Students from around the world wrote essays as part of their application for leadership positions with END7 for the upcoming academic year. Two students were awarded scholarships to attend the Millennium Campus Conference in Washington, DC. We are publishing the best essays on our blog during the Millennium Campus Conference this week. Runner-up Shangir Siddique of the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health (Houston, Texas) wrote this essay in response to the prompt “How do you think students and young people can be agents of meaningful change contributing to the fight against NTDs?:”
By Shangir Siddique
University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health
For most students, the idea of fighting against NTDs across the world seems to be a task for medical professionals, many of them MDs and PhDs, often working in large organizations such as the World Health Organization. But too often, we, as millennials, forget that many of the world’s problems will be ours to solve one day. We cannot wait for a scientist in a white lab coat to discover the cure for everything, nor can we depend on politicians to debate in marbled rooms while hundreds of lives are lost. For young minds to start off with the mentality that just because they are not “old enough” or “knowledgeable enough” they cannot achieve great feats serves not only as a hindrance to those young minds but as a disservice to the many people they could positively impact, if not save. I can speak from my own experience as a team leader for the School Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey program, a Texas-wide obesity surveillance program where we worked with young students from 2nd grade all the way up to 11th grade. We not only conducted body measurements, but we also administered an expansive survey that asked not only about their fitness and nutritional habits but that of their close loved ones. This program has been ongoing for many years, with the data collection process occurring every four years. Once all the data has been collected, it is analyzed and a report is drafted that is sent to the Texas State Legislature. The State Legislature then decides to enact new laws that promote a health-conscious environment for the students throughout Texas. The program has already had significant successes, with schools removing certain unhealthy food options from their lunches, to providing bottled water instead of sodas. It is our goal that by raising a more health conscious younger generation, we can reverse this trend of higher obesity rates we see across the nation. And to think, this was achieved by the collective efforts of young, motivated individuals who stepped up to the challenge. If we can influence the Texas State Legislature, there is nothing college students cannot achieve. It is this mentality that should motivate young people to address NTDs and propel the END7 campaign.
If I were selected for a scholarship, I would be able to spend my time at the Millennium Campus Conference not only campaigning for the END7 Campaign but taking full advantage of the audience I would have available to me. The Millennium Campus Conference attendees are individuals who are extremely interested in dedicated their lives to social work. Of those among their age group, they likely understand the difficulties associated with enacting and producing enough change to benefit the most vulnerable among us. Thus, while campaigning, I would explain how simple it is to combat NTDs. The treatments have already been discovered! All it is a matter of raising the funds necessary to bring the pills to those who need them. For many social activists, it is a lack of knowledge relating to NTDs that likely act as a barrier towards action. Once we have the opportunity to education and inform them, many will rise up to the challenge and join our campaign. For those who may remain skeptical, I would explain what life is like for the people in those countries, referencing my past visits to Bangladesh. I would explain that they lack the convenience of pharmacies around every corner, or how some villages do not have a single physician. Fortunately, the leadership and public speaking experience that I gained from teaching undergraduate laboratory courses and serving as the Vice President in my school’s student government will prove to be useful to inspiring the attendees of the conference.
Now more than ever, young people are discovering how much is at stake depending on what we do. Whether or not we take action can affect multiple issues, and in the case of NTDs, can directly impact the lives of other people around the world. My interest in NTDs may be influenced by my background in public health and epidemiology, but there remains the essential human component that drives us all to act when we see others suffering. If I am given the opportunity to attend the conference, I will make it my priority not only to campaign and educate about NTDs and the END7 campaign, but to awaken this internal drive that I am sure will be present in those who attend.
Shangir Siddique is a graduate student at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, School of Public Health, where he is pursuing a master’s of public health in Epidemiology. His research interests focus on specific disease prevalence in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the most severely underserved areas in the United States. He is also interested in global public health relating to the effects of poverty on healthcare. While an undergraduate biology honors student, he served on the Student Government Association as the vice president and held various on-campus jobs including academic tutor, research assistant, and laboratory assistant. He has also volunteered at Valley Regional Medical Center for four years and established a library in the pediatric department during his time as president of the Junior Auxiliary Volunteer Program. As part of the Early Medical School Acceptance Program, Shangir will attend medical school and eventually become a public health advocate for underserved communities.