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Serving Above and Beyond: Spotlight on Dr. Yemi Olufolabi

Article by Helen Akinc

One  of the first things I noticed when I met Yemi a number of years ago is  that he speaks with a gentleness and strength that immediately puts the  listener at ease and suggests a power derived from wisdom, compassion,  and intellect. Dr. Adeyemi Olufolabi, a specialist in obstetric and  gynecological anesthesia at Duke University, is one of Kybele’s most  dedicated volunteers.  Known for his humor and easy-going  nature, he is passionate about his work and spoke eloquently about the  meaningfulness of his work at Kybele.

He  was born in Colchester, England to Nigerian parents who had gone to  England to study psychiatric nursing. Soon he was exposed to different  cultures, when his father made a career switch and joined the Nigerian  diplomatic service, moving the family to Washington, DC, Italy, Ghana,  and Ethiopia, to name a few. Fast forward and he went to medical school  in Nigeria where the country’s future doctors are educated for free, and  then he underwent training in Anesthesiology in England. Yemi first  experienced Duke University when he went there in 1997 for a one-year  research appointment. He returned in 1999 and has been there ever since.  Along the way, he married and he and his wife have three children.

He  first became involved with Kybele when in 2002 Medge did a program at  Duke on work she’d done in Turkey. He approached her and mentioned that  if she ever wanted to do a program in Africa similar to what she’d done  in Turkey, to count him in. In 2005, Yemi Olufolabi, Medge Owen, and  Vernon Ross first went to Accra to explore possibilities there in Ghana.  And the rest is history.

When  asked how participating in Kybele programs has changed his life, Yemi  spoke of several important areas. His work of leading trips to Ghana and  co-leading the Ghana Project with Medge has been the “deepest answer”  to his personal desire to make a contribution to the African continent.  He spoke with great fervor and passion when describing the sense of  satisfaction he gets from being able to give back to the continent of  his people. The leadership experience itself has deepened his own sense  of his strengths and weaknesses in his particular leadership style. The  fact that this volunteer activity is closely connected to his  professional need makes the work yet more meaningful. He spoke of the  critical need for trained medical professionals in Africa, and that this  is a matter of life and death. Yemi mentioned that global health is a  relatively recent development in the field of anesthesia and that it is  rewarding to be part of this evolving process.

Being  part of a project that seeks to address some of the great need in parts  of the world for trained physicians and equipment and supplies  contributes both to the sense of accomplishment and purpose but at times  the circumstances and conditions are overwhelming. There is much, much  work to be done. Yemi’s faith is a major source of support during both  the overwhelming times and the times of great joy and accomplishment. Abraham  Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. are role models who inspire him. He  is also inspired by Medge Owen and “loves the fire she exudes regarding  the prevention of unnecessary deaths among young pregnant women”. Dr.  Olufolabi’s work and dedication are clearly an inspiration to others,  and he is an important role model of wisdom, compassion, and  selflessness the world desperately needs.  

Kybele thanks you, Yemi.