When Will My Eyes See You Again?• June 25, 2013
ERIC WETZEL WANTS THE College’s Global Health Initiative to disturb his students.
“One common result of an ecological disturbance is that it tends to open up an area, allowing one to see much further,” Wetzel told students during a Chapel Talk this semester. “As you look over the field of the education that you have the opportunity to take hold of here, how far can you see? What do you see? A well-paying job at the end? A comfortable life, one with lots of rest and recreation?
“Or do you see, and even desire, a healthy dose of disturbance in your life? I really hope so. I hope you are learning to see past the surface to what it really means to live humanely.
“I tell my students in Global Health, ‘Your experience here should knock you off the rails of your life.’”
With the initiative about to enter its third year, Wetzel wanted to know if that was happening. What impact were the Global Health course, immersion experiences and service work in Peru’s Pamplona Alta slum and impoverished rural areas having on students and their Wabash education? So he wrote to alumni who had participated in the initiative and asked.
Many told him their lives had been changed by the experience, but Wetzel was especially encouraged by this response from biology major, NCAA champion and postgraduate scholar Kevin McCarthy ’12:
THIS TRIP WASN’T ABOUT THE TRAVEL, but the people you allowed us to see. We saw the cutting edge of everything, from the top all the way to the terrible bottom. And there were so many slots to fill—people in need, places to work, and people to aspire to be like. You didn’t just show the worst conditions, you showed people actually doing work and having success in combating these problems.
It affects me still today. Here in France where I live there are Romanian and Bulgarian gypsies who cannot work. They beg in the streets, and when I see them and their dirty hands and unwashed faces, I see the people we met at Pamplona Alta. Without that experience in Peru, I might have been able to ignore them, just as everyone else does. But I have to turn and look at them, have to say something to them and recognize them for the human beings they are.
I think back on the days that I actually did something worth my weight for the people we met in Peru, days I was out talking to them, filling out paperwork, explaining problems. I remember the day at the bottom of Pamplona Alta being surrounded by flocks of women and explaining the symptoms of anemia, and why their children were sick, that they needed to be fed better. Or the days in Tarapoto filling out personal histories and interviewing people one by one. That was all I could do, and it wasn’t much or enough. But it left me as a future professional hungry and unsatisfied in leaving.
My most lasting memory is of the day a man named Theoberto pulled me aside into a doorway of one of the classrooms and looked me in the eyes and asked me something I could not understand at first. Then he repeated slowly, “With my eyes, I see you now. When will my eyes see you again?”
Looking into those eyes all I could say was, “Yo no sé. [I don’t know].” And with that, my purpose in life turned a corner.
I see now I had to go there to be changed. It couldn’t happen any other way. You can’t really see another human in such a space with a photograph. You can’t feel another human in such a space with a presentation. You can’t hear another person place confidence in you without first doing something to earn that confidence.
I had never had such an experience as this one before in my life, gone on a trip designed to disturb our places in life, to leave us unsatisfied and showing us both our unfinished work and the bountiful potential to influence many people.
Yes, our lives are changed. I’m very interested to see where all of us from this first group end up. We have a lot of potential there.
If you’d like to help provide for an immersion experience for Wabash students, give Steve Hoffman in the Advancement Office a call at 765-361-6236.