Telling stories, saving lives

Doctors Without Borders takes a UMD alumna across the planet

Kelly Devore has been to many places around the world since she graduated from UMD and left the Midwest. It started with a job with the Peace Corps in 2011 as a health project specialist in Zambia, Africa. Life took a turn while she was on a safari vacation.

Safaris offer spectacular experiences: rain after a thunderstorm, smoky campfires, and the crunch of dry grass. For Devore, the biggest impact was meeting a small group that worked with Doctors Without Borders. “They are really good at working with people on the ground,” she says. “That was what really inspired me.”

After the Peace Corps, she attended the London School of Economics and Political Science for her master’s degree and then worked on a couple of world relief projects until 2016. Her next leap was to the Doctors Without Borders offices in the Netherlands. There, its name is the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Holland. The countries she worked with included Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and now, Nigeria.

 An image with the text, "Can stories help to save lives? Innovation"

By 2019 she was the creator, developer, and implementer of the MSF Noma training package, a project to help patients recover once they leave the hospital. Noma is a facial gangrene infection. In 2021, she led a project to encourage the use of storytelling, as a more effective method to share health information. “In 2022 I became lucky enough to work with the Nigeria team again,” she says. “We are developing and piloting a package to help caregivers help Noma patients heal after they leave the hospital.”

Devore looks back on her time at UMD as a psychology and Spanish language major. “UMD helped frame my work. Having an idea of how people think, especially communities that are from large population centers, is important to me,” she says. “I never assume what people are thinking.” Her grasp of languages (Spanish, French, and some Dutch) also makes it easier to work with MSF and people from around the world. Devore and her husband, a diplomat, love to travel and continue to be impressed with the beauty and outdoor activities in Duluth. “The Boundary Waters and Madeline Island are special because they are so isolated and away from people,” Devore says. But her real love is finding connections with others, because, as she says, “building relationships is key.”

This story was written by UMD student Eva Moua, who is majoring in communication. Eva works with Cheryl Reitan in University Marketing and Public Relations.