Unsung Hero: Lonnie Hackett, on a life-changing course
BRUNSWICK — Lonnie Hackett was on top of the world in the spring of 2011.
He had gotten off to a strong start in his first year at Bowdoin College, excelling in the classroom, on the football field and on the track. He planned to enter medical school after graduation and pursue a career in sports medicine. And then his life took a surprising turn.
“I had been very focused on getting good grades and working hard at football and track,” the Bangor native recalled. “But something was missing.”
He found that missing “something” in Lusaka, Zambia, during the summer after his first year at Bowdoin, working with the Communities Without Borders program. The program, started by Dick Bail, a Bowdoin graduate from the Class of 1964, was designed to educate orphans and other vulnerable children in Africa.
“Dr. Bail gave each of the five Bowdoin interns $4,000 at the start of the summer,” Hackett said, “and two contact numbers. And he said, ‘Go get inspired.’”
Hackett began his summer experience teaching English and math in one of the local schools. “I wasn’t the best teacher," he said, "so I wanted to do something different."
He decided to do what he could to help ease the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Bail gave the OK to tackle the project, and Hackett went to work.
“I garnered meetings and developed relationships with Zambian government officials and nonprofit leaders who provided contact information for area schools. I spent the remainder of the summer leading HIV/AIDS education courses for hundreds of students with support from school staff," Hackett said. "The project was small in scope, but it set the groundwork that enabled me to found Healthy Kids/Brighter Futures, a nonprofit organization providing medical services and health education to Zambian children."
Since that eventful summer, Hackett has dropped football, something he never thought he’d do. He continued to compile a superb academic record at Bowdoin and excel in track, while establishing HK/BF.
“Over the past two years, my aim has been to increase the impact of HK/BF. I have created partnerships in Lusaka, Zambia with doctors, health clinics, NGOs, and schools to provide medical services and health education to vulnerable children," he said.
“During this past summer, I led a team of 16 Zambian medical personnel, successfully providing free health services to over 1,400 children. I also employed a team of health promotion educators to run workshops that empower Zambian teachers to hold health education lessons at their schools," Hackett continued. "Currently, we have trained teachers at 35 schools throughout Lusaka, and as a result, over 10,000 kids will now receive knowledge essential to good health.”
When asked why he’s sacrificed a potentially lucrative career in medicine to provide health care and education to people halfway around the world, Hackett said “I’ve known a lot of wealthy people who are miserable, and a lot of poor people who are happy. I’ll never be rich, but I hope I can help make a difference.”