The Long Road to the Himalayas
If I had told myself on my first day of college that I would travel abroad three times to two different developing world countries during the next three years, I would have laughed at myself. And yet here I am, sitting in an airport food court in Doha, Qatar for my third trip with Engineering World Health, awaiting my flight to Kathmandu, Nepal.
As I am setting out on this adventure, an article has been weighing heavily on my mind (I would post the link, but I can’t find the article again and the airport wifi is pretty sluggish). It was an editorial post about the negative effects of volunteerism, and in it the author made the claim that most volunteer trips are for the benefit of the participants and not the local population. In fact, he went so far as to say that most volunteer trips are actually harmful in the long run to the people they claim to help– and unfortunately, I know that there is a fair amount of truth to that perspective. The causes of poverty and the problems facing many families in developing world countries are enormously complex, and a three-week volunteer trip most likely will make no dent in them.
On the other hand, I am reading a book right now by a biographer (Eric Metaxes) called 7 Men and the Secret of their Greatness. Metaxes contends that we as a society have grown to distrust and lose faith in male role models, and he presents seven different individuals throughout history that he considers to have lived lives worth emulating; men who have lived up to the call of what a man should be. It is a beautifully written and refreshing book to read, and it is a reminder that it is possible for us to still have heroes and still trust that other people can be selfless. In fact, with God’s help, each one of us has the ability to be that hero for someone in our own lives.
I mention both of these pieces because I think they demonstrate critical perspectives as I begin this trip to Nepal. One the one hand, doing an act that looks good – such as going on a volunteer trip – may not actually be good at all, and in fact can be harmful if done with the wrong heart condition or with a lack of careful planning. On the other hand, however, it is still possible to do something good. More than that, God calls us to make a positive impact in the lives around us, even if it is difficult or non-obvious to do so. It is a simple truth, but it is one I hold onto as I prepare to fly into Kathmandu. I know that my perceptions of Nepal will be shattered within my first few days, so I will do my best to go in with an open mind and heart and see how I can do something good in the short time window I have.
Practically, though, what does that mean?
Firstly, since I will be working as a technician again this winter, I want to focus more on teaching repair techniques rather than exclusively just fixing equipment. Since most things will eventually break again, teaching is a way that I can help the technicians in the hospital even after I am gone. Secondly, I want to focus on building relationships with the technicians and doctors at the hospital. This trip will only be three weeks as opposed to the two months I had in Rwanda, so the time for being able to build these relationships is a bit more compressed; however, getting to know other people and learning from them has consistently been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had during my time abroad. And thirdly, I will observe and take note of hospital conditions and problems in order to take this information back to the US and design better medical equipment. Building medical equipment for developing world environments is something that has been a passion of mine ever since I got to college, and every trip abroad has given me a slightly better glimpse into the world of developing world medicine and how I can make my own tiny contribution to make it better.
For now though, I am going to sit here and enjoy the desert sunrise through the airport window. I am so blessed to be here and to have this opportunity, and while I am already missing the people I love back home, I will do my best to make the most of this trip and listen to what God is trying to tell me.