July 9, 2001
Life lessons learned in Bolivia
Lauren Cogswell, formerly assistant University chaplain, has moved to Charlottesville, Va., where she will serve as associate pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Bolivia is a country unknown to most Americans. Located in the middle of South America, it is blessed with the diverse geography of the snow-capped Andes Mountains and the lush green of the tropics.
High in the steep hillsides of the altiplano of this beautiful
country, at 15,000 feet above sea level, is the town of Ambana. This is
where 12 Emory students, faculty and staff (including myself) spent the
last two weeks of May on a Journey of Reconciliation, one of four journeys
sponsored by the dean of the Chapel and Religious Life. Our group came
to Ambana to learn about reconciliation, to support the work of justice
and the movement of hope being led by Andean Rural Health Care (ARHC).
ARHC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing preventive and
curative health care to the underserved in Bolivia, Haiti and the Lower
Rio Grande Valley area of Texas/Mexico. Its vision is to provide both
health care and education for the poorest and most marginalized people
in the community.
Even before our journey, Emory had been connected to ARHCs work.
The organization receives a great deal of support from the United Methodist
Church, and its current executive director, David Shanklin, is an adjunct
instructor at the Rollins School of Public Health. Our journey to Bolivia
was a natural progression of this long-term relationship and is a perfect
fit for a University that has such strong health programs and a commitment
Our task for the week was to take down an existing building and prepare
the foundation for a new building. The new facility will house a large
conference room to educate and provide living space for the health workers
who serve this rural community.
Our greater goals for the journey were to immerse students and staff
in the work of reconciliation, to learn about the lives of Bolivians,
and to open our lives to the possibilities of hope and healing that come
from engagement in the work of justice and peace in our world.
The poverty in Bolivia is heartbreaking, though not so different than
that in our own community. As in Atlanta and elsewhere in the United States,
there is a tremendous gap between the Bolivian rich and the pooreven
between the surviving poor and the truly destitute.
All around us were adobe houses with thatched roofs, brimming with barefoot
children dressed in tattered clothes that barely covered their swollen
bellies. This poverty was in stark contrast to some of the mansions we
would later see during our tour of the capital city of La Paz.
In Ambana, malnutrition and a lack of safe drinking water are greater
problems than hunger, but there is hunger all the same. There is an abundance
of potatoes and corn but very little market for them, so there are no
resources to buy other vegetables, fruit or meat. When children are hungry,
they cannot learn. When children are poor, they must leave school at age
7 to work the fields with their families, and even then, they are still
Each day several members of our team accompanied doctors and health workers
as they made their daily visits into the community. As we walked down
winding dirt paths, the doctors stopped and talked with each person we
passed; they knew the names and the ages of the children.
These doctors vision of health is not one of consumption of services,
but of relationship and community. In these communities, the doctors took
time to share sandwiches with families, to talk about farming, to play
with the children. The doctors and health workers in Ambana have chosen
to use their education to serve the most marginalized people in their
country. Through relationships of trust and an ongoing commitment to the
community they go far beyond being doctors. They are healers.
On one of our home visits, I accompanied two doctors to a school several
miles down the mountain from the health clinic. We came to give the children
flouride treatments and to talk to them about cleaning their teeth. One
by one the children rinsed their mouths and gladly sat down with the doctor
to receive their flouride treatment. After they saw the doctors, the children
taught us Bolivian games, which we all played in the school yard.
On the way back from the school, we stopped and talked with one of the
school childrens families. The doctors asked about their farming
and the health of their family. They gave us a Bolivian vegetable to taste
and several sweet potatoes to take to the clinic with us. As we continued
on our journey, we stopped to share sandwiches with a woman and her young
son. She had never come to the clinic so the doctors stopped to share
some hospitality in hopes they could build a relationship of trust.
Just like this one, the rest of our days were filled with simple tasks
of medicine, but we could see the healing taking place.
At the end of the week, several students shared renewed visions of their
lifework and new visions about their education. After these two weeks,
they wanted to use their education to provide health care for the poor,
to teach children, to empower the poor in their own community. They too
realized that their own freedom would be found in using their education
to bring liberation for others. They were choosing to be healers.
My hope is that Emory will continue this good work with ARHC of providing opportunities (like the Journeys of Reconciliation) that give students and faculty the chance to live out the essence of our education.
For more information on Andean Rural Health Care, visit www.main.nc.us/ARHC/.
For more information on the Journeys of Reconciliation, contact Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of the Chapel and Religious Life, at 404-727-6225.