:: to the teeth ::    thoughts on social justice, medicine, race, hope and beats

"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." :: Arundhati Roy ::

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." :: Alice Walker ::
Wednesday, December 29, 2004  

What if relief and reconstruction efforts aimed not just to save?

The tsunami disaster in South and South-East Asia has weighed heavily on me, even though I'm in safe territory in New Jersey. Why them? How am I sitting here unaffected while others have lost so many loved ones and are suffering so much? What can I do, other than donate $$? In a few months I'll be a physician, but i'm completely ill-equipped to handle a disaster like this. The aid agencies are responding to thousands of requests from volunteers around the world, stating that people trained in disaster relief are who are needed. As I've been thinking about all this, I've come across some blogs that I had not known about previously. The folks at ChiensSansFrontiers (sub headline: DesiMediaDogz without Borders) have been live blogging from the areas affected, and it's almost too much too take. An example:

(...) At the mass graves, we watched as bodies were lifted out of vans. No records of death. Only one Policeman on duty. No law. No order. Just people burying the dead. Body after body. Shovel after shovel. All along the Galle Road the destruction just made me numb. The media footage delivered by our FREE media brothers and sisters out there tell the truth. But they don't do the real carnage justice. No, not at all. You have to see with your own eyes bodies by the road. Unknown bodies. Stinking so much you feel the need to wretch. You have to see with your own eyes vans stuck on trees. Trawlers on the main road. Broken bridges. You have to see the power of your sea. And you have to be humbled.

And I've also just come across World Changing, an absolutely amazing weblog. Their premise is this:

WorldChanging.com works from a simple premise: that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it's here. We only need to put the pieces together.

Rock on. I'm hooked.

WorldChanging pointed me to this piece on Poynter Online -- where Jill Geisler asks some very important questions about the media coverage of this disaster (something I'm very interested in):
  • Will this story get as much coverage as the Scott Peterson case?
  • Will U.S. media invest its mighty resources into a story that is far from home, affects mostly people of other nations, and is relentlessly painful to witness?
  • Will media organizations ?- especially those that have cut back foreign bureaus -- redeploy staff to cover and stay with this story for more than its first days?
  • Will newsrooms that have adopted a "hyper-local" approach to news be willing to blow up that strategy in the face of a story that should transcend our parochial interests?
  • Will newsroom leaders see in this story the opportunities to bring readers and viewers closer to people, places, and issues they may never have known?
  • Will they reject the notion that Americans are interested in the story only in proportion to the number of U.S. citizens directly affected?
  • Will local television affiliates demand that their networks provide continuing and fresh pictures from overseas, so viewers won't see recycled images and assume the story is static, rather than dynamic?
  • Will networks send their top reporters, even anchors to the scene? What a powerful message that would send about the importance of this tragedy so far from our shores.

And Alex Steffen of WorldChanging just put together an absolutely wonderful piece that asks the question: What if relief and reconstruction efforts aimed not just to save, but to improve the lives of the victims of this week's disaster?

For one thing, history shows that the world tends to lose interest in disasters in developing world once people stop dying in large numbers. If we don't think now about our commitment to helping these communities recover and rebuild after the immediate crisis has passed, we never will.

...What if we looked at this relief and reconstruction effort as a chance to not only save lives (and of course that must come first) but to truly rebuild coastal Southeast Asia along more sustainably prosperous lines? What if we made the commitment to take what are now some of the most ravaged, destitute areas on Earth, and worked with the people there to reimagine and rebuild their communities to be the cutting edge of sustainable development?

Wow. Steffen then goes into a brilliant discussion of a few things that we could look at differently, including refugee housing, education for the kids, sustainable energy solutions, rural development, and a host of other solutions, all linked to other WorldChanging posts that expand these thoughts. I'm still absorbing all the information from the post and all its links, but this is the kind of material I absolutely love -- I'm going into the field of family medicine -- a field that looks at the health of the community and really tries to answer questions similar to Steffen's "What if relief and reconstruction efforts aimed not just to save, but to improve the lives of the victims of this week's disaster?" The question would be more like "what if medical efforts and dollars aimed not just to save (95% of our dollars going to health in this country are directed at treatment, only 5% are directed at prevention), but to improve the lives of the members of the community?".

As I'm running around the country right now interviewing for family medicine residency programs (the 3 years of training after medical school), I've been very excited about some of the family medicine departments' innovative approaches to addressing community health issues -- they're working with schools, gang members, religious leaders, and community health promotoras from the communities they serve, and thinking about proactive medicine and health, not just reactive (solely treatin' the disease). Oh yeah, and family med docs aren't the only docs doing creative things in the communities, also internal medicine docs and pediatricians and a host of other great docs. I'm not a territorial one-field-does-everything-creative kinda gal. But now I digress.

For now, I am so grateful that there are so many skilled disaster-relief folks in the tsunami hit areas (and traveling there) -- from physicians and other docs, to relief workers, to grave diggers, to volunteers in the surrounding areas, to survivors and friends who are putting aside their own shock and reflection on the disaster to help each other around the clock.

As I try to comprehend the tsunami disaster, I find myself navigating through all the above questions. In the coming days and months, I hope to keep donating money and figuring out other (non-financial) channels through which I can assist in this process. And I'll keep pushing myself to think about how I can work to improve the lives of folks there and here, in forward-thinking ways. But now I must sleep, as I have an interview at a VERY cool family medicine residency program tomorrow -- a program that pushes the envelope of how health care and health are looked at in a community.

posted by Anjali Taneja | 12/29/2004 10:19:00 PM | |


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