TURLOCK -- Growing up, Anne Marie Hyer set her heart on seeing three places: Africa, India and Thailand.
At 23, the 2005 Turlock High graduate has knocked two of them off her list, not just visiting them but helping some of their neediest people.
Hyer returned this month from three weeks in India, where she worked in a leper colony. Last summer, she spent five weeks in Africa, taking part in a research project on AIDS and then went to Peru to help present the findings.
What started as a chance opportunity -- her mother's cousin was involved with the AIDS study -- turned into a lifelong goal.
"I'm definitely going to stay involved," said Hyer, who graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in psychology. "I don't know if it will be as a career, but there are more countries I want to see, and help."
Hyer wasn't sure what to expect when she went to Africa, but after arriving in Ghana she knew she made the right choice.
"I felt very welcomed in that country," she said. "There was music all the time -- kids were drumming on their desks in school and singing during recess."
Hyer's group surveyed villagers on their knowledge of AIDS, which has ravaged Africa.
"The women hurt your heart a little bit," she said. "We met with women's groups, and they did not talk. They just didn't have a voice."
Most of the people Hyer encountered were poor, and many were sick.
"It's hard -- you see the (swollen) bellies you're used to seeing on TV," she said. "But you're there to teach and to love."
This spring's trip to India was a little more happenstance, and challenging. Hyer's roommate introduced her to Rising Star Outreach, an organization dedicated to helping people who suffer from leprosy and their families.
She signed up -- alone.
Marie Hyer said she was a little nervous about her daughter's world travels, more so when she went to India, "maybe because (in Africa) she was going with a cousin of mine."
"But I was anxious for her to get this experience."
Hyer said she spent a couple of days in a hotel, then helped open a new colony for people who had leprosy and tested people for diabetes. Although they no longer were infected, the disease left them with deformities and wounds, and they were labeled "the untouchables."
Hyer helped clean and treat the wounds of people from whom many shy away.
"There is a caste system, and the lepers are the lowest of the low," she said.
She said she wasn't sure how she would handle treating people suffering the effects of leprosy.
"But when you get there, it's more about making sure they're comfortable with what you're doing," she said.
One man stayed back when everyone else went for treatment. Hyer said. She went over to him, made sure he was OK with it, then cleaned and bandaged his hands. It was a powerful moment, she said, making clear the value of the human touch.
"I knew today was a different and important day," she said.
Hyer kept family and friends updated on her activities through a blog. At one point, a Salt Lake City newspaper picked up on it and her readership suddenly exploded. She got comments from people all over the world.
Now, she's home for awhile, looking for a job before starting work on a graduate degree next year. She's not sure where her future will take her, but she is firm on one thing: "I will not stop." Her experiences in world health will be a part of whatever she does.
Her mother is confident that's true.
"It's gratifying to see the influence she's been in the places she's visited," Marie Hyer said. "But she's also been a sweet influence in our home."
Hyer said wherever her future takes her, she's eager to expand on the lessons she learned in her travels.
"It taught me to look at people, and to learn how to communicate without language," she said. "You look them in the eye, hold their hand. There are other ways to connect."
On the Net:
Rising Star Outreach, www.risingstaroutreach.org.
Hyer's blog: http://sewpurple.blogspot.com.