As many of you would have heard in the past few months, thanks to my spamming you with updates and requests for fundraising assistance, I'm volunteering in Ghana in January. It was been far too easy to get caught up in the planning process of pre-departure preparation, the stress of fundraising and organizing the glasses and trying to find flights and doing all of the learning required (and, and, and). Between studying medicine, working, volunteering and starting up a not for profit, this has been quite the demanding task. It's been stressful and difficult. It has grated on my nerves and made me a difficult person to be around. I've struggled to sleep and struggled to regain 'my compass', as Kate would call it.
So what am I really writing about today?
I have found a little bit of myself again. In amongst all of the things that fill up my calendar, I frequently decide to spend a day or a few at a conference. This, though seemingly stupid two weeks out from an 80% exam for my entire year, centres me. Conferences allow me to immerse myself completely in new knowledge, in meeting people and being amazed by their wonder. They take away my arrogance. They remind me of the intelligence, insight and extraordinary capacity of my peers. They remind me that I am human. That I still have so much to learn and so much to improve upon. Conferences remind me to interact, smile and talk.
It is with this reflection, this mental cleansing, that I have once again been able to recognize why I am volunteering in Ghana this January.
I have always been one to advocate for services at home and volunteering with those who have very little in Australia. I still believe this to the core - having nothing doesn't get better just because you live in a rich country. In fact, the richness of that surrounding you makes your poverty all the more obvious. The people in their Hugo Boss suits, carrying their smart phones and grabbing coffee at a local cafe almost shove in your face the face that you sleep in a hallway at Central station and suffer the embarrassment of begging for your food.
What I have realized, however, is that advocating for local solutions is not mutually exclusive to advocating for those in developing or under-developed nations. This may seem obvious because it is. The problem is that we live in a society where fitting into a box is a frequent demand from new acquaintances. It thus becomes difficult to describe my passion for just about everything.
So let me explain in basics.
I believe in human rights.
I believe in human responsibilities.
I believe in respecting others.
I believe in equity and equality.
I believe in doing MY best to make things better for others.
I believe that we can make improvements, even if world peace and other idealogical concepts are so far away that we cannot see them on the horizon.
I first went searching for what resulted in this placement because I wanted to make real change in the world. I know that I will make change in the future - that my involvement with patients as a medical student on clinical practice and as an intern and doctor, the differences may be small or large but they will exist. I know that if I get into public policy, I will affect change on a state, national or global level. I know that my work with Inspire does something but I can never see it. I don't want to wait to make change, to tread water or run a hamster wheel waiting for opportunity to come my way. I wanted to do something that would make an almost instantaneous difference to someone else's life. And I didn't want to take away from them- yes, I wanted to learn but I didn't want to disadvantage them by being there. I wanted to remember my human responsibilities.
I would have liked to do volunteering in Australia. I love helping out my fellow citizen and spend a fair bit of time doing so. Somehow, I came across this amazing program in my searches, though, and the way in which it provides sustainable solutions to global health problems inspired me. I saw that they were recommended by AMSA and I had a good word put in by a very close friend. I figured there was little to lose.
Why exactly Ghana and Unite for Sight?
I can promise you that this trip is not because I "get to go overseas" or because it's Africa and "everyone there needs saving." I'm sure that people in Africa and Ghana are just like anyone else from any other continent- of a whole range of intelligences and abilities, of different skills and desires. I'm sure there are people in Ghana with great solutions to the social problems that they face, just as there are many people in Australia with those same plans and goals. The reason that I chose to go to Ghana is simple. There is a position to be filled, for as short or as long as you have time, and I have time to fill it. Not only that, but I'm passionate about the method of service delivery. I'm passionate about vision. I can't promise you that I will work in eye health specifically. I am, however, passionate about vision because I am a visual learner. Because I need to see things to understand. Because I can't imagine life without my eyes. I could imagine being deaf. I could imagine not being able to smell. Communicating without sight sounds so devastating that I'm not sure how i would cope.
When I read up on the methods used by Unite for Sight - the fact that they partner with those smart people in their target nations, that they promote local solutions to local problems and develop global understanding and tolerance in the process - inspired me. They saw a problem and a way to be part of the solution. This is not white man fixing another nation. This is not neo-colonial. This is altruistic, empathetic and logical. This is truly sustainable.
Just writing out these thoughts make me feel so passionate (I wish I had another word for this feeling) about what I will be doing in two months. It reminds me of why I signed up for all of the difficulties I am now facing in the fundraising and time management department.
I am excited that in less than two months I will be hoping in a plane to experience possibly the most challenging 20 days of my life. It may not be as stressful as life has been before but I do imagine it will be difficult. I imagine that I will feel the culture shock. I imagine that I will feel sadness at the great inequalities between our countries. I imagine I may miss things I don't now realize that I appreciate about Australia. I just hope that I can learn, be inspired and find happiness.
This is the beginning of my journey in global health. One day, with skill, determination and desire, I may end up working with MSF or a like institution. This will be the beginnings of that future..
This is my reflection.
For those of you who feel strongly about the cause, please donate here:https://maestropay.com/uniteforsight/volunteers/ref/brookesachs
It costs approximately $50 USD for a sight-saving surgery in Ghana, far less than it would cost here. For that small amount of money, one person gets their livelihood back, their family can be more productive. The social and economical returns to the community are huge. You are giving far more than sight, you are giving life back to these people.
If I reach my fundraising goal of $2000 by midnight November 25, I will go without my own sight on November 26.