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University of Missouri

Kenya Before Medical School

Saskia Chaskelson, BS ’11, helps children in Kenya.

Saskia Chaskelson and Mark Martin.

In Kenya, Saskia Chaskelson taught street youth how to raise chickens and sell eggs. Mark Martin, right, became the brains behind the operation. Photo by Francisca Vergara Vial.

Saskia Chaskelson, BS ’11, could have trotted along the route of medical school and later launched a career in pediatrics, her field of choice. But she decided to help children in need now and veered off the academic path.

Chaskelson, of St. Louis, assists medical professionals who treat and care for pediatric patients through Humanity for Children, a nonprofit pediatric care organization.

I wanted to give back and have a new experience,” Chaskelson says.

That new experience has included saving and improving lives.

While helping start a nutrition program for malnourished children in Kenya, Chaskelson opened a poultry farm that employs men condemned as “street youth,” or societal outcasts. “They live in a dumping site,” she says.

Through the program, the men have built farms, bought chickens and sold the eggs. “It’s really exciting to watch them become more ambitious,” Chaskelson says. More than providing employment, the program has replaced the men’s self-doubt with pride.

From her devotion to service, Chaskelson has learned lessons that will follow her throughout her career. Accepting death, whether inevitable or unexpected, has been the most difficult lesson.

It’s impossible to treat all the children, but we try to help as many as possible,” Chaskelson says.

With malaria and malnutrition prevalent during the dry season, she helped assess which children most needed the program’s medical services.

The first patients were 1-year-old twins who had gained only about 2 pounds since birth.

They couldn’t hold their heads up or stand,” Chaskelson says. She found the twins October 2011. Although the nutrition program helped them, progress was short-lived. The twins died from meningitis three months later. “I think it’s a hard moment, but it was also a defining moment for me,” she says. “It was motivation to fight for the other children.”