The first “Third Thursday” of what is now known as Citizens for Global Solutions, Minnesota(CGSMn), was March 23, 2000. (For purists, yes, the first Third Thursday was on the fourth Thursday, but they had a good excuse…!) Since that first program there have been well over 100 topics explored by over 100 always well qualified speakers*, and last nights presentation by Dr. Christy Hanson (by my count, speaker #106 at Third Thursday) was no exception.
I have written frequently about one or other programs at Third Thursday and a consistent lament is how impossible it is to distill an experts presentation, punctuated by questions from an always alert audience, into a cogent summary. You have to be at these free programs to truly experience the learning available for the investment of two hours of your time.
Dr. Hanson’s topic title was intriguing. Here’s the title slide on her powerpoint (click to enlarge, look in lower right corner). The original work of art was by students at Macalester College in St. Paul, and according to Dr. Hanson, is still found on a wall somewhere on campus at all times. It is a beautiful piece of work. Dr. Hanson’s bio is here.
Dr. Hanson’s talk on “Global Health: the Greatest Story Rarely Told”, highlighted not what hasn’t been accomplished to make the world better for, particularly, women and children; but rather the miracles which have been worked around the world by cooperative efforts by experts like Dr. Hanson, assorted countries, United Nations and allied agencies like World Health Organization, companies, and individuals like Jimmy Carters, Bill and Melinda Gates, Clinton Foundation, etc. quietly join hands, tackling immense tasks world-wide. Too seldom do these efforts get the attention they deserve.
The real heroes (and sheroes): ordinary people in villages, neighborhoods and local offices world wide. All they need is a little help from a lot of friends who care.
By no means did she sidestep the fact that on this globe of over 7 billion human beings there are immense problems and inequities. One of her first slides showed the stark reality of deaths of mothers dying as a result of pregnancy. In the U.S. that would be 1 in 4300; in southern Africa, 1 in 31. That is a huge gap, so huge that for those of us in the U.S. it is scarcely comprehensible. We have no way to truly understand such a disparity.
She continued to tell her story, basically focusing on themes like infant death, malaria, TB, HIV and horrible tropical maladies, like Guinea Worm and the like.
She could have ended with an “ain’t it awful” scenario, causing a listener to give up hope. But there was a clue when she accepted the offer to speak by changing the title of her talk from what had been suggested, “the Ebola Crisis”, to “The Greatest Story Rarely Told” about the immense accomplishments in Global Health in recent years.
She ended her talk with a simple quote from Helen Keller, herself an heroic figure who encountered her disabilities, making them into abilities. “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
So very true.
In these days of endless crisis, blown up by finely tuned words and images, it is easy for even an old optimist like myself to lose hope. But people like Dr. Hanson, and an earlier Third Thursday speaker on Rwanda, Dr. Holly Nyseth-Brehm, and many others, help turn the dismal on its head. By their very presence on the world stage there is hope! There is real hope.
(I was unable to write about Dr. Nyseth-Brehms excellent presentation when it was given back in May. At least, here is a photo of this fine new professor at Ohio State University. And she’s writing a book about Criminal Justice related to Rwanda in the wake of the genocide of 1994. Watch for it!)
* Here is the complete list of Third Thursdays, as published in CGSMn’s newsletter Third Thursday 2000-2014. The upcoming events are always published by CGSMn’s website. Check them out; plan to attend. Next one is Thursday, February 19.
From Jim N, who was at the talk: As a Christian I love the thought of relieving human pain and suffering. The people we are talking about are truly my brothers and sisters. I raised the issue is this sustainable? ie outside people landing in an impoverished, yet sovereign land. The solution is interesting: $15 million from US taxpayers, totally free drugs from 5 drug companies, charity from other Americans philanthropists. Is that sustainable?
Could you imagine a meeting in my homeland Norway. They would talk about the huge inequity of the American Indians near Bemidji MN who are not getting the proper medical care and are very prone to illness and suicide or the veterans like Jim Nelson’s Vietnam vet brother ( a hero who saved many innocent civilians) but couldn’t get the medication he needed from the VA to treat the affliction from Agent Orange. He suffered for 30 years and died in 2014. The solution would be simple: the taxpayers in Norway would take a little of their wealth, the drug companies would provide free medications and the philanthropists in Norway with pitch in and then we could take care of our MN native Americans or sick veterans who die waiting for help.