The road to commencement: Beryl Greywoode has a vision


Beryl Greywoode poses with happy children of Sierra Leone

At the age of 26, Beryl Greywoode is at the top of her game, and it keeps getting better.

Aside from graduating medical school in May and being selected to complete her residency at the Ivy League university Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital Boston, the UF medical student also has successfully started her own nonprofit organization.

Project RAIN launched its first efforts at the end of March, sending Greywoode and others from around the U.S., Sweden, Canada and England to run a children’s clinic at a hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, for a month. The project aims to create a working partnership between the pediatric department at the Princess Christian Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and medical care givers in London, England and at UF in an effort to combat the childhood mortality rate, Greywoode said.

Greywoode started Project RAIN, an anagram for Relieving Areas in Need, during her first year of medical school. She was sitting on a curb in New Orleans, taking a break from her volunteer work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when she had a thought about doing more to help people. So, she decided to google “how to start a nonprofit organization.”

“The country I come from has the highest infant mortality rate and rate of women dying in childbirth,” Greywoode said. “It was a desire to go back, realizing I owe it to my country to go back and help out.”

She said that the biggest challenge was determining the country’s most vital medical needs. Sierra Leone experienced a civil war, which began in 1991 and ended in 2000. Its aftermath is still affecting the country, especially health care.

“Post-war, there’s nothing,” Greywoode said. “It’s hard knowing what to take, what are the needs, what’s most effective?”

At the clinic, the primary focus will be on teaching oral rehydration and implementing interventions for anemia and diarrheal disease. Greywoode said that Project RAIN’s goal is sustainability, so they hope to give vaccines and educate people on proper hygiene and breast feeding techniques.

Greywoode’s uncle Godman Greywoode, a physician in Sierra Leone, helped her determine what was most-needed.

She said the organization has raised about $35,000 to purchase essential supplies such as vitamins and iron supplements to treat 400 children for a year, vaccinations, antibiotics, bandages, gauze, blood pressure cups, stethoscopes, IV bags and formula, as well as medications for deworming, scabies, allergies and asthma.

“Raising funds was both the hard and fun part,” Greywoode said. “We did old-school things like car washes, garage sales, but also got creative and partnered with Sweetwater, a local coffee plant in Gainesville, who produced RAIN coffee for us to sell.”

Greywoode said the coffee sales were quite a success, and that the coffee itself was actually grown in Africa. Because of free trade, the money went directly back to the farmers. She said they also had several large donations from professionals in the community and help from people at her old high school in Clearwater, Fla.

Greywoode’s mother, Eudora Greywoode, said she is proud of her daughter and her ambitions.

“I am very happy for her. We don’t tell them (the children) what to do, they choose based upon their interest. It’s something she wants to do and she is successful at it,” Mrs. Greywoode said. “I am very pleased she came up with a plan and was able to carry it out. It’s a very good idea and very needed.”

Greywoode said she feels blessed to be helping others. Her roots trace back to Africa. She was born in Nigeria in 1983, the second of five children. Greywoode’s parents had decided to leave Sierra Leone before she and her siblings were born, uncomfortable with raising children in a climate that soon turned to civil war.

The family then moved to Gainesville when Beryl was 5. Her father, Emile, focused on earning a doctorate in computer science at UF.
It wasn’t always easy. At one point in 1993, her family was homeless. But she said she was always happy.

“I feel like we’ve come into our own. I’m grateful for all the trials and struggles,” Greywoode said. “I’m thankful for the fact that I don’t look at life and expect things. I take care of the things I have.”

Greywoode vividly remembers the moment she decided she wanted to be a doctor, an idea that stemmed from a fascination with helping others and using medicine as a tool.

“I was in fourth grade, and my mom was picking my friend Kristen and I up from school,” Greywoode said. “A doctor had come to speak at our school. I remember ranting to Mom about healing all the people in the world.”

Although Mrs. Greywoode said she does not remember that car ride, she said it is not surprising her daughter chose medicine.
“She is very caring. She likes to do things for others,” Mrs. Greywoode said. “She’s good at helping.”

Greywoode said she didn’t decide on pediatrics until after her second year of medical school. She was speaking with Kendall Campbell, M.D., assistant dean of minority affairs at the College of Medicine, after one of his lectures.

“He said you don’t pick a specialty, you are called to a path in medicine. I thought about it, and said it’s always kids. I’ve been a camp counselor and a medical volunteer on the pediatric wards,” Greywoode said.

Greywoode has also volunteered at the UF Shands Eastside Community Practice with Campbell.

“She’s an outstanding student, very compassionate,” Campbell said. “She’s very altruistic. She is a visionary in where she wants to see health care for patients go.”

Greywoode said she feels thankful for all the help and support that got her to where she is now.

“There’s no way I’d be here,” Greywoode said. “No way without my classmates, faculty, friends and family.”

She credits her accomplishments to encouragement from others and her family, especially her parents’ faith and character.

“We’re an immigrant family, and it was a lot of hard work and sacrifice on behalf of my parents,” Greywoode said. “There were times without jobs, times we were homeless. I am blessed to be able to give back to others.”