For graduating senior Sheila Venkatesh, persistence pays off.
Before walking across the stage to accept her diploma Saturday, Sheila set out to raise funds for the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia as part of her senior project. The $3,315 she raised paid for medical care for seven patients.
Sheila was inspired by an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show by a hospital co-founder, Dr. Catherine Hamlin.
"I saw the Oprah show, and I was trying to think of what I could do my senior project on," said Sheila, the daughter of Srini and Meena Venkatesh, of Martinez. "The doctor said the best or main way people could help was to donate money because that was what they were lacking the most."
Fund-raising was one component of Sheila's senior project; additional research about fistulas was another.
Hamlin founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital with her husband, Reginald, in 1974. Since then, the hospital has treated more than 20,000 women suffering from birth injuries.
Hamlin describes fistulas as "holes that develop in the tissue that separates the vagina from the bladder and/or rectum. They can occur in expectant mothers who have difficulty during labor due to small pelvises or a poorly positioned fetus."
Sheila Venkatesh initiated a fundraiser for the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia as a senior at Lakeside High.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
In an online interview, Hamlin said fistulas affect 8,500 women each year in Ethiopia and about a million worldwide.
"In Africa, these women have been hiding for centuries, and their plight is so sad," she said.
Hamlin's appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show was to bring awareness to the plight of the women in Ethiopia.
After the project, Sheila said, "I feel like I've been given a lot more than other people have. I've been fortunate with all that I've been given and that God has given me."
Sheila was adamant that thanks go to all of those who learned of her fund-raiser and contributed.
"I really want to thank the people that sent money in," she said. "It was a tremendous thing that they would trust me with their donations."
Sheila plans to enter an eight-year direct medical school program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the fall and will participate in its honors program.
"I was the only out-of-state person selected for the program," she said.
The first-generation American - Sheila's parents are natives of India - wants to set up a center to provide free medical care.
"My goal is to treat all kinds of diseases," she said. "I want to go into general or family practice so I can treat any kind of disease."
Sheila plans to split her time practicing between the United States and India.
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