By Ellery Walker
I know I echo the sentiments of many others when I say that 2020 sure has been a year full of the unexpected. When I traveled back to Michigan to visit my family over Spring Break, I had no idea just how much would change in the coming months. Though I had not yet secured a practicum, I had been pursuing opportunities across the nation and globe. I wasn’t sure where I would end up, but I was quite sure it wasn’t going to be anywhere near Chapel Hill. However, as the COVID-related travel restrictions grew, I shifted my search to anything that I could do from North Carolina. I stumbled upon Family Health Ministries (FHM), and, lo and behold, here I sit in my Chapel Hill condo. That’s the first piece of unexpected irony in my summer.
The second bit of irony comes in the work that I’m doing. FHM is a small, faith-based, community-directed, outcome-focused, partnership-oriented, and relationship-driven global health nonprofit based in Chapel Hill that has been working to “support Haitian communities in their efforts to build and sustain healthy families” for more than 20 years. What began as a commitment to reducing cervical cancer and maternal mortality among Haitian women has expanded to include several clinics, an orphanage and school, educational opportunities, and substantial community development. Earlier this year FHM opened a new birthing clinic at the Carmelle Voltaire Women’s Health Center (CVWC) in Tom Gato, a rural area in the mountains of Haiti. The clinic is managed by two Haitian midwives, with oversight from a local OB/GYN physician, and they have delivered about 20 babies thus far. Since the clinic is still a fairly new operation, this summer I am conducting a literature review on birthing centers and intrapartum care in low resource settings, and compiling recommendations for best practices for the CVWC.
Now, I mentioned that my work is somewhat ironic… so where’s the irony in a lit review? Well, I am the daughter of two OB/GYNs, and I have spent the last 24 years trying desperately to NOT engage in conversations surrounding maternal and infant health. And yet, here I am, dedicating my summer to learning as much as possible about childbirth. It all comes full circle, and yes, my parents are thrilled. This summer is ironic and unexpected, but I think it’s unexpectedly just what I needed.
Before I ever knew exactly what I would be working on this summer, I was drawn to FHM by the way that they empower and equip Haitian communities and leaders through intentional and respectful long-term relationships. As I think and learn more about global health and my role as a practitioner, I want to be committed to developing true relationships characterized by listening and learning, and working with the FHM team is a great opportunity to practice just that. As much as I wish I could be on the ground in Haiti, I am grateful that working remotely has forced me to rely so much more heavily on collaboration and trust with the FHM team and the Haitian staff. I have to rely on the input of the physician, midwives, country director, and my preceptors because I’m simply not there. I like to think that I would be engaging them in the conversation and prioritizing their thoughts even if I was physically there, but the truth is that it’s so much easier to become the expert as soon as we’ve experienced something. So, for now, I’m glad to be working from afar. I’m compiling best practices on something I’ve never experienced in a place I’ve never been. I cannot fall back on my own understanding, which means I must trust that of those who live, work, and have spent substantial time in that setting. And that’s how it should be anyway, right? Sure, global from local is a challenge, but it’s good practice, because whether I’m walking through a clinic on my own two feet, or just seeing it on a computer screen, my role should never be to dictate, but to amplify the voices of those I serve.