Why I Work in Global Health: A Personal Statement to the World

By Isha Nirola, Director of Community Health at Possible. This was her personal statement as part of the HEAL fellowship.

I grew up listening to my father’s stories.

He was born in a rural part of eastern Nepal and was the second youngest of eight children. He never knew four of his siblings because they died within their first few years of life. And he never knew his own mother, because he was merely two years old when she died giving childbirth to his sister, who also died.

He told us stories of teachers, neighbors, and doctors that may have crossed his path and influenced the series of events that led him on his path and landed him in a magical land called America. And I remember the first time I visited my father’s village: I was scared and humbled by the fact that I could have been like the other half naked children in those communities. It was the first time I had ever seen a baby, so deathly skinny, and other starving children who would pull the food we fed the baby from his mouth, because they were starving too.

These experiences certainly shaped my life. My desire to become a citizen of the world and an advocate for my own ancestral home evolved throughout the years. This started in Baltimore where I worked as a health advocate for children coming out of the juvenile justice system. The historical ramifications of slavery were visceral, and I was witnessing a public health crisis that no one was talking about — the spike in mortality rates among young black men between the age of 15–35 as a result of gun violence. I used to pour over the newspapers and watch the news after hearing about a young boy getting killed, but heard nothing. Society’s silence was a constant reminder that their lives were not important. But black lives do matter.

I started my international career in Kiribati, a country that is in danger of being uninhabitable within our lifetime because of rising sea-levels. And in all of the countries I worked in, violence against women was and still is palpable. In South Sudan men carry whips, which they used to whip their many wives. The marks on their backs and shoulders were visible and common. In India and Nepal, I saw women dying of preventable causes, merely because they weren’t allowed to make decisions for their own health due to continuous oppression and lack of agency.

The more I saw, the more I realized that my life was different. That we are different. We have agency. We have something that others don’t — and that is access to health, and the freedom to make decisions about our own lives, our own health, and our own body.

We are the lucky ones. Whether we are coming from Malawi or Minnesota, Maryland or Mexico, from New Jersey to Nepal, or from the Indian health services to India — all of us have something that many of the patients we care for don’t.

So as we embark on this journey to fight for the injustices and inequalities in the world, we need to embrace our role in that fight. This is just the beginning, but the potential impact is enormous. And it is our cadre, our generation, and this group of people that will effect change on this world.

So be bold, write the truth. Be humble and fight hard for our patients with compassion and love. And stand behind the champions within the communities we serve and support them with their desire to empower their own communities.

As the Bhagavad Gita states, “we are obligated to the battle but not entitled to the fruits.” So revel in the fact we are endlessly interconnected and we will make this world a better place together.