“Nothing good in life comes easy. All the best things are hard. If they weren't – everyone who have them and no one would want them.”
My father repeated this statement to me throughout my childhood. It became a mantra. I built my entire life around the pursuit of this message. Sometimes, with limited success.
Now, in this time of great uncertainty and many unknows - it’s become a sort of meditation. It has helped me to recognize the importance of the work we are doing and the power of staying the course – in spite of the challenges or complexity.
We have daily Zoom meetings with our team on the ground in Perú. The meetings range from updates and reports on projects and programs to informal mental health support. Over the past weeks the tone of the meetings has shifted. Everyone is tired. The strain of the past 100+ days is weighing heavy. And, it is becoming more and more evident - the hardest part of our work is getting harder. We know this. We expect this. It does not, however, make it any less challenging.
One thing does help to ease the burden and strain - working in collaboration. It's knowing our work is connected to partnerships and a network of collaborative organizations. It's knowing we are building upon one another's efforts. This is a great comfort to our team. There are times on our Zoom meetings when we feel the strain – and then remember the folks who are in the trenches of this work with us. We remember, we’re not alone.
We help to teach a Global Health course for American College of Education (Indianapolis, IN), that brings together nursing students from the U.S. and Perú in a virtual learning space. Last night we brought together a group of nursing students from a university in the city of Arequipa. They're bright, passionate people who participate in the course to expand their knowledge and connect with colleagues from different countries. All the students are currently working in hospitals or clinics. They’re on the front lines of delivering care in one of the worst COVID hotspots in Latin America. They're courageous young people who are doing amazing things. Hard things.
Last night while on the Hollywood Squares of our Zoom meeting, I realized what a profound privilege it is to be in partnership with these amazing people. Here they are – literally caring for people dying from the complications of the virus, and they seek the connection.
Yes, nothing good in life is easy . . . however, it is so much more fulfilling to be doing this incredibly hard work with a team of dedicated, passionate people.
This past weekend was Father's Day. Father's Day is a big deal in Perú.
There were big celebrations at the Casa Girasoles in Ica and Urubamba. The boys planned a full docket of events to celebrate the house fathers . . . and their own biological fathers. Although many of them have little contact with their fathers, they still celebrate the contribution a father made in their lives. It is a touching sentiment by children whose lives have been marked by such trauma and challenge.
The resiliency the boys show in their Father's Day celebration is a great reminder to the shift we are all making in our lives. Things are starting to go back to some semblance of normal. Businesses are opening and people are moving around more than over the past 100+ days of the quarantine. The challenge is making the shift from living in the bubble of hunkering down - and making a new life in all of the changes we find around us.
The boys in our Casa Girasoles homes remind me everyday - the only way forward is through change. They are great teachers. They show me that life, in all its complexity and challenge, can be a forgiving and healing experience when you embrace the love that is all around. And, that's really it - this shift we are all making is about embracing the shared challenge we've been through (and continue to go through) and shaping a new life together.
I am so thankful for the work we get to do everyday. I am so thankful for the many people that make our organization possible. I am so grateful for the great teachers the boys of the Casa Girasoles are in our lives.
What now feels like a lifetime ago, January to be precise, I met a man in a small community in the high mountains outside of the Sacred Valley of Cusco. His case and life circumstances are complicated. I wrote a blog post about our encounter in February that captures a bit of the detail.
This morning I learned he passed away. His name was Maximiliano and he was a man of great depth. His life was cut short by the ravages of a horrible disease. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is complicated disease made all the more complex through the experience of deep poverty. Sr. Maximiliano had only even known a life of financial poverty.
He and his family lived in a small hut on the side of a beautiful mountain in one of the most breathtaking areas in the world. Yet, he struggled to gain access to basic health care, clean water, steady employment, and a good education for his children. Our team worked hard to get Sr. Maximiliano into care. At some point it became very clear the best thing we could offer him was the support he needed to live whatever length of time he had left with dignity. We realized the greatest benefit we could bring to him was to help him die with dignity.
The COVID-19 pandemic made it very challenging to stay in close contact with Sr. Maximiliano and his family. About a month ago - a colleague and friend from a partner NGO, Andean Community Partners, traveled to the small community and visited with Sr. Maximiliano and his family. He brought them food and spent time sharing stories and laughs. That was the last he saw him.
This pandemic has laid fully bare the great disparities in the world. It has exposed the levels of inequity and inequality that disproportionately burden the lives of people living in the experience of poverty Sr. Maximiliano never finished high school, he didn't own a fancy car or live in a giant house - he struggled ever day to build a life for his family. He was a porter on the Inca Trail and carried heavy loads for tourists hiking to Machu Picchu. He dreamed of a better life for his children. He dreamed of a better life for himself.
Please join me today in remembering the life of Sr. Maximiliano. Let us not forget the pain and suffering that punctuated so much of his life. Let's join together and build a better life for his children and future generations. Out of the ashes of this pandemic, lets commit to work together to build a better world for everyone.
Rest in Peace Sr. Maximiliano. You will not be forgotten.
Every day seems to blend into the next. It's been challenging to find the new normal.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had big implications all over the world. This is especially true in Latin America, now considered the hot bed of infections. In addition to the alarming rise in cases in countries like Brazil, Perú, and Venezuela - there has been a devastating impact from the pandemic on people living in the experience of poverty.
The economies of many Latin American nations, with formal and informal sectors, have been badly hit. This is especially true in Perú, where it is estimated 70% of the total population work in the informal economy. If you work - you get paid and eat. If you don't - you have no money and you and your family go hungry.
When President Martin Vizcarra declared a national state of emergency on March 15, and the country closed their borders - and there was a collective sense that we'd be back to normal in a few weeks. I was in Urubamba in the Sacred Valley of Cusco at our Casa Girasoles, and I distinctly remember sitting down with our team and saying - "things are going to change. They're going to change a lot. We've got to be prepared." Little did I know.
Now over 80 days into a nationwide quarantine - Perú has been pushed into a "new normal" that no one could have ever imagined. Public health experts have been saying ever since the lockdown started, the big challenges would come from pushing people away from their ability to gain access to a living wage. This is true for the fifth of the Peruvian population that live on less than $100 per month. The economic reality of their lives has made it almost impossible for them to comply with the quarantine measures. This has pushed Perú to the point of becoming the world's second highest per capita rate of the new infections per day.
Staying home for long periods of time is impossible for many Peruvians. In a country where only 44% of households have access to a refrigerator, living day-to-day means you need to be out in the world. This means that many families leave the house every day to access food. This has created a tremendous problem for community-based viral transmission.
So where does this leave things? Cases continue to raise at a steady pace. Over the past week cases of new infections have risen by over 35,000. This is partly accounted for by more testing. However, it is also a reflection of the challenge of implementing and enforcing quarantine in a country where so many people need to work every day in order to survive.
Whats next? I'm not sure anyone knows. We at HBI are taking a "processes in parallel" approach. We're planning for the longterm and responding in the near and now. We are aggressively supporting COVID relief efforts where we can; and, we're planning for the future We'll keep updating you on our work. We'll keep posting pictures. And, most of all - we'll keep building bridges as we find our new normal.
Check out these photos of our teams responding to the pandemic in this brief Google photo album: HBI COVID-19 Response Photo Album
Everything feels unsettled.
The world is going through so much pain. The COVID pandemic has pushed our already exhausted stress hormones to the max. The terrible crimes of injustice brought against people of color have forced every one of us to name our bias, prejudice and complicity.
Inside my soul I feel so unsettled. And, at the same time I have hope. I know how powerful we are as a human race. I’ve seen first-hand what happens when people of racial, cultural, socioeconomic, religious, and geographic differences come together to share their gifts and talents. I’ve felt the power of collective action. I know what it means for people to band together for a common goal and the betterment of all society. I believe in our commitment to one another.
The poet Gregory Orr talks about the “storm” that unsettles the deepest parts of the soul in times of trauma. His words have been a great comfort to me. His words help me to realize the healing I seek, for myself, for the woundedness of the world, for the ravages of injustice brought against black and brown people – the healing I seek comes from connection.
Our body’s reaction to long-term, insidious stress, is incredibly damaging. For people who live in the experience of disconnection from the basic life needs – stress can be overwhelming. In the context of our current world, too many people are disconnected from the basic resources they need to live the lives they deserve.
Too many people have limited access to a living wage, evidence-based affordable health care, high quality education . . . and that's not to mention the hundreds of millions of people whose lives are challenged without access to electricity, clean water, hygienic waste disposal or basic medical care. Without access to the resources we need – we live in a constant state of heightened stress and anxiety; and the longer we live in this adrenaline induced overwhelm, the more our bodies react with adrenaline and stress hormones. And, the more we are pushed into a constant state of fight, fright, flight, freak-out or freeze.
There is so much trauma: social trauma, political trauma and trauma of disconnectedness. People are unsettled. Rightly so. We’ve lived for too long in a heightened state of stress. The pandemic, the inequity, the injustice . . . it’s overwhelming. It isn’t fair for me to own this feeling without also fully owning the inequity that exists within the experience of trauma.
A 2018 study by Melissa T. Merrick and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that over 60% of adults surveyed in 23 states described adverse childhood experiences (ACE) including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, household mental illness, household substance use, household domestic violence, incarcerated household member, and parental separation or divorce. Perhaps most alarming about the study, Merrick found that study participants identifying as black, Hispanic, or multiracial, those with less than a high school education, those with annual income less than $15, 000, those who were unemployed or unable to work, and those identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual reported significantly higher ACE exposures. Think about this for a second, greater than 60% of people who participated in a large, multi-state study report adverse, damaging life experiences – and disproportionally the impact was more damaging in the lives of people of color. And we wonder why the world is in hurting so much.
The science of healing the invisible wounds of trauma show a clear, evidence-based causal link between healing and relationship. All healing happens in relationship. All healing happens through connection. The renowned child psychiatrist and trauma researcher Bruce Perry put it best when he said - the most powerful therapy is human love. Perry’s research has found “relationships are the most significant agents of change.” Connection - person-to-person - heals. And, yet – we are disconnected. We focus on a screen over one another. We’ve lost the soul scratching art of being vulnerable with one another. We’re disconnected.
We are called to be in witness and community. I feel this in the deepest parts of my being. I also feel we are expected to shine the light on those who haven’t been represented. To bring into view the inequity and injustice that hasn’t been fully seen or acknowledged. This is a terribly challenging time, on so many levels. I, we at Health Bridges, stand with black and brown people in the fight for equity, justice and hope.
The healing the world needs, it will only come from connectedness. It will only come from relationship. We’re in this together . . . at every level.
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.