It’s 9 a.m. on a Saturday, and camp leaders have already begun setting up sign-in tables and classrooms in preparation for the day.
On Saturday, July 15, we hosted the SECURED Juniors summer program at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics to raise awareness for public health issues that are important globally, but are sometimes ignored in the U.S., where the problems are not as prevalent.
Over the past six months, we students have worked closely with distinguished researchers in the field of global health to discuss ways to make a difference toward a greater cause. Through their interactions with leading scientists, they developed a summer program offered at no cost to elementary and middle school children.
This group comprises the directors of SECURED, a student-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that aims to raise awareness for the dengue epidemic and foster scientific innovation through unique educational programs and collaborative fundraising events.
But why dengue? The World Health Organization reports that dengue has been on the rise in recent decades; about half of the world’s population is now at risk.
In fact, Vibhu Ambil, co-founder of SECURED, was afflicted by dengue as a child.
“Although the entire experience was stressful and traumatic, what I took away from it was not how bad my experience was, but how bad it could have been. I realized how lucky I was to have people to support me, money to afford care, and the right doctor to help get diagnosed,” recalled Ambil. “The experience opened my eyes to the larger suffering that is going on. From my sister to other relatives and classmates, dengue left no one.”
Although the entire experience was stressful and traumatic, what I took away from it was not how bad my experience was, but how bad it could have been.
Vibhu Ambil, co-founder of SECURED
The lack of awareness toward a disease that affects billions of at-risk individuals in today’s connected population is something to be concerned about — something that SECURED works to address.
“I’ve had friends say that dengue is not in the U.S., why does it matter? Just because it’s not happening here, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It’s important to be informed and active global citizens,” explained Ritvik Bodducherla, a director of the organization.
The camp day consisted of interactive lectures in the classroom and informative activities outdoors, culminating with a reflective discussion on the state of global health today.
“At the start, it was just me asking questions to engage participants who took part in the lecture,” said Jessica Chen. “By the end of the day, the kids were the ones asking me questions during the presentation.”
This curiosity is exactly what camp leaders hoped to evoke through the program. Even the camp counselors noticed this remarkable transformation.
“Near the end of the day, the kids were all asking me if the camp was only for one day. When I told them that it was just a one-day program, the kids told me that they didn’t want to leave. They wanted to learn more and wished that the camp lasted all summer,” said Arushi Biswas, a director of the organization.
Taking this into serious consideration, SECURED plans to expand the program by increasing its duration and holding more workshops throughout the summer.
By educating youth of our society through seminars and workshops, SECURED Juniors is able to cultivate interest in global health at a young age, inspiring youth of today to become the public health leaders of tomorrow.
With our expanding collaborations, our objective is to spread awareness about dengue on an international level. We have established chapters in many cities in the U.S. and have been in contact with students and researchers in Thailand and Singapore.
SECURED is expanding to the Triangle area with chapters at Raleigh Charter High School and William G. Enloe High School starting this fall. We are also in the process of starting chapters at colleges in the area, including N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill. For more information, follow their Facebook and Instagram profiles.
Shiv Patel is student at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Durham and cofounder of SECURED.