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The murky waters of global health involvement: why do it?

Posted Nov 10 2008 4:15pm

Why did I come to this field of "global health". Why is this the work that I apparently choose each day, every day? This incomplete list is for my personal benefit but maybe it can be crafted for societal benefit. On this high wave of global health, why are we all here? Are we willing to look at the hard reasons? Something tells me that our reasoning is often not about 'global health' at all. It's about perceiving meaning, personal identity, rewards and escape. It is seeking what feels unprovided in our own nations, communities, relationships and minds. It often appears that's what I seek.

Meaning.
I need to feel meaning in my work, to imagine that it contributes to something greater than myself. I'm not sure if this is for internal or external recognition.


Personal Identity.
My identity in the eyes of many stems predominantly from my global involvement. I have come to latch onto this identity because people create positive associations when they imagine this type of work. I see in myself a need to be identified as someone who cares about the well-being of others in hard places, and someone who looks past stereotypes and generalizations. It makes me feel smarter and more human.

Escape.
I wish I could escape the nuclear, isolated nature of communities in Canada and the US, and have looked for other ways of living in community through work in central and east Africa, and south east Asia... and also in my yoga community. I want to feel less separate, less isolated in thought. As of yet, I can't escape the ingrained ideas of community that I hold internally.

Rewards.
When I get on a plane to engage in "global health" activities, people think I'm doing something great. I am rewarded in words by my family, my partner, my friends. This definitely feeds the ego and somewhat obscures the point.

These ideas are incomplete but it's a start. Another reason I engage in global health is my feeling of personal ignorance. But I'll need to take that up in another blog.

On an aside, recently at the GHEC conference, a physician was telling me about the fact that once you get out of medical school, you just can't persue global health any more. The responsibilities of family, residency, debt-repayment, morgages, etc are too much to combine with global health work. I said, "but I wonder how much those physicians were truly committed to the ideals of global health in the first place..." to which he became really defensive and told me No, and that I couldn't know what I was talking about.

I'm always impressed when people find it incredibly easy to tell you how wrong you are.

We'll see if he is correct. Although I wonder if physicians who abandon the persuit of global health justice never stopped to look at why they cared in the first place.

"Words that never amount to more than their meant will play themselves out." - Glen Hansard.

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