Bush Institute volunteers in Zambia

In June 2013 President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush are traveling to Livingstone, Zambia, where they will work alongside local Zambians, U.S. embassy officials and George W. Bush Institute staff to renovate a clinic that when completed, will serve as a cervical cancer screening and treatment center. Four SMU students are among the group of volunteers who are helping renovate the clinic. They are joined by Eric G. Bing, professor of global health in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development and in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, and senior fellow and director for global health at the Bush Institute. Posted here are excerpts from their blog at bushcenter.org/blog.

A chemical reaction that binds and heals

An update from Melanie, a sophomore Hunt Leadership Scholar on the pre-med track in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences:

Melanie with new friends in Zambia

Melanie with new friends in Zambia

Just a few weeks ago, the most exciting thing I had planned for the summer was taking a General Chemistry II course in Dallas. Now I find myself in Zambia, an ocean away from the U.S., as a global health volunteer of the Bush Institute. I am helping to renovate a clinic and learn about cervical cancer from women at risk for the disease. In the blink of an eye, my summer plans changed and along with it, my perspectives of others and myself.

What has amazed me about my experience in Zambia is in learning how similar I am to Zambians. In most cases, the people I have met share my core values – family, faith, and education. We differ, however in the opportunities available to us based upon where we live, particularly our access to health care and our ability to avoid preventable diseases, such as cervical cancer.

Growing up in America with health insurance, my family and I have never had to worry about access to health care. When we need medical treatment, we get it. This is not true for Zambians.

Death from cervical cancer is very rare in the U.S. today due to the ready availability of Pap smears. In Zambia, cervical cancer is the most common cancer from which women suffer. In fact, Zambia has the second highest rate of cervical cancer in the world. And although cervical cancer can be prevented and is easily treated when caught in the early stages, it has been estimated that 80% of the women who get cervical cancer in Zambia eventually die of the disease.

When a woman dies, we all lose. Some may lose a daughter, mother, wife, sister, or friend. When a country loses a woman, it loses a key stabilizing force in the family and community. It loses part of its future. That’s why the Zambian government is committed to combatting cervical cancer and the Bush Institute has joined to help them.

Like me, Zambian women are filled with potential and deserve the chance to live and show it. This summer, I learned about the power of chemistry, but in a way far different than I had expected. Though people live in different countries and speak different languages, when we allow ourselves to be open to those who are “different,” a powerful interpersonal chemical reaction occurs that helps us realize that at our core, we are not different at all. This summer I’ve learned how chemistry can bind and heal.

It is my hope that the health clinic that I helped to renovate with the Bush Institute in Zambia will serve as a safe haven, protecting the lives of women in the fight against cervical cancer. And though I still have to take General Chemistry II, when I do so, it will serve a far greater purpose – to help prepare me for my return to Zambia when I can join the fight against cervical cancer, not as a student, but as a doctor.

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Community begins with a woman

An update from Katie, a junior studying advertising and photography in Meadows School of the Arts:

I have always wanted to be just like my mother. At every stage in my life I have looked to her for what to do, where to go and how to act. After visiting an orphanage outside of Livingstone, Zambia, I imagined what my life would be like without her. I never would have gone to the doctor as a kid because I was too scared of needles. My collection of inside jokes, memories and advice would be severely lacking, and most importantly, I would be without my role model, friend and hero.

Many children in Zambia are not so fortunate.  There are more than one million orphans in Zambia, 78 percent of whom have become orphans because their parents died of AIDS.  But many fewer are being orphaned today, thanks to the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) created by George W. Bush just a decade ago.  By increasing access to life-sustaining medications and reducing risk for infection, millions of people – many of them someone’s mother – are alive today.

Unfortunately, women with HIV are four to five times more likely to get cervical cancer.  As a result, many HIV positive women whose lives are sustained by HIV medications are now increasingly dying of cervical cancer, caused by infection from the HPV virus.

Partnerships between governments and organizations, like the George W. Bush Institute and its partners through Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, help to prevent deaths from cervical cancer.  For the past week, I have been among the volunteers supporting the Zambian Government and the George W. Bush Institute by helping to renovate a clinic in Livingstone called Mosi-Oa-Tunya that will screen women for cervical cancer so that they can learn if they have early stages of the disease and if so, get treated.

A woman saved from cervical cancer may help save the lives of many children as well.  Their children can grow up with role models and will learn to take care of their own health. They will have someone to hold them when they’re sick, encourage them to attend school and love them.

Their daughters will learn that regular screening for cervical cancer is necessary for good health. They can grow to be healthy members of their community and someday support their own children, who will support their children, and so on. The health of a community begins with a woman’s journey to a clinic like Mosi-Oa-Tunya.

I would not be who I am without my mother.  Every child deserves a mother. With partnerships like Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, organizations like the George W. Bush Institute and clinics like Mosi-Oa-Tunya, more women will be alive to care for their children, their community and nation.

Follow the volunteers’ work on the Bush Institute Blog.

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“You Are Most Welcomed”

An update from Tyrell, a sophomore Hunt Leadership Scholar studying biochemistry and human rights in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences:

On the first day of our renovation at the Mosi Oa Tuny Clinic, the Zambians’ sense of gratitude toward us was almost overwhelming. Anything we needed – such as a helping hand to help steady a ladder, the Zambians kindly provided. At times, before I could even ask for help, someone was there to assist me. Eventually, I candidly asked Knox, a Zambian worker, “Why are you so friendly to strangers?” The next few minutes of our conversation were profound.

According to Knox, our volunteer trip gave him and the other Zambian workers an opportunity to think and see differently. Before the work started on Mosi Oa Tuny Clinic, the outside was an unwelcoming field of hardened clay and dirt that surrounded the clinic. Access to electricity and running water was inadequate.  As Knox describes, women were reluctant to visit the clinic because it was in need of maintenance. For Knox and the other workers, collaborating with the Bush Institute on the renovation of the clinic represents an opportunity to share ideas with one another to help bring about positive and life-saving changes within Zambia.

When two completely different cultures come together on one accord, remarkable things arise out of it. At the end of my conversation with Knox, he stated to me with utmost sincerity that whenever we desire to visit Zambia again, “You are most welcomed.”

Follow the volunteers’ work on the Bush Institute Blog.

Zambia2013-TyrellKnoxKatie

From left: Tyrell, Knox and Katie

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Finding peace of mind in Africa

An update from Prithvi, a junior Dedman College Scholar studying biochemistry and Spanish in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and finance in Cox School of Business:

Many would consider me a well-exposed pre-medical student — the son of a primary care physician who’s spent summers working in hospitals from urban Detroit to rural Missouri. I thought those experiences and challenges gave my desire to become a physician purpose — but all of that changed in the two hours I spent in a small clinic at Livingstone General Hospital in Zambia where I visited as part of a Bush Institute delegation of global health volunteers. Nothing I have seen or experienced in health care has inspired me like this.

Sitting on two worn benches, on a faded patio, were 15 Zambian women, a few with their heads in their hands, and most of whom looked nervous — as if they were about to receive a possible death sentence. That image became seared into my mind as the kind Zambian physician ushered the other SMU students and me into his office.

Livingstone General Hospital is a large hospital that serves a community of nearly a million people, in a country where nearly 70 percent of the population lives in poverty. We entered the cervical cancer screening clinic, which was newly renovated and opened last month with support from the Zambian government through funds provided by PEPFAR, a program started by President George W. Bush in 2003. The physician excitedly described how patients were assessed and treated. With just a staff of two nurses, the physician said that they had seen about 70 patients per week in the five weeks since they reopened.

When asked what impact he thought the clinic had on the community, he said, “We have given them a free mind. We are providing them with as much information as possible, so they feel empowered. Most of them are so, so scared when they come in. After hearing that they were free [of cancer] or could be treated easily, you can see the expression of relief on their face.”

Nearly 92 percent of the women screened had such expressions of relief. And all but one of the others had lesions caught early enough to be treated immediately and cured.

When asked how they found out about the clinic, many mentioned seeing a television advertisement about the dangers of cervical cancer and where they could be screened. Some came due to pain, and others out of concern for their own health.

One lady said, “Last week, at my church, there was a seminar about this, and I decided to come. My sister [points at her] came too with me.” Her sister bashfully looked up at us and smiled. I realized how highly the women valued their faith, and the trust placed in their clergy.

Another woman added, “My husband — he listen to no one. But, he listen to the preacher.”

For these women, acquiring the consent of their husband to come to the clinic was the most difficult part. Others were afraid of accusations of disloyalty or abandonment by their husband. However, many have found support at home, at church, and in the community – support that is growing due to community outreach and increasing access to treatment.

I came to Africa to gain a new experience in health, but what I discovered was a new purpose. In understanding their struggle, I better understand a role that I may play to help ease the struggle of people suffering around the world, from urban Detroit to rural Zambia.

Follow the volunteers’ work on the Bush Institute Blog.

A group of women singing outside in Smonga

A group of women singing outside in Smonga

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A Zambian girl with dreams of her own

An update from Katie, a junior studying advertising and photography in Meadows School of the Arts:

When I was 13 I dreamt of being a professional ballerina; I danced every day and read Dance Magazine during math class at school. At that age, I believed, without question, that being a dancer was my path; however, life takes unexpected turns. When I started as a dance major at New York University, I never imagined I would one day transfer to Southern Methodist University to study advertising and photography.  And never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would join the George W. Bush Institute on a service trip to help combat cervical cancer in Livingstone, Zambia.

Sisters in Smonga

Sisters in Smonga

In Smonga, outside of Livingstone, I met Helen, a 13-year-old girl with dreams of her own – to one day become a nurse. Walking barefoot beside me, she proudly showed me her home, which lacks electricity and running water.  In perfect English, her second language, she told me how she loves her mother, her younger siblings, soccer and school. She studies each night by candlelight because she believes that hard work will let her realize her goal of becoming a nurse.

Everyone has a dream of who they will become, but few ever imagine that the dream may one day end in the nightmare of being told that they have cervical cancer. For many women in Zambia, this is reality.

There are an estimated 493,000 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed each year worldwide, and Zambia has the second highest number of cases. These women are faced with fighting a disease that could have been easily treated if caught at an early stage. Cervical cancer can be detected with a simple test that involves placing a single drop of vinegar on the cervix. The test is easy, but giving Zambian women access to the test proves to be more difficult. Along with 3 other SMU students, one professor and two Bush Institute volunteers, I have been helping the Bush Institute and the Zambian government to renovate the Mosi-Oa-Tunya clinic in Livingstone, which will screen women for cervical cancer. Zambian and American volunteers have been working side by side to make sure that women will not have to take the unexpected turn down the road of cervical cancer.

I never imagined that my first trip outside of the United States would be to Zambia to work and meet with such inspiring people like Helen. My hope for her is that her life will offer her opportunities she never imagined. I hope that she and her friends will be able to use clinics like Mosi-Oa-Tunya to be screened regularly for cervical cancer so that they can lead healthy, fulfilling lives, just like me.

Follow the volunteers’ work on the Bush Institute Blog.

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Beginning renovations in Zambia

Dr. Bing and the SMU students_0

Dr. Eric Bing and SMU students arrive in Zambia

When asked what they are looking forward to most about their trip, here’s what student volunteers had to say:

Melanie: As an American I am truly blessed to live in a country where medical care is easily accessible; however, this is not the case around the world. The efforts of the Bush Institute demonstrate a commitment to helping others and promoting global health. I look forward to experiencing the early stages of the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon program first-hand because I am confident that the program will continue to grow and save thousands of lives.

Katie: This is an opportunity to be a small part of a project that will have a huge impact. I have not traveled much, so the chance to go all the way to Africa was something I couldn’t pass up. I am most looking forward to meeting the people in Zambia, hearing their stories and learning about their community.

Tyrell: I applied for the Bush Institute’s initiative in Zambia to learn how the Bush Institute is helping to combat cervical cancer abroad and to better understand how I might use that knowledge to help women who need health care right here at home.  I look forward to being hands-on in the renovation efforts that will provide the people of Zambia with lasting healthcare benefits.

Follow their work on the Bush Institute Blog.

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