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.