For those of us who don't go on GROW.

By Ria Pal

It’s tricky to get a sense of our GROW team’s day-to-day experiences through blog posts alone, but they are tireless. Maddy, Humma, Anisha, and Cam (soon to be joined by Rhett) are constantly attending workshops, meeting with youth groups and parents and Kallpa, and preparing for a comprehensive M&E (monitoring and evaluation) of “la programa prep.” They sometimes work from 5am to 10pm, trying to pack in as much as they can during a too-short internship. They’re helping to realize much of what we advocate for, learn about, and fundraise for during the school year. Their dedication and enthusiasm are genuinely humbling. I am proud of them and so, so grateful. 

That said, as a GlobeMedder that has never made it to Iquitos, I’m acutely aware of how much of GROW seems nebulous. Reciting the names of programs on our MOU doesn’t give me insight into the haircuts of the jovenes who attended. I don’t know what kind of laugh the youth group leader of Pampachica has. And in the same way, it’s easy to see how there exist bigger gaps in knowledge, ones that could probably be addressed by a quick search online: the area’s geography, local news. Even facts that are written into our MOU: the names of Kallpa Iquitos’s staff, the technical details of its programming. Every level of understanding takes what feels like a quantum leap of energy from the last. 

The hard reality of partnership is that relationships and lived experience can’t be disbursed at a staff retreat. To me, that’s kind of a good thing. To claim that they could be is to undervalue the deeply personal experiences of any GROW intern, past, present, and future. But does that mean that someone who doesn’t go on GROW automatically gets less out of their involvement in GlobeMed, and that they’re automatically less effective advocates for Kallpa? 

Hear me out. I really don’t think so.

Members have countless different reasons for joining GlobeMed, and I’d guess that we have still more reasons for staying. That diversity is inherently beautiful, so I won’t dwell on it. In its broadest and most unhelpful explanation, we love what we’re doing. We love that we’re learning about global health models and case studies. We love that we’re in a group of compassionate, interesting people. That we’ve planned and executed events that convince total strangers to support grassroots-driven community health initiatives roughly 3200 miles away. All of those are real rewards. Personal gratification is valuable because, among other things, it blooms investment.

What’s neat, though, is that these gratifications accumulate in concrete impact. Our partnership with Kallpa is an opportunity that we are unbelievably fortunate to have. It is the opportunity to work alongside and learn from a highly effective, hugely welcoming community development organization. As college students. And the more that we are able to understand that impact, the more significant our investment becomes. Unfortunately, it still takes those quantum leaps.

As much as I’d like to have come up with a checklist of prerequisites for “feeling connected to the partner,” I’m starting to accept that this isn’t that kind of discussion. I will say that media and storytelling are invaluable. When Sara returned from our inaugural GROW internship, summer ‘11, she was patient enough to screenshare me on skype and go through, one by one, every picture and video that she had taken. By the end of those three hours or so, I had picked up a few names and faces - definitely not all of them. A lot of the pictures were blurry. We couldn’t figure out how to rotate some of the videos, and so I watched them by turning my head clockwise. But it made a difference. I finally started to appreciate how much I didn’t know and how much I wanted to change that. 

So where does that leave us? Ideally, more willing to put in the effort to understand the inner workings of GROW and Kallpa. Or at least, more willing to see where that might lead. As GROW continues to scramble around Iquitos, my hope is that we’ll all challenge ourselves to ask more questions, read to the bottoms of pages, and ultimately, be ready for deeper conversations with our GROW team once they’ve returned.

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