I’ve been thinking a lot lately about collaboration and partnerships.
Last night we signed a historic agreement with Union Biblica del Perú. Over the next five years, HBI will take over the administration and operation of the Casa Girasoles homes for formerly abandoned boys in the city of Ica and the Sacred Valley of Cusco.
What makes this agreement so profound is the history that informed our partnership with Union Biblica. Dating back over 20-years, HBI and Union Biblica have been building a solid relationship through our shared commitment to service.
And, because we've had a two-plus decade partnership, when it came time to move to the next level of our relationship - HBI taking over two of the Casa Girasoles - the project moved forward seamlessly. I think relationship is the key to any good partnership. Relationships take time to develop and evolve. They take people connecting with people.
This connection component of our work is especially evident in the Anemia Prevention and Treatment Project. Our team spends countless hours connecting with community members, meeting with partners, aligning collaborations. Why? Because complex public health challenges like anemia prevention and treatment in resource constrained environments requires complex solutions built from solid partnerships and relationships.
It can be very tempting to think the key to addressing some of the biggest challenges in global health is through one focal project, a single solution. Any big challenge has a web of causation and a multitude of overlapping elements. This is especially true for anemia. Anemia as a public health challenge is just a symptom of a much bigger set of biological, cultural, social and economic challenges. And, because there is so much complexity in the causation of anemia - no one organization can address the multitude of factors. A holistic response is required that leverages collaboration and partnerships. That's what we are doing.
We're building holistic responses to some of the biggest public health and global health challenges facing the world today. We're building relationships that draw on the resources, talents, knowledge and capacities of a number of different partners and collaborators. This is by no stretch of the imagination an easy proposition. It's a lot of hard work. We, however, think it is the only way to build sustainable solutions.
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.
Note: each year, Father Alex Busuttil sends a Christmas message to supporters and friends. This year, we've decided to post his message on the Health Bridges blog. We hope you enjoy this message from such a remarkable man and partner of HBI.
The 25th of December is a special day the world over. A time of big celebration. Every country celebrates important historical dates like that of independence, end of wars’ anniversaries, celebrating national heroes, and so on; but there is nothing like Christmas. Perhaps business and materialism has taken over and made a huge economic and profit opportunity, but still the meaning of Christmas is unique.
Christmas is a milestone in the history of humanity. What we celebrate is God’s own intervention in the history of humanity by becoming one of us in human form. It is God himself who comes with a special mission. The mission of building His Kingdom on Earth, and all this starts on Christmas day. He becomes one of us in order to be able to communicate with us and show us the way to true fullness of life, in justice and peace; and that is where our question rises today. What are we truly celebrating in our Christmas celebrations? Do we really believe that Jesus is truly the God made man? Do we really care about His mission and message? It is wonderful to have the opportunity to get the family together, share nice food, exchange presents in a beautifully decorated environment, give plenty of hugs and kisses, reunions after long years of absence, and other wonderful things… but is Jesus present in our reunions? At times it happens that everyone is invited except Jesus. At times we do not even remember to say a little prayer on Christmas day or at least bless the food before we share it.
Once Jesus came, He came to stay. For those of us who believe in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, we are nourished with Him in every Eucharistic celebration. For those of us who believe in His Word, we are inspired and given life through His message. For those of us who believe in good will, justice, peace and the power of love, we have in Him a light and a path to follow. This is the true sense of Christmas celebrations and it transcends all human diversity of whatever kind. Jesus’s message is for all of us who make the human kind. The main message of Jesus is that of love of God and love of neighbor. This is the key to the Kingdom of God on Earth here and now, a kingdom of justice, peace and love. With Christmas we celebrate this revealing way to love amongst humanity. In Jesus it is God himself who shows us the way. It is up to us humans to realize the wisdom of love, forgiveness, humility and compassion. Let us put Jesus back in our Christmas celebration and talk of the bounty of his self and message and not just limit our festivities to the so called “Holiday season."
Let us make sense of our hugs and kisses in an attitude of true welcoming, reception and forgiveness. Let us share our meals not just with family but also with those who lack it. Let us be generous in our giving not just with the exchange of gifts at Christmas time but let us be always there to give a helping hand to those in need. Christmas time is a remembrance of how different life can be if we act out of love, peace and good will. Let us remember that the people we greet on Christmas day are the same people all year round. Let us make Christmas the model of God’s Kingdom on Earth. Let the meeting with Jesus here on Earth be the prelude of our definite meeting with Jesus in the life to come. A life where we do not need anything because we’ll be one with God. Let us understand that all we have will be left behind. Let us understand that the more we have, the less others have. Let us open our hearts and welcome in them those in need… in need of a hug, a kind word, forgiveness, healing of body and soul, a piece of bread, a roof, a job… and all that means lots and lots of LOVE. Let us all with Mary repeat the words “Let your will be done”, with Saint Francis, “Lord make me an instrument of your Peace” and with our Missionary Society of Saint Paul founder Mons. Joseph Depiro, “Look always through the eyes of Jesus”.
United in one mission of building Peace on Earth through Faith and Service, may the blessings of Christmas fill your heart and all your loved ones with Peace of heart and the happiness not just on Christmas day but all the way through life, Amen.
One life, one legacy – Love.
Fr. Alex – firstname.lastname@example.org
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.