Walking around as a tourist, you want to take in the most beautiful sites, eat the most amazing local cuisine, and enjoy your time being on an adventure. The advice you get upon leaving is to make sure you check where you put your cash and credit cards—to tuck them away so no one will pickpocket you. You grow apprehensive in large crowds, and the dichotomy of rich and poor is seen right before your eyes; children, mothers and others laying across the ground, some sleeping, others begging—all of them rugged and unclean.
I had this perspective as I travelled throughout the city of Istanbul. From my apartment in Taxsim Square, I was travelling down Istiklal Road, a famous and long road leading to the Old City of Fatih, for an hour and a half. I enjoyed the beautiful architecture of Istanbul for a while in the Old City and eventually decided to make my way back late at night to my apartment.
On my trip back to the apartment, I had trouble finding out how to pay for a train ticket. On my way to the train’s ticket dispenser, more than 15 destitute children came and gathered around me holding out their hand expecting something from me. I immediately put my hands over my pockets and navigated around the children. I then had a difficult time figuring out how to pay for a train ticket. It was simple enough: (1) Put money in slot (2) Press okay (3) Get token and change. The problem with simple tasks in a foreign country is the instructions were in Turkish.
I found myself stupefied. I looked around flustered and noticed one of the children was standing beside me. She was a little girl, dark-skinned and dirty. She approached me mumbling Turkish with a smile and was able to help me through my problem which turned out to be the simple three step process as mentioned before. As the train token came out of the dispenser, another single Lyra (which is Turkish currency) came out as well. I looked down and noticed the small girl standing there with a big smile on her face and her hands out…She earned it
I left with my friends on the train and headed back towards the apartment. After hopping on the train, we travelled 30 minutes back to Taxsim Square. We walked around for a bit orienting ourselves to where we were since it was our first time returning to our apartment on the train. We explored the nightlife for a while, then found our way to Burger King for a quick bite and bathroom break. While eating a soft serve ice cream outside the restaurant, I saw a group of children also enjoying their ice cream a few feet away. As I was looking over, I noticed a girl who seemed to be very amused with herself–smiling and laughing with the other children as she enjoyed her caramel ice cream. This little dark-skinned and dirty girl, who seemed preoccupied eating that caramel ice cream, looked up at me. Immediately we recognized each other from two hours ago at the train’s ticket station. She ran up to me and offered me her ice cream with a smile.
The experience with this girl shattered the apathy I had towards the humans I saw laying on the side of the road, humans living in poverty. It was at this moment I realized I had two options: I could ignore the problem that I saw in front of me or I could take on the biggest challenge of my life. I chose to fight. I wanted to improve the lives of the hopeless.
When you have a lofty dream, it can be hard to find an outlet for your passion. This is where I found myself after my experience. I wanted to do something, and I was frustrated that I was so passive for so long. Luckily, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic with my church the following summer. Although I did not realize it yet, this trip would help guide my views on how to successfully improve the lives of the poor.
I raised $500 and paid the rest of the way to go down to the Dominican Republic to build a waterway and diagnose and treat patients with treatable diseases. We travelled nine hours from the capital of Santo Domingo to the mountains that border Haiti. We stopped in a small village called La Llanadita. Here, we built a mile and a half aqueduct in the mountains.
We also had a clinic in which I was involved as a medical assistant. Patients came for a wide variety of reasons. We prescribed Albendazole for children with parasites; we were able to lower the blood pressure of a women with Enalapril; and we arranged a way for a man, who was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, to get to the hospital in the province of San Juan. We diagnosed roughly three hundred patients during that trip. There are 10.4 million people living in the Dominican Republic. That is .0028% of the population getting one visit for a couple minutes with a doctor. (With no guarantee that we had the medication or supplies to fix the health concern that the patient presented us with).
This trip taught me that real change would happen only if there was a coordinated effort with a steady supply of resources invested in fixing the issues of poverty rather than alleviating its symptoms. In other words, a group of people in it for the long haul.
Partners in Health is where I found the answer to my question of how as a college student I could make the largest impact while I have no training or degree in medicine, research, or health systems. PIH Engage is the answer to how I can contribute not to solving momentary problems of 300 people but to solving the problem faced by billions of people living in poverty.
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