Several Washington students will be in the nation's capitol this week for a conference that encourages college students to find ways to solve the world's problems.

Share story

For more than two years now, 22-year old Analiesse Isherwood has been making regular visits to Haiti — bringing school supplies to students, teaching adults about cholera and searching for a way to create patient medical records that could be used by intermittent traveling clinics.

This week, though, she is going in a different direction: to Washington, D.C., where she is one of three college students from this state taking part in the Clinton Global Initiative University. The three-day seminar is designed to help college students think about how they might solve the world’s most complex problems.

It’s the fifth year of the meeting, which mirrors the Clinton Global Initiative, an international meeting held each September in New York City and founded by former President Clinton. The September meeting brings world leaders together to work on the world’s problems.

In a news conference conducted by phone this week, Clinton described how the student meeting is designed to be similar to the September meeting. More than 1,000 students will attend from all 50 states and 75 countries and hear from speakers such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart.

They’ll also get a chance to network, organize and work together on projects of their own choosing. “Students are more connected online than ever before,” Clinton said. “It’s obvious they need to be organized on the ground.”

A native of Moses Lake, Isherwood — who is a first-year medical student in the University of Washington’s Spokane program — is working on her medical-records idea to help clinic workers in Haiti keep better track of patients’ health history. She started the week in New York City, meeting with nonprofit-health organizations that work in Haiti, and plans to network with other students and health-care workers at the Clinton event.

She first visited Haiti with a nonprofit group in December 2009, when she was a Western Washington University undergraduate and curious to learn more about the living conditions of people in developing nations.

Two weeks after she left Haiti, in January 2010, the country was devastated by a catastrophic earthquake that killed some of the people she had met on her trip.

Since then, she has returned five more times as a volunteer — raising money with help from her church, her hometown Rotary Club, a local physician, friends and family. Each trip costs about $1,500; she used money from her own savings for the last trip, in December.

“If you truly believe in what you’re doing, you make it happen and are willing to sacrifice for it,” she said.

She’s gotten thousands of dollars in donations from Moses Lake residents — in particular, from middle-school students whose classrooms she has visited to tell about her trips to Haiti.

Getting students to care about poor children in a country more than 3,000 miles away was a challenge, she said. She brought photos of her trips and pictures of specific students in need. In response, the students have given her money to buy school supplies, toys and other items.

The Clinton conference is also focused on finding ways to get young people engaged in long-term, global problems. It comes just weeks after a YouTube video about the crimes of African warlord Joseph Kony went viral on social media — an example of how social media can be used to galvanize political activism, especially among young people.

Clinton was enthusiastic about the wave of interest in the Ugandan human-rights issues that Kony2012 unleashed, despite questions raised about whether all of the information was accurate.

“I think it was a real plus that it was made, that it came out,” said Clinton, who noted that the video was viewed by millions of people and sparked discussions about human-rights abuses in Uganda.

The Kony video “also opens up, to young people who saw it, the chance to figure out what they could do to help people,” Clinton said.

The video told some of the story through the eyes of a young Ugandan boy whose brother was killed by Kony soldiers. In one sense, “it’s very similar to what I do,” Isherwood said. “I play on the kids’ hearts, yes. But all for a good reason.”

“Despite their young age, they’re capable of making a difference,” Isherwood said of the middle-school students she has met with. “I’m really setting them up for a long-term perspective change. If you can start it at a young age, you can make a true difference in changing someone’s life.”

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.