A Healing Hand for Liberia When he was 10, Raj Panjabl '02 came face-to-face with social injustice. He could see it in the gap between two lines of people on the tarmac at the Monrovia airport. That summer day in 1990, Panjabi, his par- ents and younger sister waited in line with those who could afford to board a relief plane out of Liberia. In the other line stood Liberians who, because of poverty and ethnic discrimina- tion, were forced to stay behind and endure 14 years of civil conflict. The encounter has haunted Panjabi ever since. "Throughout my childhood, I really looked back on that time and tried to make sense of it," he said. Panjabi's family relocated to High Point with the help of family friends. Only years later, when he read about the history of oppression of native Liberians by the descendants of freed American slaves, did Panjabi start to under- stand the context behind Charles Taylor's bloody rebellion that spread death and violence and left refugees throughout his native country. As an undergraduate and later a medical student at UNC, Panjabi began to explore ways to combine his interest in medicine with his desire to help eliminate the kind of injustice he witnessed in Liberia. In December 2005 - while on winter break from a master's program at Johns Hopkins University - he got the chance to return to Liberia for the first time in 15 years. The war was over, but Panjabi saw that poverty and inequality remained formidable problems for the country's inhabitants. "There's a lot of energy to rebuild there," he said of Liberia, which last year elected Africa's first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. But at the same time, "things there are pretty desperate, and there are also huge hurdles to vercome in terms of re-establishing communi- ties and also re-establishing some normality in terms of basic living." Panjabi spent two weeks working in a health clinic in Monrovia, the nation's capital and Panjabi's childhood home. Monrovia was heavily damaged during the war and remains without electricity or running water. He also spent two weeks helping to treat patients at a government health care facility in Voinjama, about 10 hours from the capital in orthern Liberia. "The stories of the patients there - they're difficult to really put your mind around, to see the type of suffering that almost exists as an every- day sort of silent violence that occurs," he said. One patient Panjabi encountered at the Voinjama clinic was a pregnant refugee who had spent the previous six months moving between displacement camps. Panjabi and the clinic's head doctor were taken off guard when the woman delivered twins, and they were unprepared when the second delivery turned out to be a difficult breech birth. The child suffered severe birth asphyxiation after nearly suffocating in the womb. Without basic equipment - such as tools to perform a Cesarean section or even a supplemental oxy- gen tank - Panjabi and the doctor were unable to save the newborn girl. "I think part of our role, for those of us who are fortunate enough to have a chance to bear witness and return to our middle-class lives here in the States, is at least to try to give voice to the suffering that's there," Pan- jabi said. Security con- cerns prevented Pan- jabi from returning to Liberia before last year, but he nonetheless took advantage of his chool vacations at Carolina to gain experience with pro- viding health care in resource-poor settings. As an undergraduate, Panjabi received a Burch Fellowship to study community health care systems among native tribes in rural Alaska. He said what he learned about health care training in a place where the average primary health care worker has only a 10th-grade education can serve as a model for rural Liberia and other areas. While in medical school, Panjabi worked with the Carter Center in Atlanta to develop negotia- tion exercises for aid workers trying to reach remote villages in the Sudan. He also studied maternal death rates in war-torn Afghanistan with Physicians for Human Rights, and he wrote about his experience for the Afghanistan Moni- tor, a human rights accountability journal. "That was really an affirmation for me - to see how, really, the causes for the maternal mortality ... were rooted, again, in poverty and gender inequality and power inequality," Panjabi said. Panjabi decided to spend a year after his third year in medical school earning a master's degree at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. He was named to the inaugural class of Hopkins Som- mer Scholars - an honor that included a stipend to study as well as leadership
enrichment activities and opportunities to meet with prominent public health
Raj PanJabl '02 was 10 when his family fled from violence
In Uberla. He returns now, armed with experience, a med-
Ical degree and a long-term goal to Improve health care.
- Laura Thompson '06
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