UNC graduates give gift to Ghana

It’s no secret — at UNC we love our sports. Growing up in eastern North Carolina, I was lucky enough to experience the household-shattering world of ACC basketball madness (I was an N.C. State fan growing up, but don’t tell anyone).

But even in this soon-to-be March Madness season, athletic success isn’t UNC’s only claim to fame.

Kendall and Tyler are my boys, don’t get me wrong, but for every inspiring student on the court, there are as many or more inspiring students off it; students who are definitely entitled to more than just a blurb on the UNC home page.

People like the class of 2009’s Emma Lawrence, who despite her age is no rookie to international development.

After having spent the summer of 2006 volunteering in Ghana, Emma was shocked at the quality of medical care when performing outreach health work.

“No one had basic medical knowledge or supplies. Some kids actually had to be taken to the hospital; no one realized they had terribly severe foot infections from lack of proper shoes,” she said.

“In the United States, that would never happen. You’d just go home and throw some Neosporin on it.”

It is this very disconnect, this gap between American and Other, excess and need, that MedPlus Connect addresses.

MedPlus Connect is the brainchild of Emma and two of her friends, Lauren Slive and Emily Nix, both of whom are also UNC graduates. The non-profit organization is based on one simple belief — those who need medical equipment deserve it.

Operating in Ghana’s three northern districts, MedPlus Connect turns our country’s “trash” into another community’s treasure.

“There is so much waste in the U.S. Because of a whole variety of insurance regulations, clean unpackaged supplies are thrown away every day,” Lawrence said.

“For instance, at the Cleveland Clinic, if a piece of equipment even enters the patient’s room it has to be thrown away.”

MedPlus Connect is working to take advantage of these unfortunate regulations by transporting this very same medical equipment to some of the most poverty-stricken areas of Ghana; these same areas where, just years ago, hospitals had no hospital beds, no X-ray machines, no gauze or needles.

However, Emma and her team didn’t start big. The first summer, medical supplies were brought over in suitcases.

Now, MedPlus Connect has sent approximately 83,443 pounds of medical supplies, valued at a staggering $1,300,000 — all of this, and Emma Lawrence is only 23 years old.

Lawrence says MedPlus Connect makes sure to incorporate the Ghanaian people into each and every decision made.

Rather than delegating, they prefer to collaborate.

“We are not here to change the system, but we are hoping to become part of it,” Lawrence said, adding, “Honestly, nothing feels better than feeling like you’re not needed.”

But need will continue. However, I have hope knowing people like Emma Lawrence will be there, a Tar Heel who left her heelprint on a continent too often forgotten.

Troy Smith is a guest columnist for the Daily Tar Heel. He is a junior public policy and Arab cultures major from Deep Run. Contact him at tgsmith@email.unc.edu.

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