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While Researching Geriatric Health in Kenya, WKU Student Meets Grandmother of President Obama

Amy Correll

It's not unusual for a college student to travel overseas as part of a study abroad program or research effort. What is unusual, however, is meeting the grandmother of the sitting U.S. president.

That's exactly what happened to Amy Correll, a Somerset native and WKU student who recently traveled to Kenya to conduct research for her honor's thesis on geriatric health studies.

Amy spoke to WKU Public Radio Thursday about her research and how she came to meet Sarah Obama. Here are some excerpts from our interview:

Tell us about what you were researching while in Kenya.

"We recognized a lot of needs, even in the hospital setting. And I was curious to know how elders there were functioning outside of that. I visited some very rural areas, did home visits, and did a survey through a translator with residents ages 60 and above."

"I did blood pressure evaluations, and took heights and weights for malnutrition--which is pretty rampant there."

"And I asked pretty general questions about whether they were happy with their current physical state, or if they had access to clean water, and whether they had access to a doctor, or how hard it would be for them to come across the daily food supply they need...are they having at least three meals a day?"

You had a meeting with the grandmother of President Obama while you were in Kenya. Tell us how that happened, and what she shared with you.

"Mrs. Sarah Obama--President Obama's biological grandmother--lives about two hours from where I was staying in my village. One day we decided to make the trip up and see if she would be interested in taking part in my project."

"I got there and she had a gate and a guard, and I was able to talk to the guard about who I was and what I was doing and my hopes for Kenya. Mrs. Obama was very welcoming and invited me right into her home, and was willing to answer any questions I had."

"I got to discuss with her everything from what I had found in my village, as well as what she does. She has a Sarah Obama Foundation, and is active in housing widows, educating orphans...she has a group called Grandmothers Against Malaria. She's called the "goodwill ambassador" of Kenya, and it was so great to speak with someone who is so influential, and to get to hear about what she thought the elderly needed."

What did she tell you that she believed the elderly need in Kenya?

"Mrs. Obama had really great information regarding the women who are older. Just like elsewhere in the world, the life span for women in Kenya is much longer, and many are left widowed."

"A lot of times women there who are 60 and above, the thing Mrs. Obama says they need the most is empowerment. Because they are often at a standstill if they've lost their husband, and--with HIV/AIDS being rampant--they've also often lost their kid, and they're caring for orphans, but they aren't employed."

"Maybe their work has always been in the garden, or as banana salesmen, or basket-weavers--nothing they can substantially do as an older person with arthritis or severe pain."

"Mrs. Obama's goal, and what she would like to see me develop, is ways to empower women. She thinks there would be a huge impact from that."

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio. He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.
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