Not Your Average Weekend In Chicago

Unlike most of the leadership conferences I’ve attended where students speak about the problems inside their schools and sit in interactive workshops made of ice breakers, this weekend was different. I was motivated by the subtle comments made in the speeches of peers speaking about social injustice, oppression, and global health equity. I was absolutely honored to once again find myself in the position to be surrounded with like-minded individuals that are not only students but progressive activists working towards a better tomorrow for everyone. On such a topic as global health, which hits close to home as I one day would like to serve on Doctor’s Without Borders. I was more than excited to learn more about how we can achieve global health equity for all and about the organization in which I am now a part of.

For those who don’t know what GlobeMed is it’s an organization on college campuses around the United States that works with partners abroad.

GlobeMed aims to strengthen the movement for global health equity by empowering students and communities to work together to improve the health of people living in poverty around the world.

Unlike most study/volunteer abroad opportunities it focuses on developing relationships with the communities they’re helping. Therefore, every college chapter is paired with a community abroad and is expected to keep in constant communication with them in order to understand their needs and develop a plan of action accordingly. GlobeMed also stresses community integration as opposed to the donor donates and strangers far away receive relief without any permanent solutions method that most charities use. There’s more information here.

This summer I became the ghU coordinator at my school for the 2015-2016 school year. With this I was given the opportunity to go to their Leadership Institute (thankfully covered by GlobeMed through their financial assistance program. Thank you!) in Chicago, Illinois. This weekend involved the co-presidents and ghU coordinators from schools all around the nation discussing how to become better leaders and advocates for global change as well as igniting conversations and digging deeper on their college campuses.

For the sake of not boring you all with my every move or information that just isn’t interesting to you as it pertains to my position I have condensed my weekend to the highlights of every day. There is some information about things unrelated to GlobeMed because this was my first time in Illinois and I love food, so you’ll catch me talking about that whenever I can! *I did not eat any deep dish pizza, $22 for a small was not tempting*

My hopes for you after reading this is that you gain curiosity of how exactly are the poor, well,  poor and why they are able to stay that way. Ask yourselves why the imbalance in consumption and resources exists. Dare to even ask questions that make you and others uncomfortable to answer but are needed in order to break harmful trends. 

Day One: Thursday August 13th

Once we landed in Chicago we (My co-president Andrea and I) found a cool, “hip” coffee spot called Jackalope coffee and tea.

Peep the fun, colorful decor!
Peep the fun, colorful decor!

Thursday was our only time to explore in the day time as we were actually staying about an hour out of the city (Evanston) for the remainder of our trip but we did not come for a vacation we came to learn. The ride to the hotel was beautiful and I absolutely fell in love with Chicago! The architecture is amazing and it has the busy, accessible feel of New York but cleaner.

 GlobeMed broke up the schools and roomed us with different students as a chance to network. They failed to mention that we would be sharing a full bed with a stranger but it made making friends an absolute necessity! My roommates were from Emory and Middleburry University. They were all ghU coordinators and refreshingly progressive and kind. I’m spoiled with these opportunities because I begin to believe that all people my age are  aware and motivated to help with issues bigger than themselves as opposed to the reality of the self consumed, pop culture obsessed 20-something year old.

Trivia winners at the opening dinner.
Trivia winners at the opening dinner.

During the opening dinner we won GlobeMed trivia and were awarded these really cool water bottles! There wasn’t really much planned other than dinner so Andrea, Breanah (our vice president who also attended) and I walked throughout the city. Evanston is supposedly quieter than Chicago but there were a ton of restaurants and shops surrounding us that provided some type of entertainment. We listened to this band called Kaleidoscope Eyes who were playing a Beatles cover. Watching the locals’ tango and mosh pit to “Hey Jude” was the exact type of entertainment I needed.

We stumbled upon a neat little bookstore called Market Fresh Books! They sold 99 cent books! I bought two new books for All Book No Bias, can’t wait to put them up!

Once back in my hotel room, my roommates and I discussed gender roles and how absolutely ridiculous and unsubstantiall they are. Especially since it’s a societal construction with no validity to it nor value to society other than labeling different frequencies (colors) to people with certain reproductive systems. Any way, it was a nice conversation to end the first day.

Day Two: Friday August 14th

A quick breakfast at the hotel then everyone herded off towards the campus of Northwestern University where all of our meetings will take place. Approximately a 10-20 minute walk depending if you get lost or not as I did the first day. It was enjoyable to be on the ground in the city walking by the shops and restaurants but I’ll admit as a cranky morning person walking was not my favorite thing to do half asleep.

Our first lecture was given by Alyssa Smaldino the Interim Executive Director of GlobeMed. We learned about how GlobeMed came to be and more importantly we learned of the “Aha!” moment where we began changing our partnership model. For the story in a short video click here. In summary, a college student from GlobeMed visited their partners in Africa and realized many of the things they brought were not used. The disconnect between donors and the communities was evident and even more alarming was the submissive approach the communities in need took towards westerners. The idea that to end world hunger by only donating food is naive. The idea that sending western doctors to work abroad as volunteers to establish a lasting, better health system is also naive. Global health will not be achieved through mere donations. No global issue for that matter will ever be solved if we continue to place a band-aid on a brain injury. The reason these issues exist are systematic, deeply rooted into the perspective of generations that have been oppressed, abused, and neglected by governments and any other entity who takes advantage of the vulnerable. That’s why GlobeMed’s partnership model is so different from other organizations.

Alyssa continued and in speaking about how we CAN make a change she said “Just because we’ve never seen the world that we want doesn’t mean we can’t achieve it.” This resonated deeply within because if there’s one thing that I truly believe is that the human race will one day achieve peace, global health equity, justice for all, end world hunger etc. Whether or not people agree with me is not my concern, I’m trying to surround myself with minds that have eyes on the same glorious future we will one day obtain. I don’t care if it’s in my lifetime or not because I am not working towards this for myself. I cannot explain why I have always felt this urgency to help others, this empathy that drives me to feel so deeply about the suffering of anyone and everyone, especially to those vulnerable against powerful and evil entities. If at the end of my life all I have done is inspired someone to work towards the greater good, I have done enough. I’m a firm believer that our smallest actions are more than enough to ripple through the history of time and can even shape the world we live in now and in the future.

Discussing issues on our campus and chapter.
Discussing issues on our campus and chapter.

After, different schools had the chance to sit and speak with each other about the specific problems their chapter face and how difficult it to be to get young adults engaged in topics that aren’t related directly to their own gratification and entertainment.

Enjoying lunch outside along with some new fraaaands.
Enjoying lunch outside along with some new fraaaands.

 

Our afternoon continued with a guest speaker, Dr. Rishi Rattan (a Miami based doctor.)

Dr. Rishi Rattan has over a decade of experience in advocacy and organizing. His work is founded on but not limited to using a rights-based approach to developed novel ways for us activists to ethically engage in global solidarity work against oppression from their positions of privilege.

Dr. Rattan’s lecture was “The Fall of Human Rights”

He posed questions like “What are human rights?” Which opened our minds to the reality that we, as a species, have yet to determine universal human rights and how difficult it will be to be on the same page. I preferred the definition of  “A modern understanding on how people should be protected and cared for.”

He brought to my attention some facts that I have been completely unaware of.

  • After WWII, human rights were developed on the basis of objectivity vs. reality. The world could no longer be okay with holding a neutral stance on things because they were “objective.” This was a result of the Holocaust and the lack of intervention by the global community.
  •  The Idea that we have universal human rights is false. No enforced rules were agreed upon, ever, by everyone.
  • We have ignored the Eastern story and believe our Western view. Today we are trying to create this established law of human rights when the eastern cultures have had ideas and successful tactics for years.

One key point of information I took away was “Niti.” Niti is one part of justice. Abstract concepts are ideal but the real world is more chaos. We can find imperfect solutions to an imperfect world.

He discussed that we are NOT in the era of human rights, we are in the era of working towards global human rights.

“While the rhetoric of human rights is universal the practice is not.”

There’s a lack of clearly defined rules on how to resolve conflicts. Treaties are interpreted which leaves blurred lines and ultimately the vulnerable are left in the hands of their brutalizers.

He then highlighted how the world is shifting. There is a multi-polarity of morality in the world today. Most people can find an ally to support them which makes it difficult for even a powerful country like the United States to punish countries that violate human rights.Therefore we see a weakening of human rights due to the lack of consensus. “We have given human rights guns and bullets.” While also monetizing the human rights of the exploited.  “We are talking about the superiority of government and finances. NGO are beholden to our funders and grant makers who decide what our priorities are.

Good ol’ corporations and their tragic effects on everyone.

How do we step in the right direction?

Empiricism! Funding trials, collecting data and implementing Eastern ideas that have already proven to be successful. Concrete evidence can be secure grounds into mapping an agreeable and realistic set of standards.For us westerners this may be difficult because we have the idea of what a good just society looks like based off a western image. We need to begin adopting a global perspective which will require at least some understanding of other cultures.

“Replace hubris with humility.”

Helping other people does not mean compelling them to do things how we do things. I had never put much thought into the mechanics of human rights because I was being arrogant and ignorant thinking it was all so “simple” and universal.

Thank you Dr. Rattan for the new perspective that I will now be researching.

The rest of the afternoon was set in our respective co-president or ghU sessions. In our ghU sessions. It was a few hours of speaking with ghU coordinators from all over and listening to their pros and cons and sharing ideas. This gave me a huge advantage because this is actually my first year in GlobeMed at all. So, with their advice and the guidance of the leadership institute I’ll have more to work with than I imagined.

We ended for the day and I passed by this cafe called Patisserie Coralie.Unfortunately, their credit card machine was down and could only take cash but still, their decor was beautiful enough to be mentioned here!

Patisserie Coralie- Evanston, Illinois
Patisserie Coralie- Evanston, Illinois

Luckily, one of my roommates from Emory suggested we all go to the Flat Top Grill for dinner.

Not all heroes wear capes.
Not all heroes wear capes.

You select your own ingredients then place the bowl on a table and the chefs whip it up and it’s served to you. Simple concept, extraordinary results. Their rotti bread was to die for. I ended up eating everything because it was so damn good. If you ever find yourself in Evanston, Illinois, THAT is the spot.

Happiness in a bowl
Happiness in a bowl

 

 

 

Day 3: Saturday August 15th

I did right by myself and stopped for some Other Brother iced coffee before our morning meet up. To be quite honest, I did not have a good coffee all weekend. Perhaps my palette is just too used to either Cuban or Colombian coffee, or maybe it was a bad luck streak.

For the majority of the day we were broken up into our sessions. But before we did, we had the chance to have a discussion with other students.

A fuzzy picture of some questions posed to us.
A fuzzy picture of some questions posed to us.

One question I enjoyed was “Have you had any experiences or heard any stories that highlight the influence of identity, personal power dynamics, or racial dynamics in global health efforts?” It was such a well worded question that sparked a lot of conversation in our group. If you would like to share your perspective (answer) on this question post it in the comment section!

As I stated before the ghU sessions were particularly interesting to me as I took the advice of others more critically as I had no idea what my position was up against until then. Basically, as ghU coordinator it’s my duty to create a space where students can discuss important topics and learn from each other. My own personal goal is to make ghU a vital component as to why people stay in our meetings and hopefully join our club as members without their sole intention being to “travel” to our partners in Guatemala.

 We did the agree and disagree spectrum activity where one side of the room was “Strongly agree” and the other side was “Strongly disagree.” After a statement was said we were to stand where we fell on the spectrum. The last question was interesting, “I think we will achieve global health equity.”I stood on the strongly agree side. There of course were many that didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I am not delusional. I know it will take time, lifetimes even. I know it will take hard work from billions, even if their own goal isn’t to achieve global health equity, I believe it can be a reality if the progress is started. On the other side of the spectrum were the people who argued “not in this lifetime” and other gray areas. Once again, I get it, it’s just not the mind-set that I have. The most comforting thing about that question was that everyone there, regardless if they thought it was achievable or not, is working to impact the lives of others positively.

During lunch, my school and a few other recently founded chapters had a special lunch with the staff of the national headquarters. It was explained to use that over the last 5 years, thanks to some great government funding, GlobeMed has expanded to new chapters. They targeted historically black colleges and Hispanic serving colleges in order to give the opportunities to volunteer and grow to those who opportunities to go abroad are slim. The idea is not solely to offer a traveling fund but to be able to have someone experience GlobeMed regardless of their socioeconomic status. That really explains their willingness to help financially and the virtually free trip to Chicago! The more they spoke about GlobeMed the more inspired and honored I felt. Dr. Badi Foster, offered us many motivational words. On speaking about the relationship value between us and our partners he said “I don’t care what you know if I don’t know if you care about me.” Well, isn’t that powerful. I immediately thought of the countries hit by Ebola and how global health workers were often unsuccessful in administering education and treatment because communities distrusted them and their government. Could you blame them? There was no relationship between these strangers and the communities they were serving.

Later, at the last workshop the girls who led the lecture made us do an implicit bias test which made me nerd-happy to see the use of psychology and their understanding of the science in stereotypes and the cognitive processes we’re typically unaware of that motivate our attitudes. I think over all the students I was surrounded with were not only intelligent but extremely compassionate.

The final presentation of the conference was for everyone and was about the organizations finances and goals.This is the first organization I have been a part of the sat the members down and went through where all of their funds go. Transparency to the max!

Since our flights left on Sunday early in the morning Andrea and I packed up and went into the city. The plan was to drop our luggage off at Union Station, go to Millennium park and the 360 Tower, perhaps hit some local bars then head out.

Before the crazy guy acted up. It looks like I have a nosebleed
Before the crazy guy acted up. It looks like I have a nosebleed

Due to a crazy guy threatening to stab various people then opening the subway door as it was moving underground therefore getting kicked off and delaying the train, we passed our stop. Then the Uber we took and my GPS were disoriented and we ended up paying $6 for what would have been a 5 minute walk. Finally at Union Station, we buy our lockers and lock them (by accident) without our luggage in them. Thinking I could reopen my locker I found out that you can only open your locker ONCE! So, we spent $4 each to open and close a locker. We decided to head straight to the airport because clearly the Universe did not want us going out. At the airport according to Andrea this lady called me ugly, I thought she was just crazy and I’m right if she called me ugly cause I was looking good!

Fun fact: Chicago airport provides complimentary cots, blankets and a pillow (made out of cotton balls I swear) for travelers that need to sleep! It was great until the airport tried to freeze us alive.

Overall this past weekend was everything I needed. I have felt so disconnected with the motivation I know I have. If there’s something that will always make me go to class, work hard, research, learn and grow, it’s helping others. I’m not working for an expensive car or enormous house. I work hard for the service of others (and to make my mom proud, duh.)

“Service is love in action.”

Thank you, GlobeMed for the amazing opportunity you have given college students and communities all over the world.

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