Past Event

Into Africa, Out of Academia: A Doctor's Memoir by Kwan Kew Lai

September 22, 2022
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Online Columbia Global Centers | Nairobi

Columbia Global Centers | Nairobi African Book Talk Series (ABTS) is a virtual program that primarily features African authors and African Literature. With this series, CGC | Nairobi provides a platform where African writers and authors documenting African content can engage a global audience. The authors discuss their work and exciting perspectives on how personal, political, and cultural experiences drive their storytelling.

The upcoming episode will feature "Into Africa, Out of Academia: A Doctor's Memoir," by Kwan Kew Lai. In 2006, Dr. Lai left her full-time position as a professor in the United States to provide medical-humanitarian aid to the remote villages and war-torn areas of Africa. Into Africa, Out of Academia is a memoir that follows her experiences from 2006 to 2013 as she provided care during the HIV/AIDs epidemics, after natural disasters, and as a relief doctor in refugee camps in Kenya, Libya, Uganda and South Sudan, where civil war virtually wiped out all existing healthcare facilities.

Join us on September, 22nd , as we delve deeper into this discussion in a session moderated by Jennifer Dohrn, the director of the Office of Global Initiatives and an assistant professor at Columbia Nursing School.



Kwan Kew Lai, MD, DMD is a Harvard Medical faculty physician specializing in infectious diseases. She is a disaster relief medical volunteer who has volunteered her medical services worldwide.

Originally from Penang, Malaysia, Lai came to the United States after receiving a scholarship to attend Wellesley. Following her alma mater's motto of "non ministrari sed ministrare," (not to be ministered unto but to minister), she tries to pay it forward.​

Lai volunteered in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Vietnam, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, and Malawi. She responded to natural disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, drought and famine in Kenya and the Somalian border, hurricanes in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and the gulf coast, and outbreaks such as cholera in Haiti. She treated Ebola patients in Liberia and Sierra Leone during the greatest Ebola outbreak in Africa. The COVID pandemic drove her to volunteer at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York, and on the US Virgin Island of St. Croix.

She worked with refugees of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Uganda, refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Moria Camp on the Greek Island of Lesvos, and war-torn South Sudan, Libya, and Yemen.

When the crackdown on the Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar army caused them to flee to Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Lai spent time in the biggest refugee camp in the world.

Lai has received awards for her work, which include being a three-time recipient of the President's Volunteer Service Award. Wellesley College awarded her the Distinguished Alumna Award and Chicago Medical School the Distinguished Alumni Service Award.

She is the lead author of many professional publications and presentations in her field and a contributor to the Infectious Disease Society Science Speaks blog posts.

She paints when inspired and exhibits her artwork at the Belmont Art Gallery. She is also a marathon runner.



Jennifer Dohrn, MS, DNP,  is the director of the Office of Global Initiatives and an assistant professor at Columbia Nursing, where she teaches community health. Dohrn also oversees the collaboration between Columbia Nursing and Columbia Global Centers and leads the Columbia Nursing World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Advanced Practice Nursing. Dohrn has worked as a nurse educator and nurse midwife for over two decades. She previously served as the program director of the Nurse Midwifery program at Columbia Nursing and as project director for the ICAP Nurse Capacity Building Program/Nursing Education Partnership Initiative Coordinating Center at Mailman School of Public Health. For over a decade at ICAP, Dorhn worked to improve the infrastructure for nurses and nurse midwives in 12 Sub-Saharan African countries. She continues to contribute to the ICAP program and works at a community health center in the Bronx. She received MS and DNP degrees from Columbia Nursing.