Thursday, June 9, 2011


“Abaraka” means thank you in Jola, one of the tribal languages spoken in Gambia. Thanks to the Open Mind for Africa Travel Grant, I will return to Gambia for two months this summer! After I volunteered there the summer before starting college four years ago, the Gambian people left an indelible mark on my heart, and I resolved to return. My lifelong dream is to root myself as a medical doctor for the poor and underserved in two communities, one in the US and another in Gambia.

Power Up Gambia provides reliable electricity and running water to healthcare facilities in Gambia through solar energy. After volunteering at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital in Bwiam, Gambia, Kathryn Cunningham Hall founded this nonprofit organization while she was an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania! Kathryn, who is currently finishing her third year at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, worked tirelessly to provide the hospital with reliable electricity.

At the end of my sophomore year, I received an email about Power Up Gambia through Penn’s pre-med listserve. Michael Reiche, an intern with Power Up Gambia, wanted to start an undergraduate chapter to support the organization’s efforts! I remember thinking, how cool is this! Gambia is a small country located on the west coast of Africa and surrounded by Senegal on three sides. It’s about twice the size of Delaware. At that point, I had not met anyone at Penn who had been to Gambia! In fact, other than the Americans from Maryland who I went to Gambia with in 2007, I did not know other people in the US who had been to Gambia! I had the privilege of helping to start the undergraduate chapter in May 2009, serving as vice president for two years, and coordinating fundraisers. Participating in Power Up Gambia has been incredibly meaningful to me since it enables me to help Gambians even when I am not physically in Gambia.

I am ecstatic to volunteer at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital (SJGH) in Bwiam, Gambia this summer. Before Power Up Gambia provided SJGH with solar panels, the hospital had unreliable electricity, which created challenges to providing care. At SJGH, I will help with medical records, conduct follow-up evaluation, work on energy and water conservation projects, and shadow medical staff. I will also volunteer at the hospital's trekking clinics and collect information from community health workers and locals to ascertain if the clinics are meeting people’s needs and how they can be improved. I leave for Gambia in just eleven days, and I am delighted to wholeheartedly serve the Gambian people! My heartfelt thanks goes to the Christian Association for providing funding! Abaraka!

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