His mission: to help others help themselves

In Kenema, Sierra Leone, Nick Sausen, right, with two of the students that were part of West African Medical Missions’ Young Scholar of Sierra Leone program in 2011.

By MaryHelen Swanson—

Editor’s note: People often wonder what happens to our graduates when they leave North Branch or Rush City high schools. Here’s a wonderful example of what one young man is doing to impact the world.

Nick Sausen, a 2005 graduate of North Branch Area High School, and second-year medical student at the U of M, is going beyond bringing fish to the hungry, even beyond teaching them how to fish, to use a familiar saying.

For the past two summers Sausen has been going to Sierra Leone where he has been working with high school students in a most unique program.

As a volunteer with West African Medical Mission (WAMM), Sausen has been working with potential medical students. The program’s deep desire is to nurture critical thinking in the young people of the country, understanding that they are most knowledgeable about the needs of their own communities.

The mission is two-fold, however, it also provides American students an exchange experience they will never

Last summer, Sausen worked with high school students in the Youth Scholars of Sierra Leone program in Freetown, the capitol of Sierra Leone, population 750,000-1 million.

The students put together 7 proposals, then chose one to pursue for the summer of 2011. The proposals ranged from teen pregnancy to malaria.

The winning proposal was on malaria and it was aimed at a specific isolated area of Freetown.

During the summer, the students studied the issues surrounding malaria. With information gathered, the students then went house to house – about 700 homes – and talked to the people about how to prevent malaria.

They hope to publish the data they gathered. (See sidebar)

Working with high school students like this, Sausen said, the hope is that they can transition them to college.

This summer the group will be branching out into other communities, more rural areas which he said is a very different experience because it is almost like a frontier.

Observation That Came Out During Our Survey (from the WAMM website): “Through our own observation we noticed that the community we visited was affected with several diseases, but we choose to write about a specific disease which is called malaria. During our observation we noticed that this disease is caused by the way people live in the community.... The conclusion to our observation is that if malaria continued to get worse and spread all over, people may die especially children of our age and this may affect the community itself and the country as a whole because the children are the future leaders.” — Sierra Leone is located at the square, above

The hope this summer, is to set up more Youth Scholar programs in new cities and high schools. The whole idea, he iterated, is to help them to help themselves.

It’s an eye-opening experience, Sausen said with eagerness, and it’s good to hand over the reins and keep spreading the program to inspire these young people.

This year it is also the hope that the African students can do more of the teaching, guiding of younger students.

As he noted earlier, it’s all about improving their “critical thinking.”

Sausen also hopes they can keep the students going on the other six proposals. “It’s a long term goal,” he said, “this isn’t a one-time thing.”

The African students who complete the program are given a one-year high school fee scholarship, and that is a big deal for the families, Sausen said.

His work with the WAMM will help him as he looks forward to his own medical career, perhaps in emergency and internal medicine, maybe in developing countries, the next frontier, as he called it.

He knows this for certain, when you participate in an experience like this, you come back someone completely new.

West African Medical Missions is an organization of health care minded individuals focused on aiding in the strengthening of health capacities in West Africa. The organization works to bring supplies, educational aids, and volunteers to West Africa annually. They work to increase community health literacy in provincial areas of Sierra Leone where access to medical care is limited.

Donations to the West African Medical Mission are greatly appreciated. Check out this non-profit organization online at westafricanmedicalmissions.org or find them on Facebook.  

Besides funding the program and its volunteers, donations help provide the scholarships for the students who participate in the Young Scholars of Sierra Leone program.

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