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Pre-med Student back in Africa after Liberian Civil War

by By Chandana Cherukupalli

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.

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