GlobeMed Summit Reflections
By Sara Abrahams '14, contributing writer
There is no equity without solidarity, no justice without a social movement. Globalize the notion of basic human dignity. These were the charges Dr. Joia Mukherjee, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School’s division of Global Health Equity at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, bestowed upon the 250-plus students at GlobeMed’s Global Health Summit in her keynote address. Students from 32 universities across the country converged at Northwestern Univ. for a weekend filled with engaging discussions, interactive panels and inspirational speakers. Everyone had the same drive: to establish healthcare as a basic human right regardless of race, class or geography. We were all filled with passion and enthusiasm as to how we could collectively and individually advance this philosophy, and live up to the summit’s title, “A Call to Action: Leveraging History to Build a Movement.”

GlobeMed’s model pairs university chapters with partner health organizations who work together on projects to improve the state of health in the partner communities. The key to GlobeMed’s success is pragmatic solidarity, or the idea that working together as equals towards a common goal is the most effective way to enact change. This was a concept I had always heard, but the summit was the first place where I grasped the concept of “pragmatic solidarity.” Until then, the term registered as familiar, but I dismissed it as just another flashy phrase. As a first-year whose experience with public health was limited to one book about Dr. Paul Farmer, weekly GlobeMed meetings and the occasional global health-related article, I was overwhelmed with this impressive vocabulary. How could I even start to dream about enacting lasting change in a community if I couldn’t even understand what the concepts meant?

My personal mission for the weekend was to educate myself about all things global health. From vocabulary to fundraising methods to innovative communication ideas, nothing escaped the furiously scribbled pages of my notebook. As I read over my notes at the end of the weekend, I realized my public health vocabulary had expanded to include actual meanings and stories for words like “structural violence” and “social justice.”

I will never forget the explanation Dr. Mukherjee painted to accompany “structural violence.” She cited an example from her time in Uganda, where the cost of education is too steep for most families. Girls sell themselves to rich men for the sake of their education, because they figure that one sexual partner plus an education gives them the best odds to avoid contracting HIV. Dr. Mukherjee’s story made me think that all of us here at Amherst have the best education in the world at our fingertips. Even though tuition costs are steep, they pale in comparison to the price these girls pay every day in return for their education. Whereas I take the accessibility of education as a given, the girls in Uganda see education as a method of survival. “Social justice” ties in with this discrepancy in education, because it encompasses a wide spectrum of human rights (education, healthcare, equality, etc.) as fundamental for every person who lives anywhere on the globe.

This concept is inextricably linked with GlobeMed’s ideology that healthcare is one of these fundamental rights that people should have access to and demand for themselves. It is easy to lose perspective about these things in the midst of everything we have been through this year — from war to economic recession to natural disasters. It has been a long year. Recall the feelings of instability and trauma we felt when horrific events occurred and how long it took for us to recover. Now imagine you feel that every single day of your life with no recovery in sight. Social justice views that state of being as unacceptable and mandates that now is the time to change it.

Philosophies can inspire for many generations, but it takes actions coupled with philosophies to enact lasting change now. What I gained from the Summit was understanding and passion for GlobeMed’s mission to truly change the way people around the world think about access to healthcare. While it is natural to feel sadness or pity when you think about the fact that children die everyday due to lack of clean drinking water, it is no longer enough. The time has come to do something about it, and GlobeMed’s collective goal is to do just that.

In the meantime, I will continue to take pages upon pages of notes and learn from teachers ranging from my fellow chapter members to Dr. Farmer. My personal “call to action” that weekend was to educate myself about global health. Those ideologies, philosophies, stories and terminologies have fortified my public health knowledge in a way I did not expect to gain from two days. The most important lesson I learned is that it is imperative to have the tools to convey these ideas to others. The stories and anecdotes forge links between larger-than-life concepts and a first-year’s understanding of a particular term or ideology. Just as it is most effective to enact change when you fully understand what someone needs, communication is most effective when your message is clear and relatable. I now realize the importance of forming all of those personal meanings, because when you can speak passionately and intelligently about a topic, your message becomes both believable and contagious. Who knows? With that kind of power you might even start a movement.

Issue 24, Submitted 2011-04-26 23:05:51