Lending a Healing Hand

Stern Student Volunteers to Fight HIV and AIDS in South Africa

The most powerful moment of Ariella Applebaum’s summer came during a home visit she paid to an elderly patient suffering from HIV in the village of Khula, South Africa.

The woman had suffered a stroke many months ago that had left her unable to walk. “But she never lost hope,” recalled Applebaum, a senior in Stern College for Women’s S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program. Each week, the patient worked carefully with health care volunteers in the country—like Applebaum—to regain her strength.

Ariella Applebaum, left, made many in-home visits to patients during her volunteer work with African Impact.
Ariella Applebaum, left, made many in-home visits to patients during her volunteer work with African Impact.

“The day I visited her with another member of the staff, she greeted us sitting down, with a smile,” said Applebaum. “She was so hopeful and confident, like I had never seen before. Slowly she got up and started walking with her cane. We stood in shock, amazed at the transformation, and finally started clapping, smiling and shouting our congratulations.” She added, “I had never seen such strength before.”

The visit was one of many Applebaum made while volunteering for African Impact, an organization offering a host of volunteer opportunities in Africa; she chose a track that would reflect her interest in improving the quality of life and access to health care of impoverished communities in South Africa. On a typical day, her duties included everything from volunteering in orphanages and working alongside medical professionals and caregivers to facilitating educational workshops about HIV and AIDs that addressed topics such as nutrition, basic health and well-being and family planning, in addition to providing support and assistance at in-home visits.

“The health care system is extremely poor in Saint Lucia, with the doctor coming to the clinic only every other month, if at all,” said Applebaum. “Our assistance at the clinic in the village of Khula was therefore very helpful and alleviated some of the pressure on the nurses working there. The HIV education and support we gave the members of the towns of Khula, Dukuduku and Eswenelisha were therefore crucial to stopping the spread of the disease.”

According to Applebaum, a biology major with a minor in computer science and art history, her education at Stern has played a crucial role in inspiring her to seek out experiences like African Impact. “All my classes have taught me so much, especially the sciences, which made me excited to become a doctor and enter the scientific world,” she said. “My genetics class with Dr. Harvey Babich  and my biochemistry class with Dr. Evan Mintzer sparked my specific interest in viral diseases such as HIV.”

However, though Applebaum plans to attend medical school and enter the surgical field, she felt her liberal arts courses had an equal part in shaping her desire to volunteer in Africa this summer and, hopefully, to return for a gap year of volunteering there after graduation. “My art history courses, under the teaching of Dr. Margaret Samu, taught me the importance of perspective and consideration of the vast world outside the United States,” Applebaum said. “Her classes inspired me to look into the world around us and have the desire to explore it.”

ariellaapplebaum2Applebaum will draw on her research this summer to complete her senior honors thesis, which will focus on HIV and AIDS, under the direction of Dr. Harvey Babich, professor of biology, who is her faculty adviser.

“In addition to being a high academic achiever who isn’t afraid of challenges, Ariella is truly an exceptional individual with a passion to assist others,” said Babich. “Rather than compartmentalizing information from unrelated college courses, such as in the sciences and art history, Ariella synthesized this information to direct her to a health care summer internship with a global impact.”