by Pavitra Krishnamani
In addition to supporting the University of Southern California, Dana and David Dornsife serve as incredible role models for students by virtue of their work alleviating water poverty in Africa with the organization World Vision.
The Dornsifes spoke about their humanitarian work at the Visions and Voices event, “Safari of the Soul,” which took place on February 12, 2014. In an interview with Dana Dornsife, she revealed more about her inspiration to work in water poverty. “When you witness what clean water can very rapidly do in a positive way to the lives of women and children, in particular, it’s kind of infectious. We just really appreciated what we were able to do and the change we were able to bring to the lives of the rural villagers in Africa and so, we just stuck with it. We had no idea then [25 years ago] that we would be having this type of impact now.”
One of the most impactful experiences she had had was also one of the most devastating for her. “When you are bringing […] water to a village, they know that you are coming,” she said, setting the stage, “They, in all probability, have waited for a very long time for us to get there […] and there’s always a huge celebration when you get there. Everybody has their best clothes on and they sing and they dance and they celebrate and they’re really looking forward to having water in their village and having this life changing experience.”
“We were at this village in northern Ghana and we went through the whole celebration and in the background, […] the drill crew kept drilling […] and the drilling foreman just looked at us and shook his head and we weren’t going to hit water and it was really kind of surreal. I mean, you’re surrounded by people who have nothing who are so grateful that you’re there trying to do a good thing and bring clean water into their lives. And we were unsuccessful. We really felt like we had failed them,” Dornsife said, “When we finally got in the vehicles and we had to leave, we just didn’t know what to do. I never want to feel like that again.”
When asked what her work inspired in her, Dornsife said, “It just makes us very grateful for everything that we have, for the country that we live in, for the health and the well-being of our families, for the opportunities that living in the United States brings us. I wish that every student could have the opportunity to experience life in a third world country for even just a couple of weeks and I think that it would just have a profound effect on people’s lives moving forward.”
Reflecting on her college experience, Dornsife said, “College is a great platform to expose you to many different opportunities and different ways of looking at the world and your presence in it. I look at the students at USC now and, […] if I had to do it all over again, I would definitely […] value [education] a lot more than I did.” For students interested in humanitarian work, Dornsife said, “For the most part, university is the right place, especially when you are dealing with a university that has developed the kind of worldwide relationships that USC has developed. At a university like USC, you have the opportunity to take advantage of many things from an education perspective, but you also have the opportunity to take advantage of things from a global perspective.”
For pre-health students, for whom time is an increasingly limited commodity, it is important to remember “why you’re doing what you’re doing and make sure you literally keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening with the people that you’re working for,” said Dornsife, “You’re working for patients, for the betterment of their lives, whether it’s in relation to disease or prophylactic health and sometimes it’s really easy to lose sight of that.”
“Medicine is hard – it takes a lot of focus and a lot of determination. It can be very overwhelming at times – and so it’s important when you’re feeling overwhelmed […] to take a step back and […] allow yourself to appreciate the fact that what you are doing is helping other people and if you can allow yourself to appreciate that, then I think it helps you get through the really hard times,” she said.
To watch a recording of the presentation the Dornsifes gave on their Humanitarian work at “Safari of the Soul,” please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVBmAzv2Nk8.