Hinsdale Central alumnus selected for Peace Corps in Zambia

Published: Monday, June 17, 2013 11:44 a.m. CDT

HINSDALE – Although Nirav Shah is no stranger to helping others, the 31-year-old Hinsdale Central alumnus is taking it one step further by joining the Peace Corps in Zambia.

For the next 27 months, the Westmont resident will be teaching public health in classrooms and assisting local clinics with health education.

"The duration was perfect actually, 27 months, to do something, learn something and assist in a country where assistance was needed the most," Shah said.

After attending College of DuPage, Shah went to California State University, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in international business and marketing in 2006. He headed east to New York for a job, but then traveled back Chicago, where he would enroll at Benedictine University and earn a master's degree in public health.

While at Benedictine, Shah participated in a one-week program the school offered that would send him to Tanzania to help the people there while working in a monastery; a trip that would be the catalyst for his new path.

"It kind of opened up my idea for my passion for global health," Shah said. "This was my calling."

Shah wanted to concentrate his thesis for public health abroad and spoke with his dean about traveling to Kenya in 2010 to help teach preventive care with HIV and AIDS through the organization Idealist.org.

After coming home and graduating, Shah took a job at the American Cancer Society in Evanston, where he previously volunteered to provide rides to cancer patients throughout DuPage County to and from radiation sessions or other appointments.

Shah has seen the effects of cancer firsthand not just from volunteering, but also because he lost his own father to stomach cancer at 11 years old. But from tragedy would come compassion.

"I just felt the connection," he said of his work with ACS. "Then I realized definitely what I was doing was important, but people across the pond needed our help the most."

Shah looked toward enrolling in the Peace Corps. He left for Zambia on June 11.

For the first three months, Shah will live with a host family and receive training before being fully immersed in the country's culture. After that, Shah not only wants to assist with public health, but also teach kids math, science or English on weekends.

He isn't done planning for the future, either. There seemed to be an internal mountain in him that he wanted to conquer, and what better way to do so than climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, which he plans on doing at this time next year.

Until then, Shah is just going to enjoy the moment.

"I love meeting new people, I love new culture and I love exploring," he said. "All I look forward to is serving the nations and being the best ambassador for my country."

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