When Damilola Olatayo was 11 years old her parents put her on a plane from Houston to spend a year in Nigeria, where she was born. It was formative. She learned an immense amount about Nigerian culture. In order to keep up with her Nigerian classmates, she had to work much harder in school than she was used to working (no offense, American schools). And she caught malaria, which forever changed her perspective on the importance of accessible medical care.
Education is something that changes generations. So anyone who empowers other people or creates a pathway and creates an opportunity for them to be educated, I don’t know what else we could ask for from someone.”
“I was so blessed,” remembers Olatayo, a Gates Millenium Scholar who’s graduating with a degree in neurobiology. “I was in a country where vast amounts people die from contracting the disease, but my aunts and uncles were well off, and my parents were also able to send money, so I got treated and made a full recovery, but I saw the disparities. I saw that money was often the difference between people living and dying. I saw that health is wealth. That experience made me want to be involved in global medicine.”
It’s a commitment Olatayo has kept. She has spent the last few years volunteering and working at hospitals, nursing homes and clinics in Austin and Houston (where her family lives). She’s gotten certified as a nursing assistant and medication aide. She’s worked with Texas Exes to help lay the groundwork for a medical school in Austin. And she’ll be spending next year in France and Thailand earning a master’s degree in global studies and international relations. After that she plans to go to medical school.
Her ultimate goal is help spread the blessings of good medical care, which we often take for granted in America, to the world. In this short video she talks about her “deep burning desire” to leave the world better than she found it.