Touch, Empower, Encourage, Inspire

Adeeb Barqawi uses the metaphor of a birdcage to explain why this recent graduate from Georgetown University Medical Center is waiting two years before he attends medical school.

Barqawi, with a new Master of Science in physiology and biophysics (with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine) degree tucked into his back pocket, will be heading to Houston at the end of the summer for Teach for America. Teach For America is growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education. For Barqawi’s part, he will work at a high school notorious for being a “drop-out factory” ⎯ a place where many enter but few exit with a diploma.

So, the birdcage: “Each wire making up the cage itself represents an obstacle, but there is a wired door that can be opened to free the bird. The door represents educational and health care inequalities that can be overcome,” he says. “I believe that lending a hand to disadvantaged children ⎯ to make them believe that the door is open, and the impossible is possible ⎯ is something I have committed myself to.”

He plans to open that door to students he teaches in Houston by instilling in them a love of learning, and the discipline needed to achieve. He sees his commitment to the underserved as a principal tenet to his future career as a physician ⎯ to be an open minded practitioner “who believes in their patients and who makes them part of their own medical treatment.”

Barqawi’s dedication to this mission has won him distinction within the already prestigious Teach for America program. Five thousands applicants in the Teach for America program apply for a fellowship funded by the Amgen Foundation, and Barqawi was one of 100 selected. His letter naming him an Amgen Fellow said his selection is a “true testament to how convinced we are that you have what it takes to lead your students to tremendous academic gains and to be a strong leader in our movement for years to come.”

The power of the human spirit

Barqawi has certainly pushed himself. Right after he was born in Washington, D.C., his father, who had studied at Louisiana State University, moved to Kuwait to work in the construction business. For 16 years, Barqawi lived in Kuwait City, and after graduating student of the year of his high school, he knew he wanted to come to the U.S. to pursue a degree that would allow him to enter the “research and discovery area,” he says. “From a very young age, I was fascinated by the power of knowledge and science, specifically when it came to eradicating disease and serving humanity in the right ways.”

Barqawi left his home and parents when he was 16 to attend Virginia Commonwealth University, but was worried that he was likely the youngest of the 35,000 students there. “I soon realized this was my chance to excel, explore and make the best out of this rare opportunity,” he says. “I quickly learned that our backgrounds and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but in the United States, we are ultimately responsible for who we become.”

Barqawi empathizes with others. He traveled to Honduras in 2010 on a mission, and became close with a boy named Nino who was illiterate and malnourished. “But he had an incredible spirit. He dreamed of being a pilot,” he says. “He reminded me that the power of the human spirit should not be underestimated and that a valuable existence is not measured by possessions, but by the lives you are able to touch.”

Barqawi realized early on that he wanted to make educational choices that would best inform him about people’s backgrounds and choices.

For example, Barqawi learned that almost 30 percent of Americans use some sort of alternative therapies to treat and deal with their health, so he decided to study complementary and alternative medicine as a concentration for his master’s degree. “I was eager to join a program that would make me a better informed physician, able to discuss and integrate different treatment packages that suit the person’s background, goals and self.”

Barqawi can’t wait to get started in Houston. “There is no greater feeling than knowing you have touched, empowered, encouraged, or inspired someone else’s life,” he says. “It is unfortunate that until this day an excellent education is the privilege of the few and not a right of humanity, and the vision of Teach for America hit very close to home.”
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By Renee Twombly, GUMC Communications
(Published July 3, 2012)