Ruth Kauffman ’85
Ruth Kauffman '85 grew up in Lancaster, Pa., the fifth of seven children from lapsed Amish and Mennonite grandparents, and came to Bucknell via a tuition exchange program with Franklin & Marshall college, where her father taught geology. He was the first in his family to have a university education. Anticipating that the mid-1980s would require a practical degree with which to get a job, Kauffman majored in business administration with a concentration in marketing.
Confused with the dual responsibilities of making a difference and making a living, Kauffman joined the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, where she worked for over two years. This experience helped transform her vision of what was not only essential, but also possible to do in her life. On return to the U.S. she became involved in the fight for women's issues, especially gender violence, reproductive justice and immigrant health. She worked in southern Mexico, California and later went back home to Lancaster, where she served as a social worker in her former high school for the pregnant and parenting teen program.
Kauffman became interested in midwifery during her time in the Peace Corps and it was her involvement with teen mothers that encouraged her to return to college. She completed a bachelor's degree in nursing at the University of Pennsylvania in 1996 and earned a diploma in midwifery at Maternidad la Luz in El Paso, Texas, in 1998. For the next 10 years Kauffman served as a midwife, nurse and midwifery instructor in both El Paso and Albuquerque, N.M.
After working for 20 years in the U.S., Kauffman decided it was time to utilize her experience gained at home to improve maternal child health internationally and joined Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in 2008. Since then, she has worked as a midwife, nurse, medical team leader and project coordinator in 14 different assignments in eight countries, including India, South Sudan, Uganda, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Solomon Islands and Sierra Leone. Her time spent in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak was especially significant for her.
In 2016, Kauffman returned home to the U.S. and joined forces with colleagues to create a cross-border reproductive justice program designed to support families in Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahuha, Mexico, by providing access to safe and empowering prenatal, birth and postpartum support, education and health care. The team established a free-standing licensed birthing center in El Paso and a small Casa de Salud in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. She continues to serve with Doctors Without Borders, currently providing coronavirus response in the Pueblos and Navajo Nation. She is also pursuing a master of nursing degree from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center to become a family nurse practitioner. She dedicates this award in memory of her mother, Dorothy Hammon, who passed away in February 2020.