My WDI Global Impact internship started last week in Seattle, WA. I was in my hotel room getting ready for my second day at work when I heard about Dr. Maya Angelou’s passing on CNN. She’s been one of my favorite poets for as long as I can remember— probably since I was tasked to write a report on her in grade school, which apparently my mother still has on the bookshelf in the basement of her house.
As the East Coasters started to rise, my Facebook newsfeed flooded with photos, articles, videos and quotations from Dr. Angelou. It was only after receiving the following image, texted to me specifically by dear friend, that I truly felt the impact of this tragic loss and how Dr. Angelou’s work has influenced my life:
|Dr. Maya Angelou, 1928 – 2014|
If you can’t see the image text, it says “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” Now, these aren’t the most famous, quoted words spoken by Dr. Angelou, nor is it flowery in its description of the harshness of life. But sometimes, some things just can’t be prettied. To me, the rich beauty of these words lies in its frankness and directness. It’s to say, you know what? For people on the margins (embodied here as a young girl), at times things will just suck for you. Life may be unjust and the rules were not made to work in your favor. Acknowledge it. Face it. Call it by name. At the same time, be resilient. Be innovative. Find grit. Find passion. Take those barriers head on. Make things happen. This is Dr. Angelou’s legacy for me and quite frankly, the only way I know how to navigate myself in this world.
|Yuri Kochiyama, 1921-2014|
Yuri Kochiyama, another influential American human rights activist, also passed away this week. Yuri was a powerhouse who embodied the concepts of community and solidarity by aligning herself with Japanese, Puerto Rican and black communities as well as other marginalized groups. In fact, she was the one who held Malcolm X’s head after he was fatally shot. Her work became transformative to my approach to intercultural community outreach and relationship building. She inspires an openness to speaking and working across differences, which I believe is critical to solving many social, political and economic issues.
So what does this all have to do with my internship in Malawi? Everything.
Maya and Yuri’s legacies of love, resilience and grit cannot go unmentioned. They were not spectators to inequality. They were activists. I believe that what they stood for constitutes the very core of global health— that we all bear the responsibility to those on the margins and must collectively activate our resilience and grit and to be innovative, compassionate, selfless and tenacious to help improve the outcomes of that community, which serves to uplift us all. Without these women, and lessons learned from many others, I probably would not be in Malawi right now.
As a WDI Global Impact intern, I have been tasked to conduct an organizational assessment for the Malawian field offices of VillageReach, a Seattle based NGO that provides innovative health solutions to “last mile” communities. While my project is certainly process-oriented, I think that it’s important for me, particularly during this first week, to reflect on the larger impact of my work and the work of VillageReach overall. Let’s chalk this up to my Jesuit indoctrination of great discernment and introspection– “be attentive, be reflective, be loving”. Even in name, “global health” is not an isolated field. The “on-the-ground” work connects to a much larger impact of improving the health of a community which can truly transform the state of a nation. Coincidentally, the day I find myself with these ideas, which was the same day I arrived to Malawi, was the inauguration day of Malawi’s new president, Peter Mutharika (who unseated Malawi’s first female president Joyce Banda).
In some odd way, I feel encouraged by the passing of these two icons because my generation will now be charged to fill the void and continue to work with and for others who remain at the margins- in the United States AND abroad. My project with VillageReach is undoubtedly just a small mustard seed in that gargantuan task. But I’m here … doing something … trying to gain a more truthful understanding of the world and where to find my place in it. The impact I can make as an intern here is sure to be a critical beginning for a long journey ahead.