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Wabash & Global Health -- What Should We Do?

 “I am here to represent my community and to tell you that we need help – we are asking for your mercy.”

I was visiting an indigenous rainforest community named Kawana-Sisa, outside the city of Tarapoto, Peru. Along with a couple of Peruvian colleagues, I was meeting with leaders of this community to hear about their health and to investigate the kinds of projects / work in which Wabash could become involved. I’m no physician, but I can assure you from observation that the people there struggle with a variety of parasitic diseases. Various leaders were speaking about their lives – how their health and the health of their children are their biggest concerns. They depend almost exclusively on traditional botanical remedies for various ailments, including parasitic infections, but realize that they’re not enough. From what I could see, this community has no running water, no sanitation system, or specific knowledge about the organisms infecting them. Their lives are difficult. A woman among the community leaders spoke passionately and with great eloquence about how her children have been denied care at the hospital that is nearest to them – “we were told our children were not sick enough.” I heard their anger and frustration with the national and regional political systems with regard to their health and education and how they felt totally excluded. I heard these wonderful folks talk about their beautiful community and about their families. We laughed and shared a meal. But the voice that I can still hear is that of one of the community elders: “...we are asking for your mercy.”  
 
Their situation, unfortunately, is not unique to the rainforest. Along the coast, in Lima, lie areas of extreme poverty where reside people who have the same kinds of aspirations for family, health, work, etc. as you and I. In the mountains, I was privileged to listen to an Andean woman explain how clean, running water has impacted her children and the opportunity she has for other activities – “This has changed my life...” she said, and she was talking about being able to have a sink and a faucet with running water that she knew had been chlorinated and thus disinfected.
 
I could go on and on with examples, but one could certainly ask, “so what?”  We all know that hardship and suffering occurs in lots of places around the world, including in our own lives at different points. But what should our response be as a College? What can it be? How best should we lead the bright and full-of-potential young men who are our students into lives in which they learn to “act responsibly” and to “live humanely”?
 
I’m confident that having students wrestle with the big issues of global health is one of the ways we can do this. These issues require the input of not only biologists, but economists, political scientists, mathematicians, historians, and ethicists, among others. Not only can this be a sustainable way for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to “act” and to “live” as individuals, but I believe that Wabash College as an institution can accomplish great things in this area -- in fact, merciful things.