A tornado in my head

“They didn’t even have nappies at the maternity ward,” she tells me
“I had to get my sister out of there: that hospital was a health risk.”

With our feet on the edge of a South-African fireplace, we are having a glass of wine. She is a beautiful woman from Lesotho who has made an impressive journey in life, now finishing her PhD while being an accomplished facilitator.

Twenty minutes ago, she asked me what I exactly try to find out with my research. So I told her about our projects on how parents support their children after a serious injury. About our research on care for children who lost a parent due to fatal domestic violence. And about our recent survey on emergency staff’s education needs regarding child traumatic stress.

She listened with interest, and then she started talking. About her experiences with hospitals in South Africa.

It’s not that I had never thought about the bigger picture. On the contrary, I’ve even wondered out loud in speeches whether I was doing the right thing helping our services get from, say, a quality score of 8 out of 10 to a 8.5. There are so many places where we’re lucky if that figure is a 4 or a 5. It wasn’t the first time that I was in South-Africa either. Last year, I spent three months there.

But all of a sudden it hit me. I felt embarrassed. Quite deeply embarrassed, to be honest.

I am working on problems that are important in a highly resourced context. Of course, it is good to improve our services. Children and adults exposed to trauma deserve the best support, and sometimes we can clearly do better. In many cases though, we are investing a lot of energy in achieving marginal improvements.

I have always had the idea that I was not the right person to work with refugees, with people from different cultures, with people from low- and middle-income countries. Who was I to do so, being a ‘white privileged person’? I felt very uncomfortable with the idea of going to low-resource settings and offering my help. As if I would truly understand what the local needs, and possible solutions, were.

But two weeks on from the conversation at the fireplace, that seems a feeble excuse. Also, through the Global Young Academy projects, in particular the Africa Science Leadership Program, I actually feel that I can contribute. That I can work with colleagues from Africa, Asia, and South America to find out how to support local professionals, for example.

So now I have a tornado in my head.

(For the  concerned: it’s a good, benevolent, awake-at-night-because-I-have-ideas storm 🙂  although a bit more sleep would be appreciated…)

It will take a while for the dust to settle and for me to find out what my next steps are. The major societal issue on my mind is the refugee crisis. I can dream up a number of projects involving refugee youth, setting up research together with them. Or even better, have them lead it.

What is clear despite the whirlwind though, is that I want to avoid being a desk theorist about this. I will need to ‘get my feet in the clay’ as we say in Dutch, and – without an agenda – explore what people themselves consider important.




11 thoughts on “A tornado in my head

  1. Believe it or not, there are some of us (relatively) “privileged” folks that experienced a similar storm, but in the end we decided to embrace the challenge, no matter what people thought of our audacity or legitimacy. People will form whatever opinion they form, but as long as you are sincere and respectful I believe you can make a valuable contribution!

    Success with figuring it out! 🙂

  2. I do not fully agree. Health care – mental health care – in Holland is chaotic, bureaucratic, unreliable. Most often it is shamefully bad. Actually it is so bad that I lost a precious son who, I now know, three years after he died and after doing a lot of research, could have been helped with some trauma therapy and some help with overcoming anxiety and stigma. He just never got offered it.

    There is a lot of work to be done in the field of mental health care all around.

    • Hi Kitty, there are still terrible mistakes made, you’re right. I’m very sorry for the loss of your son. In my view there is an opportunity to focus the available capacity on those areas where there is still a lot to gain. Especially in the link between research and practice, and in particular for those most in need indeed. We do a lot of ‘nice to have’ research though; e.g. comparing two effective treatments to find out which one is possibly a tiny bit better. I’d prefer to invest in the bigger issues, wherever they are.

  3. It takes passion and courage to be a hero/heroin in a crisis situation. Eva, I know you are a woman of passion and courage. Don’t wait for the tornado in your head to clear out. It may leave behind some pain, sorrow, and regrets which might be difficult to fix afterwards. Just follow your passion, and courage will be right there with you. Forget about the challenges like colour difference, language barrier etc and let your passion drive you on. You will be amazed what you will achieve in the end. Remember, balloons don’t rise because of their colour but because of what is inside of them. I wish you all the best.

  4. Sounds like an enlightenment experience, Eva. Get your hands and feet dirty, whether it is in a western health system grinding to a halt because of bureaucracy or in a refugee camp or in a developing country. ‘Who am I’ is a good question to see through the ego that thinks it is not good enough 🙂

  5. Pingback: Back in the world’s most liveable city | Trauma Recovery

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