At a very young age, my mother instilled in me that even in the darkest hour, at the deepest depths, there is always hope. That hope may not always be evident, but a sliver of light is somewhere to be found – to hold on to and to never let go. As a child, I didn’t always believe it, but as I’ve grown older, hope has been the greatest gift she could have ever given me. To this day, anytime I see something enscribed with “hope” I have to pick it up for my mom; because just as she’s taught me, you can never have enough of it.
On March 14, 2019, I received a congratulatory email from the Pulse team. I had been matched: Human Resources Volunteer Consultant for Partners in Health (PIH) Sierra Leone! As any millennial would do after receiving that type of news, I immediately began searching their Instagram page: “Partners in Health: Together we save lives and spread hope in the poorest places on Earth.” HOPE. Woah. The word immediately jumped out at me. Weird. Was this a coincidence? I take a step back… it is a word that gets thrown around quite frequently. I let the moment pass, but not before screenshoting and sending it to my mom.
Have you ever had that one teacher that truly impacted your life? Maybe they said something that stuck with you forever? Dr. Eileen Sullivan, an undergraduate professor at Saint Joseph’s University, was one of those teachers. I attended her first class in the fall of my sophomore year: Psychosocial Aspects of Chronic Illness and Disability. I’ll never forget it. My friend, Alexa and I both left saying, “I want to be her!” You think we’re kidding… I tell you we weren’t.
Dr. Sullivan brought true meaning to our health studies: the vulnerable and fragile human life. She incorporated all aspects of chronic illness; not just treating the scientific mutations, but accounting for the social, the economical and all the interdisciplinary facets of a particular disease. It’s a tricky thing – bringing together the heart and the mind. Yet, Dr. Sullivan always found the means to do just that: think a bit harder and feel a bit deeper.
STOP. FAST FORWARD.
Back to PIH’s Instagram… I click on the IG story of PIH Sierra Leone, thoughts run through my mind: I can’t believe I’ll be there in a few months. [click] Oh there’s my new boss. [click] Wow look at the roads! [click] There is a birthing table stablized by rocks – this is going to be eye opening. [click] An Eagles fan, how cute.… PAUSE. HOLD THE STORY. There is a Sierra Leonean native wearing a Philadelphia Eagles hat! WHAT?! This is surely a fluke, but I must admit it’s starting to feel a bit strange all of these subtleties. I let another concidental moment pass, but not before screenshoting and sending it to my boyfriend. Eagles fans in Sierra Leone – who would have thought?!
I back out of the stories to the main IG photos. I start to scroll, digesting the ENORMOUS impact of this organization. One image grabs my attention… “Even Dr. Paul Farmer gets nervous about public speaking…”
WAIT A MINUTE. Paul Farmer – I KNOW THAT GUY! Okay maybe I didn’t actually know him per say, but I had heard of him. Where from though? Hmm… I research a bit more:
“In 2003, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder published Mountains Beyond Mountains, a book tracing the origins of PIH and the lives of its founders.” It came rushing back… I read a book about him in Dr. Sullivan’s class years ago… PAUL FARMER FOUNDED PARTNERS IN HEALTH. Mind. Officially. Blown.
“This guy was clearly interesting. What was he doing forsaking Harvard medicine and a cushy life in Brookline for this part of Haiti? After we first met, I didn’t see Paul again for six years. I think, in the back of my mind, I avoided getting back in touch for fear that it would disturb my peace of mind. You know, we get addicted to our comforts, and we like to imagine that we’ve earned them. That idea falls apart the minute you start to ask yourself, ‘What would my privileges look like if I had been born in Haiti, to a peasant family?’Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains
STOP. FAST FORWARD.
It’s week one of orientation at Partners in Health, I’m sitting in the Freetown office as one of my colleagues begins to explain how PIH came to be in Sierra Leone. Little did I know that this would be another full circle moment coming to light. I learn that PIH Sierra Leone has only been in existence for a few years at this point. The decision for PIH to come to Sierra Leone transpired during the catastrophic Ebola Epidemic of 2014.
“Without additional interventions or changes in community behavior, CDC estimates that by January 20, 2015, there will be a total of approximately 550,000 Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone or 1.4 million if corrections for underreporting are made”http://[http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/su6303a1.htm]
The decision was made; PIH would go and as their mission states: they would stay. On November 13th, 2014, PIH’s first Ebola Holding and Treatment Center was erected in Port Loko, Sierra Leone.
Oh and November 13th just so happens to be my birthday…
Call all of these moments ironic, flukes or whatever you like, but what I’ve come to believe is that there are no coincidences. I may not have identified the distinct impact I will have on others here and quite frankly, I may never fully identify it. However, one thing is certain – our lives do not exist individualistically; we are intertwined and connected at every second of every day to the greater world and the greater journey we are destined to embark on. PIH Sierra Leone and I were meant to find each other; from November 13th, 1989, this was all in the plan. And as Dr. Paul Farmer says, “No one’s going to convince me that that’s wrong.”