When I originally started this blog, the idea was to talk about (and put into practice) the ways in which public health NGOs can contribute to achieving social change and improved poverty/health/equity/happiness outcomes, particularly in Latin America. My adviser in college used to joke that I spent my college years searching, as in a kitchen, through cabinets and under rugs for the answer to this question that plagued me. The thing is, when I was in college I thought I had the answer, or at least, a really exciting way to go about working on finding the answer. Now I'm not so sure. In some respects I feel like I am only now arriving at a point in which I really have to take all these experiences of the last few years and actually sit down and learn something before I can move forward. Unfortunately, the way forward isn't as clear as it seemingly always has been for me.
I was certainly prepared to struggle with the fancy world of non-profit work. I had read plenty of critiques of those overly professionalized and self congratulatory conferences and the horrors of quarterly reporting and donor requirements (check out Laura Augustin's Sex at the Margins, or the Revolution Will Not Be Funded, to get more of an idea). I chose health because I thought it was the least political option. I suppose that sounds strange now, given our current national debates on health care and women's reproductive rights, but I thought no one could disapprove of clean water and sanitation systems, vaccines and drug treatments. Of course, it turns out that politics, pettiness, and bureaucracy lurk behind the corners of every profession. I am not always sure how humans could have created a world that works like this. People disavow anarchy for promoting "chaos" (Which of course it doesn't but I won't get into that. Now.), but I think our current world is already rife with chaos, badly planned, poorly managed, and our "democratic" systems just serve to cement the interests of the rich and powerful into place while everything else goes wild and mostly poorly. (This chaos of course also accounts for much of the beauty of our world, I suppose, but if we are gong to have bureaucratic structures can they at least work well?)
In any case, what I have found is that health is no different from any other sector, and now I am back to peering out into the world of actual work and wondering what else I might get involved in where I don't need an MD to be taken seriously. What I really wish is that the whole endeavor was more integrated, more holistic, and more thoughtful- something that fits with real lives as they are really lived, for both those "receiving services" and those working on the programs. Something independent of the donor and grant system. Something where people connect and work together and really change the whole situation. Something undefined.
I end up feeling torn between these visions of revolutionary social change (on however small a scale) and this other image of a home, a life, a comfortable day with a happy hour and a movie. Simultaneously, I want a job that lets me work a normal workday, something sane, something that allows you to have a family and a life in your own world, while I also want a job that is all consuming, part of the movement, a movement and a job that become my life, something outside of the ordinary, that makes a life. I already feel the easy sensations of hope and idealist zeal and excitement about the possible ebbing away into wondering where I will get dinner and if I will have enough days off to take a vacation. Even the organizing work I do in my personal life feels somehow disconnected from the broader fantasy and I don't know how to get it back.
The one thing that encourages me is that I like being challenged. I thrive on the unfamiliar. I love to move to a new place, be lost, struggle, find my way. I love a new situation, language, problem. I tried to think the other day of actual skills, really significant, special things that I was good at, and came up struggling. This is one. To go somewhere unknown and build anew. To organize things, for myself, for others. I just lack a current direction. Too driven to just move away to travel and chill. And again, I feel this new pull, the pull to root and to stay in my home here, which I love. How to balance those things into one life, then?
Everyone keeps telling me that I don't need to know now, that I will figure it out. It does seem that if I sit quietly for long enough, the ideas of where to go will come to me. Shadowy forms of them are already lurking, waiting to take shape into something practical (or practical enough).
There is so much now to be a part of. Lately, my penchant is to find a way to move into this nexus of public health/development/disaster relief/preparedness as it relates to climate change. The preparedness aspect obviously seems a bit more uplifting. Prepare for the disaster, and hope my companions in arms can make a difference, in every social movement on the planet, in all our struggles, to make a better place.
PS- Check out these super interesting articles on how the US can make use of the public health programs implemented in developing countries to improve our own dysfunctional system!
I guess that still looks like most places. In my mind, I narrow it down to itineraries and cities!
I was actually looking up this kind of map for work, and will eventually write about something of substance again. I thought it would be good to at least get a start.
I am out to discover the ways in which radical theory and radical social movements can work to improve health and poverty outcomes, and the ways in which NGOs and solidarity organizations can support them. To this end I have spent as much time as possible in Latin America studying autonomy, resistance, and public health, as well as art, public spaces, immigration, and urban sociology. I'm not sure where this will end up, but that's the venture, isn't it?
Other than that: I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, and graduated from Gallatin in New York City. I currently reside in Mt Pleasant, Washington D.C. where I organize, teach, commute to a job downtown, put on shows, explore, and try to keep learning.