By Crystal Allen
Leader’s Training Course
As Putu Zinnah was walking the streets of Liberia in March 2011 he struggled with what he saw. Teenage girls, struggling to find income, were trading sex for money and some were going two or three days without eating.
Zinnah, a graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University, grew up in Liberia and came to the United States when he was 11 in 2002. He arrived July 3 with Echo Company at Leader’s Training Course, but he’s not here just to graduate but to achieve an even bigger dream of helping West Africa.
He is joining the Army to help build his leadership skills, confidence and to become a better speaker.
“I need to do it, just to give back as appreciation,” he said. “To serve my time and serve my years to this great nation.”
Staff Sgt. James Cook, LTC drill sergeant, said he sees great potential in Zinnah as a leader and thinks he’ll go far. “He’s quiet but observant,” he said.
“From my experience with Soldiers, most of the time if they’re from other countries they have a tendency to be more prideful, motivated to learn,” he said. “They believe in what America stands for and I see that very much in him. If he’s willing to listen and learn then he can do whatever he wants in life.”
However, Zinnah’s plan isn’t to stay in the Army, but to use the knowledge he learns while in America to help his home of Liberia, a mostly flat, tropical country on the coast of West Africa, slightly larger than Tennessee. Within the next five years he wants to open an HIV/AIDS clinic. More than half of new HIV cases in Liberia go untreated, in part because of the difficulty in reaching clinics, according to the National AIDS Control Programme of Liberia.
“I think my people need me more,” he said. “My general goal is just helping the people.”
The clinic will be run by Zinnah and his boss at his internship at Open Door Research Center. He wants to open the first clinic in Moravia, the capital of Liberia, and eventually open more in surrounding villages.
The clinics will be based primarily on prevention and it will be free to the public. It will be a place where people can receive free testing and condoms.
Funding is the one obstacle in the way of Zinnah’s dream. He’ll need at least $10,000 to get everything started but he’ll need even more once the clinic opens.
He’s currently saving his own money but will have to start the clinic with donations and grants he hopes to receive.
“I hope anybody out there can really help,” Zinnah said. “Just a little bit can help save a lot of lives.”
In the end his dream is to open about 50 centers spread throughout all of Africa. To Zinnah, this is a realistic expectation.
“I see people struggling,” Zinnah said. “That’s my contribution, I felt like, I can give to these people because that’s where I’m from.”