First Med School. Then The World.

Paul M. Soper

Lara C. Bishay '05

Working in a hospital in Winneba, Ghana, last summer, Lara C. Bishay ’05 didn’t expect anyone from Harvard to come visit—until her acquaintance Stella A. Safo ’05 arrived in Winneba.

Shocked, Lara asked how Stella had managed to find her. Stella smiled and replied, “There could only be four obruni [white people] in Winneba, so I just asked around for you.”

For the past four years, Safo has brought the same bold enthusiasm to her studies and extracurricular activities. But Safo’s main concern lies in improving public health—at home and abroad.

“I’ve always wanted to do three things,” says Safo. “I want to be a doctor, a teacher and a librarian. I’ll be a librarian when I’m 70 and I can’t think any more.”

Safo divides her time between her History and Science and African American Studies joint concentration, science courses to prepare her for medical school, three community service programs, participation in The Seneca and research on the AIDS pandemic in Ghana and its effects on Ghanian women—with a little cello-playing thrown in on the side.

This summer, after a stint as a trip leader for Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica, Safo traveled to Accra, Ghana, to conduct field research. Hoping to discover how the Ghanian government can improve its public health campaign, Safo sifted through documents, lived with a host family and worked in a health clinic.

“They have so few medical professionals that they just assumed that I could administer shots and draw blood,” she says. “That’s where they really need doctors. I’d be most useful there.”

Back at Harvard, she hopes her thesis will not only provide an analysis of Ghana’s healthcare system, but also lead to improvement in its design.

Safo’s academic studies come from personal investment. Although she grew up in Nigeria and Liberia, she visited Ghana for the first time three years ago and met her extended family. Her impressions of the healthcare system have been extremely negative. “Every summer I’ve gone back I’ve had to go to a funeral,” she says.

Safo’s interest in public service has translated into mentoring school children in Roxbury with Women and Youth Supporting Each Other and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Safo also participates in Project Baby, a program that helps educate Boston-area families about child care.

“She has such an incredible power to be real and edgy and yet has this love for everyone and everyone loves her,” says PBHA President Kristin M. Garcia ’05, Safo’s blockmate.

Safo hopes to work for Teach for America after graduation, to complete medical school and then to return to Ghana or another African country to crusade for public health.

“She never rests,” says Bishay.

Safo, though, remains humble. “People are a controlled explosion of energy and creativity. They’re all such jewels. If there’s anything interesting about me, it’s the people I’m around.”