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Health Care is a Human Right

I had no idea that traveling just over the border would open my eyes to the beautiful real world. Attending the 2019 Women Deliver conference in Vancouver was an incredible humanitarian experience. I am grateful to the personnel from Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE) Program and Partners In Health (PIH) for including me in the group of professionals around the world, who are purposefully dedicated to the health and wellness of all people.

As much as I love my life in the high desert, I felt pulled in all the directions of the world, to see first hand all the innovative local solutions to all sorts of social and health concerns. There are folks around the world committed to equality on a host of issues. While I don’t know that I could personally visit every program in every village in every country, being the presence of so many committed individuals from all the reaches of the world was powerful in and of itself.

The conference theme was “Power. Progress. Change.” and speakers from a variety of backgrounds were being asked and were in turn asking the question, “What will you do with your power?” The official answer is still coming, and constantly changing, of course, but provides an underlying framework for approaching the new school year and returning to my personal and professional lives.

There are so many lessons from the experience, and the ones that have resonated the most are:

1. Income inequality in the US is off the charts, yet people from around the world seem to still think all Americans are rich. It’s definitely a comparison worth investigating, on both the micro and macro levels.

2. People living in the United States need to be fluent in more languages. All of the plenary and general sessions provided headsets with translations into at least three languages. This was a powerful visual that the conference organizers wanted to make sure the most amount of people were able to be included in real time in the discussions and content.

3. People living in the United States need to learn the countries of the world and pay attention to major trends in leadership. Public school education has failed the majority of us with a global perspective.

4. The concept of “Prime Ministers Without Borders” IS the power! One of the plenary speakers made this remark after hearing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak about Canadian efforts towards equality. This is a concept hinting towards a larger, global leadership role that understands the interconnectivity of all human beings, regardless of citizenship or placement on a map.

5. The world describes distances in kilometers, measures temperature in Celsius, and never touches the customer’s credit/debit card. Yet, in the United States, we’re using imperial measurements, Fahrenheit, and pass off our credit/debit cards to anyone in retail and at restaurants. We’re scared by cases of identity theft and don’t trust our neighbors. In Canada (and apparently around the world), the consumer is the only one to handle their own credit/debit card.

6. The president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, banned single use plastics in front of thousands of people at the conference venue and thousands more watching through online broadcasting. I truly hope this continues a global trend to more effectively manage convenience and the implications on the planet.

7. Indigenous knowledge of birthing and medicine are as valid as they have ever been, and the proponents of indigenous birthing and medicine are constantly defending their space to advocate for the needs of indigenous individuals.

8. I noticed that almost all of the security guards at the conference venue and many airport TSA agents were wearing head gear (turbans, wraps, scarfs, etc.). This was the best visual lesson that the fear-based “us and them” mentality perpetuated by the mainstream United States supremacy is totally off base with the real world.

• Which sessions did you attend? I focused mostly on the sessions dedicated to topics in indigenous communities throughout the world: birthing, medicine, community action, land rights, etc. As well, I attended several sessions about health and nutrition, specifically focused on youth.

• What did you like about them? I loved that several speakers required a translator. I really enjoyed dialogue with participants and hearing about all the places across the globe that were represented in the rooms. I loved when my perspective was challenged or my eyes were opened – for instance – I hadn’t thought at all about iron deficiencies, but I learned that iron deficiencies around the world are debilitating. As well, a transgendered person spoke about how awkward it was to utilize menstrual care products in the men’s restroom. These concepts have never been part of my thinking, and I appreciated hearing about the challenges and solutions.

• What did you learn? anything new or surprising (see above) As well, I was really impressed with the indigenous midwives session that generally discussed traditional midwives who practice (primarily) within Western medicine facilities and advocate for the traditional needs of their indigenous community members. I thought this concept has a really great translation to our work throughout Navajo Nation.

• Will you be able to use anything from the conference in your work? First, I would love to be way more cognizant of single use items and working concertedly to decrease the amount of trash I make at home and at work. I was really moved by the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s declaration of banning single use plastics in his plenary speech. How can I address this within our school system? Currently we’re using about 150 styrofoam trays and as many single use plastic forks and spoons each day to serve our student body. We’re in school for 180 days, which equates to over 27,000 discarded trays and forks in one school year. And, those items are only being used for some 15 minutes -- yet have a lifetime ahead of them in a landfill. And, that’s only if the cool kids don’t spill their trays or drop their forks on the floor! Yikes! The amount of trash we’re making as a society has me thinking. Maybe that’s a huge tangent, but it makes me think about what we are really doing to our world.

• Who did you meet? Have you stayed in touch with anyone? My best interactions were with my house mates, both PIH staff. One lives in Lesotho and the other in Boston. Both really made the work of PIH clear to me. I was also phenomenally impressed with the worldwide PIH staff and colleagues. PIH has clearly led the way in community health work. The film screening of Bending the Arc offered a beautiful look into the work of PIH while highlighting several key individuals. I had no idea that PIH had such a deep history. The story here is truly empowering.

If you were to attend again next year, would you approach the conference differently? I would love to be a life-time attender of the Women Deliver conferences! If I go again, I would ask to stay longer. There were so many great sessions and several were held outside the main conference schedule. It was an awesome week, and I could have stayed several more days, just learning and learning and learning from individuals from around the world. The content was solid.

By Malyssa Egge, Bluff After School Program Coordinator


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