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 US, 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 reading the importance of 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 US 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 help 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.
Melanie Enriquez is a premedical student entering her sophomore year at Southern Methodist University. She recently traveled to Zambia along with five other volunteers of the Bush Institute to support Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon.
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