The tragic irony behind The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017: A Peace Corps perspective
The Peace Corps, like any organization, has a mission and a set of goals that every volunteer, no matter the nature of their assignment, is committed to upholding. The mission: promote world peace and friendship.
And the goals:
1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
3. To help promote a better understanding of the peoples served on the part of Americans
As a mission, promoting world peace and friendship is certainly one that is difficult to argue with. However, leave it to the United States’ current administration to do so with its purposed budget cuts to the Peace Corps and other global aid efforts…
The inspiration behind this post wasn’t originally the administrations dark aspirations for the national budget, however, but the recently released senate healthcare bill. I will of course come to the bill, but its long-awaited release got me thinking about my role in the American government as a health-focused Peace Corps Volunteer.
The goals of the Peace Corps suggest that America is in a special position in the world to offer other countries assistance in areas that America has itself mastered, or at least has individuals trained in. Which, to an extent, is true. As a privileged American, I have one-in-a-billion access to top-notch everything: education, technology, resources, support systems. These are the things that I can bring to the table, and check off Peace Corps goal number one. And yes, this insane amount of privilege and access can make us as Americans blind to the kinds of challenges people face in the world, and as discussed in my previous blog post, the Peace Corps attempts to provide perspective on those, checking off Peace Corps goal number three.
Peace Corps goal number two, however, has me a bit uncomfortable. The Peace Corps is a genius foreign policy tool in many ways, as it sends bright-eyed and idealistic Americans abroad to “do good,” spreading the American “can do spirit” across the globe. With volunteers leaving behind people who now have the impression that Americans are fun, hardworking people who want to help those less fortunate, America is curating an image for itself.
Throughout history America has been successful in painting its own portrait. This was apparent during our pre-service training when our training director gave a moving speech about how America provides hope to the rest of the world with its promise of freedom and democracy. This was a painful day for our cohort, because we had to explain what America really was to our director. With tears in our eyes we discussed the disillusionment and shame we felt about our current government, who doesn’t care about freedom (and might not even care about democracy, we’ll see what comes out of this investigation) or justice, but instead cares about what’s in its own pockets. And though South Africa has many of the same fears about their government, we look to South Africa with hope because they have put together a representative democracy in the wake of a previously evil system.
I don’t see it possible for me to represent America in the starry-eyed way President Kennedy intended. Especially not today.
It is particularly difficult for me to be a health-focused U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa right now. Over the past three months I have been meeting with as many stakeholders in my community as possible, trying to get an accurate picture of what everyday life is like here, including access to healthcare. I have found that my community has an extremely sophisticated and inclusive health delivery system that makes every effort to reach all corners of the community. Not only does my village have a clinic that provides free healthcare including treatment of illnesses, provision of chronic medications, availability of vaccinations, and access to birth control, but the clinic also has an outreach team of nurses to go out into the community and address health problems at the household level. Not only that, but the clinic also hosts a team of 20–30 lay community caregivers to provide support to those taking chronic medication and experiencing any other health problems. All without charging anyone in the community a single cent for these services.
I am not trying to say that my community does not have any problems, because there are serious issues at play here as well, but access to equitable and quality healthcare is fortunately not one of them.
As I am sitting here in rural KwaZulu Natal as a Peace Corps volunteer looking to better the health of my community and I am lucky that the community has health services that I can work with so they can serve the people here even better. I can’t help but think, however, how incredibly ironic this is. America has enough trained people to be deployed as volunteers in other countries to help those countries achieve their goals, but the country that I am in has a light-years better healthcare system than America.
The thing that motivates me every day is the belief I have in my core that health is a human right. It is what dragged me to the library on Saturday mornings in college, and it is what has brought me here to South Africa. Though not without its own issues, I have seen that human right respected here in South Africa, with healthcare reaching even those in remote rural areas. I simply don’t understand how America can sit on its throne on the global stage and cast aside the fundamental human right to health, getting rid of fundamental laws such as not being able to deny someone health insurance due to a pre-existing condition (not to mention that these are the very people who need health insurance most of all) and dramatically scaling back Medicaid (again, the people who need health insurance the most). It is painful for me to witness my country attempting to directly harming its citizens, and using access to healthcare as the weapon.
On days like these I am embarrassed to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, however, I appreciate how deeply important it is to do so. I hope that one day America can take a better understanding of the peoples served on the part of the Americans to heart, because we still have so much to learn when it comes to caring for one another.