It's Thanksgiving and the biggest holiday week in the U.S. This year feels a bit different. This year has been unlike any other. Sorry to overstate the obvious, but it feels like I need to be a little overstating.
The challenges of this year have had a powerful impact on HBI. From our team and the way we work to the shift in programs and projects - things have changed. The changes have brought a profound sense of "new order" and renewed focus. The changes have, in many ways, been extremely beneficial to our work.
Look - I don't want to use these words of accomplishment to diminish the devastating impact the pandemic has had on so many people and communities . . . that would not be fair. Instead, I am thankful for the way our organization has been driven by the pandemic to focus and refine our efforts to best respond to the communities we serve. I am thankful for the way our team has boldly stepped into their new roles. I am thankful for the support we've received from all of you.
This has been - and continues to be - an extraordinary year. There have been so many challenges. There have also been so many blessings. This year as we begin our weeklong celebration of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the support you provide our organization so that we can be servants to others in this time of great need.
My phone has been buzzing with texts, WhatsApp messages, and calls. So many of you are reaching out to say you are thinking about Perú.
In case you missed it - over the past week Perú has been through a topsy turvy time . . . with a presidential impeachment, political demonstrations and riots (including clashes with police that led to two deaths), an interim presidential government, resignation of the interim president, congressional stalemate and finally a majority vote for a new interim president and administration. Talk about a hectic week.
For many of us familiar with the Perú of the late 1980s and early 90s - the last week has been a bit re-traumatizing. It's felt like the country was sliding back into a dictatorial government. Thankfully, and through the clarified voice of thousands of young people who took to the streets chanting "you picked on the wrong generation" - a crisis was averted and a caretaker government was put in place before the April 2021 elections.
Things are not completely out of the woods. The congressional vote that led to the election of a caretaker government and interim president was not without controversy. The Peruvian congress is a notoriously fractured legislative body with lawmakers from 9 different political parties and another 15 jockeying for elected seats in 2021. Gaining a majority and building a collation in the Peruvian Congress is challenging under the best of circumstances.
The pandemic, a crushing decrease in GDP, record levels of unemployment, and decades of angst over corruption and the arrogance of the political ruling class have led Perú to a tipping point. What will happen next is not entirely clear. Change is coming. A movement is underway. Perú is seeking change.
What does this mean for our work? We've been a part of a movement for over two decades. Ours is a movement of service. The movement we are a part of is about expanding access to evidence-based health services, training healthcare professionals in best and promising practices, and overhauling child welfare services and structures to ensure every child has access to the life they deserve. We're dedicated to this movement, and we're not going anywhere.
We stand by our brothers and sisters. We stand for our beloved country of Perú.
It has been a rough couple of weeks.
I don't think it matters where a person finds themself on the long continuum that is life, the past couple of weeks have been stressful.
This morning brought the sort of closure the U.S. and the world needs. The U.S. presidential election winner has been announced and a new government will take shape over the coming months. There is a palpable exuberance in many places - including our household.
There is, however, a great division. A big divide. People feel separated more than ever. The issues of politics are just a proxy for a much bigger undercurrent of distrust and fear. It is a challenge for so many - that unifying feels nearly impossible.
Is it? Is it impossible for us to come together, to rally around a cause bigger than ourselves? I think so. I think we are capable of so much more when we set aside our challenges and focus on the collective opportunities.
The global pandemic is here to stay. The impacts . . . tremendous morbidity, devastating loss of life, economic disruption, social upending - they'll be with us for decades to come. To heal, to create a world where we can collectively say everyone has an opportunity to live the life they deserve - we need to come together. We need to heal through our collective commitment to one another.
This won't be easy. Entrenchment, tribalism, deep-seated anger - all of these things have made us completely suspicious of the "them" of our communities. We've built walls that prevent us from truly knowing one another. From truly embracing one another. And, just like walls are built - they can be unbuilt. We can deconstruct the barriers. We can unite.
It will, however, require we join together to build the world everyone deserves. We can be bridges or we can be walls, but we can't be both. Let's unite as bridges of hope. We can do this . . . together.
It is Halloween 2020. This is the year we celebrate a Halloween of all treat and no trick. My goodness, nothing feels normal. Nothing feels safe any more.
This morning the two Casa Girasoles homes are preparing for unique celebrations. Neither house celebrates Halloween - the ghosts and ghouls Halloween. Instead, they prepare unique celebrations of the culture and heritage of the local regions. This includes All Saints and All Souls day observations - but more than anything, it includes fun activities for the kids.
Throughout the pandemic the staff of the Casa Girasoles have gone the extra effort to bring a sense of normalcy to the kids. Both homes are located on large properties. This has meant we have the physical environment for "sheltering-in-place" and allowing the kids the space and place to play and run around. The house in Ica even built a mountain bike course inside the compound.
I feel so fortunate that we can offer the boys a chance to feel like kids. That is not true for so many. Just yesterday I received a message from a staff person about one of the mothers in our Ines Project for Medically Fragile Children. The mother, a woman who has lived a life so much more complex than her 35 years, has a child with a rare in-born error of metabolism disorder. For the most part, management of the condition has been one long experiment. The mother, living on her own with 2 other children, has done a tremendous job advocating for her child - arranging appointments, managing the complicated puzzle of coordinating transportation, and holding her family together. They live in deep poverty. Renting a small hut (clapboard walls with no plumbing) on the roof of a mechanics garage.
The mother - originally from the Puno area high in the Andes - has been a challenge for the staff of the Ines Project. She can be demanding and often fails to follow-through on the requests of the team. A couple of weeks back they gave her an ultimatum - start to comply with the project requirements or leave. I know the team wasn't trying to be hardline They were just frustrated. We talked and worked on a plan that allowed everyone to show up. We made every effort to assure the mother was heard and had a place to show up with her needs to the project. The team crafted an agreement and presented it to her. She rejected the agreement. She didn't want to be controlled. She told the team she was going to go on her own.
I spoke with our project director yesterday. We both feel the real issue is one of fear. The mother has worked so hard to care for her family. She has scraped and fought for their safety and well-being. She is worn-out. The pandemic hasn't made this any easier. In fact, it has made her even more defensive and angry. An anger that comes from a deep space in our neurobiology that is focused on keeping us safe. She is literally reacting in a way that is about protecting herself and her family.
We've talked with the team. We're going to give the mother some space. We'll reach out in a few days. We'll let her know we are here and that we care for her and her family. We will giver her the space to tell us about her needs. We will make certain she is safe.
There is so much pain in the world. The simple things - trick-or-treating - that helped us to hold onto the "normal" are gone. The social-political-economic clashes that are all around us - they're exhausting. They're scary.
It strikes me the one thing we can offer one another is safety. We can be a safe space in relationship. We can be a space for others to feel heard, respected and honored.
Let's stick together. Let's seek safety.
I spoke at First Presbyterian Church of Vancouver yesterday. It was the first time I've been in a building, other than an occasional trip to the grocery store, in months.
There were only 10 or so people in the entire sanctuary, but it still felt a bit strange. Every precaution was fastidiously orchestrated and applied. My talk was taped and broadcast to the congregation (if you're interested, you can watch the talk at [starts at 47:10]: https://youtu.be/zFFvLrS_Kns). The whole production was first class.
I've spoke at many churches, civic groups, organizations, and clubs over the years. My talks are usually the same - the who, what, and why of Health Bridges. I talk about the origins of our work and the shift to becoming a 501(c)(3) registered organization. I generally speak about the projects and programs that punctuate our work. I talk about the vision we have for creating better collaboration and partnerships. It's a pretty standard talk.
Yesterday was different. Yesterday, I talked about hope.
So much has happened over the past 8 months. Too much. At times it feels like we've lived 9-lives in these pandemic months. At times it feels overwhelming, hopeless. Yesterday, in front of a few masked faces in a cavernous church sanctuary, I talked about how we can work together to overcome the feeling of hopelessness. I talked about how we can work together to be the hope so many people need.
Hope is a strange word. For many, it means wishing for and desiring of. For many, it is a word focused on dreams - with little grounding in reality. But the word hope means so much more than wishful thinking. The Latin root for hope means to curve or bend. It is a word focused on going in a different direction. A word focused on change.
I am living in the hope that we can bend the curve of justice for all. I live in hope that we can - and will - build a future for every child to have access to the life they deserve. I am standing in the hope that we can and will go in a different direction when we work together to bring hope to everyone.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.