Thursday, February 4, 2010

Global Health

So I'm going to Thailand for a month. Just got the official notice today. I'll be there for a month starting the second week of June through the second week in July. I have no doubt that I will be writing lots more about this in the future months, but the point of telling this is to note that as a part of this study abroad, I have to take a course on Global Health. In the class we talk about what it means to be a public health professional in an international setting.

When I was younger, I dreamt of saving the world. I saw the photos of children in Africa and Latin America and listened to the news of wars and famine and poverty and I would daydream to myself about how I was going to one day travel to those far-away places and help suffering people and how the world was going to get fixed and everyone would live happily ever after. I can't even tell you how many times I've daydreamed about this sort of thing, but let's just say that it was FAR more time than I ever spent thinking about getting married and having babies and a house with a white picket fence. In fact, much of my life has been directed around figuring out a cheap way to get "international" experience in order to boost my resume so that I would be a good candidate one day for some U.N. post somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. This dream has led me to volunteer work, refugee studies, and a whole host of experiences that I felt would expand my horizons in ways that would someday help me "save the world."

Today, I am here to report, that the dream is on its deathbed.

It's on its deathbed because, quite frankly, I'm a ginormous ignoramus. Oh, and I'm not God. I don't even believe in God.

I think the dying process of this dream really started when I started falling in love with my home. For me, falling in love with Utah and with the United States of America has been an evolutionary process that's taken many years, a political science degree, and a few bruises. But I do. I love my home. Love, however, does not mean that I am patriotic or nationalistic. I think this country is fuuuuucked up; I refuse to look away from that. But love is the reason I don't look away, or move to Europe, or become completely cynical and jaded.

However, loving one's home is a matter of really trying to "know" a place. To know the names of the mountains that surround me and the good places to eat downtown. To know the demographics and the politics and the issues in my neighborhood. To be familiar with the seasons and the plants that grow here and the good coffee shops and the times of all the festivals. It also means trying to understand the people who live here. And, if you're a crazed feministy atheist liberal, trying to understand the conservative Mormon culture here is a stretch. And I was Mormon once! Trying to understand the people and the culture of the place I call home is goal that I am still working on, and probably will be for the rest of my life. God forbid I eventually move somewhere else and have to start over again. (and yes, I probably will move elsewhere) :)

The point of this is that I have miles to go before I will really feel like I understand America. And I have even more miles (read: infinite) to go before I really feel like I've really got an understanding of America's problems (lack of health care, poverty, poor education, misogyny, racism, etc) and can solve them all. And until I can solve all the problems with my place, I'm just not feeling all that qualified to go to other people's homes and tell them how to fix their problems. What do I know? Yeah. Not a lot.

This doesn't mean that my heart doesn't absolutely burst every single time I hear about the tragedies occurring globally. I pretty much can't even think about the Democratic Republic of Congo without tearing up. Nothing gets to me like poverty does. It absolutely rips me up inside to know that people are suffering needlessly. These days I console myself with the knowledge that people in need are people in need and helping people in need in my own neighborhood is just as good as helping people in need around the world. Every human life has worth.

It also doesn't mean that I disparage the many people that travel around the globe trying to make a difference. Many of those people are experts in their fields and have means to back their directives. And many more people are just trying to do something kind to try and give back and alleviate the pains of a suffering world.

I chose the Thailand program because it's an education program rather than a service program. We're not going to try to solve any problems. We'll be under the tutelage of doctors, epidemiologists, hospital directors, monks, and government officials from Thailand who are getting paid to teach us what they know. They're going to show us what's up. And I'm excited to learn. But the objective here, at least for me, is just to learn. Hopefully they'll have something to teach me that I can take home.

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