Pine Bluff native Sanreka Watley is making her mark in the world — literally.
As volunteer director of Global Health Initiatives — an organization that works through U.S. government agencies in more than 70 countries to combat devastating diseases such as HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, as well as preventable yet untreated diseases common to the indigent — Watley helps organize mission trips to Nigeria representing Jesus is Love Medical Consultants.
Watley made her first trip to Nigeria in 2013, with a team of doctors, pharmacists, nurses, nurse practitioners and medical students. Watley said the group provided vital medical care to more than 1,500 patients in four days.
“Many areas of Nigeria consist of people living in unbelievable poverty,” Watley said. “If you lose everything you own today, materially you will still have more than the vast majority of the people of Nigeria.”
Watley said some adults and children walked three to four days from their villages to see the doctors. In other cases, team members traveled several hours by boat to reach those in remote areas.
“It wasn’t uncommon to reach a site with 300 to 400 people waiting,” she said.
The daughter of Roland Watley, Annitha Roaf and Dr. J.W. Mason, Watley holds a bachelor’s degree in speech communications and sociology from Arkansas State University and a master’s in managerial leadership and development from National Louis University. Watley has worked with Fortune 500 pharmaceutical companies and currently holds the position of physician and business liaison advocate in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
“I believe we are all put on this earth to serve,” she said. “I have found my work in helping the people of Nigeria to be my game-changer.”
Watley said the experience has revolutionized her perspective.
“The stories, smiles, laughter, tears and long walks to catch water quickly made me realize my work is much bigger than me.”
Minnie Hill, wife of Pastor Saint Dewitt Hill of First Trinity Church of God in Christ in Pine Bluff, said she is pleased Watley has launched into missions work. She described Watley as a faithful member of the First Trinity congregation before relocating to the Chicago area.
“We are a missions-minded ministry,” Hill said. “Sanreka recently contributed to our foreign mission to Haiti.”
Jesus is Love Medical Director Dr. Ayoade Akere sponsors the trips to Nigeria. He selected Watley as the central organizer for the trips because of her energy and ability to see a project through to completion.
“She is a see-the-big-picture kind of person.” Akere said. “I just pass on the information and she makes it happen.”
A native of Nigeria, Akere said medical missions to any country are important because all people should have access to a physician regardless of their ability to pay.
“Being able to touch someone’s life like that is something you remember forever,” he said.
The next Jesus is Love mission trip to Nigeria is scheduled for April 25-May 3, with another one sometime in August 2014. This year Watley hopes to increase the number of people helped by visiting some of the area’s orphanages and abandonment sites. To do that, “we need more volunteers,” she said.
Watley encourages all medical professionals to consider the trip — as an individual or to reach out to colleagues and volunteer as a team. There is a specific need for ophthalmologists.
Watley said that while the volunteers work long and very hard days, it’s also “a great way for a (medical) student to learn … see the world and experience medicine being shared in one of its highest forms.”
Volunteers must pay for a passport, visa and immunizations. All other expenses, including housing and meals, are covered.
Persons, groups, ministries or organizations interested in volunteering or donating supplies may reach Watley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773-851-3295.