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Partnering With Nationals To Serve The Forgotten



The doctor’s intentions were entirely good. Why else would an esteemed and skilled professor venture beyond the security of a North American medical center? He was brave and confident. What other mindset could compel him to enter the fray of Angola, Africa? His expectations were very high. Was it any surprise that he was anticipating the expertise he would bring? His day of arrival was greeted with festivities. Why wouldn’t the nationals celebrate the arrival of this physician who promised a year in service?


Quickly, problems arose. The Angolan nationals were polite, but they didn’t follow the doctor’s orders. But how else were his patients going to get their needed care? The doctor announced lectures and no one came. But hadn’t the nationals urged him to teach them? They invited their guest to the upcoming holiday events, but the doctor declined. Hadn’t God called him here to work, not to play? Just two weeks after arrival, the doctor packed up and returned home in utter frustration.


He is not alone. Many well meaning healthcare professionals become quickly disillusioned as they realize that providing care around the world requires more than good intentions, skill and courage. It also requires effectively partnering with nations to serve their own forgotten people.


Particularly astute in this field is Dr. Mani, a graduate of Vellore Christian Medical College in southern India, Dr. Mani trained in plastic surgery at the University of Kansas. From 1974-1995 he served as Medical Director of the Gene and Barbara Burnett Burn Center and as a consultant to burn care programs in Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan, Australia, and India.


Dr. Mani urges that we take on the perspective of nationals themselves: “How can you walk into my home country and tell me how to solve my problems, how to raise my children, what to eat, how to dress and what to believe – however poor or forgotten I may be?” He cautions, “We must be very careful not to judge people by what we have and what they don’t have. What is the ‘last best word’ in cooperating with someone in a different culture, country and faith tradition?” asks Dr. Mani. “I believe indeed the most essential word, is RESPECT…If you hope to make a difference, you need to understand the language, culture, traditions, religion and why they do what they do. Respect is the key to opening relationship doors.”

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