For pre-med student Unice Karmue, his recent co-op with the Desmond Tutu Foundation in South Africa was a long way from his home country of Liberia, but the experience solidified his career goals to alleviate the global health inequalities in the world.
Karmue, who is also one of the University’s prestigious Torch Scholars, is particularly concerned with issued related to neglected diseases and the link between poverty. In the summer of 2010, Karmue participated in the South Africa Field Study Program offered by the Social Enterprise Institute, which taught him how to apply social entrepreneurship and business models to address global health issues, which are critical to human dignity and development.
Karmue has found it easy to relate to people, a trait he partly attributes to the experiences of his childhood. Karmue was born in Liberia, but was forced to move during the tumult of two back to back violent civil wars which began in 1989 and didn’t end until recently in 2003. Karmue and his family fled to Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea before moving to the U.S. His multicultural background has given him a unique perspective and has made him extremely appreciative of all the things he has come to know, particularly in response to the plight of refugees.
Traveling with Professor Shaugnessy on the Social Enterprise Institute’s Field Study Program to South Africa last year gave Karmue a clearer idea of what exactly he would like to be involved in. During his trip with SEI, he partnered with a nonprofit organization TSiBA (Tertiary School in Business Administration), which provides full tuition scholarships to marginalized youth to study Business Administration. Karmue, along with the other students on the trip, was actively engaged in the townships during the organization’s expansion process and worked to provide business consultation to micro-enterprises.
His attachment to the country prompted him to seek a co-op opportunity there, and he spent another four months working with the Desmond Tutu Foundation in South Africa conducting HIV/AIDS research. He worked specifically in the town of Masiphumelele, helping to test approximately fifteen thousand people and providing them with the access to ARVs (anti-retrovirals) and other medications and support programs. Working with the Desmond Tutu Foundation allowed Karmue to put a human face on the AIDS epidemic.
After his return from South Africa, Karmue has been working with a Cambridge-based public health organization called Tiyatien Health. Tiyatien Health was founded by Dr. Rajesh Panjabi, a Liberian-born, Harvard-trained doctor, and Weafus Quitoe, both survivors of Liberia’s civil war. Tiyatien Health is a community-based health organization that owes its success to the participation and partnership of its impoverished rural communities and to the support of the Liberian government. To date, Karmue feels fortunate to see his career at Northeastern come full circle with his journey from Liberia so long ago. “My undergraduate experience has been so rewarding with all the opportunities I have been awarded, from the Torch Scholarship to my co-op with South Africa. My goal is to give back to the world everything that it is has given to me,” says Karmue.