Thursday, February 21, 2013

Times They Are a Changin’

Times they are a changin’

A couple of weeks ago I made a pitch for some funds to supply each first year nursing student with a netbook in order to survive in the Problem Based Learning course and to have access to current knowledge for all their other nursing courses.    You were generous with your donations in 2011, when almost none of the students had any devices that allowed them to connect to the internet.   And while many of them had cell phones [which almost always had no money on them to make calls], they were not the kind that allowed them to surf the net.

Only one year later, almost all of the 2012 first year students have some sort of device that allows them to get access to the net… most are smart phones.  Apparently the word got out that if they were to succeed in nursing at Mercy they would need to have something that allowed for net access.  

As with many changes, many things  are true.   I think Tony and I can take some credit for equipping the 2011 students with notebooks and helping them to see the benefits of web-based research.   Of course, we were just the instruments of the generosity of our benefactors; otherwise we would have just given them black and white pictures of a netbook and told them to pretend…

If you ever needed any evidence that the world is changing, here it is.  A decade ago when I first went to Mercy, most of the students could not afford to buy individual paper note books. [You know, the ones with pages and lines.]  Now, Guyana is still one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean -- and most nursing students have smart phones.   They are older models and older technologies that get dumped from the north to make room for the fancier new ones.

Before I tell you that I am canceling my efforts to provide everyone with a netbook, I want to see if it is actually true that almost everyone has access to the net AND if the technology that they have can best help them succeed in nursing and in the future. 

I think it is safe to say that students will still need keyboards to type papers and reports.   And the details of anatomy and physiology illustrations require more viewing space than a small phone provides.   (This is from my old perspective:  I can’t see reading any article for very long on such a small space.   I still have to work at forcing myself to read a long article without printing it off on paper!)

I do not go to Guyana to help the students “get by”.  I go in the hope that they can thrive.  And if it is not sacrilegious to compare my nursing students to any soccer team I have coached, I do not “put them on the pitch to lose”.   I want them to think that they are as bright and well-prepared as any nursing students in the world.  

Now don’t get me wrong,:  many of my soccer teams lost – and sometimes by large margins ,  but if one of my players ever felt before the game that they were going to lose,  I asked them to just leave; we’d do without them.     I know, and they know, that they live in a poor but developing country.   However, I am not a poorly trained third world teacher and they will not be inadequately trained third world students and nurses.  

We will do our best with the best available and the “game” will determine the winners.


Bob Dylan “The Times They Are A-Changin'”

Translation in progress. Please wait...

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Donation or Investment – Part Two

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”   Dom Helder Camara

A reason that I do not like asking for donations is that whatever we contribute to  has a remarkable way of staying the same ….. no matter how much money gets thrown at it.

There seems to be a literal acceptance of Jesus’ words, “The poor you will have with you always…” [Mark 14, 7] and this almost always comes as a handy absolution for people who are in not poor.   I do not like it and I do have to include myself in this radical accusation.

One of my heroes from my university days and my first missionary zeal was Dom Helder Camara.  He was a Brazilian bishop, better known as the Bishop of the Poor, who wrote about the link between poverty and violence.   He also wrote a small book called “Spiral of Violence” that supported my opposition to the Vietnam War and placed it in a larger religious context. 

I remember him now for his perspective on understanding social injustices by suggesting a needed paradigm shift.   He wrote, “When shall we have the courage to outgrow the charity mentality and see that at the bottom of all relations between rich and poor there is a problem of justice?”

Not only do I see poverty as “a problem of justice”; I see that justice is a problem for us all by itself.   Charity implies kindness and voluntariness while justice calls for duty and obligations.   Being charitable makes us feel good and virtuous, while doing our duty well is just that – doing what we should.   There are no “virtue” benefits; however, a failure of duty leaves us shamed.  Not good.     

It is no wonder that we prefer the world of the charitable rather than the demands of justice.    Who feels good about paying their taxes?  Obeying red lights?  Getting to work on time?  Feeding your children?   Who gets a reward for doing what they should?   In fact, when we are told what our duty [or fair share] is, we get downright hostile.    I would rather have the feelings that I get from doing good deeds that are outside, over and above the realms of obligation.

Since Camara and others have been unsuccessful in making any significant changes with their logic, let’s just pretend the demands of justice do not exist.  


Recently, I read an article by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett from the Sheldon Chumir Foundation.    I liked the article because it agreed with me, but was better at expressing my beliefs.  I‘ll just stretch some of their local and country-wide conclusions to a world application

The evidence shows unmistakably that more equal societies – those with smaller income differences between rich and poor – are friendlier and more cohesive:  community life is stronger, people trust each other more, and there is less crime and violence. So the deep human intuition that inequality is divisive and socially corrosive is true.

While the authors were speaking of a city or a country, I think their conclusions are applicable to the whole globe.  This is why I wrote in my last blog, “I am not asking for saintly altruism; I can accept ‘informed selfishness’”.    A world that has a more equitable sharing of its resources will benefit everyone at home and abroad.  If we want to improve our lives – social, health, economic, that improvement may be intimately connected with the improvement of everyone’s life.  

Ever since those days of youthful idealism, global problems seemed past my comprehension and certainly my abilities to fix – Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Farm Workers.   I focused my energies first on improving the small darkroom of a Chicano newspaper, then a small department in a hospital, and now a small school of nursing in a small hospital in a small country.     I know I will not change the world, nor Guyana, nor even the nursing school.   I have already changed, and will change, the lives of a few students.   They will have to change the hospital and health/health care in Guyana.   

I need your help to provide these two dozen students with the best resources and tools possible for their studies, and for their future responsibilities to make Guyana a more equal society with all the benefits that come with that – safer, more peaceful, less violent, friendlier and healthier……

And since we agreed to pretend that you don’t have any obligations to make a donation, just think of how virtuous you will feel!  

Here, however, is another thought from Camara:  “More and more I pray for the Prodigal Son’s brother… The Prodigal awoke from his life of sins. As for his brother, when will he awake from his life of virtue?”

Enough …… I’ll try a Part Three later...