Most college students likely would prefer to spend the summer after their freshman year loafing around their parents' homes or vacationing on a sunny beach.
But one Evans woman chose to spend her first college summer break working in a third-world African country gaining career experience and perspective.
Hema Kondur, 19, earned an internship in Uganda through the Advocates for Grassroots Development in Uganda (AGRADU) through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Kondur, a 2008 Lakeside High School graduate, wanted to use the opportunity to study how the HIV/AIDS epidemic is handled in the poor country by the government and those citizens affected by the disease.
"I knew I was very interested in the HIV/AIDS epidemic since I've been in high school," Kondur said at her Evans home between her return in early August.
"When I went to college, I knew that I wanted to be involved with that, careerwise. But I'm a very (sciencelike) person, so I knew it would be something in a lab or possibly a doctor. But I really wanted to experience the complete other side of fighting HIV/AIDS, which is the grassroots movement."
Kondur, a chemistry major, was one of nine interns who spent eight weeks at different locations in Uganda.
AGRADU is a UNC student initiative aimed at advocating and supporting efforts at community-building and economic development in Uganda. The country has a history of civil conflict, ineffective leadership and poverty leading to the need for economic development.
The interns were required to raise at least $250 and work with projects such as those providing HIV/AIDS medical services, supporting orphans, organizing business and financial training and encouraging reinvestment of capital within the country.
Kondur was assigned to work with a health-based organization in the Kyetune village in the Mukono District near the capital of Kampala. The organization operates a resource center and two health centers.
Through updating the organization's Web site, Kondur said she learned about all the programs it offers and was especially interested in how HIV/AIDS programs were funded.
She was pleased to find that care, medication and supplies were provided to HIV/AIDS patients free by the Interreligious Council of Uganda.
"It was just getting the patient to the health center," Kondur said. "Some people had to walk miles to get there."
Kondur got firsthand experience as she shadowed health center workers to do home visits to patients. She met a man, who tested positive, with three young children and a wife who refused to even get tested.
Though the population talks openly and candidly about things like HIV/AIDS, she said a stigma still goes along with being tested.
But she was pleased to see that another man and one of his wives tested positive and they reacted right away with medications, lifestyle changes and preparation for their children's futures.
They call it living positively, Kondur said.
"It was a really eye-opening experience," Kondur said of seeing people coping with the disease. "There were those uncomfortable moments. But I wanted to feel that and experience it firsthand."
Most residents did not have running water, but filled water cans from taps. Most had electricity, she said.
But Kondur and other visitors lived in special apartments that included running water, a sink and a shower.
"There were definitely moments and there was that overwhelming cloud just hanging over you about feeling a little bit guilty of your lifestyle when you look at these people," Kondur said. "I am a little bit of an optimist at heart, so I really wanted to appreciate how these people are coping."
But Kondur is thinking globally, doing what she can now and wants to make an impact in the battle against HIV/AIDS.
Kondur said her father, a doctor, would like to see her become one. But she thought it'd be cool to work someplace like the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
She plans to apply for the UNC School of Public Health, where she can explore her career options.
"The School of Public Health I think is a really great place to start," Kondur said. "It is so broad. I have so many options after I do go there. And I think they are all the options that I am weighing right now."
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