Health Crusader

By Marya Jones Barlow

Afua Adjekum

On paper, Afua Adjekum’s accomplishments as a CI college student are impressive enough. She’s President of the Mortar Board National Honor Society, founder of the Pre-Health Association, winner of a 2013 African American Achievement Award, a biology tutor, student researcher, and scholarship awardee, now headed to England’s prestigious University College London to pursue a Master of Science in Global Health and Development.

But when you consider what she’s experienced in the 23 years leading up to these accomplishments, her success is all the more staggering.

Adjekum was born in Ghana, one of 10 children in a large, complicated family. After her mother left for the U.S. when Adjekum was six, she spent the next 12 years ferried from household to household to live with various relatives. Nonetheless, she maintained a laser-sharp focus on her education. She mastered three Ghanian dialects, was admitted to one of Ghana’s top high schools, and excelled in her studies and philanthropic efforts. While a student at the Wesley Girls’ High School, Adjekum joined the Red Cross Club and found her passion, administering first aid to disadvantaged children in the nearby village.

“I saw firsthand how people’s choices do not necessarily dictate their state of health and how access to basic health knowledge can help prevent the spread of disease,” she said. “I also witnessed the positive impact a single person can have.”

After surviving a malaria/typhoid co-infection at the age of 17, she immigrated to the U.S. to rejoin her mother in Los Angeles and apply to college. Their reunion was marred by the death of her stepfather, her mother’s job loss, and Adjekum’s emergency need for an appendicitis surgery that the family couldn’t afford.

“The ability to receive medical attention even though I had no money or health insurance deeply impacted me,” she said. “This was in striking contrast to the countless children I had encountered in Ghana who had no access to healthcare. It increased my resolve to help.”

At CI, Adjekum majored in Biology, minored in Chemistry, joined the Louise Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), and immersed herself in various research projects with faculty, including whale and ecological research. In 2012, she founded the Pre-Health Association, aligning students interested in health science careers in efforts to serve the community. Under her leadership, the club grew to over 20 members and sponsored 20 kids at the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation’s Christmas party.

“I wish I could somehow leave a part of me here at CI,” she said. “I feel like I owe all of my success to the numerous professors and staff members that supported me along the way. This school has taught me that you can achieve anything if you try.”

In the fall, Adjekum will head to London to pursue her master’s degree in Global Health and Development at University College London, renowned for its cross-disciplinary focus on global health issues. Afterward, she hopes to volunteer with the Global Health Corps, earn a Ph.D. in epidemiology, and form a nonprofit to improve healthcare for underprivileged populations in Ghana.

“I have no doubt that Afua is going to achieve her goals and change the health outcomes of a significant proportion of a population,” said Mathematics Professor Cindy Wyels, who knows Adjekum well through her role as Director of LSAMP. “She’s a dedicated scholar and leader with impressive energy, initiative, adaptability, a positive attitude, and a heart of gold.”

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© Spring 2014 / Volume 18 / Number 1
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