I now have 3 extra letters after my name!

22 10 2014

Since June 2014, I can officially sign as: Sarah Topps, MPH

This has been a strange year for me, with a lot of ups and downs. There have been a number of major life changes which have somewhat interrupted the frequency of my online writing. I hope to change this in the coming months, despite still being busy! I have been really fortunate to be working on a number of interesting projects and teams, so let me give you the latest for each one.

1) Working at the University of Calgary on a project called Healthy Child Uganda.

Excitingly, our new website just went up! HCU is an amazing team, and I love my work with them. Check it out here: http://www.healthychilduganda.org/ 


2) Surprise work trips to South America!

In September, I was also honoured to be offered the opportunity to travel with Dr. Marc Poulin (University of Calgary) to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) for their Safety Week Conference, focusing on the health impacts of working at high altitude. I would like to share the Impact Report that I wrote for the visit with you – particularly since this one has attracted quite a few compliments from my superiors, and as a Global Health alumnus, I found it so challenging to find good examples of this kind of documentation that we need to learn when I was a student. I hope it helps someone learn:
Impact Report – ALMA Safety Week Conference Sept 23 – 25 – FINAL © Sarah Topps 2014

chile sunset Sept 2014

Having dinner with world-class physicists every night is pretty cool. The sunsets were pretty spectacular too…This was taken literally from outside of my hotel room at ALMA. – Sarah Topps 2014

3) Speaking at Global Health Conferences and Events

We have also been making good progress with the new Student Executive arm of the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research. I am excited to announce that I will be speaking about Mentorship at the 21st Canadian Conference on Global Health, along with several of my esteemed colleagues from the CCGHR, the CCGHR Student Executive and the CSIH Mentornet program.

You can view the program here:

CCGH 2014 Partnerships for GH

Workshop #1 – Governor General 1 (< this is where to go if you are hoping to join us!)
Building a toolkit for success in global health: The many faces of mentorship
Sarah Topps, MPH (Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research)
At the end of the session, participants will:

  • Develop a 5-year roadmap for the next steps to take in their careers.
  • Identify pathways to finding a mentor and why this is important.
  • Strengthen their peer networks by connecting with others in global health.

I will also be co-presenting with those teams on the same topic at the now sold out Students and Young Professionals Global Health Summit on November 1st in Ottawa. Hope to see some of you there!


4) Promoting water workshops and networking events for students and young professionals.

My other appointment with the Canadian Water Network’s Students and Young Professionals Committee. My team has been doing amazing work pulling together several cool workshops across the country, which YOU can attend for free!
Check ’em out here: http://www.cwn-rce.ca/young-professionals/workshops/upcoming/




We will also be announcing more information about our upcoming bi-annual water conference in March 2015. Stay tuned!

5) Expanding my horizons and donating to a good cause.

Newly interested in another project at the University of Calgary – Project SHINE – which is working with Maasai pastoralists in Tanzania to empower youth to educate themselves and others about sanitation and hygiene. Most recently I have been promoting their drive to collect used digital cameras or used smart phones to document the World’s First Sanitation Science Fair. I donated one of my old digital cameras, and I am very excited to be receiving a Foldscope (a working origami microscope!) in return for my donation.
 If anyone is interested in donating, Sheri is still looking for donations. See the poster below for details.

SHINE poster for donations

Sarah Topps, MPH © October 2014

7 habits of highly… Actually just things my parents taught me.

7 05 2013

My parents have given me such wonderful habits.As I travel, I see the huge impact they have had in how I approach the world.

My mother is the reason that I wear sunscreen and sunglasses, always carry multiple ways to pay, put my seatbelt on as soon as I get in a vehicle, try to use the local language, take more poignant photographs, appreciate the little things, avoid fried rice and ice cream, love openly but guard my heart, praise people when they deserve it, wash my hands religiously, join the locals, write everything down, go for walks, get up early to watch the sunrise and stay up late to see the stars. My mother is the reason I dream big, appreciate the journey and trust my decisions.

My father is the reason that I keep trying when I fail, watch and see how the locals do things, smile at people even when I am grumpy, try new local dishes (even when they look or smell disgusting!), stretch often, do things even when they scare me, suck it up when it’s raining or I have to climb a bajillion stairs, don’t take shit from people, laugh at myself, stand up for others who cannot stand up for themselves, don’t tolerate the mistreatment of animals, introduce myself to strangers, listen patiently, get my hands dirty, have the confidence to try new things, offer my help freely, hold doors for people, open doors for myself and walk away from situations that I don’t like.

Allison Lee on How Climate Change is Destroying the Earth

6 03 2013

Speaking of infographics… 

Recently I was flattered to receive an email from Allison Lee asking if I would be interested in reviewing and posting something on my blog: an infographic on climate change that she helped to create along with a team of designers and researchers.

I feel that international development, climate change and global health are intrinsically linked subjects, and while I have not directly addressed climate change on my blog, I feel the need to publicly acknowledge that I believe it is real, and humans have played a substantial role in causing it. I have been meaning to write a post about my time in Iceland in December and how shocked I was at how warm it was. I distinctly remember standing comfortably outside in jeans and a sweater while a local told me stories about riding a snowmobile through meters of snow to visit his neighbours in the capital city on Christmas morning only 20 years ago. I remember looking down… there was no snow on the ground.

Embarrassingly, in 2011 Canada became the ONLY country EVER to actually drop out of the Kyoto Protocol (a global agreement among nations to reduce their 1990 emission levels by 18% by 2020).

On LearnStuff.com where Allison and her team have posted their infographic, they give some helpful suggestions that people can do every day to reduce climate change:

  • Driving a car with good gas mileage, or investing in a hybrid or electric car
  • (Or switching to car pooling, bicycles or public transit! – my addition)
  • Switching from incandescent light bulbs to CFL or LED
  • Insulating your home and stocking it with energy efficient appliances
  • Recycling
  • Using green power available in your area

This week I finally had enough time to review their infographic and check their sources, so without further delay, I am sharing it with all of you. [My apologies to Allison and her team for not posting it sooner!]



What did you think of the above infographic? Was there anything that you liked? Disagreed with? Put it in the comments below.

– Sarah Topps 2013

Tough Mudder Whistler 2012 – Completed!

25 06 2012
Tough Mudder is a challenge,
not a race.
And boy, what a challenge!

Over 12 miles (20km) of mud, mountains, ice, snow, and 22 major obstacles such as 14 foot walls and belly crawls under barbed wire and running through live electric wires…

Over 14,000 participants signed up to run the course in Whistler Olympic Park in June 2012. The first official Tough Mudder in Canada, and Canadians sure proved our famous cold-bravery by running, jumping, swimming and crawling through the freezing/frozen conditions of some of the obstacles!

More details coming soon – we are processing the pictures and waiting for the official ones to be posted.

We had a team of 12 brave Mudders wearing kilts! Check us out below!

And here’s me on one of the last obstacles.. stay focused!


I was SO proud to finish Tough Mudder 2012 in Whistler, BC.
-Sarah Topps

Canada’s Really Big…

19 06 2012
To quote a Canadian band, The Arrogant Worms, “Canada’s Really Big

I work in the travel and tourism industry in Canada, and one of the things that baffles me over and over again, is that people from other places really don’t seem to grasp the sheer SIZE of Canada before they come here.

Every day, I get people coming to my desk, asking how long it will take them to get to Tofino/Banff/Toronto/Niagara Falls etc. Judging by the dumbfounded looks on their faces when I give them an estimate in days, rather than minutes or hours… most are not prepared for the scope of the journey they had planned to undertake in a weekend or a day.

Let me lay it out for you in distances, and travel times, so you can get a good idea of just HOW big we really are, on a global scale, from the perspective of someone who has traveled extensively both in Canada and abroad.

From my perspective, when I say that something is:

“…in the city…” I am talking about somewhere I go every week:

I work in downtown Vancouver, so I am normally giving directions from Waterfront Station. (0km)
I live in New Westminster (19km)
I sing karaoke on Wednesdays in Surrey (28km)
I play dodgeball on Tuesday nights in Langley (47km)

“…pretty close…” I can mean up to 300km away.

A distance I would consider reasonable to go for a picnic, a hike, a day trip to ski or shop, or sight see.

Examples include:

Victoria (117km and a 1.5hr Ferry)
Whistler (123km)
Harrison Hot Springs (131km)
Seattle (230km)

“…at least a weekend trip…” I may mean up to 1000km (one way) in driving or flying distance.

Some ‘weekend trips’ I have taken in the past include:

Tofino (302km through mountain roads, and a 2hr ferry)
Calgary (954km or 1188km if I drive the longer, but more scenic route through Jasper)
Las Vegas (2021km – this is a common weekend trip for Vancouverites who fly down and back cheaply from Bellingham Airport)
Los Angeles (2051km – I went in 2010 for 4 days to shop and see a Muse concert and considered it a weekend trip)

“…pretty far…is what we use to talk about places that are generally several thousand kms away... places we only typically go for an annual vacation, a summer home, a family gathering, weddings, funerals and holidays such as Christmas.

Common examples are:
Los Cabos, Mexico (3916km) Destination Beach Wedding
Toronto (4205km) – Thanksgiving Dinner with Family
Montreal (4736km) – University Friends Reunion
Miami (5616km) – Disney World Vacation

Trip to Turkey & the World Wealth Income Distribution

13 06 2012

Today I bought a round-trip plane ticket to Istanbul, Turkey for less than $700 Canadian dollars including all the taxes, fees, adjusting my seat options etc. from Vancouver BC. I was ecstatic, as these tickets normally run for about $1500-1600, if you aren’t picky about your dates, and can run up to and over the $4000 mark for economy class seats! (The seat sale is still on, so grab one if you have ever wanted to visit!) Incidentally – props to KLM for lowering their prices so much! ❤

After buying my incredible steal of a ticket, I excitedly posted on Facebook that I was going to Turkey next year, and another, more sombre post underneath:
“Just bought another transcontinental plane ticket on a whim… 🙂 I am SO lucky to live in an age where international travel is so easy. It humbles me to think that as recently as a single century ago, this would be the voyage of a lifetime for almost anyone on the planet…”

I probably rewrote that comment 3 or 4 times in trying not to draw hostile comments about how it would still be the voyage of a lifetime for many, or how many people can’t afford to travel, or more specifically how my friends couldn’t afford to travel, and how I was somehow luckier than them in this way…

I will say, that nothing drives me crazier than my friends telling me that I am “lucky” to be able to travel so much.

Not because I am not lucky… I will be the first to admit how lucky I am –

I was born and raised in a likeable country with a good reputation overseas, and one with not many restrictions on which countries I can visit. I even have dual citizenship – helpful with those tricky countries that don’t like one another…

I am healthy and have full use of my body – I am not wheelchair bound, I do not need glasses, I am not dependent on any medicines or machinery to keep me alive and in good health.

I have no criminal record and I am sound of mind – these can both be used to keep someone from entering another country.

I am not married to another woman – as wonderful as this might be, it would certainly restrict the places I could visit.

I speak an international language, which enables me to function on a relatively high level in most places around the world today.

I have freedom of movement – I am not a hostage, a prison inmate, a political diplomat, or anything else that would necessitate me staying in one country besides keeping my job – which I have the option to take vacation time from, or quit.

But 9 times out of ten, that’s not what they mean. They imply, or sometimes outright tell me – that I have money to spend on travel, that they do not. Or that I somehow have no other expenses, and that is why I can afford to travel? These conversations always boggle my mind, because they always end up going like this:

Me: I am going to Turkey next year! I am so excited…
Friend: You bought another plane ticket? You are so lucky! I never get to go anywhere… I wish I could travel.
Me: … Why don’t you come with me?
Friend: What?! I can’t afford that! I have bills, and stuff to pay off…
Me: I have bills to pay off too. I have a mortgage to pay, my cell phone, electricity, internet, student loans and credit cards.
Friend: Yeah, but you always seem to have more money than me – you’re just lucky like that.
Me: Well… I don’t own a car, and I don’t spend $300 a month on cigarettes and coffee. That adds up pretty quick.
Friend: Yeah, but I NEED my cigarettes, car and coffee…
Me: And I NEED to travel. So I give up my car, and put $50 a month away in savings for future travel. $25 each pay cheque.
Friend: Whatever… I have tried to save up for travel too
Me: Didn’t you go to Vegas last year?
Friend: Yeah, but… that’s not real travel. I want to go to exotic places like India!
Me: …Yeaahh…

In any case, I will also not deny that by global standards I am rich, but honestly, if you saved $25 a week for a year, you could go somewhere exotic “like India” for about 2 weeks if you planned it right. It’s just a question of priorities. Mine is to travel.

Let’s talk about wealth – relative wealth, that is… Tricky thing about money – most of us feel poor at some point, relative to our lifestyles and to our peers/family. The Canadian average income per year is $40, 541 according to the International Monetary Fund (2011). There is an interesting article that lists 20 jobs that earn approximately this much. I am in my twenties, I have no dependents, and I work full-time in a salaried job. My income is below the national average of my country, but I also recognize that not having children is saving me a lot of money too.

To put us on the global scale, I love to use the chart below. Normally I draw it out myself, but I had to find one I could post as an image because my scanner is broken…

This figure represents all of the world’s current money earning adults (in case you were wondering why it’s only ~4.5B people and not 7B people).

More than 2/3 of them make up the bottom portion of the triangle, and earn less than $10, 000 per year.

That’s right – if you are North American you are richer than 67% of humanity. Stop your bitching.

Another 23.5% earn between $10,000 to $100,000 – with most of us at the lower end of that spectrum.

And less than 1% of people in the world are millionaires and billionaires – however, they own 38.5% of the total $. The original posters of this figure break it down even further:

“As readers can see above, the figures for mid-2011 indicate that 29.7 million adults, about 1/2 of one percent of the world’s population, own more than one third of global household wealth. Of this group, they estimate that 85,000 individuals are worth more than $50 million, 29,000 are worth more than $100 million, and 2,700 have assets above $500 million. Compare this to the bottom of the pyramid: 3.054 billion people, 67.6 percent of the world’s population, with assets of less than $10,000, who own a mere 3.3 percent of the world’s wealth. Add another billion people with assets between $10,000 and $100,000 and we have 91.2 percent of the world’s population that owns something on the order of 17.8 percent of total world wealth.” http://rwer.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/the-global-wealth-pyramid/

So next time you think to yourself – wow, that person is so lucky, they get to travel and I don’t – either start saving to buy a plane ticket, or just be grateful that you earn more than $10, 000 a year, and probably won’t ever have to worry affording vaccines, basic education, shoes, a clean toilet, food and a roof over your head.

For my part – I will continue to make travel a high priority for spending my hard-earned dollars, and try to stay humble about how lucky I am to be able to travel with such ease – sound of mind and body, and with a passport, plane ticket and full belly.

– Sarah Topps 2012

Shave your beard off for the kids!

14 06 2011

Tomorrow after the Canucks Game – a rather unusual fundraiser is being held to support the British Columbia Children’s Hospital Foundation (BCCHF). Since it is customary for hockey fans in Canada to wear a “playoff beard” for the duration of the NHL playoffs every year, it was suggested that shaving those beards off should be done with as much pomp and ceremony as is invested into the games themselves.

Through the generous support of Moods Hair Salon (1070 Mainland Street) in downtown Vancouver, we will be hosting a “beard-off” fundraiser for the end of the NHL playoffs tomorrow night after the end of Game 7. The fundraiser will run until 10pm PST, and there is a suggested minimum donation of $15 per beard.

More details to be announced soon. Or check the Twitter account: @ReachFWD

– Sarah Topps 

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