UIC Gymnast Steps Up To The Challenge

Lawrence shows the children in Egoli the proper way to wash hands
Lawrence shows the children in Egoli the proper way to wash hands

Nov. 7, 2012

Senior gymnast Emily Lawrence was able to study abroad in Cape Town, Africa, over the summer where she not only was able to help those in need, but also saw just how fortunate she was through this life-changing experience.

Lawrence and eight others from different schools were stationed in the small town of Egoli, Africa, from the beginning of June until the end of July, where they were able to observe the maternity ward, trauma patients and general out-patients in six hospitals and clinics. There, she took patients' blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, sorted medications in different units and aided nurses.

For her final, Lawrence taught the people of Egoli about sanitation tips, such as the proper way to wash one's hands.

"Many of the kids didn't know how to wash their own hands because they had never done it before," Lawrence said. "The town had three pumps, but only two were in service because the farmer who owned the third did not pay his taxes, so it was shut off."

Lawrence and the others also taught the people how to cough into their arm rather than their hands, to avoid stray dogs, to stay active and eat healthy. She explained that there was a stigma saying that "only poor people ate beans," leading the people to eat chips. Lawrence told them that eating beans was fine, and that they are healthier than chips.

Before going, she said that she was nervous. Lawrence had never flown across the ocean before and flew alone. With a layover in London, it took her 28 hours to arrive in Cape Town. By then, she was tired, excited and not sure what to expect.

"When I first arrived in Egoli, I didn't want to stay there for more than an hour, but when it was time to go, I didn't want to leave," Lawrence said. "The people were very welcoming, and would always run to our van when they saw us coming. They would grab our hands, and lead us around town, showing us where they lived. Seeing everything made me realize how lucky we are in the United States. It is shocking how many people struggle to see a doctor."



Lawrence had always wanted to study abroad because of the benefits and overall positive experiences that came with it. At first, she looked into Germany because she had studied German in high school, but decided that she could always go to Europe on her own time. Lawrence, with the help of the Study Abroad Offices, decided on Africa. She had to go during the summer so it wouldn't interfere with gymnastics.

"The experience truly opened my eyes to how blessed I am," Lawrence said. "After I receive my degree in occupational therapy, I hope to go back to Africa and continue to help. Even if it was only for one summer, I would love to see the smiles of those I helped once again."