"A person is a person through other persons." -Desmond Tutu
More than 10 years ago, I took time off from school and work to spend 18 months teaching, serving and loving the people of Central and South America. It was one of the happiest times of my life. Never before had I completely given myself to something or someone in that way. My life was full and meaningful. At the same time, I felt inadequate, humbled and utterly vulnerable.
This past week, as I arrived in Senegal, those same feelings of happiness, purpose, humility and vulnerability swallowed me up. This was my first trip to Africa and I wasn’t sure what to expect, only that I didn’t want to go back home feeling like I hadn’t helped in some way. No, I wanted to roll up my sleeves and ingratiate myself with the Senegalese culture and people. I wanted to lose myself in loving and helping them.
But as it usually happens, they have been the ones to teach and love and nurture me. Last Friday, we rode over bumpy dirt roads to Daloto, a rural village on the southeastern corner of Senegal. We spent the day interviewing the local chief, mothers, and children, and preparing for the celebration of WWHI's new malaria and anemia program. We were dirty, tired and hungry, but feeling good about our day’s work. We made one last visit to the local midwife, Monique. As we entered her home (the size of my bedroom), she told us she had cooked dinner for us. Rice, fish, yams, and cold fruit juice she had made herself. We sat on the floor and ate from a big communal bowl, laughed and talked (me, mostly in charade-like hand gestures).
Afterward, we walked back to our car and were thronged by dozens of small children who held our hands and said in broken English, “I love you ... I love you.” I confess, I got teary. I love the people of Daloto. Not only because I’ve spent hours with them in their huts and hospitals, but because they have so willing loved me back.
Monique’s life work — midwifery — is about giving back, improving life, alleviating human suffering and sorrow. Her life’s work, our life’s work — to love others — is what we all live by. As Desmond Tutu, a South African activist, says: “None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are. A person is entitled to a stable community life, and the first of these communities is the family."
This is what Women’s World Health Initiative aspires to do every day through our health programs — build, heal, inspire, preserve and, yes, love.
It’s hard work, but it is all so worth it.