A Piece of My Mind Section Editor: Roxanne
K. Young, Associate Editor.
"What are we doing here?" I wonder aloud. From the top of one of the
world's largest slums, all I see is line after line of plywood boards and
plastic bags that do not succeed in blocking the tropical rain. Tens of thousands
of people live in this "precarious urban zone" of Guatemala City, and there
are hundreds of thousands more across the city. What difference will one volunteer
Though this morning I feel uncertain and somewhat overwhelmed, I know
that neither I nor the others in the team usually feel this way. We have all
been part of similar missions, and all of us have come back for more. Some
of us were first attracted to relief work for the adventure and for the chance
to see the "dark side" of the world, but this does not last long. When we're
addressing the health needs of an entire population—stemming an epidemic
of cholera, or setting up a mass vaccination campaign—there is no question
about the value of what we're doing, and our own doubts do not interfere.
But when the work has no public health mandate, only the focus of individual
patients surrounded by chronic poverty and endemic illness, where does the
sense of larger meaning come from?
Servan-Schreiber D. For What Purpose?. JAMA. 2000;283(1):18-19. doi:10.1001/jama.283.1.18