Global Health: Are We Helping or Hurting?

Global Health: Are We Helping or Hurting?

I really enjoyed hearing about Carrie’s domestic and international experiences. I was truly blown away by all of the work she has done and places she has seen throughout her life so far. You could tell that she really has her life together. Therefore, I was surprised when she was so honest about the mistakes she and her colleagues made while they were doing research in Durban, South Africa. What more could someone like Carrie, who had all of the right intentions, have done to prevent making mistakes while conducting global health work? Based on her lecture and my own experiences, I came up with a few points on how we can do global health work in the most respectful and ethical way.

  1. Be educated about the culture.                                                                                                                             In class, Carrie guided us through many ways to try to understand and learn more about a culture that is not our own: read their news, learn some of their language, be knowledgable about their religion, or even just use google to further educate yourself.
  2. Keep the perspective that your trip is not about you.                                                                                  Whether you are on a short-term service trip or conducting a year-long research project, the purpose of your trip is to impact your host community in a positive way. If at any point you feel that you are doing more harm than you are doing good, step back and re-evaluate.
  3. Be open to furthering your understanding of the world around you.                                                     Try to absorb everything about the community that you are in. While you are there, turn off your phone and forget about the stressors you have back home. Take advantage of the opportunity you have to understand more about a culture that is different from your own, and take what you learn home with you. If you encounter something that is culturally different than what you are used to, don’t act disgusted or surprised, because could be interpreted as disrespectful and can put a wall up between you and the community you are in.
  4. Accept that you are going to make mistakes (and admit to them when you do).                              In the beginning of class, Carrie mentioned that, even if you do all of your research, it is impossible to fully understand everything about a culture, unless it is your own culture. It is inevitable to make mistakes when you are working abroad. How you respond to your mistakes, however, makes all of the difference. When you make a mistake, make sure to recognize it, apologize, and educate others about what to do instead. Carrie did not have to tell us about her failed research project in Durban, but she thought it was important to humbly admit to it and share what she had learned with us so that we could use that knowledge during our own experiences.

My questions for you all: Did Carrie’s lecture provide you with any new perspectives about global health work? Do you plan on doing any work abroad? If so, how will you make sure that your work is culturally sensitive and necessary for the community you are in?

5 thoughts on “Global Health: Are We Helping or Hurting?

  1. Alex,
    We talked about this topic before going on alternative spring break. It was a similar discussion. We addressed how it may be inappropriate to post pictures on social media, and who really looks good in the pictures. Also, we talked about how you are there to help the community in any way that you can, and not there to “add to your resume.” So this lecture was a bit of a review for me, but important nonetheless.
    I do plan to do service trips and study abroad. But whenever I do go on service trips, I am always conscious of taking pictures and mindful of why I am there. I always keep in mind that I am there to serve the community in whatever they need help with. Whether this work is exciting and makes me “look good” is a thought that does not cross my mind. The purpose of doing service is to provide help and resources to a community that needs it, and this is what will always be my first thought.

  2. Nice blog post! I really liked the way you gathered your thoughts into a few points in reflection to Carrie’s experiences and work globally. Being sensitive to other communities’ cultures is extremely important, and being able to keep an open mind to differences in beliefs can serve to be valuable lessons as future health care providers.

    In the future, I’d love to have the opportunity to work abroad and in order to ensure that my work is culturally sensitive during my time there, I would also be very mindful of the pictures being taken (trying to avoid technology in general). It’s important to remember the purpose behind these global health trips, and the importance of giving back to the community and becoming more knowledgeable of different cultures.

  3. Carrie’s lecture on being culturally sensitive when it comes to doing research abroad reminded me of my anthropology class. In Anthro, the longterm study of a population is called ethnography. In our class we discussed many of the potential issues with ethnography. One of the most important aspects to consider was the cultural impact of your research. Our teacher gave the example of using local “cultural consultants” that provide insight and understanding of the local culture to ensure respect. Another major thing to consider is technology. When observing native populations that do not utilize modern technology, it might be insensitive to video tape them or use your phone around them. Every facet of the culture you are studying must be considered in order to ensure culture sensitivity. I would love to do work abroad and I feel if I follow the tips we learned in both lecture and from my anthropology class I can be fairly certain my work will be socially aware and appropriate.

  4. Before Carrie’s lecture, I really didn’t have a strong understanding on what global health really was. Yeah we had the lecture last semester, but with Carrie’s lecture, I got a better understanding and actually got to see it. She opened my eyes to global health and what it really means. I want to find something that I am passionate about and advocate for it globally just like she did.

  5. I think that these are all very good points. The people go somewhere to try and help very rarely do they consider the possibility that they might accidentally do the opposite, so I think being careful about it is a good idea. I plan on eventually doing work in Japan and how I will avoid annoying people in such a different culture is a challenge I am not yet sure how to overcome. Personally I think that you cannot give up out of fear of making a mistake and that you should just try and learn from the mistakes you make to do better in the future.

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