Treating a Community Like You Would Treat a Patient

I spent five years in graduate school to become a Naturopathic Doctor.  It wasn’t easy, but it was straightforward.  I applied, they told me what tests to pass, and they gave me their stamp of approval.  The whole humanitarian development idea just slowly happened along the way.  I’ve gotten a ton of experience over the years, but I never took the classes, never got the degree.  I learned humanitarian development from the people I serve, from mentors and colleagues, from research, and from somewhere inside my own brain and heart. 

Now, as I gear up for my 7th trip to Nepal, I must return to the strongest philosophy I have to help me navigate the waters of disaster recovery.  I’ve broken it down intro the six principles of naturopathic medicine applied to humanitarian development.  It’s advice from present me to future me, and I offer it to anyone out there that cares deeply about helping others.    

First do no Harm

Hold your horses. Take the time to fully understand the problem you’re trying to address.  It is entirely possible that acting on your good intentions alone could cause harm - subtle or outright, immediately or down the road.    

Prevention is Better than Cure

Haiti is our freshest and most potent example of a post-disaster nation whose recovery was NOT secured by an ardent and extended humanitarian effort.  NOW is the time to take a good honest look at where we could have done better, and prevent the same thing from happening in Nepal.      

Treat the Whole Community

A community is more than their water resource, their school, or their clinic.  It’s okay to specialize in what you’re good at or most excited about, because you can’t do it all.  Don’t forget that the part you have to play is only a piece of the puzzle. A fully assembled puzzle is the goal, not a handful of puzzle pieces.

Treat the Root Cause

The people you are trying to serve are the ultimate experts on their reality.  Ask them what the real problems are.  Listen closely to their answers.  If it feels like you’re putting a band-aid on a bullet hole, you’re not there yet.  

Doctor as Teacher

You’ll soon leave Nepal to go back to your home where the walls meet the ceiling, and the water always flows from the faucet.  Share what you know with anyone who wants to learn.  Your goal is ultimately to hand over whatever power you might have, and to make yourself obsolete.  

The Healing Power of Nature

Trust in the innate capacity of the Nepalese people to heal their own communities.  They may have been shaken, but they’re resilient and know what’s best for their families.  Look for obstacles you can help to remove.  Consider what tools and skills they’ll need to support their recovery. Empower them to take control of their own development.    

Finally, we’ve got an unofficial principle to ‘meet the patient where they’re at’, or ‘meet the community where they’re at’ in this case.  Your expectations of them matter little in comparison to their expectations of themselves.  Better to open your eyes and see what’s really there, instead of what you wish was there.  Suppose that one applies to all of life though!  

Take care till next time,

Doctor Erin