URI student wins United Nations essay contest

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Pawtucket’s Michaela Maynard to travel to Africa

KINGSTON, R.I. — April 19, 2007 — Michaela Maynard of Pawtucket will spend a week in Malawi, Africa, one of the poorest nations in the world. The University of Rhode Island senior couldn’t be happier. The future doctor has a passion for travel and a burning interest in global health care.

The trip is the prize for winning an inaugural essay contest “for the health and dignity of women” sponsored by the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA). During her week in Africa, Maynard will tour a medical clinic, hospitals, and orphanages and learn about the fund’s work.

In her prize-winning essay, Maynard drew upon her recent experiences in Honduras. (She had spent two weeks there when she was 18.)

Her trip to a mission clinic in Guaimaca, Honduras in January was part of her senior Honors Program project, which she designed to compare international differences in health care using photography.

Her photographic plans changed when she arrived in the Central American country. Her pre-med courses, coupled with her proficiency in Spanish, made her a valuable asset to nurses who traveled to barrios and set up impromptu clinics in the fields.

“My experiences in Honduras deepened my belief that everyone deserves proper health care, but also made me aware of the economic, political, and cultural barriers that limit the ability to attain these rights,” the URI student wrote in her essay.

In announcing the award, Anika Rahman, president of Americans for UNFPA wrote: “So often in wealthy nations the generous and passionate among us conceive of helping in terms of we in the West giving and women in low-income countries receiving. Michaela has articulated the reality that women in low-income countries are not children who need to be parented by the West. Moreover, while often uneducated, they are not unable to shape their own destinies.”

Maynard will leave for Africa at the end of July. In addition to her cheering fan club of URI professors and classmates, Maynard’s father, Michael from whom she inherited her sense of adventure, her mother, MaryEllen, and her two younger sisters, Mackenzie and Madison, are her biggest supporters. Maynard reports that her mother wasn’t surprised that her daughter is going to Africa. MaryEllen quickly searched the family photo albums to find a photo of Michaela standing in front of the African exhibit in Disney World’s animal kingdom. “Mom says I was so fascinated with it that she had a hard time getting me to leave it.”

Maynard’s interest in medicine predates her interest in travel. When she was in fourth grade she told her classmates she wanted to become a pediatric oncologist. When they looked confused, she explained: “I want to become a doctor.” The URI soon-to-be graduate can’t recall why she wanted to become a pediatric oncologist—an idea that she guesses came from watching a TV program about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or it might have come from something she read. “I’ve always been a “bookaholic,” she confesses.

Although her focus has altered, she still wants to be a physician. Her URI classes in emerging infectious diseases coupled with her trips to Honduras have made her aware of the inequality of health care and have inspired her to work in the most impoverished countries of the world.

She will graduate from URI next month with a degree in Spanish, having completed all of her pre-med courses.

In the fall, she will enter George Washington University’s two-year master of public health program, which includes four months abroad. She expects to be in medical school by 2009.

Pictured above

URI student Michaela Maynard and a young friend pause for a photo in Guaimaca, Honduras. Photo courtesy of Michaela Maynard.