Room To Grow Foundation
Medical Condition: Type 1 Diabetes
Medical Therapy: Insulin Pump*
Jennifer lives to help people in some of the world’s most remote and impoverished regions. With an insulin pump helping her manage type 1 diabetes, Jennifer co-founded the Room to Grow Foundation and has spent the past nine years in refugee camps on the Thailand/Burma border, providing food, medicine and educational opportunities to children.
"The year I turned 18, I almost died twice. The first time was at the end of a four-month youth exchange in Benin, West Africa. Days before I was to go home, I had an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts. A month later, home again, I was hospitalized with ketoacidosis and was diagnosed with diabetes. The nurses in the emergency room were so afraid I would slip into a coma, they wouldn't let me stand or walk unassisted.
"During those moments, I realized two things. First, my diagnosis meant I would never be able to live in a place like rural Africa again and was lucky to have had the opportunity to have done so in my life. Secondly, I realized that had the ketoacidosis come first while I was still in Africa, I may never have made it home, since people like me die wherever there isn't enough money and education and doctors.
"Fortunately, my insulin pump now allows me to live and work in a refugee camp, and to work with poor and marginalized communities. It just wouldn't have been possible on needles. With my pump, I believe that there is no place on this earth I can't live or work, and where I can't make a difference.
"Unfortunately, my second realization remains true. In Thailand and Burma I saw people with type 2 diabetes suffering. I never met anyone who had survived type 1 diabetes. I can't cure diabetes or save those people. But I do believe I can help alleviate poverty and suffering, particularly to increase access to medicine and education."
"I believe that there are at least a thousand ways you can make an impact and help change the world and they don’t all have to involve living in a refugee camp far from home. Speaking out, reaching out, supporting people, sharing stories and being a role model are all important ways of making an impact.
"Sometimes we make the biggest change just by being who we are, doing what we love, and staying healthy and strong. We are limited in the ways that we can help only by our imagination."
"In 2004, after witnessing a boarding house for children burn to the ground in a refugee camp, my friends and I started raising money to help them rebuild and recover. That led to our co-founding Room To Grow, an organization dedicated to alleviating poverty and supporting these vulnerable children. I spent seven years in refugee camps on the Thailand/Burma border working with migrant communities in particular. Who knows? Maybe one of those kids who we help feed and get through school is going to grow up and discover a cure for diabetes."