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Elisabeth Patterson


Fellowship Experience

Throughout my experience of creating my own independent project and delving into the issues presented by other Fellows, I was constantly challenged to contemplate the interconnectedness of each of the themes presented.  My project focused on the health disparity which faced Colombians in the situation of internal displacement, but was broadened with each discussion I had with the other Fellows and Dr. Buchanan.  Through the exploration of the themes presented, I was able to glean information that connected my project to others.  Those affected by the Colombian conflict were not only facing the affront of a significant health disparity, but also faced a multitude of substantial problems which confounded the gravity of the situation.  These communities faced issues of water shortage and cleanliness as well as the reality of the Afro-Colombian influx into the cities where these people were met with strict racism.   With this realization throughout open dialogue, I was able to be more sensitive to the people with whom I worked in Colombia.  The travel experience has been invaluable and has given me a sense of confidence that will remain with me throughout my life, especially as I graduate and move to a new phase of my life, where I will be confronted with the issues that face every young adult.  With the skills I gained through the experience of the Fellowship though, I will be able to overcome any obstacle.

My “Brueggeman moment” came as I was nearing the end of my time in Bogota.  It was an interaction I had with a local woman who lived in the barrios located in the hills beyond the city.  I had gotten to know her and her grandson well as they had been attending the programs on human rights we had initiated.  When I first approached her this afternoon, with the sky looming above her, she looked sick, and I was obviously concerned.  Although I had no university-issued nursing degree, at that moment, I was the closest health professional for a few miles.  I asked her what was wrong and she proceeded to list her symptoms, all of which pointed to the effects of drinking unclean water.  In the lack of a medical diagnosis, it seemed to me that she may have had a pathogen in her gut or some kind of organism like a tape worm.  She had visited the doctor after ignoring the problem for a few weeks until the discomfort became unbearable and her appetite completely disappeared.  She said that the physician wanted her to go on medication, but she barely could afford the appointment, much less the treatment.  Problem one.  She could not take time off from work in order to attend further appointments.  Problem two.  She also could not afford to eat enough in order to be able to gain the strength she had lost.  Problem three.  When I explained that diet modifications could help relieve some of her symptoms, she stated that there was no way she could afford such things, as it would have to take away from her grandson’s diet.  Problem four.  It was here that I felt completely helpless and that I was able to see the effects of structural violence on the ground level.  The conflict that has pervaded Colombian society was not being resolved by the government, but basically promoted through the use of unequal domination systems and a disconnect between those who have political know-how and those who do not.  From that moment, my mind opened and the notions of the connectedness of issues came flooding back.  Far too many societies develop social programs that do not reach those who are in true need of their assistance, and this issue does not only affect South American nations.  This moment called me to look around myself daily and to ask the difficult questions about why our society functions the way it does and who becomes the benefactors of these domination systems.

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