Public Health in Colombia 2018
Andreína, an MPH student from Cornell, discusses her time participating in the 2018 Public Health in Colombia course.
“My time in Bogotá, Colombia is one in which I navigated being away from home in an academic setting where I developed my interests in public health. One of the reasons that I chose to travel to Bogotá was the intent of learning more about Venezuelans in the Colombian socio-economic and political context, because apparently so many of my fellow Venezuela-nationals have traveled to Colombia in the most recent year. My objective here was to learn more about personal perspectives of migration and the intent with which Venezuelans have arrived to Colombia most recently. This curiousity of mine was also of interest to several of my classmates during the course, and this was demonstrated in the questions we asked during lectures and site-visits especially in regards to healthcare provisions and access to this new migrant community. Interestingly, it also so happened that the first Venezuelan that I formally met was a greeter at a busy restaurant near Plaza Bolivar in La Candelaria in Bogotá. This is the colonial region of the city, identified by the colorful and traditional architecture, and it is also where the President of Colombia lives. The Venezuelan person that I met was a young woman with the same name as me: Andreína. We bonded by calling each other “tocaya”, which in Spanish means to have the same first name. In our name and age similarities, I saw myself reflected in this young woman from Venezuela. I imagined what her circumstances may have been, likely rough enough to guide her decision/need to move to Bogotá to pursue a life she couldn’t otherwise in Venezuela. Though our interaction was short, and I became shy, I asked for a photograph with her. She smiled and said “claro que sí”– “of course”. I then ate at her restaurant, in solidarity.
Now, as the course concludes, I reflect on my successes in Colombia as I pursued this personal interest of mine in the Venezuelan narrative of migration. Was I able to find answers to my questions? I believe that I was not able to achieve my objective entirely. Perhaps I did not make enough time for myself to reflect on the right type of feedback questions for my daily interactions, such as: should I have asked my “tocaya” Andreína about when she moved away from Venezuela? Her reasons? Or was this going to be intrusive and bothersome, possibly reminding her of things she wants to forget or leave behind? Another reason that I believe that I was unable to find the answers I was looking for was because I often received the same answers from lecturers at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and at several of the site visits. In the classroom setting, I doscovered the limitations of data collection on the subject and professors explained “we do not know how many have arrived” or “we estimate around 1 million Venezuelans have arrived”. In regards to healthcare provisions and access in Colombia for the Venezuelan population, there is a working registry that has logged approximately four hundred thousand Venezuelan nationals that are in search of healthcare. Though it is not specified the type of services received by these individuals, this population registry includes people of all ages, such as infants, children, and the elderly, as well as pregnant women and the disabled. This information provided during a lecture at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana was insightful to the data collection done in Colombia. Similarly, this requires reflection, and in my opinion, action.
As the course concludes, I reflect on what my purpose is in public health. I came to Colombia, with support from my home institution, to explore the healthcare system. My main takeaway is that I still have so much more left to learn. I realize that I am scared to ask questions about Venezuela because I do not want to know the negatives. This is because I live in the United States, and what I know about Venezuela comes from postings on social media about how terrible of a place Venezuela has become. As I learned about the healthcare system in Colombia, and as I understood it when compared to the system in the United States, I also come to realize that neither are perfect. In Colombia, I came to feel that I was living and learning in a place that resembles a combination between my life in the United States and what I know about Venezuela. I write this conclusion because both Colombia and Venezuela have written constitutional agreements to the people of their nations that healthcare is a human right and its’ organization and administration is to be assumed by the government with intent to protect the people and their interests. I personally believe in this assuming of responsibility, but it is important to understand that what is written in these constitution’s is simply theory. I learned in Colombia, through coursework and experiences of classmates who became very ill, that the healthcare system in Colombia is just about as inefficient, if not worse, than that in the United States. And it is curious to think that in the United States, healthcare is not considered a human right as it is in Colombia or Venezuela.
In my time in Colombia, a single interaction with a Colombian national has begun to shape the way I will answer future questions about migration from Venezuela. This individual served as an interpreter to the program, particularly to the site-visits after morning lectures. My interaction with this person began when I mentioned to her that I was appreciative of her presence because my mother has worked as an interpreter for 20 years now in the United States, and I recognize the need for bilingual individuals such as ourselves in circumstances that will ultimately benefit more people if we provide our language services. She agreed. The interpreter asked where I was from, because I had spoken to her in Spanish (my first language, though I have become more fluent in English throughout time)–and she said “you sound like you’re Caribbean”. I said “yes, I am from Venezuela. Though a mountain range separates us from the Caribbean Coast in the north, we often consider ourselves Caribbean”. Her response? “Oh my goodness– I feel so sorry for Venezuelans.” I was caught slightly off guard, because I had geared the conversation in a certain direction, regarding the topic of geography and Caribbean culture norms and language–but I was not surprised, as this is often the response I get when I tell people that I am Venezuelan. I asked, “why?”. She went on, “The situation is terrible, and I feel SO sorry for what’s happening”. This, again, is the response I often receive when I tell people that I am from Venezuela. But for some reason, this particular interaction got me thinking more and more throughout her presence in the program. I began to ask myself, “how can I shift the conversation?” and “how can I ensure that my dialogue about Venezuela is not an immediately negative?”. I came to the conclusion that the next time a person has this response, as the interpreter did, I will ask “why is this your perspective?”. I will respond with: “I do not see it this way. I believe that these Venezuelans who are migrating are incredibly powerful. I believe that these individuals are doing what they need to make the best lives for themselves, and I see migration as a beautiful thing. Migration is impacting your country, and it is a responsibility we must all assume in helping people in need. Venezuelans in Colombia are strong and resourceful. Migrants travel by need, not always necessity, and it is important to uplift these individuals and not pity them. Let’s speak more positively of them so that circumstances manifest themselves positively.”
I am appreciative of the Red Tree Study team who did everything in their capacity to ensure that I was where I needed to be, on-time and comfortable. I am appreciative of Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and this programs’ organizers for working around the clock to fix issues as they arose, in effort to ensure that this first public health cohort had their questions and curiosities answered as best possible. I am also appreciative of the friends I made, and of the people who pushed my buttons, in the world of public health. I leave this program with gratitude and a new set of personal questions to pursue. Thank you, Colombia.