Hall of Fame for the Unseen
It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve been officially back in the United States after spending almost three months in Haiti and one month in Cuba working on family planning and contraception and strengthening primary care services. But more than coming back to the data breakthroughs, I keep recalling greater and deeper things: the faces, the families and the stories. Maybe the best summary of my summer fieldwork is that it was all about encounters.
If only I had more suitable words to give justice to the love I have been given during the summer. If only I had a camera attached to my retina that could capture and share the smiles, the hugs of appreciation, the jokes, the vulnerability. If only I had a secret jar to capture the smells of the food people shared with me out of pure love and hospitality. Or if I could replicate my emotions and crushed feelings when participating in people’s suffering in “the field,” I could start painting a picture that gives more reasons about the importance of recalling these things.
There is so much about this summer that is virtually impossible to capture or to do justice to—so much beauty and messiness about humanity that can simply not be conceptualized to be shared. If I could, I would probably create a Hall of Fame. I would make some of the brave “invisible” individuals that I met this summer famous. They live as motors of overwhelming happiness, unrelenting spiritual strength and resilience. If I could, I would take their pictures and share their names and stories so everyone would admire their simple but tremendous daily efforts to survive.
Give me the biggest, most successful project in the world, and I bet I would still be around a table taking about the people whose names I cannot share in a blog post. I would still be captivated and humbled about what we shared together. No accomplishment can compare to the unique encounters I was privileged enough to have.
One of the most important things I was reminded about this summer is that this job—global health researcher—finds its greatness and drive in people. The whole meaning is found in interactions and conversations. In love and sacrifice. Global health is about the humans. Not the grants, not the projects, not the scientific breakthroughs. It is clearly about the realization of proximity, of resemblance and belonging, which happens thousands of miles away in a remote village, when we approach another fellow human.
These encounters become fuel for ideas and emotions that make our grant writers, statisticians, physicians, behavioral scientists and everyone else at the Duke Global Health Institute wake up, go to their offices and fight for not losing sight of the people we are now accountable for. We try to keep ourselves in tune through memories. We try to keep our focus on the reality of what we saw, felt and heard.
Because global health is about people, may we honor them this academic year.
May we write our theses with their names on our sleeves.
May they inspire our commitment to excel in our work, to give back some justice through discovery and knowledge.
May their faces and our moments together help us thrive in this year’s work, in every new project we decide to be part of.
May visions of our future encounters with their healthier lives, and hopefully smaller struggles, feed our passion to discover answers and solutions.
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