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Saving Lives, Finding Happiness

July 11, 2013 by Pam Jackson

I was never fond of Barbie dolls or tea parties.  As a girl, I was and still am happiest when climbing, playing sports, riding bikes and working out.   Some of my very traditional Texas family may have seen my behavior as unbecoming of a young lady in the 1960s.  However, I believe that my grandmothers understood me.  They were strong women in their own right.  And I’m pretty sure that they were smiling in heaven recently as I used my physical abilities and skills to help renovate a medical clinic in Africa -- a clinic designed to save women, strong and proud women like my grandmothers and me.                                                                                                

I went to Africa at the invitation of the Bush Institute’s Global Health program as part of a volunteer team working to combat cervical cancer in Zambia.  The Bush Institute, through the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative, is helping the Zambian government renovate health clinics and improve access to cervical cancer prevention and care.  Having witnessed the courage and strength of my own mother as she successfully battled cancer, it meant a lot to me to be able to help other women who have much more limited access to health care.  

Our volunteer team exemplified the best of America – we were from diverse backgrounds, with complementary skills and united by a common purpose - to help save Zambian women from cervical cancer.  We also shared a focused and compelling goal - to paint the interior, exterior and roof of a large medical clinic in less than five days so that President and Mrs. Bush could complete renovations and open the clinic the following week.

I was prepared.  I had learned construction skills over the years from my father and a lifetime of working out had physically strengthened me.  Strong skills and stamina were essential for the challenges ahead of me.   This would not be a tea party!

Fortunately, our team was not doing this alone.  We were joining an inspiring team of hard-working Zambians.  We all became fast friends and the synergy of combining all our skills allowed the project to progress with astounding efficiency.  Even David, our exceptional Zambian driver, rolled up his sleeves, grabbed a paint brush and helped.  Two teams came together and in the process, we became one. 

We were motivated to try to complete our work early so that we might also get to enjoy other parts of Zambia.  And we did.  We spoke with patients in a hospital, toured a local village, visited an orphanage and played soccer with school children.    We even found a few hours to see wildlife and buy souvenirs for friends and family back home.

By the time President and Mrs. Bush arrived to join the renovation, our work was complete and we were all happy.  Our group had worked hard and in the process, had grown close.  By giving back, we had gained friends and our hearts had been forever touched by the people and beauty of Zambia.


Pam Jackson is an amateur athlete and avid mountain biker.  She currently serves as the President of the Dallas Off-Road Bicycle Association.  She was a volunteer bike mechanic and cyclist to support injured veterans in the recent Bush Institute’s Warrior 100 event and refurbishes donated bikes to disadvantaged Dallas children through Spokes for Folks.  

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