WOMEN OF EXCELLENCE
Health. More importantly, the CNMI community’s health. That is Sami Birmingham-Babauta’s passion, what she strives for, and the trajectory of a career path that has taken her from a summer internship with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to her current job in the Nutrition and Health Program of the Northern Marianas College-Cooperative Research, Extension, and Education Services.
She knows that this work is not easy, but she also knows that it can be done.
Birminghan-Babauta, 26, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from California State University in Northridge. In 2016, just before moving back to Saipan, she had a short stint as a summer intern at the CDC. She then held several positions at the Commonwealth Health Care Corp., worked as program manager for non-profit group 500 Sails, and is now with NMC-CREES.
“Improving the overall health of the community is multi-faceted, with things like improving access to health care and advocating for policies that create environments that support physical activity (sidewalks, bike lanes, fitness parks, etc.). While I work in different [capacities] to accomplish this, my niche is teaching and promoting active living and using physical activity to prolong life and prevent diseases,” she said.
Birmingham-Babauta admits that keeping good health is a global challenge and that came into particular focus when she was selected as one of the 199 young Obama Foundation Leaders from all over the world to join the program.
“The Obama Future Leaders Program is about bringing emerging young leaders in the Asia and Pacific region together. …Going through the workshops they had for us was empowering. …At the convention in Kuala Lumpur, I realized that a lot of us are fighting the same battles in our homes, and connecting us reminded us that our work is important and we are not alone,” she said.
“I believe that their vision is to connect us so we can have these conversations now, and have more time to work toward saving our planet. I think they picked leaders that they foresee advancing from community leaders to leaders in the region, and ultimately, internationally,” she added.
Birmingham-Babuata describes meeting former United States president Barrack Obama as “invigorating.” She feels that that encounter validated her advocacies.
“As we walked over to my work station—we were building school furniture—all I kept thinking was, ‘Wow, he’s so tall!’ as he spoke to us individually. I enjoyed his ‘down-to-earth-dude’ demeanor,” she said. “Honestly, the whole experience was surreal. Both meeting him and having him and Mrs. Obama speak to us made me feel validated—my work, my passion, and my dreams that I am constantly working to fruition. Even when I feel like I’m not doing enough, I did something to get here,” she said.
Outside CREES, Birminham-Babauta is part of the planning committee of the Marianas March Against Cancer, which is gearing up for the month of May; she is an assistant teacher of “Layak” or the sailing class of 500 Sails; she is the Physical Activity Council chairwoman; helps with the Dee Clayton Classic, a bodybuilding and physique show; and works part-time as a personal trainer and fitness instructor at Latte Built Fitness & Nutrition. “…I was just invited to co-emcee the 2020 University of Guam Conference on ‘Island Sustainability,’” she added.
A new year goal she has set for herself is to be more of a minimalist. “I lost a lot of stuff in Super Typhoon Yutu and it was sort of liberating to be rid of things,” she said.
“Those things became trash and there was so much trash on the island post-Yutu. Consumerism is a huge contributor to climate change, so I’m more mindful of my purchases as I work to reduce my waste,” she added.
Other things that she would like to accomplish includes creating and implementing a project that’s impactful to the community, which she said is already in the works. “I would like to get into graduate school for a master’s [degree] in Public Health,” she said.
“I hope I leave people feeling inspired to do their thing, whatever it is for them. If they’re working with me, if nothing else, I hope to leave them inspired to live active lifestyles, eat well, and know that good health comes from everyday choices,” she added.