There's a traditional model of global outreach. It's a model that supports the notion of reaching out and giving resources. It's a model that creates a gradient - those with resource and power and communities of need and people marginalized from opportunities. It's a model based on the principles of charity.
The charity model focuses on "giving" and places the giver at the center of the relationship. It's an alluring and sexy model because it puts a premium on the notion of "making a difference" and "doing something." We all want to make a difference, and doing is the perfect way to massage our own egos. Look, giving is a heart-felt approach . . . but it's not sustainable.
I hope this blog doesn't sound like a denigration of the notion of making a difference or giving. That's not my intent. However, before we make a difference we must be certain our "difference" is the "difference" the people we intend to serve are seeking or requesting. We must ask the communities we serve what they need, and invite them into a relationship of collaboration. Collaboration that focuses on the notion of doing with - not doing for.
I've struggled with the notion of charity. On one level it seems clear the world exists in a gradient that pushes some into a "have not" experience and others into an "abundance" experience. My issue with charity is the presumption that charity focuses on the idea that people need our help to build the lives they deserve. Perhaps they do. But we will never know unless we ask. Unless we build partnerships.
We all need relationships. We thrive in community. But - community is about sharing more than it is about giving. Community means we ask people what they want. And we work together. It means we invite one another into a relationship. A relationship that is just as much about serving as it is about receiving.
For me, charity focuses the power on the giver - and, because of that, it is never sustainable. At any time, a giver can decide to stop giving. Charity places the recipient at the mercy of the giver.
Rather, when we view our role as creating connections and building relationships - when we view people as the drivers of their own futures, we must give up the notion that we will be the "change" people need in their lives. Relationships and bridge building in global outreach shifts the focus toward sharing power with people and continually focusing on allowing people to define their own lives. A collaborative framework of global outreach requires us to slay our egos. It means we must move away from doing and driving, and toward being and listening.
Good intentions are great, but charity doesn't work. Sharing power is about working together. Working together requires deep relationships - and this is the key to collaboration. And the true mechanism for sustainable change.
Today we were out at Hope House, a home for formerly abandoned girls that HBI has partnered with for almost a decade. We took a group of amazing nursing students from Linfield College. The students are in Perú with HBI on their J-term semester for a "population-global health course."
I get asked a lot why HBI spends so much time partnering with universities and colleges to create service learning experiences for health professions students. For me, the answer is very clear. To make the statistics . . . real!
We suffer from a problem of perspective in the world of population and global health. It is very easy for the big challenges plaguing the world to become lost in data sets and faceless statistics. When we talk about the global impact of unclean water in a lecture on global health in a classroom, it is hard for a student to see past the blur of numbers to imagine the suffering of an individual. It's hard to put a face to a number. But when you meet a person who is facing the challenges of inadequate potable water, unhygienic waste disposal, a lack of access to health services - when you meet them and spend time with them, and get to know them . . . and serve them . . .they can never be a statistic to you again
It was Jospeh Stalin of all people who once said, "the death of one person is a tragedy, the death of one million is a statistic." It is really hard for people to capture the suffering in the statistics. So, we use the service learnings trips to connect students and health professionals to the people behind the data. We use the trips to build bridges.
Are we changing the world with our service learning trips? I don't know. But what I do know, is this: the 13 nursing students and 2 professors who interacted with the girls and staff at Hope House are very different for their experience. I know. I just spent a whole day with them hearing about the new world that is opening to them.
We're building connections. Join us. Thank you.
What?! I should imagine the declaration - its summer - comes as an alarming gesture to many of you. You may be thinking to yourself, "it sure doesn't feel like summer in Menasha?" Well, it is summer in the southern hemisphere and that means kicking off the new year with a bounty of activities.
This month alone, we have a team of nursing students arriving from Linfield College in Portland, Oregon for a 3-week service learning trip that will take them from Lima to Arequipa to the Colca Valley to the city of Puno and finally to Cusco and a trip to Machu Picchu. In addition, we have a service learning group from St. Olaf College in Minneapolis joining us for their annual J-term. We have an equally busy itinerary for the students from St. Olaf.
In addition to the service learning trips - we have a group of partners visiting from Canada to spend time learning more about our anemia project, Dr. Bob will be out and about training trainers and building a certification for the NRP project, we'll make the first visits to our new Casa Girasoles homes in Ica and Urubamba, and we have ongoing work with the Ines Project and health trainings. Phew.
It is a busy start to the new year.
So, its summer . . . the sun is strong, the breeze is gentle and the days are long. This is such an exciting time of year. Stay tuned for more updates.
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.