My charity was an HIV/AIDS support "community". It started as an orphanage but my research led me to learn about adults, particularly women with children, who were left very vulnerable when they contracted the virus, or when their husbands did. So, my naive 15 year old self designed an HIV/AIDS support commune! I was looking up real estate in Lesotho (that's where chose to operate because it has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world).
|The Flag of Lesotho, new in Oct 2006|
I was finding out how much you had to pay doctors, I was "buying" buses, and budgeting for schooling, and researching gardens in Africa to help keep cost of food down.
I can't remember the exact figures, but the start up cost for my commune was $1.5 million Canadian dollars or something like, and a cost of $400 000 to keep it running from year to year. Peanuts, right?? Toootally doable!! Of course my thought was with support, the people in the commune would be able to contribute to keeping it running, which would bring the cost down over time. It was a good idea! My plan would result in a few families having access to food, shelter, education and medical attention to help alleviate the suffering from HIV/AIDS. A long term positive impact on a little piece of society in Lesotho. Lesotho is a tiny little country in Africa, by the way. You know that little hole in the middle of South Africa that doesn't belong to South Africa? Yep, that's Lesotho.
Fast forward to 4th year of my BScN where I met one of my heros. I can't even remember her name, but I remember she was amazing. She was my prof and introduced the concept of Participatory Action Research (PAR). Now, I hate research. It's dry, its boring, its monotonous. This prof told a different story, however. She talked about going to small villages in Uganda or Cambodia or a dozen other places, of learning the rhythm of life in the village, and learning from THEM what THEY needed. She talked about using local wisdom and local resources with the help of funding from whatever university or charity was funding her to work in that village to build up the village from the inside out. She told me about setting up clinics that both offered medical training AND teaching. In one case they even started an entire economy based on the barter system to pay for the health care provided because no one had any money. I am still baffled how all of that was considered research, but it sounded awesome. It sounded real, and lasting, and beyond all it sounded GOOD. If I could be a part of that, then I could be a part of something real.
I have had that goal/dream dangling around in my brain since that class, but I haven't been able to figure out how to get started. Research = higher education. I can't afford to go back to school quite yet. I need connections, I need experience, I need direction. If I had been a smarter person, I would have asked her for her business card, contacted her and asked her to be my formal mentor. If she declined, I would then ask her out for coffee or lunch and pick her brain on how she got to where she got and how I could do it too. If she accepted, well, then I would do the same thing, just over the months and years that followed. I didn't do that though, so I have to figure it out myself.
Fast forward again, after graduation, after my first job didn't work out and my interview for then Care Partners, now Red Cross Care Partners. "Every year we do a medical trip" they said, "we take staff from the organization and go abroad to run clinics" they said. Hey... doesn't that sound like a great place to start?
Does to me!