Global Health: Who are we serving?

Global Health: Who are we serving?

Probably the most influential story in Carrie’s lecture was about her MIRT research she did in Durban, South Africa and how they came up with a solution to lessen the school’s youth violence. She told us about how they completely failed to realize that the school is across the street from a liquor store and that it isn’t a safe environment for the kids past dark so her solutions weren’t applicable. This anecdote was a powerful reminder that although people may want to go do international work for global health and do their best to help, they may not know enough about the culture or environment to truly be helpful and all their work will just benefit them. This raises the importance of taking time to really get to know the people you are serving. It is important to be culturally aware and competent as well as to take reciprocity into account.

Last summer, I went on a mission trip to Bolivia and spent time with orphans in Santa Cruz. We had gone to help create and open a new orphanage near Santa Cruz, and some had gone to provide medical services. Upon the initial immersion into the country and primary interactions with the people, I came to realize just how unprepared some of us were for the trip. We surely were all competent enough for the main mission and the manual labor we had to do as we tried our best to limit the burden of our presence to them; however, I found that some of us still had a substantial language barrier. Carrie’s experiences she shared with us reminded me so much about how some of us had really wished we had gotten to know the language better before going to Bolivia. As she said, cultural sensitivity, competence, confidentiality, collaboration, and personal image should be part of the basis of global health work.

Because of Carrie’s lecture and my own experience, I think it is very important to first get to know the people you are serving/researching and understand their cultural norms and environment they live in. One can make sure their work is culturally sensitive by learning the people’s language, reading up on their cultural norms, or even spending time with them and asking questions. By making the proper preparations for the research immersion, one can limit their burden on the people they are serving and maximize reciprocity.

What else in Carrie’s lecture spoke to you guys? How do you think the information she shared with us in the lecture can help you in your future as a medical professional whether you are planning to participate in global health work or not? And if you will participate in global health work, how can you maximize reciprocity?

10 thoughts on “Global Health: Who are we serving?

  1. Carrie’s anecdote about her MIRT research also really struck me as well. Although I knew from beforehand the two different purposes that some people have when going on service abroad trips (actually going there to work with the people vs. going there for personal benefits), her story gave me a more insightful understanding of the mindset one should have when going on a service abroad trip. Undoubtedly, people go on these trips with the intention of helping and bettering the lives of others. However, I realized that there is a huge difference if the person comes to a foreign country with or without some sort of tie to its people and culture beforehand. Without the fundamental connection, the people whom the person is helping become mere “props” or “subjects,” and the whole experience is turned into a vacation. I believe that in order for people to be able to go on these trips more ethically, they should not only ask themselves why they want to do the service that they will be doing, but also why they want to engage with that community and its people specifically.

  2. This particular story also resonated with me a lot. A lot of times, we come up with a solutions for our own problems and these solutions work out just fine. It was refreshing and a a great reminder to hear about how certain solutions are not really solutions at all.

    I will be going to Uganda this May and this story that Carrie shared allowed be to gain some insight into my abroad experience. I must observe the culture that I am surrounded in if I am to be of any real help to the Ugandan children that I will be taking care of. I cannot try to help these children as an American citizen, have to try to assist them according to their culture. Any other way would be counterproductive to the cause.

  3. Your account of your mission trip brings up a good point anyone should take into account when traveling abroad; many of us THINK we have a general sense of competency when approaching and learning about certain cultures, when in reality, we are either misusing our time in preparation or simply assume we will make a natural fit in wherever we travel. Our generation often likes to scratch the surface when investing time into an issue, and claim we have a good understanding of material. But to go beyond a few journal articles of information on a certain areas culture, I would take more gradual yet substantial steps to increasing reciprocity if I travel abroad.

    This could be done through gradual learning of basic phrases of language making an effort to reach out to actual individuals who traveled to certain areas. Most importantly, what stuck with me most about Carrie’s stories was that she not only actively understood the health concerns individuals in the areas she worked in were fighting for, but that she actively participated in these processes herself. It is with this active sense of involvement that health professionals working abroad can more organically immerse themselves; by not simply understanding these values, but adopting them.

  4. I also found Carrie’s story about her experience in South Africa to be very interesting and insightful.

    To answer your questions, I definitely think that as a healthcare professional one must have a degree of understanding of public health. Personally I would like to be a physician, and deal one on one with my patients. However even if I will be working on a relatively micro scale, it is still very important to understand healthcare in relation to culture on a global macro scale in order to better cater to your patients’ different multi-ethnic and cultural beliefs.

  5. I fully agree that language is a large factor of cultural competence. The ability to communicate is one that allows someone to better understand the people that they are interacting with and helps with the development of a stable relationship with the people that you are working with during an international experience. Yet, Carrie stressed the point of reciprocity. The positive effects that you leave on the community that you serve should be the goal of the global experiences that you create. This reciprocity of the global health initiatives is what makes these efforts worthwhile to the participants while allowing the people creating the global health initiatives to see their positive effects on the population

  6. Like many of you all have previously stated, Carrie’s story on her visit to Africa resonated with me as well. It may become easy for us to try to fall into the role of hero because we may be visiting a particular country for the sake of helping others. However, I think it was very insightful and a good point for Carrie to show us that though we may have the best intentions, we cannot come up with solutions without knowing our surrounding environments. I plan on studying abroad sometime during my undergraduate education as well as traveling when I become a doctor, so Carrie’s talk really showed me the importance of cultural awareness. Not only should I be researching the place in which I plan to be visiting but I must also keep in mind that the inner workings of said temporary community may very well be completely different from what I am used to. I think they best thing we can do when we fall into these situations is to keep an open mind and not allow ourselves to see a culture from one point of view. It is easy for us to come up with answers or approach things in a certain way when it could be sending off a different message to the people who are around you.

  7. I agree with you. Immersing oneself in the culture of a place you want to visit is essential. Developing relationships within the area before providing service is vital to understanding the community’s wishes properly. The communities we visit are not the less than and we are not greater or more important than them, often though many people with good intentions forget this. I believe this can also relate to Dr. Harper’s stories he shared in his professional autobiography. His outreach events and programs were successful in the areas he visited mainly because he was willing to take on humility and listen to and learn from the culture.

  8. I think one of the main things that it comes down to is having the necessary preparation when traveling globally. You may come in with the right intentions and the right ideas, but if you are not at all aware of the culture and of the situation you could likely cause more problems then you solve. This spring break, a part of our rugby team went to Cuba in order to work with some of the community projects down there. One of the most important things we did was talk to a company beforehand and get a proper understanding of the culture and atmosphere. You will never be able to fully understand and learn a different culture, but making just some effort to make yourself more aware of the situation you are entering takes burden off of the group you are trying to help.

  9. The lecture this week made me feel slightly more aware of what is going on around me. The main message I got out Carrie’s lecture is that people are not nearly appreciative enough of the culture they grow around in richer neighborhoods. I grew up in a relatively safe hometown, where i could go out in the middle of the night and wouldn’t dream of being in any real danger. In environments like that, social and health issues are solved easier. However, in lesser developed or possibly more dangerous neighborhoods, the issue of health disparities cannot even be addressed until the conditions of the surrounding environment improve.

  10. I think everyone wants to help out those in need but taking the time to understand the culture and society people are from has to be done to truly understand the needs of the people. In our PA this week, the speaker made the same comments as Carrie, to really make an impact and create a solution that works, you have to work with the community and understand the limitations and boundaries within them. With our speakers’ work on AIDS/HIV prevention, he took a lot of time working with the community and hearing what their input was to create an effective and successful program. To go to a community, drop a plan on them without any prior knowledge of the people and think it is going to work is naive. Understanding the community is half the battle when it comes to fixing major health disparities and public health issues in communities.

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