Building bridges: A Breckenridge couple works to create global peace through international health |

Building bridges: A Breckenridge couple works to create global peace through international health

SUMMIT COUNTY – Jan and Phyllis Updike met on a blind date 37 years ago. They married six months later. After 36 years of marriage, they are parents, grandparents, retired medical professionals and the executive directors of their own nonprofit – Summit Alliance for Global Health.

“So it was a good blind date,” Phyllis said. “It was really a powerful connection between us and really a shared dream.

Phyllis is a retired registered nurse, doctor of nursing science and professor emerita at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Jan is a retired physician. But their retirement is far from relaxing because they now work full-time for international health – something they’ve done on a part-time basis for the past 30 years, they said.

“We’ve done it in a variety of forms – everything from grassroots to the United Nations,” Phyllis said. “Our own original motivation came from really wanting to be involved in the developing world. We … have really treasured connecting with people that are different from ourselves – whether that’s culturally or faith-driven.”

Now, through Summit Alliance for Global Health, the Updikes work to improve the health of communities in developing countries. They have worked in Zaire (now the Republic of Congo), Vietnam, the Philippines and the Dominican Republic.

This week, the Breckenridge couple is leaving to work in Jordan for about six weeks.

Through the Summit Alliance for Global Health, Jan is partnering with Habitat for Humanity International to help build healthy communities through integrated community development. The nonprofits will help developing communities become self-sufficient through a number of programs including disease prevention, health promotion and literacy. They will teach citizens about xeriscaping – raising crops that will grow in the arid environment without much water – and facilitate loans for small businesses.

“The philosophy is that it’s a hand up rather than a handout because it becomes self-sustaining on their part,” Phyllis said.

They also will teach community leadership development.

“This is all the way from things like accounting to how to hold a meeting,” Jan said.

Meanwhile, Phyllis will work as a visiting professor at the University of Jordan – in the departments of pediatrics and community health.

“I’m going to be more closely aligned with … graduate students,” Phyllis said. “It’s our hope that (this work) will dovetail with Jan’s work with Habitat.”

Through their work, the Updikes hope to bring the Jordanian and American people closer together.

“Our dream is that we actually create the beginnings of a bridge between Summit County and the Middle East – specifically Jordan,” Phyllis said. “Our dream is that it would include many more people besides the two of us.”

That dream already is becoming a reality. Phyllis is bringing with her, to Jordan, letters from 15 children at their church, Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon. She plans to hand-deliver those letters to Jordanian children (who are required to learn English) and hopes it will begin correspondence among the children.

“I told the kids this morning … that each of them is starting to play an important role in world peace,” Phyllis said, adding that by gaining a personal understanding of the life of a Jordanian child their age, the children would help close the distance between Summit County and the Middle East.

Additionally, Summit Daily News photographer Karin Prescott is joining the Updikes in Jordan to help them spread their message through her photography.

“Part of (the message) is informational, but at a deeper level or a broader level, Summit Alliance could become a bridge for good will and human betterment – essentially global peace,” Phyllis said. “After being on four continents in the last 30 years, it’s so clear to us that the world moves forward only as there are strong networks and relationships among people and communities across the globe. A government-to-government agreement … cannot go forward without the life of the human community – the human commitment to relationships, the understanding that we are indeed one family.”

Despite their peaceful intentions, the Updikes admit it is dangerous traveling to the Middle East now – with the Iraqi war and related anti-American sentiment.

“Are we nervous? Yes,” Phyllis said. “Are we going to go anyway? Yes.”

“We are one of many Westerners from many different countries, so we will blend in,” Jan said. “One of the best ways to be safe is to be with Jordanians, and we will be.”

For more information about Summit Alliance for Global Health, visit the Web site, or contact the Updikes by e-mail at or by mail at P.O. Box 6159, Breckenridge, 80424.

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