What Is Your Reality?
By Jackie Kercheval, Tufts Timmy Chapter Member, Participant in the Tufts Guatemala Brigade, January 7-14, 2012
I had been told that trips with Timmy Global Health are “life-changing” and “so inspiring,” and I would be lying if I said that I truly believed that at first. I was worried that for some reason, maybe the experience wouldn’t touch me at all. That maybe what I had heard was wrong. That maybe the distance between Tufts University and Quetzaltenango, Guatemala would not enable me to feel what I had been told I would feel. As it turned out, I was right—I didn’t feel that my experience was “life-changing” and “so inspiring,” because those descriptions are extreme understatements for the emotions that I felt.
I was right about another thing, too: the distance between Tufts University and Quetzaltenango certainly impacted how I felt about the trip. I realized, as I flew home after my week in Guatemala, that 3,000 miles in the face of globalization is both miniscule and millions of worlds away all at once. In many ways, the differences between life in the United States and life in rural Guatemala were much exacerbated in my mind after my trip. I realized that in the United States and in other so-called developed countries, we are fortunate enough to choose and then create our own reality, the reality of our dreams. In Guatemala, on the other hand, the social, political, and economic constraints of the society have caused many of the people to be born into a reality over which they have no control. Why is it that I was born into a life with my choice of future homes and family dinners, while others are born onto the same dirt floor that they will live on for their entire lives?
At the same time that I was hit with the immensity of these differences, I was also slammed by a realization from the other direction—we are all human beings, and in that way, we are all one and the same. There were a few interactions with patients—human beings just like me—that really stood out in my mind. The one that I recall the most and the one that I feel really typifies what I took out of my experience with Timmy occurred while I was shadowing a doctor on my first day on the medical brigade. A patient came into our room with a four-year-old daughter, and when I looked over her chart I learned that the patient was 19-years-old—the same age as I am. WHAM, there it was—the realization that she and I are at the exact same stage in our lives, but the disparities between our current positions couldn’t be more vast. I was the “fortunate American” with my life ahead of me, and she was the teenage mother. Had she been born in the United States, she could very well have been sitting in my seat rather than the examination chair. But there she was, this 19-year-old mother with her future predetermined, this young Guatemalan girl who didn’t even realize that she had the choice to dream.
After my trip with Timmy Global Health, I have many more questions about the world than I did before I went to Guatemala. However, I know two things for certain: my time with the incredible organization that is Timmy is not nearly over, and I don’t want to become one of those Americans who says, “Oh, that was a fantastic trip. I realize how fortunate I am to live in the US,” and leave it at that. Since returning from my brigade, I have begun to brainstorm about how I can use my assets to help the disempowered communities that I worked in. Understanding the importance of education in terms of achieving a sustainable outcome has made me believe that education is the key to reform, and I am hoping to start a global health education organization to begin to reduce global disparities. I have the opportunity to design my future and choose my reality—why not channel that energy into enabling others to do the same?