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Scholars In Service

John Sincavage, a sophomore at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is a part of the Morehead-Cain Scholars program. The framework of the Morehead-Cain experience is divided into four parts, one for each summer while they are in college. The parts include Outdoor Leadership, Public Service, Inquiry and Exploration, and Private Enterprise. 

This summer, John is in his Public Service phase. He traveled to Cambodia to spend the summer working at the Handa Emergency Hospital. The hospital used to be an emergency trauma center for mine victims, but when the Handa Foundation picked up operations they expanded the hospital to serve all the medical needs of the city of Battambang. Although he hoped to learn medical care practices, John and his friend Eric have offered two pairs of hands to help with whatever they can at the hospital. 

John has been mostly working with infectious and sharps waste management. He helped arrange a presentation for the cleaning staff on how to protect themselves from infection spread when handling needles and blades. Between John’s broken Khmer (the local language in Cambodia), a man who spoke some English and Khmer, and their hilarious attempts at acting, they managed to get their message across. At the end of the presentation, the head of the cleaning staff stood up and spoke, through John’s translating friend, saying that since she had started working at the hospital (15 years ago) no one had told the cleaning staff that the needles they were handling could infect them.

John felt like two months were enough time to institute major changes in the hospital, but change came a lot slower than he expected. Now he realizes that maybe this is a good thing. He said, “change can happen quickly, but sustainable change will happen slowly, and that is what this hospital needs and is devoting efforts to.”

In his last bit of time at the Handa Hospital, John will be putting finishing touches on policy that he wrote for the infectious waste management system, and leaving a report of the last two months. This is an example of the slow change he mentioned; now a new volunteer will start off where he left off, and build on the changes he made.

Although he has had an amazing experience working for change in Cambodia, he also stresses the importance of local volunteering. “You will make the most difference in the world by affecting one life at a time, be it American, African, Asian, or other. A person is a person, a livelihood a livelihood, and service is service anywhere in the world,” says John.