Hometown: Bowling Green, KY
Minor: Poverty and Human Capability Studies
Agency: Delta Area Health Education Cetner in Helena, Arkansas
What did you enjoy most about the internship? My favorite part of this internship was easy immersion into the warm and rich Delta culture. From the instant we arrived, the fact that we weren't from around there became merely the invitation for more conversation. The people we saw at work every day were the same people we saw at Walmart and the local eateries. And through regular and casual encounters we were quickly invited into the lives of people whose cultural backgrounds were different from ours. At Washington and Lee, we take pride in our tradition of warmly greeting both friends and strangers, which is an especially mind-boggling custom to many of my classmates who were not raised in the South. But take a trip to Phillips County, Arkansas, and you will find that waving and talking to strangers is just a normal part of life.
What was the greatest challenge? Honestly, one of the greatest challenges was traveling the 25 miles between Marvell, Ark., the town where we lived and where one of us worked--and Helena-West Helena, Ark., the town where everything else we needed--Walmart, restaurants, the gym and the work station for most of us--was located. I would say that all five of us were able to experience the struggle of having to constantly consider logistics such as transportation, which are typically a subliminal part of everyday community life.
What was the greatest lesson you learned through your experience? While in Arkansas I read the book Same Kind of Different as Me, the account of two men, Denver Moore, a homeless man raised under plantation-style slavery, and Ron Hall, an affluent Texas art dealer, whose lives intersect in a transformational way. At the end of the book Denver reflects, "But I found out everybody's different--the same kind of different as me. We're all just regular folks walking down the road God has set in front of us. The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or somethin in between, this earth ain't no final resting place. So in a way we is all homeless--just working our way toward home." This quote powerfully describes the greatest lesson I learned while in Arkansas. Through embracing the experience of living and working in an environment unlike any I have been in before, I broadened my perspective. An experience like this one makes you realize the beauty of hearing people's stories and learning from backgrounds that are totally unlike your own.
How might the internship affect your career path? The internship further spurred my interest in pursuing a career in medicine. In addition, working in Helena-West Helena, where there are few practicing physicians, really made me consider the possibility of practicing medicine in a rural area at some point during my career.
After hearing the numerous horror stories of past interns' living experiences in Arkansas, and the often-repeated "Don't you want to go somewhere where there is fun stuff to do outside of your poverty experience?" from friends, I eagerly headed off to the Arkansas Delta to see for myself what it was all about. Being the only Washington and Lee undergrad student, I was somewhat braced for the Phillips County experience because it is the internship placement that receives the most enthusiastic shout-outs in Dr. Beckley's Poverty 101. In this rural Arkansas community, one comes to understand the multifaceted nature of poverty. However, what one does not realize when heading off into a Shepherd Internship is that eight weeks later, the greatest thing you will take away is not how you changed someone's life or how you or your organization alleviated poverty. Instead, I left with a deep appreciation for the experience I had immersing myself in a culture totally unlike my own, and learning from the people that I came into contact with.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that after arriving in Arkansas I quickly saw evidence of the debilitating effects of poverty in both the Phillips County community as whole, and a number of its citizens. Driving down Highway 49, the road that runs between Helena-West Helena and Marvell, the other interns and I encountered for the first time what all prior accounts of interns noted: Having to drive thirty minutes to shop at a grocery with decent produce or overall food selection, or eat at Subway, one of the only healthy fast-food options, or find any sort of restaurant selection, for that matter, gets old fast. However, when you consider that we had a car to get to Helena and that having to deal with typically subconscious logistics of everyday life was only a temporary summer experience, we had no room to complain.
Epiphanies of this sort were a prevailing theme of my eight weeks living and working in Phillips County. As the states in the southern region of the U.S. report the highest rates of obesity, I was struck by the reality that the general lack of health knowledge in the area's population was consistent with the lack of healthy menu options at the eating establishments they frequent. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the wide array of inexpensive restaurants offering hearty servings of down-home Southern cooking, but the abundance of such food has a negative effect on the health of many of its citizens. Therefore, one of the strongholds of Delta AHEC's mission is improving the health of the Delta community through educational programs that will spark a greater awareness of the importance of maintaining one's health. Various programs are designed to attract community members of all ages, but a significant portion of outreach is dedicated to programming in schools, as there are a frightening number of elementary school-aged children facing avoidable issues of obesity and type II diabetes.
Aside from promoting healthy lifestyle decisions, Delta AHEC is charged with providing many citizens with basic health knowledge. The appalling lack of that knowledge became readily apparent in my first few days of work with U.S. military personnel in their two-week Task Force Razorback medical mission. Each day the line of people seeking to take advantage of the free medical services was wrapped around the building, with the appointments for optometry and dentistry booked within the first few days of the military's visit. Over the course of this medical mission, the record for teeth pulled in one sitting was twenty-five, helping bring the grand total of extracted teeth to 635. By the end of the two-week mission, as many as 5,852 people were served by armed forces stationed at Delta AHEC and four other clinics in surrounding communities. Clearly, this effort was a success, bringing medical access to many who would have otherwise never cared for or been made aware of certain health issues. Although I never provided any direct medical care, I witnessed countless testimonies from grateful recipients of medical care, even after they spent a taxing day waiting to be seen.
Very quickly in my work at Delta AHEC, whether working alongside the Army or helping with various outreach programs, I saw the serious health needs of many living in the Delta. However, what stands out more to me after eight weeks in the Delta is the warm and welcoming spirit of the Phillips County community. Beginning upon our arrival, the five of us were embraced by the Delta community. As an outsider, one might expect to encounter hopelessness in the face of the seemingly insurmountable economic and social obstacles of daily living in the Delta, but I left with a profound sense of respect and admiration for the stoic resolve of the Delta community.