GRIP, Internships Abroad A Buffet of Deja Vu

July 13, 2023
By Amaan Omer, CAS '25

GRIP: Power Up Gambia, Bwiam, The Gambia

A blast of hot air overwhelmed me as soon as I stepped out of the plane. It was nothing like those sunny Philadelphia days that cured seasonal depression; this was the real deal: the heat of the African sun.

On May 15th, 2023, two interns and I landed on the 'Smiling Coast of Africa.' No skyscrapers, no developed roads, no modern technology. I found myself in untouched nature, where mango trees lined the dirt roads we drove on, and the night sky generously sprinkled with visible stars.

Welcome to The Gambia.

Admittedly, before traveling to The Gambia, the people around me warned me of the shortcomings/negatives I would face in an impoverished country. “Take the malaria medications, take filters since you can't access clean water, and keep an eye on your belongings.” Nobody told me about the buffet-sized meals I could eat for a $2.00 value, the natives that warmly welcome you with 'As-Salaam-Alaikum' (peace be upon you), and the country's beautiful sights.

I shared the culture, but I looked different. I stood out. The little kids would yell 'Toobab' (foreigner; white man) as I went on my daily walks to the river. They didn't say it to be mean; it was the only word they knew for seeing a new face in town. Growing up as an Indian Muslim, I adjusted to the new country's environment and traditions much quicker than I had expected. The number of parallels between India and The Gambia was astonishing, everything from the food to the smells to the daily mannerism of the locals. It felt like I was visiting family after seven years. Hearing the Athaan (call for prayer) echo through the village constantly reminded me of the Islamic heritage I shared with many Gambians. When I went to the mosque to pray daily, I was treated like any other Muslim—with a firm handshake and friendly greeting. Yes, I got looks; nobody expected the 'Intern from America' to share the religion and cultural understanding. Despite their initial reactions, we all became brothers.

Working with the CEO and Public Relations Director on the hospital's Annual Report, which was sent to the National Ministry of Health.I became CEO of a hospital, and I LOVED it. Let's be clear, I haven't officially been named the Chief Executive Officer in the books, but the responsibilities that Hospital Management has given me feel like it. Every day, I find myself doing meaningful work, whether meeting with national representatives from UNICEF and the United Nations or taking vitals for dozens of patients. Working with Power Up Gambia has given me a deeper insight into American society's privileges regarding healthcare, hygiene, and resource accessibility. This year, the other interns and I are working on improving Bwiam General Hospital's infrastructure to provide a secure and safe environment for mothers and their children while expanding surgical services offered to the community. While there's a lot of work, there is much more that CAN and NEEDS to be done.

My first month in The Gambia has been a lot of adjusting, but I find myself falling in love with this place as each moment passes. Oh, and smile—that seems to be the universal language here.

The Global Research and Internship Program (GRIP) provides outstanding undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to intern or conduct research abroad for 8 to 12 weeks over the summer. Participants gain career-enhancing experience and global exposure that is essential in a global workforce.