Teresa Uczekaj may have graduated from GW into the hardest job market in years last spring, but the active humanitarian didn’t have to spend a lot of time finding a way to make a difference.
Uczekaj spent her summer studying the correlation between social values and principles with the treatment and progression of AIDS in India, focusing on women. She lived and volunteered at Asha Kirana Hospital in India, gathering data and writing a case study on the challenges facing women with AIDS, which will be published in an Indian magazine.
“I found that as an outsider it was difficult to completely understand the answers to my questions. In order to understand the root cause of the feminization of AIDS in India, I needed to understand what it means to be a woman in India,” Uczekaj said. “Why were so many women waiting to seek treatment? Why couldn’t a woman leave her husband if he was putting her at risk of infection? Why do some women mistreat their daughter-in-laws, having experienced the same abuses themselves?”
Uczekaj, who led Alternative Spring Break trips in her time as an undergraduate, decided to switch her major from medicine to public health after spending her junior year abroad.
“My junior year I went abroad with the International Honors Program, which was a public health program that went to China, South Africa and India. I realized that although I love the medical and clinical fields, I also love the public health aspect at the community level,” Uczekaj said. “When I came back senior year I began to take global health and other health courses and realized it was my passion.”
So after graduating, Uczekaj contacted the nonprofit organization, ProWorld, which focuses on and promotes social and economic development of third-world countries by putting “compassionate global citizens” in contact with their desired volunteer work.
Once in India, Uczekaj gathered baseline data on anemia and turned the information into an official case study. The study is broken up into three stages of a woman’s life: daughter, wife and mother, and “the end of the day.”
Uczekaj hopes to continue her work abroad and said she will be joining the Peace Corps next March to work on a community development project in sub-Saharan Africa.
“I learned not only about the why of service but also the how. Being a completely student-run organization, [Alternative Spring Break] was the students doing the leg work, from fundraising to planning the logistics of the trip, we did it all,” she said.