Saturday, August 4, 2007

Preparing for Malawi

My name is Michaela and I am a 22 year old from Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I just graduated from college at the University of Rhode Island, and next month I am moving to Washington, DC to attend graduate school at George Washington University. In just a few days, I will be on my way to Malawi, Africa.

In March I entered a national essay contest through Americans for UNFPA, an organization that supports the health and rights of women worldwide. The essay asked me to discuss the ways in which I plan to impact and improve these issues through my life and career. Well, I won the essay contest, and lucky for me the grand prize was a trip to Malawi with a delegation representing Americans for UNFPA. So you can only imagine my excitement because this prize includes traveling to a new continent and learning about what interests me the most.

Ever since I was in the fourth grade I have wanted to become a doctor. My interest in medicine has expanded to include an interest in global public health. I have this "travel bug" that doesn't seem to be going away and my goal is to experience as many new countries as I possibly can.

When I learned I had won the contest, I was completely shocked. If you ask my family or my closest friends they wouldn't think me going to Africa was anything out of the ordinary. I called my parents immediately and my mom admitted that she knew one day I would visit Africa. During a family vacation after riding through the African Safari in Disney World's Animal Kingdom theme park, I talked the whole day about how one day I would go to the real Africa.

Malawi will, of course, be much different then what I experienced in Orlando, Florida, but for me this trip is a check off my list of life goals. I know the trip will be an unbelievable experience. In Malawi I will have the opportunity to visit maternity hospitals, fistula clinics, youth centers, and meet with representatives of Malawi's Parliament.

As a student with a great interest in medicine and global public health, this trip will help me to gain a broader perspective on the world and the people in it. I often wonder about the similarities and differences between my life and the lives of other twenty-two year olds around the world. I am eager to meet young women like myself and learn about their lives, culture, values, accomplishments, and dreams. I have a feeling we're not as different as we may seem.

Malawi, located in southeastern Africa, is bordered by Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Don't feel bad if you are unable to pick it out on a map right away, I'll be honest I had to look it up too! This small country holds a population of about 13 million people, and 65% of all households live below the national poverty line. Malawi is part of the developing world, which consists of 125 low and middle-income countries.

When I tell people about my trip I am always being asked if I am nervous to go to Africa. I tell them that nervousness isn't the right word, perhaps anxious is a better way to describe how I am feeling. I know I will be experiencing a completely new culture, including new foods, foreign languages, basically just an entirely different way of life. This part really excites me though. However, I will admit that I am a little bit of a "germaphobe" and for this reason I will certainly be packing A LOT of antibacterial hand sanitizer. For me, more daunting than the trip, is the task of packing for the trip. Even at 22 I still need my mom's help! The trip is days away and I still haven't got out my suitcase. It seems like I have been talking about it for so long, yet for some reason it still hasn't hit me, and I don't think it will until I step off the plane.

I hope you continue to tune in, and join me on my adventures in Africa…

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