My medical mission in the Dominican Republic has changed the way I look at pharmacy as a profession. Adding on to the list of “why I want to be a pharmacist” is so that I can participate in medical missions and serve those in need internationally and within my community.
As a student pharmacist. I have seen how pharmacists play a vital role in international medical mission trips. I am proud of what we can do and am excited to participate in more medical missions as a pharmacist. Participating in the medical mission last summer taught me how to fundraise. I applied that knowledge during the fall semester toward a school-supply fundraiser for underprivileged children in India.
The idea to fundraise all started with a pen, while volunteering with an NGO (www.yuvaparivartan.org) in Kherwadi, Mumbai, India. The primary mission of this nongovernmental organization is to give a second chance to less educated, deprived youth (dropouts) through urban and rural livelihoods training, provided in partnership with stakeholders. Additionally, this site offers preschool classes to prepare students for kindergarten.
I volunteered with both the teenagers in the urban and rural training courses and with the preschool children. With the preschool children, I was surprised to see the lack of school supplies in the classrooms. They were no crayons or coloring books. Each child owned two notebooks that the NGO provided. They were also given pencils to use while in the classroom, but they had to return them upon leaving the class. What surprised me the most was that most of the children were using plastic grocery bags as book-bags.
There is a high percentage of elementary and high school dropouts in the Kherwadi area. I believe that this is due to the difference of the children’s social economic class when they enter the public school system. First, it is a struggle for their parents to allow kids to go to school (due to the loss of child labor income). Second, once they enter the public schools, they compare themselves to other children from better economic backgrounds and are discouraged by the lack of financial support for their education.
Going back to the pen story, while volunteering I met a girl named Gayatri. I was concerned about her since she was the only child who sat at the corner of the room while the other children were excited about the classroom activities. I looked at her notebook and noticed that while the other children were up to the “Ms” for their alphabet, she was at “E,” followed by scribbles.
What surprised me the most about her is that she did not speak when I asked her questions. I inquired from the teacher if this was a disability or did she prefer not to speak to me. I was taken aback when she told me that Gayatri does not have a disability and that she does not talk to anyone. I spent time with Gayatri in hopes that she would speak to me.
When this did not work, I walked over to my purse and gave Gayatri a pen. It was an orange light pen that I thought would be multipurpose for India (pen and a flashlight). I told her that she had to practice writing her alphabet with this pen.
You would not think that a pen could inspire a child, but it did. To my surprise, she immediately sat down and started writing the alphabet, and she started to talk to me. I do not remember what she told me, but I remember being excited that she was speaking.
At the end of the day, I waited with her for her mother to pick her up. Gayatri’s mother walked into the classroom wearing a sari (traditional Indian clothing). Her mother was sweating and looked as though she just came from work. The way her mother wore the sari was typical of Indian women construction workers. I remember Gayatri running to her mother and showing her the pen, but what touched me even more was her mother’s expression. I could see the excitement in her eyes and her smile widen to see her daughter happy.
My experience with Gayatri and observing the lack of school supplies inspired me to do a school-supply fundraiser at my School of Pharmacy. I will be visiting the NGO this January and will be able to distribute the supplies. This project represents what student pharmacists value. We value education, hence we are in graduate school, and we want to serve others, hence our profession.
As student pharmacists at VCU, we are fortunate to be in a position where we are receiving a world-class education. I believe that we should motivate others who are less fortunate and help them realize their potential to become well-rounded, diverse and lifelong students.
Through slideshows and letters, I got my pharmacy peers involved in the project. They were interested and supportive, and for many of them it was an eye-opener. They were in disbelief that there are children out there who do not own their own pencils.
I approached my fraternity, Phi Delta Chi, to get the support of my fraternity brothers in collecting school supplies: pencils, pencil sharpeners and erasers. My goal was to have enough supplies for 30 students. A suitcase full of school supplies later, I have achieved that goal.
My next goal was to collect funds to purchase 30 bookbags in India. For this, I asked the different pharmacy school organizations to donate funds for four bookbags. I was pleased to see the positive response from the organizations. Rho Chi, SNPHA, Phi Delta Chi, Kappa Epsilon, SACP, CPFI and Kappa Psi supported the project. SNPHA even rounded up to cover my costs to transport the supplies. In total, I collected $334.
I love international collaboration, so I got two friends from two other countries involved: Nupur Ko and Nikita More. My friend from Netherlands arranged to have 10 bookbags filled with supplies, waiting for me at the Netherlands airport while I make my stopover to India. These supplies were donated by the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association in the Netherlands. Another friend from the University of Durham collected $134 from a fundraiser that she did in her university. The Durham friend will be joining me in India for this project.
I am now all packed and leaving for India tomorrow.
Here is a quote that my Dutch friend shared with me:
“All kids need is a little help, a little hope and somebody who believes in them.”