More York Students Helping In Africa
The two classmates recently self-financed a trip to the East African nation of Tanzania where they had a life-changing experience.
“I wanted to do volunteer work and I first looked at a program in Haiti,” said Jean-Louis. “But with the earthquake that happened in Haiti, it wasn’t the right time. I searched online and found a place in Tanzania that is a home to orphaned and abandoned children affected with HIV/AIDS; and seven to ten percent of the [overall] population is afflicted [with the disease.]”
Both expressed satisfaction with the decision to volunteer overseas.
“Before I graduate and get a job, I wanted to do something meaningful,” said Alexandre. “They are abandoned children. Many are orphaned by AIDS; but they are very well-behaved and they live as family.”
The York students prepared for the nearly month-long trip by getting a laundry list of vaccinations and braced themselves for the emotional impact the experience could have.
“At first I was concerned and prepared myself mentally,” said Jean-Louise. I’m from Haiti, I’ve seen it all. But sometimes I got emotional. One 11 year-old girl…she’s brilliant; and she really touched my heart.”
But tugs on the heart strings were not all the York duo experienced. The journey from where they stayed with a local family, to the center where the children are housed plus additional “community visits,” sometimes traveled several hours per day by foot. Nonetheless, they embraced the gift of giving and even met up with two other student volunteers, one from the United States, the other from Germany.
As Psychology minors, the Laboratory Science majors also found themselves providing psychological comfort not just to the children, but to adults as well.
“It’s the little piece that each of us can do that will make change happen,” said Jean-Louise, who will visit Haiti next summer.
Alexandre and Jean-Louis who helped to oversee the administration of the children’s medication, mealtime and homework, had taken bags of snacks from home for themselves and gladly shared with the children; however, their generosity did not end there.
As their trip drew to a close, they pooled their resources and took the children from the center to a hotel restaurant for pizza and ice cream. It was a final treat for children they may never see again.
“This stays with you for the rest of your life,” said Alexandre, a Chemistry tutor at York who has also conducted research in organic chemistry under the guidance of Dr. Mande Holford.
For Jean-Louis, who has interned at the FDA under the mentorship of Dr. Deb Chakravarti, the experience was equally transformative.
“My best lesson from this is to keep life simple and love one another,” she says. “When you make a child feel valued it makes a difference. I know very well the difference that it makes, because I am an orphan myself. Both of my parents passed away when I was at an early age; and the wonderful people in my life who did not stop putting smiles on my face, are those who made me who I am today.”
The busy students with the impressive GPAs are also interns doing clinical rotations in their major.
Jean-Louise is based at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx, while Alexandre does his rotations at Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn. They will continue their education when they graduate from York; and have dual plans to pursue a Master’s in Public Health (MPH); as well as in Physician Assistant Studies, to enhance their ability to serve global health needs.