But for me, a sixteen-year-old Indian girl traveling from San Jose to Beijing, this trip was a daunting ordeal. I would be spending the week with six other kids I didn’t know, sharing a large apartment with my dad as the only chaperone.
We were traveling to China as part of an International Outreach Awareness Committee with Team HBV, a student-run organization under the Asian Liver Center. The Asian Liver Center, along with Team HBV, aims to educate the general public about the prevalence of chronic Hepatitis B infection in Asian communities.
Chronic Hepatitis B, which can lead to serious liver damage and eventually liver cancer, claims the life of 600,000 people each year. Furthermore, although Asian Americans consist of only 4% of the American population, they comprise of over 50% of the nation’s chronically infected people.
Hepatitis B is preventable through vaccination, but the disease often does not show symptoms until it is far too late. Because of this, early screening and testing are of utmost importance.
Unfortunately, there is a strong stigma surrounding Hepatitis B in Asian communities. Our group traveled to China as a way to start the conversation regarding the disease. By encouraging even a few people to get screened or encourage their friends to get tested, we could take small steps to eradicate the taboo and saving lives.
Our group consisted of kids from all around California who were handpicked to represent the Asian Liver Center in China through an application process.
The first few days of our trip were awkward and tense; no one knew each other and everyone was trying to get accustomed to their surroundings. Our shared goal of spreading information brought us together, and we spent several hours rehearsing our presentations, going over HBV facts, and working out the details of our outreach.
Although we weren’t able to present at some of the elementary and middle schools we had planned to visit, we educated everyone we talked to, from college students to workers in the Subway.
We even worked with interns at the Peking ALC to see if they could replicate some of the outreach that was working so well in America.
And over the course of this week, the trip that I once so feared became one of my favorite experiences in my life. I grew incredibly close to the other committee members, and I visited many amazing, historical places in China.
I also grew even more passionate about our cause. Before, I volunteered with Team HBV because I thought it was a good cause to support. I got involved because I felt like I couldn’t let innocent people die when I possessed knowledge that could help them.
During my trip, I grew close to people who experienced first hand the tragedies of HBV: people who had lost loved ones to the disease; people whose own parents couldn’t tell them they were infected because they were embarrassed; people who wished they had gotten tested just a little sooner.
After returning home, I started looking for more opportunities to get involved. One of my first attempts was to rent out a booth at the monthly De Anza Flea Market to distribute outreach information and spread awareness. My two friends and I talked to over one hundred and fifty people about Hepatitis B and what they could do to help.
I used to think that this trip to China would be my biggest contribution and involvement with Team HBV. After all, I traveled all the way across the globe for outreach. Now, I know this is only the beginning. There are so many more things I can do, from starting a club at my high school and later at college to writing a blog and volunteer more frequently locally to help make a difference.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stuti Upadhyay – She is interested in the field of Biology – particularly molecular biology for cancer. Looking forward to participating in many cancer-related molecular biology research opportunity, including hands-on lab work. She is passionate about helping disadvantaged kids, health and exercise, and environmental sustainability. A Bay Area native who enjoys the beach, running, soccer, watching movies and listening to music.