Michelle S (2019)

MIF Mission and Shapiro Research 2019 Field Report

by Michelle S., medical student, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public health;  B.S, Biology (major) and Global Health (minor), University of California , Los Angeles

​I started going on annual mission trips to Cambodia when I was a sophomore at UCLA. Since then, I have fallen in love with the spirit and community of service that medical missions embody. Traveling this summer to Nigeria with Mezu International Foundation for research was an experience that I was greatly looking forward to; I was excited to be immersed in the spirit of service again, but this time, with a new purpose and within a different cultural environment. 

​The days leading up to the mission felt both familiar and new. At the same time we were setting up for the mission, I was learning more and more about what Mezu International Foundation is doing — and has been doing – for the Emekuku community. Though I had learned a lot about MIF through Dr. Mezu and through MIF’s website since starting my research project, it was an entirely different experience seeing MIF’s work in action, in person. I toured MIF’s plaza, a marketplace that included a salon, a store, and a computer lab, a place that would not only create jobs but also provide technical training for community members interested in careers in tech. The pride of MIF, a work in progress, and the product of a long-realized dream was the MIF medical center, which would eventually fully provide outpatient care, inpatient care, laboratory services, medications, surgery, emergency services, and vision care. I admire that MIF is promoting preventive care through its health education seminars that are open to the community. It is incredible what one family is capable of when they are gifted with work ethic, prosperity, and a dedication to sharing their prosperity.  

​The two days of the medical mission were a whirlwind of activity, volunteers from many backgrounds, and service of patients in need. …​None of the mission, and my research project, would have been possible without the community of volunteers who worked all day long for the large number of patients that we served each day. The volunteers assigned to assist me worked on filling out questionnaires without complaint and worked all day, despite only being assigned to me for half of the day.  …General MIF volunteers who weren’t even initially trained to assist me with my project were stepping in to help me interpret, to help the cataract patients read their pre-/post-tests, and to bring patients to their next destinations. MIF volunteers also checked in with me to ask if I needed any help with anything or to ask how my research was doing and if I saw enough patients. It is heartwarming to witness how service of others can bring people together. 

​…When I went on missions to Cambodia, my favorite part of each mission was presenting my health education topic to the patients, so I was beyond excited to be teaching again, this time for a smaller audience of cataract patients from Emekuku. I was pleasantly surprised by how interested the patients were in my chronic disease management talk; the majority of the patients paid very close attention to my presentation, asked clarifying questions, and even told nearby crowds to lower their noise level so that they could hear me better… It was amazing to be able to help these people in this way, to improve their understanding of their own chronic diseases, because they were so excited and grateful for their newfound knowledge. 

​Conducting research in this setting was a great learning experience, especially because I haven’t had much previous experience in this field of research. I learned the hard way how important it is to be detail-oriented and to be cognizant of all the little details that make up my research project.t …. My research experience at the MIF mission also emphasized the importance of cultural sensitivity in global health research. My Igbo interpreters were a big help to the patients who did not understand “American English” well and helped enrich my presentation. Using traditional Nigerian foods to explain the components of a balanced diet also helped the patients understand the difference between starches, protein, and vitamins/minerals. 

 ​Outside of my research and mission experience, I had a wonderful time experiencing and learning about Igbo culture. My favorite part about traveling to any foreign country is to immerse myself in the local culture. I learned that my favorite Nigerian dishes are okra soup and jollof rice. I learned about the history of ethno-religious conflict between the Muslims in Northern Nigeria and the Christians in Southern Nigeria. Throughout my time here in Emekuku, I have noticed how integral faith and Catholicism is in this community. Growing up…, religion has always been an uncomfortable, gray area in my life. Here, faith permeates all aspects of life, and has enriched the cultural aspects of this field experience. To the Mezu family, their faith is how Mezu International Foundation came to be; during one of the evening prayers, Dr. Rose Mezu talked about how God gifts us with prosperity so that we can share that prosperity with others and to help those in need. To show gratitude for my presentation on chronic diseases, many of the cataract patients held my hands and said “God Bless You”; one woman told me that she thanked God for giving me a purpose to help others. 

​Participating in Mezu International Foundation’s 2019 medical mission this summer has reinforced my desire to be involved in global health as a physician. Ever since volunteering on mission trips to Cambodia, where my passion for global health and service was first sparked, I have wanted to either participate in or lead medical missions in Vietnam as a future physician. Partnering with a community organization in Vietnam to help Vietnamese people in need of health education and health services is one of my future career aspirations. In addition, seeing how important proper training of medical providers and other medical staff is, not only for medical missions but also for the care of patients after the mission, helped me realize that I also want to be involved in the professional training of doctors in Vietnam as a future doctor. 

​This summer of Shapiro research and my time in Nigeria has been an enriching learning experience. I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity to learn about global health research, to experience Igbo culture, and to serve the Emekuku community by being a part of the MIF mission. This Shapiro research project is a great experience for future medical students to gain important skills through service-learning in the realm of global health research, community partner engagement, and community health.