Poverty. Death. Illness. Repression. Injustice. These are the issues of global health. It is what we confront, among a laundry list of others, as a part of our daily work and as a part of our mission.
Behind all of that is such beauty and joy and resilience…it is breathtaking at times! I remember being at a hospital in Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic. A child who was orphaned due to Ebola had been admitted. She had been found after being alone for god knows how long. She had illness on top of illness; she was skin and bones.
Everything about what happened next, though, was a story of community and care. I saw a nurse at the hospital draw his own blood to donate to her. Two women unofficially adopted her and ensured that she was fed, diapered, clothed. She steadily made progress that some would call miraculous. And right before I left, the sign of her true recovery was that she led the ward, providers, visitors, and patients alike, in a jubilant dance party!
The love behind each and every action in this story is motivating. From the community health worker who found her and overcame his fear to bring her to the hospital. To the hospital workers who stayed in their roles when so many others fled out of fear. To the nurse who donated his blood. To the women who gave of their time and resources.
The great Ann Firth Murray at Stamford University is renowned for her work in global health, in particular, she was the founder of the Global Fund for Women. In her long career, she has born witness to tremendous suffering and injustice. She developed a course called Love as a Force for Social Justice as a means of investigating how love can be a tool that can be used towards the elimination of violence (elimination of violence against women is a critical element of her body of work). I highly recommend it as a morale boost and an anti-burn-out tool. You can read an interview with her about the course here.
In the course, she explores several nonviolent movements, from Gandhi’s Salt March to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, in order to demonstrate how love and commitment can be transformational. She also brings in neuroscience, biology, and psychology to make her points (the science-minded side of me was pleased to see that!).
In our work, we often talk about human rights, empathy, accompaniment, commitment, humility….but we rarely talk about love as a force for change. It’s seen as weak, at worst, and perhaps out of place at best.
Martin Luther King, Jr, once not-so-famously said that “justice is love in calculation. Justice is love working against anything that stands against love. Standing beside love is always justice.” Cornel West said, more famously, “justice is what love looks like in public”.So, with love being so foundational to so many social movements and so intrinsically tied with justice, maybe it is time for a small change that would allow a tsunami of changes to come.