Inside USD

Through the Lands of Africa

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lindsay-photoTanzania. Swaziland. Chad. Botswana. Zambia. Mozambique. Malawi. To some, these are just names on a continent very far away on a very big map of the world. But to Lindsay Gilchrist ’04, they are more. They are countries and cities she’s visited, full of people she’s touched and helped — and she plans on going back for more.

It is obvious Gilchrist has a deep passion for the people of Africa. As a professional staff member for The U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, Gilchrist advises Subcommittee Chairman Donald Payne on global health, security and humanitarian issues in Africa. But her interest in Africa and global health stems from her time spent as an undergraduate student in the political science and international relations department at USD. It was through USD that Gilchrist traveled to Washington, D.C. with the Washington Center Internship and Seminar Program, an organization that partners with universities to place students in internships. She began working for a small non-governmental organization called JurisAIDS, performing legal work for those living with HIV/AIDS, mostly in Senegal.

“I remember my first or second day on the job I read the statistics of people dying of AIDS in Africa and I realized that if I knew people were needlessly dying and I didn’t do anything about it, I was part of the problem,” said Gilchrist. “I have been involved in Africa and global health issues ever since.”

From that moment on, Gilchrist plunged into her newfound passion and, ultimately, her career. During her senior year, she interned for Invisible Children, an organization based out of San Diego that advocates for child soldiers in northern Uganda. She chose to write her senior thesis on the political situation in Uganda. She traveled to Swaziland for two weeks as a volunteer with Dream for Africa teaching people how to grow vegetable gardens for food. Three months later, she traveled to back to Swaziland, this time for six months, to help start a follow-up program that would educate Swazi high school students about HIV/AIDS.

Though she has traveled far and aided many, Gilchrist humbly acknowledges the help of a compassionate faculty at USD in paving the way for her education and career. “Caring about the poor and Africa comes from a foundation of faith, which was supported by the strong theology department at USD,” she said.

Mike Williams, political science associate professor and faculty advisor for the Washington Center, guided Gilchrist through her studies and supported her goals.

“He is an incredible professor,” Gilchrist said. “He is passionately committed to fostering a sense of civic responsibility in his students.”

The culminating point of Gilchrist’s career was her time spent working in the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s office as a special assistant, where she advised staff on human rights, poverty and health care related issues in Africa.

“Working for Senator Kennedy was a once in a life time opportunity and it was an absolute privilege to have known and worked for him. He had an incredible ability to inspire the masses, but also deeply empathize and connect with people on an individual level,” Gilchrist said. It was at Senator Kennedy’s office where she saw first-hand how the aid of the U.S. government has the potential to be a tremendous source of good, both in the United States and abroad.

Now, as Gilchrist continues her outreach at the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, her incredible experiences continue. She has traveled to Botswana to look at U.S.-implemented health programs, as well as Zambia, Mozambique and Malawai to observe U.S. food security programs. It is the memories that fuel her fire, like the time she trekked through a flooded compound set up through a U.S.-funded program to educate women in the community on nutrition for their children in Zambia. Through the rain that flooded the compound, a mother ran crying with her child towards Gilchrist. The mother’s baby was healthy and happy and no longer malnourished. “Tell your boss in America to keep this program,” the woman said. “It saved our life.”

And that is exactly what Gilchrist aims to do.

— Kelly Machleit

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