FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — For the past two months, Angela Allard has been showering under a thin stream of water, eating rice and mangoes, and road-tripping through the West African country of Ghana, but this cultural experience was merely peripheral to the real lessons learned.
In fact, it’s only strengthened Allard’s resolve to become a doctor in the field of global health.
Allard, a 2010 B.M.C. Durfee High School graduate and senior at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia, spent the summer as a volunteer for Unite For Sight, a global nonprofit health organization that focuses on eye health and eliminating preventable blindness.
Allard assisted in surgical procedures and worked in health clinics alongside local physicians and other volunteers in some of the most impoverished regions in the world.
“There’s so much to be done,” Allard said. “It’s a developing country.”
The prevalence of blindness in Ghana, according to Allard, is caused by both disease and environmental factors. She said fire is used for cooking and burning trash, and creates an almost constant smoky atmosphere. There’s also pollution caused from the smoke and poor sanitary conditions.
“It’s sad because it’s so preventable,” Allard said.
Cataracts, eye growths due to dust and pollution, and tumors are some of the eye diseases she helped treat. She and others also distributed glasses.
“I felt like I was making a difference and empowering them with sight,” Allard said. “It gives them the opportunity to live their life the way they want to.”
While in Ghana, Allard learned to speak a little “Twi” in order to communicate to her non-English-speaking patients and ate lots of local cuisine like spicy maize balls with peanuts and palm oil. She and her team took long road trips, sometimes traveling for six hours, to see patients in remote parts of the region.
This was Allard’s second trip to Ghana. She was 16 the first time she took the 14-hour flight to Africa to work with children in an orphanage as part of an exchange program with the American Field Service.
During her first visit, she resided with her host, Abena. Allard became friends with the woman, and they have stayed in touch. This time, Allard stayed with different host families but was able to visit with Abena and meet her new son.
Although Allard has wanted to be a doctor since she was a child, it was that first visit to Ghana that got her interested in public health.
“There are so many racial and socioeconomic gaps in health care,” Allard said. “Not just there. There’s work to be done here, too.”
Allard is the daughter of Philip and Edith Allard of Fall River. Her mother is Portuguese and a native of Sao Miguel in the Azores. If there’s anything Allard missed about home, it was the food: her mother’s shrimp Mozambique, soups and meats cooked in Portuguese spices.
In fact, eating a meal with her family and extended family was the first thing she did when she got home on Aug. 10. Then, she took a shower.
Allard said she plans to finish her education at Bryn Mawr and then attend graduate school and medical school. She’d like to work in women’s health issues and maternal health in particular.
Allard also plans to continue to travel abroad and assist in public health issues.
“It was definitely an experience,” Allard said. “It’s something everyone should experience in their lifetime.”
Allard said it made her appreciate what she has and also appreciate other cultures.
“A lot of people have different ways of living,” Allard said.
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