Whoever you are, Shannice Baker wants to help you. As an international rescue and relief student with an emphasis in pre-medicine, her skills are primarily medical, but as a caring individual with a heart for service, her passion is limitless. Just ask the people of Bere, Chad, where she lived and volunteered during the 2013-14 school year.
As a student missionary in a developing country, Baker expected to be challenged. What Chad had to offer, however, was at times more than just a challenge. It was survival. By her second week in the foreign country, Baker had already contracted a scalp infection as well as a severe allergic reaction. “I broke out in hives, my eyes were swollen shut, and I suffered from serious headaches. I could hardly function,” said Baker. Experiencing such discomfort anywhere would be disheartening, but she wasn’t just anywhere. She was sleeping in a mud hut, eating new foods and surrounded by strangers who spoke no English. “That was truly one of the hardest things to get through,” Baker admitted. “I was homesick and questioning why I had come.”
By her second bout with malaria, she was ready to give up (yes, in addition to the scalp infection, the allergic reaction, the homesickness, and the cultural barriers, Baker contracted malaria three times). “I got really dramatic and said, ‘God, just take my life.’” It is easy for her to laugh about the experience now, but at the time it was no joke. “I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
But Baker was not debilitated by mere infections, allergic reactions and viruses. “I have that complex where I can’t let one little thing stop me from doing what I want to do,” she said. And what she wanted to do was to help people. Baker found that by giving time to help other people, her own discomfort, both physically and emotionally, diminished. To say she kept busy is an understatement. Using the same 24 hours that are allotted to each of us, Baker managed to support doctors in the local hospital, conduct a series of health lectures in the community, operate a baby formula program to prevent infant malnutrition, teach local women to crochet as an income-generating activity, walk around the surrounding villages and interact with the residents, perform gymnastics with the children, start Sabbath schools in rural areas, and educate recipients of a small financial grant, which she helped distribute, on money management and business acuity. “I like having a hand in many jars,” Baker said.
Although she will always surround herself with many jars, the biggest one in Baker’s life is medicine. Before leaving for her year overseas, Baker knew she wanted to be a missionary doctor. Her experiences in Chad, she thought, would either strengthen this desire or replace it with another. After volunteering in the hospital, interacting with the professionals, administering IVs, and performing a minor surgery, Baker is certain about her future. “Being in Chad definitely ensured that I would become a doctor,” she said.
And Union College continues to ensure that she will, too. Between her technical skills learned in international rescue and relief, her strong spiritual identity fostered on campus, and her fun-loving nature encouraged by a large group of friends, Baker feels prepared for anything. “Union has a little bit of everything,” she says. “It has opened my eyes and helped advance me in my career goals.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of OUTLOOK. It was written by Michael Rohm, who graduated from Union College in August 2014. He now works for ADRA in Silver Spring, Maryland.