Nothing I learned in class or read in books compared to what I gained in the past 10 days. I witnessed first-hand the struggles the Malawian people face and their spirit, which can never be expressed in a book.
Despite dismal statistics and limited resources, hope is pretty powerful. I heard it in the songs of the orphans, saw it in the courage of sex workers, and felt it in the empowering spirit of the girl guides. The young girls and women I met in Malawi are trying to establish better lives for themselves, and they are succeeding little by little.
I felt helpless seeing rows of pregnant women who walked barefoot for miles sitting on the floor of a hospital room because there weren't enough beds, and I couldn't help but picture the high tech neonatal intensive care units we have back in America. I wish these women could have the same access to incubators and vital medications we take for granted in the US. At the same time, I am 100 percent confident that the doctors, nurses, and midwifes provide the best treatment available to ensure the health and dignity of every woman they treat. I just wish that they could have more—more space, more money, more doctors, more access, and most important more lives saved.
Needless to say, this trip brought about mixed emotions: happiness, exhaustion, aggravation, confusion and sadness. Ultimately, though, this experience brought about gratefulness. Zikomo, or thank you, Malawi!
Now that I'm home all I can think about is how and when I'm going to go back to Africa! Until then, I want to support Malawians through advocacy and fundraising. I hope that by talking about my adventures to my family and friends I can get more people interested in Americans for UNFPA and their work in Malawi and elsewhere. It's frustrating to know that since the US government cut funding for the UNFPA, there is a shortage of programs that help women with family planning, pregnancy, childbirth, protection against sexually transmitted infections, and the prevention of violence against women all over the world.
So now I keep asking myself what can I do, what's next for me? I'm excited to share my stories with other students when I get to grad school. I hope they will join me in giving back to Malawi through fundraisers and public conferences.
My African experience will surely have a lasting impact on my life and my pursuit of a medical career as I strive to have the courage and determination of the Malawian women and children and the passion and perseverance of their doctors.
For more information about Americans for UNFPA, go to americansforunfpa.org/getinvolved