalled. "At Bowling Green, you meet all kinds of differing people. My world kind of opened up, and you find all kinds of different good in people. It got me exploring."

As head of Esperança, Egan manages missions of volunteers from the United States and Canada to provide medical care and help facilitate the development of food and clean water resources in Nicaragua, Bolivia and the African nation of Mozambique. The organization named for the Portuguese word for "hope."

"Whatever you decide you want to do, find someone who does it really well or who you admire and get to know them"The charity has evolved since its founding more than forty years ago, when volunteers would fly in to build something and neglect to involve the indigenous people in the process. Instead, the organization now pushes "to find local solutions to local problems," Egan explained. That means local people complete the digging and building of a well under the supervision of the staff who are local to the region, which allows the indigenous community to learn how to make repairs and improvements long after volunteers are gone.

The organization also educates people in Bolivia about how to fumigate to minimize the risk of Chagas, a tropical disease that causes long-term damage to internal organs and is transmitted by the bite of a common insect known to hide in homes.

Egan is proud of the success that Esperança has providing health services in rural areas for those who might otherwise rarely visit a medical professional. One mother of eight in Bolivia walked for a day and rode several hours on a bus to reach Esperança's volunteer team of surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses. She was delighted to receive care after suffering for years with a prolapsed uterus, a condition easily remedied in the United States. Another patient was a teen who had concealed his cleft palate for years by wearing a bandanna over his face, because of a cultural belief that the deformity indicates evil.

"I was thinking, 'He can get a job now, he can go back to school.' But the first thing he said was, 'I can finally kiss a girl,'" Egan said.

Egan served as a social worker and non-profit leader for organizations that focused more on serving the poor in the United States before joining Esperança two years ago. You can learn more about Esperança's work by visiting their website, www.wetransformlives.org.

"It just feels like this was a path that was laid out for me. This is what I'm supposed to be doing."

But his career path wasn't clear as he graduated from BGSU, and he encourages current students to continually identify mentors like his, Dr. Rice Allgeier, as they seek jobs that fit their passions.

"Whatever you decide you want to do, find someone who does it really well or who you admire and get to know them," Egan said. "The learning never stops when you get out of school. You have to keep learning."

 (Posted January 22, 2013 )