Who said this work is supposed to be easy? There is nothing easy about working with communities, local change agents, and on-the-ground providers to build the pathways to the futures they desire . . . and deserve. There is nothing easy – but it is so vital.
This work, walking alongside local leaders – it’s hard. The “success” stories are far fewer than the challenges. NGOs have a way of making it seem like everything always works out. Visit a website, and you are dazzled by the numbers – thousands of lives impacted, thousands of hours invested, and hundreds of thousands of dollars provided. Every story seems to end with a happy outcome. Many websites don’t disclose the challenging outcomes that contrast to the pretty picture-perfect results of our work.
Global health and social justice advocacy are complex, relationship-driven, slow-and-steady wins the race work. This is hard work.
A few weeks back, a couple of HBI staff were visiting a remote mountain community. They met a young woman. For purposes of this post, I will call her Gabriela. Gabriela is only 18 years old. Shy and self-conscious, she was in the market, and one staff noticed her swollen belly. Inquiring, they asked if the young lady was pregnant. Much to their surprise, she started crying and told them a story that involved visiting a hospital in a large city a few hours drive away. She told them of the doctor telling her she had a “tumor” and needing surgery. Unsure what this all meant, she returned to her town. She continued, however, to feel more and more worn-down and weakened. Her abdomen was getting larger and larger.
When our staff met Gabriela, they knew something was wrong. They quickly gathered her contact information and told her they would be back in contact very soon. Hours of phone calls, numerous messages back-and-forth, a thorough review of her medical records – and our team was sure of one thing, Gabriela needed help . . . and soon.
We could get Gabriela seen through a partnership with a very well-respected hospital in Cusco (NB: run by Catholic nuns – many of whom are also physicians). The physician who did her intake knew their small hospital could not help; and suggested we get Gabriela transferred to a large public hospital with an oncology team.
I wish I could say this was a story that ended with a happy outcome. It does not. The struggle to get Gabriela seen by oncology was convoluted. When she was finally seen – with an HBI staff person present – the physician explained to her that nothing could be done. There is no curative treatment. Her cancer has disseminated to her entire abdomen and spine.
We are now working with Gabriela and her family to get her compassionate palliative care. Gabriela’s is a story of struggle and an all too often reality of our work. There is nothing easy about an 18-year-old young woman living in extreme poverty with terminal cancer. Nothing easy. This is our work. To build bridges . . . even if the outcome is not what we all want or hope.
This is not supposed to be easy! It’s life and it’s complex. That is what makes it all the more important.