By Margaret Amaku

Over the summer I had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia to work with a nonprofit organization that provided secondary and tertiary prevention services to the community of people living with HIV and AIDS. While most of my 10 weeks were spent at my organization’s site developing my projects, I did have my weekends to go and explore.

One of the top things on my bucket list was to go on a three-day expedition to Salar De Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. Everything about this place was breathtaking. In every direction, it was brilliantly, white salt and clear blue skies. On the first day, we got to drive up and around mountains, visited hotels made of salt and watched the sunset. It was awesome … until night time came.

Over the course of my travels, I had been dealing with traveler’s stomach and thought I had escaped dealing with the sickness on this trip. Man, was I wrong!

I spent most of that first night sick as a dog, trying desperately to not wake my roommates up (with no luck at all). It was definitely in that moment, as I laid on the cold floor shivering, that I wondered if maybe this is where I could die. I know it sounds dramatic, but I was in the middle of nowhere on top of a mountain with absolutely no cell phone service. I even started wondering if maybe my student health insurance would cover the cost of a helicopter ride back home to my mom.

Eventually, my beautiful roommate, Devynne, woke up and went straight into nurse mode and got me rehydrated and warm again. I was able to get some sleep and was no longer on my death bed. The rest of my trip was smooth sailing after that large hiccup; and although it was an experience of a lifetime, I was exhausted by the end of it.

But it was during this trip that I learned a lot. Adventures and traveling are a lot of fun but it’s definitely important to always be prepared for the unexpected. From then on, I learned to always carry rehydration packs wherever I went, bring lots of water (seriously, stalk up on this) and never to be afraid to lean on the new friendships I have made.

Despite the less than stellar moments when traveling, it can be an awesome and rewarding learning experience.

June 4, 2017
Journal Entry #1:

I have been in Nigeria, Africa for one week. Yet again, I have fallen in love. Nigeria is an extraordinary country with a vibrant culture and inviting population. In the short time I have been here, I have felt like a part of me belongs here in Africa. I feel like I have been missing a puzzle piece, and that it has always been here, waiting for me.

With a population of over 180 million people, Nigeria is Africa’s largest country. Nigeria consists of over 250 ethnic groups and over 500 languages. Nigeria is divided roughly in half between Christians and Muslims. The plethora of natural resources unfortunately leaves it vulnerable to exploitation and corruption.

There are countless people in Nigeria in need. People without places to seek refuge, families without food or clean water access.  I am starting to realize that it is important to me that the people I meet here see me as an ally. I come from a country of so much hate and ignorance, corruption and greed run rampant back home as well. Every day I ask myself, “why do some good men have so little while some bad men have so much?”. I may never have an answer to this question that haunts me. I thus aim to provide aid in any way that I can. This is my purpose. To attempt to make life a bit better for those born down on their luck. To be of service to others. To provide assistance during a person’s most vulnerable hour. This can come in many forms, but on my current trip it means promoting health by vaccinating for Polio.

Nigeria is the only country in Africa to have never eradicated Polio. Poliomyelitis is a highly infectious viral disease, which primarily affects young children. The virus is transmitted from person-to-person and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis, which is often permanent. There is no cure for Polio, it can however be prevented by immunization. My internship here is with Core Group Polio Project, an NGO tasked with vaccinating youth for Polio Virus.

I am honored to be working with the youth of Nigeria, they are curious, affectionate and genuine. Although we have different skin tones and might not speak a common tongue, I can still express that I come with kindness and humility.

My days are spent walking vast distances to reach all of the children in villages. I deliver milk to malnourished newborns. I vaccinate Nigeria’s future generation against a deadly disease. I am learning about them and they are learning about me. I am feeling like once again I exactly where I am supposed to be.

I grew up eating rice and daal, palak paneer and pani poori. I grew up celebrating Diwali and Janmashtami and going to the temple in Hillsboro, Oregon for pujas and auspicious events. Going to an American public school, I also grew up taking history classes that focused on aspects of India like its demographics, colonial history and poverty. There were things I had learned from these classes and from summer visits to see family every few years, but after studying abroad in Bangalore for a month last summer, I realized there are some things that no number of textbooks could have taught me. Continue reading