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Global Gap Year Fellow To Provide Healthcare Abroad

September 5, 2018 • Erin Reitz • No Comments

STORY VIA The Gaston Gazette

She’s taking a gap year before college to provide medical services in Africa and South America.

Ameena Hester, 17, graduated from the Highland School of Technology in June. She’s been accepted to UNC Chapel Hill, but will defer her enrollment to embark on a unique opportunity offered by the college.

Hester has earned the college’s prestigious Global Gap Year Fellowship, through which she plans to work with organizations in Egypt and Ecuador to make healthcare more accessible in those countries. The fellowship provides Hester $7,500 to use toward travel, living expenses and other costs.

It is considered the only university-supported gap year program in the country that specifically works to recruit first-generation college students, those from lower-income backgrounds and students of color.

“It’s supposed to be an opportunity for UNC students to go out and see the world for themselves a little bit and also giving a little service back to the communities across the world,” said Hester. “I truly think it’s so important to be able to see foreign countries for myself and to develop my own perspective on that, instead of seeing it from the distorted, I guess, perspective of a TV screen or a news feed or something like that.”

Hester will likely begin her fellowship in Egypt in September, where she’ll likely live for about four months. There, she will volunteer with a grassroots, non-governmental organization that provides low-income citizens assistive medical devices such as canes, walkers, eyeglasses, contact lenses and hearing aids.

She has several family members from Egypt and wanted to experience the North African country for herself.

“I’ve taken a lot of cultural implications from it, I’ve taken a lot of lingual implications from it, I’ve known a lot of people from there, but I just wanted to be immersed in the culture to be able to fully understand it,” she said.

After completing her work in Egypt, Hester will fly to Ecuador in South America, where she plans to spend another four months undertaking research on the health of indigenous populations and conducting educational outreach to children.

She’s preparing for the experience by familiarizing herself with local languages, cultures and climates. She considers herself an “intermediate level” Spanish speaker–the predominant language spoken in Ecuador–having taken Spanish courses throughout high school. She is a native Arabic speaker, and hopes to improve on her foreign language, reading and writing skills while abroad.

Hester grew her interest in the healthcare field at Highland, where she studied in the Allied Health pathway and learned about body mechanics, nutrition, exercise, assisting others and more. She and classmates also undertook a month-long internship at a local nursing home, helping residents with daily tasks.

“I began to see that Allied Health is a very hands-on pathway and it’s something that all the lessons can be very applicable to daily life,” she said. “The internship has allowed me to be more aware of my surroundings and to constantly be professional in situations, to have tact in emergency situations, to constantly be looking for the best for other people and helping to advance that.”

Hester feels the gap year and her efforts in these countries abroad will ultimately help her to figure out what she wants to pursue as a career upon returning for her freshman year at Chapel Hill. She’s currently undecided on a major, though has interest in public and environmental health, as well as international relations.

She can also begin taking credit-bearing courses abroad, if she chooses.

“I think I need to take some time to develop myself and know my own strengths and my own weaknesses and build relationships with people who are going to allow me to see that picture more clearly,” she said. “And I think that’s a good way to do that.”

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