Peace Corps Volunteer in Cambodia (2017–19) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Malawi (2019–20)
As told to Emi Krishnamurthy
Photo: Baobab tree — used for food and medicine. Photo by Dallas Smith
While earning my Doctor of Pharmacy in the States, I spent a month in India learning about what’s known as traditional and complementary medicine. Then, in Cambodia, I saw it utilized to heal people, using local culture and expertise. I brought that perspective into Malawi, but I took it one step further: I know it works, but why? How do we make it better? What are the side effects? How do we make it more clinically relevant so that we can employ it in a better way?
In Malawi I learned from experts knowledge that has been passed along generations. My advice for Response Volunteers is to be a humble and open learner.
In Malawi I learned from experts knowledge that has been passed along generations. My advice for Response Volunteers is to be a humble and open learner. With that in mind, the Advancing Health Professionals program provides a venue for pharmacists to pass along their knowledge, skills, resources, and connections to countries that are developing the pharmacy profession — especially the clinical aspect.
Students in a medicinal garden in Malawi. Photo by Dallas Smith
At the beginning of the pandemic, the University of Malawi College of Medicine had a big hand-sanitizer production project to prepare for when COVID might hit Malawi. When we got evacuated, the College of Medicine transitioned to online learning, and I’ve been teaching virtually since then.
This was hard for a lot of health professionals; it felt like we were abandoning our colleagues. That feeling drove me to serve where I could; June to December 2020, we were in Arlington, Virginia, and I started volunteering with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps at COVID-19 testing sites. When the vaccine came out, I helped with rollout as a senior point of dispensing (POD) director.
The coolest part was working with such a diverse crew of community members to tackle both the testing and the vaccination with limited resources. We set up sites at gymnasiums, community centers, park benches, and homeless shelters. We had retired schoolteachers, retired nurses; we had actors, pharmacists, physicians, a dental hygienist. We were all working our butts off to end the pandemic. I can’t tell you how many amazing 65-year-old retired nurses volunteered their time to vaccinate for 12 hours a day, even when they were at risk. They wanted to end this pandemic. They weren’t going to let the possibility of contracting this disease stop them from their duty to health equity.
I also got to work with half a dozen other RPCVs. We used some of the languages we picked up from our Peace Corps services. Now I am working in Atlanta with the Epidemic Intelligence Service, which is a CDC disease detective program.
This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.