I was particularly excited to attend the final Voices from the Vanguard lecture to hear from Carol Etherington, a nurse at Vanderbilt University who responded to New York after 9/11 and has traveled the world for three decades, assisting those displaced by war, natural disaster, and violence.
“We forget our communities, our state, and our country are part of the globe,” she said, encouraging those interested in global health to get involved in their backyards. “Our neighborhoods are part of global health, and the health aspects are just as true here.”
Etherington focused on displaced people and defined them for us, particularly looking at refugees and trafficked individuals. There are 35-45 million displaced people in the world, with about 26 million in their own countries. The countries with the largest displaced populations are Columbia, Iraq, and South Sudan. She spoke about several of the countries she has visited and shared photos/anecdotes from those places, particularly in Bosnia, Poland, Honduras, Kosovo, Angola and Chad.
In the midst of the photos and anecdotes, she made a few interesting points:
Urbanization — It stems from the younger generation seeking to be connected to the larger world, up their education, and find better jobs. But there aren’t enough jobs, she said.
“They way countries live out life is dramatically different from 10-15 years ago,” she said. “It’ll be a challenge in decades to come. Cities aren’t ready, especially those in Nairobi and Calcutta.”
Natural disasters — They are increasing in number and intensity and will cause more displacement. Sometimes we pay attention, and sometimes we don’t. Many times, the money isn’t used in the best ways.
“If we give too much aid and don’t do it responsibly, we will foster dependency,” she said.
Humanitarian aid — It’s become a business, and many organizations are grabbing for the same dollars and donors but don’t share information.
“I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know if we’ll know the answer soon. But the sun always comes up and goes down, and there are always extraordinary people to help. When you come home, it weighs heavily.”
Most of all, I wonder the same, and I can’t help but become skeptical sometimes. For all the “good” we’re doing, are we helping anyone? Or do the few personal stories truly matter? I suppose that’s what I need to determine as I move forward in journalism and figure out what I’m meant to write.