Josh Anyaosah, RN, staff nurse in 10 NW, doesn’t like to talk about the past. He’s got his eyes fixed firmly on the future. In 2001, at age 20, he arrived in Newark, New Jersey seeking political asylum. A decade-long civil war had decimated the West African country where he was born, Sierra Leone, and Anyaosah was part of a mass exodus of citizens—more than two million people—who fled to other countries.
Anyaosah came to Newark alone, without a high school diploma or command of English. He spoke African Creole and Temne, a local dialect of Sierra Leone, and spent his initial weeks as an immigrant watching TV to learn English. His first impression of the United States was disappointing. "All around me was poverty and nobody went to school, and I thought to myself, this is America?" he recalls. "I wanted a better life." Fortuitously, a distant acquaintance invited Anyaosah to visit Boston. The moment he arrived, he was struck by its academic atmosphere. "I noticed that everyone was reading a book," he says. "It felt like I could have a future here."
Anyaosah didn’t need much encouragement to stay. He found an apartment and juggled jobs at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Starbucks, where he memorized all his regulars’ drink orders. Every day, he scanned the classifieds, searching for jobs where he would be better compensated and challenged. One day, one of his customers made an astute observation about Anyaosah’s character. "She told me I had a good memory and good people skills, and that I’d make a great nurse," he says.
The remark reverberated in Anyaosah’s mind, and he decided to study for and take the GED, although he still wasn’t sure if he’d go back to school. But when Bed, Bath & Beyond offered him a full-time supervisor position in 2003, he turned it down to pursue a college degree at the University of Massachusetts.
At the campus in Dorchester, Anyaosah took some nursing classes and loved them. He came to Children’s Hospital Boston in 2007 as a clinical assistant and was hired as a staff nurse upon graduation. Now, he works on the surgical orthopedic floor.
Anyaosah has a profound interest in humanitarian work that stems from his own experience as a refugee. After Hurricane Katrina hit, Anyaosah organized two trips for nursing students to volunteer in New Orleans. In 2007, he created a non-profit organization called United for African Growth, that provides quality health care to people in Africa. Last year, his group funded a beehive project for an orphanage home in Kenya. By supplying bees, the non-profit gave the orphanage a sustainable way to create income.
On his last visit to Kenya, Anyaosah met with local leaders to talk about how his non-profit could best be of assistance. "There’s a lot of fragmentation and duplication among the non-profits working in Kenya," he says. "We’re working to fill in the gaps." For example, one non-profit funded a group of nurses to work in a community outreach hospital, but didn’t provide money for transportation, so the nurses couldn’t get to work.
Anyaosah came up with a solution: bicycles. Nurses now commute to the hospital thanks to bicycles purchased by his non-profit.
His group also supplied 1,000 mosquito nets to a village in Bondo, Kenya, and tracked malaria infections for a year before and after the nets’ arrival. Anyaosah brought the data, which showed a 75 percent reduction in malaria, to local leaders so they could advocate for government investment in preventing malaria. "I wanted to show them how by using evidence-based practices, you can influence legislation," he says.
Anyaosah says that the attitude of the African people he has helped is uplifting. "No matter how hard it is, people always smile and say it is fine," he says. That positive outlook is something Anyaosah shares. "I want to help others. There’s no ‘I’ in this world—we are all connected."