Spanning Continents and Cultures
Ruth Kauffman ’85 works to ensure safe, natural childbirth
by Brooke Thames
Ruth Kauffman ’85 recalls her college years as a time of unrest and awakening. Watching campuses across the country become hotbeds of student-led activism — from movements opposing South African apartheid to protests against the nuclear-arms race — the business administration major began to seriously reconsider her role in a turbulent world.

“I expected that I’d choose a practical major that would lead to a practical career,” Kauffman says. “But I couldn’t ignore the feeling that I wasn’t meant to be part of a corporate structure but out in the world making some sort of social impact instead.”

Ruth Kauffman with midwives in South Sudan
Courtesy of Ruth Kauffman
Ruth Kauffman ’85, second from right, with midwives in South Sudan
Following her instincts, Kauffman joined the Peace Corps after graduation. This leap of faith launched an extraordinary 30-year career in international women’s health and midwifery, for which Kauffman received Bucknell’s 2020 Service to Humanity award.

The powerful influence community midwives have on the quality of natural birth and maternal care impressed Kauffman during her two-year Peace Corps stint in Sierra Leone, West Africa.

“I saw how a successful out-of-hospital birth can transform a person’s relationship with their baby and the future of their family,” says Kauffman, who earned a diploma in midwifery in 1998.

Her work in reproductive health since then has spanned continents and cultures, from counseling teen mothers in Lancaster, Pa., to serving as a nurse and midwife in eight countries through Doctors Without Borders. In 2016, Kauffman partnered with colleagues to open a cross-border birth center that provides services to women in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

“Ensuring that women in diverse communities have equitable access to safe, natural birth is essential to improving reproductive health worldwide, which is what the Luna Tierra Casa de Partos center is all about,” she says.

Reflecting on her time at Bucknell, Kauffman not only credits those years with helping her realize what she wanted to do with her life but also with “giving me the confidence to do something bigger than I ever imagined.”