CU Anschutz Today

Anowara Begum’s journey

Anowara Begum and three women from her village

Anowara Begum’s journey from a remote village in Bangladesh to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus is an inspiring tale of courage and determination. She enrolled in the Colorado School of Public Health after a chance conversation at a conference in Germany, which left her with a strong opinion about CU Anschutz.

“It will be a very supportive and accepting environment,” she said. “I can make a home away from home there.”

From Bangladesh to CU Anschutz

Women’s education is not a priority in Begum’s home village. The woman’s role is confined to cooking and raising children, and the cooking is completed inside using biomass fuels like grass, dung and leaves. Past research suggests that the smoke released from these types of fuels may lead to several types of respiratory diseases.

Anowara Begum in her home village

“I saw my mother cooking inside with different fuels like cow dung and straw,” Begum said. “She never questioned is the smoke from these fuels bad for me?”

Begum’s inquisitive nature led her to think about these health implications, and she envisioned that one day she could provide solutions. In order to follow her dream, she moved away from her family to a larger city in Bangladesh to complete her secondary education and undergraduate degree in Public Health.

After her undergraduate career, Begum was at a crossroads: Should she stay in Bangladesh? Should she go to another country to get more experience? She made her decision after a serendipitous encounter with a CU Anschutz student she met at a conference in Germany. Begum was enamored by the student’s amicable attitude. “I thought to myself, ‘Well, if this person is so nice from there, then maybe that place is nice as well,’” Begum explained.

She had never even visited the United States and yet, decided to make a leap of faith and apply exclusively to the Colorado School of Public Health.

Taking research back to Bangladesh

While studying at CU Anschutz, Begum realized a unique opportunity to cultivate her researching skills and passions. Ultimately, she wants to implement culturally appropriate public health solutions in Bangladesh.

Anowara Begum

“There is a great amount of research being done, but many researchers are missing that cultural appropriation aspect,” Begum said. “That part is the most important to me, because you can’t implement effective changes in public health unless you understand the big picture of the local culture.”

Begum believes she can change the way research has been applied in her home country because of her personal experiences growing up there. She believes her uniquely personal touch could make lasting impacts on communities in need. For her practicum, she was afforded the opportunity to apply her acquired skills by traveling back to Bangladesh.

In summer 2016, Begum received a grant to work with the University of Southern California to study biomass-fueled indoor air pollution exposure in Bangladesh. She helped develop culturally appropriate survey questions that consider regional specific housing characteristics. These considerations included the type of house the resident lives in, and what kind of stove they used.

The research was successful, but her real accomplishment lay in the new attitude of the women in her home village. She realized she had become a beacon of hope for other women in her village. “I am the first-generation woman with higher education in my family,” Begum said. “I realized when I went back home that I can be a role model beyond public health, that I can influence the society by showing how I am getting an education.”

That experience was overwhelmingly emotional for Begum. “I always said I would come back, but then I actually did,” she said. “It gave hope to the village to see me back.” It is Begum’s dream to return to Bangladesh after continuing her studies and practical training in Colorado.

A New Home in CU Anschutz

Begum’s experience at CU Anschutz has not only been rich in academics, but also in extracurricular activities. During orientation, the International Student Group approached her.  “I felt like I had known them for ages,” she said. “They guided me as an international student from the beginning. They hung out with me and kept me connected to campus. If I did not have that group, I would not be the person who I am today.”

Anowara Begum and women from the International Student Group

Begum believes she must give back, so she now serves as president of the International Student Group. There are 50 members of international background and 20 members of domestic background. “Anyone who believes in diversity should be a part of this group,” she said. “You don’t have to be international; you just have to want friends.”

Begum’s determination led her to Colorado, and CU Anschutz provided her a beneficial, safe learning environment. She strongly believes that her experiences here will provide a great background to conduct future research in Bangladesh. “I’m very root-oriented,” she said. “I am drawn back to where I came from, my family. But I also have a great support system here; the professors and friends, they are family to me. They are going to be my lifelong friends. This is why I call it a home away from home.”