last year i read a book called, a bed for the night. at first it infuriated me and then it scared me in the best kind of way. it took a critical look at aid work and the consequences of the work being done. at first glance it seems as if he is raging on the people putting the most effort forward to affect change. but as i read further he explained that he wasn’t trying to bash…only to make people consider that good intentions aren’t always enough.

and they aren’t.

going into a country with little understanding of the culture, the conflict, the crisis, or a concept of removing yourself or the ngo when the “all clear” is sounded is potentially damaging. in my trip to sri lanka we looked at camps that were set up shottily and without being mnonitored (as they were supposed to be) so that survivors fo the tsunami were left living in horrible circumstances. there was talk of kids that were vaccinated over and over and over agan, and the only seven (yes seven) sri lankan psyichiatrists being carted away as translators instead of rendering aid.

it made me question my interest in public health…but when that doubt was quelled…it made me want to do a better job in the field…to be mindful of potential damage…to realize i can only know what i am willing to learn.

i thought of the book again because i’m writing a paper on MSF – doctors without borders to most americans. i had respect for them before i started my research…and even more now. not because they are perfect, but because they continually reflect on the work they do. they are kinetic…evaluating technique and execution of missions. expanding their scope as need and ability shifts.

i also appreciate the internal struggle that illustrates its 35 year history. not much older than me, i agonize over similar things…how to not get caught up in politics but still affect change. how to be vocal without causing such a din that nothing can be heard. how to be relavant in a world that is ever changing. how to balance the knowledge that waht i do is small but necessary in building a better world.

msf doesn’t have space for the likes of me as a public health worker…although as they expand their scope into water and sanitation and advocacy for affordable medication maybe they will…but reading about them reminds me that wanting to serve people in a particular way is ok…msf was formed by people who jumped ship from the red cross (icrc)- uninterested in the “keep quiet no matter what” philosophy that kept  icrc quiet during the holocaust and the biafra war in nigeria.

i am only limited by myself…i can either seek out more comforatable waters of an organization i can identify with, or jump ship and swim for shore where i can create something new – something that fits my idea of change without the compromises that make people forget what they were trying to change to begin with.

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