In 2008, shortly after my brother died unexpectedly, l went to a township in Africa as part of a “medical team”. There were many positive aspects of this trip, like connecting with people, learning about a world outside of my own, and overcoming my grief and the anxiety that had often kept me from traveling. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder if we were doing this more for ourselves than the people we were supposedly helping. In the end I wasn’t sure. We could only provide basic care to the hundreds of people who lined up to see us each day. And by basic I mean handing out Tylenol and vitamins and taking blood pressures with no long-term plan in place.
A few years later I heard the township severed its relationship with the group I went with for philosophical differences. Looking back, I can understand why.
I had many touching encounters with the people from that township that made it a valuable experience for me. Yet I am haunted by the gnawing feeling that somehow we missed the point. It wasn’t supposed to be about us.