I realized my life was very different from most Bangladeshis and I wanted to help but did not know what to do or how to go about affecting change. In high school, I reached a turning point after I met Dr. Ehsan Hoque at an event in Texas where he was talking about DCI and his work in Bangladesh. At this initial meeting, I was immediately drawn to him and I knew I wanted to be a contributing member of DCI. Dr. Hoque, himself, gave me his full attention, listened to what I said, supported me and helped me take on small projects. I started off with small fundraisers, recruiting sponsors for the Sun-Child Program and organizing different events. After I graduated from high school and started college, I began my own chapter of DCI at the University of Texas at Austin. Shortly after Cyclone Sidr struck in 2007, Dr. Hoque and Dr. DeBroff invited me to a mission trip to Bangladesh. The cyclone was a terrible disaster that devastated much of Southeast Asia and Bangladesh. We went to rural sites that were affected, Patuakhali to be exact, where the cyclone was at its worst. We delivered chlorine tabs for water sanitation and distributed blankets and first-aid supplies. I was overcome by how grateful the villagers were for what little we could give! It was incredibly moving to witness firsthand the smiles on the children’s faces. After Patuakhali, we visited the rural town of Feni, another project area of DCI, located some distance away from the cyclone zone. This tiny village put on a welcome show for us “visitors.” The children were dressed with warm smiles, pressed clothes and clean shoes. It was hard to tell they lived in mud huts with tin rooves and no electricity or running water. It occurred to me that this was a product of what WE provided through DCI; it was extremely motivating and humbling. Dr, Hoque wanted me to see and feel what we were working for. That said, he then made arrangements for me to visit and see child laborers. I witnessed an 8-year-old boy operating a sewing machine in Zinzira, the garment district of Dhaka. Even with laws in place now – child labor is real! At the end of the trip, I was able to join the opening ceremony for DCI’s Childhood Blindness Prevention Program at BIRDEM Hospital. I visited a DCI clinic for the extreme poor in Dhaka and also a DCI-sponsored orphanage. I was able to even watch Dr. DeBroff perform a free cataract surgery.
I successfully entered medical school. In fact, today I am nearing the end of my residency training as a Surgeon in Urology at Detroit Medical Center, MI and soon will begin working at the Health Center of the University of California, Irvine. Working for DCI has been incredible and has provided communication, organization, leadership and technology skills that I use today. Most importantly, I learned how “commitment” is critical to success. My volunteer experience seriously impacted my career and helped mold the person I am today. I am very proud to say that I received recognition and an award by volunteering with DCI. My volunteer work definitely helped build my resume and cultivated the person I am today. Looking back, I feel fortunate that I met Dr. Hoque and that I had the opportunity to immerse myself with DCI in my childhood; this was a game changer. It has been a truly incredible honor to have Dr. Hoque’s guidance and encouragement in all facets of my life’s decisions. DCI has seriously contributed to my successes today, and I hope to continue my efforts to help DCI for my lifetime in the same way DCI has helped me grow. My advice to all young people, immerse yourself in DCI at any age, at any level and in any capacity. It changed my life for the better; I am proud to be a volunteer, student and surgeon committed to changing the lives of children globally by turning privilege into purpose. — Dr. Lira Chowdhury, Urology Surgeon, Detroit Medical Center (DCI Volunteer since 2005)