What Does it Mean to be a Globally Conscious Citizen?

What Does it Mean to be a Globally Conscious Citizen?

A Story by Marie Anzalone

I have been asked to give an 8-minute speech today


In August, 2003, just after my 28th birthday, I was invited into a 2 room house to attend the birth of my neighbor's baby. The woman's husband had left her back in January. She was being cared for by her mother-in-law and a woman from a neighboring town who had given birth to 15 children of her own. I was invited because for 8 months, I had been working in the town as a veterinary specialist, and was the person with the most medical training within a 2 hour radius.


The room was dark with no windows. There was an open fire in the middle of the room to keep the woman, named Daniela, warm. She was fully dressed, because in this part of Guatemala it is taboo to look at another woman's genital region, even for childbirth.


Daniela was in her 15th hour of labor when I got there. The other two women were acting as midwives, trying, without looking, to turn the breech baby into the correct position while Daniela squatted in a long skirt. She was exhausted, and dirty, and badly bleeding. I ran to get supplies from my veterinary medical kit- soap, iodine, medicine, and vitamins. Topical antiseptics and a scalpel. I was praying that it did not come down to a choioce to either perform a c-section or to let the mother and child both die on the spot. Believe me when I tell you it was both one of the most enlightening and scary experiences of my life.


Thank whatever powers you believe in; the other two women got the baby turned, finally, and little Constancia was born into the world. She was one of the first babies in the village to be cleaned with soap and water after birth, and to have her umbilical cord swabbed with iodine after being cut. There was a pallet on the floor by the wall, covered with plastic. Daniela was laid down on it to rest, covered witha  dirty blanket, and given a towel soaked in cold water to hold between her legs to staunch the bleeding while she got her strength back. I did not have pitocin in my medical kit, nor an antibiotic that I could give her. I gave her my Peace Corps issued bottle of prenatal vitamins and later taught her to make an  iron-based rehydration cereal. You soak an iron nail in lemon juice overnight, and use the juice to make a sugary hot cereal by adding water, sugar, and a dash of salt, and cooking oats in it.


Had Daniela gone to the local hospital, 2 hours away, she may have been turned away for two reasons. The first is that she was a woman, and childbirth is typically not considered a reason for medical attention. The second is that she is a Maya Indian, and being a single woman with no income, she may have been turned away on grounds that she could not pay for treatment.


I spent a year and a half as a Peace Corps Guatemala volunteer, living and working as a veterinary field extensionist and project manager.  I was assigned to work with Daniela's villagers, a group of native shepherds and subsistence farmers living 11,000' above sea level in the beautiful Cuchumatan Mountain Range. My home was a little adobe house with one window and no stove or heat. It would get near or below freezing almost every night. I had a field of wildflowers surrounding my house, a rose tree in the front yard, and a horse pasture. In the evenings, at some times of the year, I could sit on the hill that was a 10 minute walk past my front yard and watch thunderstorms from above. It was, in short, an amazingly beautiful place to live.


I was invited here today to speak to you about how this experience living overseas affected my life, and the direction it took. How being exposed to other cultures has shaped me.


Sometimes, numbers speak more loudly than words. In the particular little corner of the world where I did my service, roughly 1 in 5 children died before the age of 5. They died for a whole host of interconnected and complicated reasons associated with extreme poverty. Their fathers are poorly educated, and their mothers are often not educated at all. They have limited or no access to medical care. There are few latrines, and parasitic diseases are rampant. Roads that bring food during the dry season are unreliable. Women are denied access to birth control and family planning for religious reasons, and thus often have families of 8 or more children. When a child is born with birth defects, often it is left out to die of exposure so as not to tax a family's already meager resources. Water and protein are both scarce, and a population of children live in a state of constant undernourishment with reduced sanitation. During the dry season, people wait in line in the middle of the freezing night for their turn at a water spigot.


You need to understand that each one of these problems is easily solveable.


My volunteer service was cut short because I became very ill myself from the same food and waterborne diseases that take so many children's lives. I left a warm and loving, but struggling, community in Central America; where, despite my differences, I had been welcomed as a member of the community. I went back home temporarily to the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania, where I was born and raised. At the time, there was a trial going on. Three white teenagers had beaten a Mexican immigrant teenager to death in a park, over the color of his skin and his accent. The community was up in arms- how dare anyone consider a little brawl that got out of hand to be a hate crime? Horrified that the rampant racism I was raised with had grown worse in my absence, I fled.


I had joined the Peace Corps as an ealry career professional, and I was lucky to get my old job back, working on tuberculosis and flu vaccine development in upstate NY. I maintained my ties and contacts in Guatemala, and helped my people there to secure $22,000 worth of funding for a sheep development project. In my spare time, I started researching other development strategies that would be appropriate for the people of my village. In 2005, I used my own saved money to return for a week to the Cuchamatan village where I had worked.


There had been two bad years. Climate change is projected to hit Guatemala harder than any other country in the Americas, and the effects are already being seen in the fragile ecosystem where I had lived and worked. Storm and rainfall patterns were already changing. A bad hailstorm in 2004 had wiped out the year's crops shortly after planting. There was no money or time to replant. The children I had worked with had not grown at all in the intervening year. Little Constancia, whose birth I had assisted on the dirt floor of that hut 2 years prior, was one of the many victims who did not make it.


For those of us who serve overseas eradicating poverty, one of the hardest parts is coming back home. We become enraged when we hear others talk about poverty as a "lifestyle choice made by people who are lazy". We are frustrated that no-one really wants to hear about our incredible, life-changing experiences. Some of us deal with it by rolling our eyes each time we see an advertisement on TV for a new cleaning product that gets rid of unsightly soap scum. Some of us become community leaders in the US, starting children's groups or teaching immigrants to read, write and speak English. Some are doctors who donate a few weeks of our time each year serving the world's underserved. And some of us choose to make a career out of service.


A wise teacher of mine once taught me that the difference between a job and a vocation, or calling, is that the calling is the thing that you cannot turn away from. It is the thing in the world that you care enough about to do something about. For me, that something was helping the people of the Guatemalan highlands, about 60,000 of them, to proactively deal with the coming decades of climate change.


From 2004 until last year, I had pursued a full time career in biotechnology and animal research ethics, while in my spare time I found ways to continue supporting the efforts in Guatemala. It was in many ways a very rewarding and worthwhile career, and I have been blessed by working with some extraordinary and visionary scientists whose work is being used to save and change lives all over the world. In the back of my mind, though, I wanted to find a way to go back and complete my unfinished service in Guatemala. I have been a lifelong artist as well as scientist, so I started a small artwork business to support my work in Gautemala. I wrote about my experiences in Gautemala, and got some of my writings published. As I learned about business strategies and people started paying attention to what I had to say in my writing, I realized that I was going to become a social entrepeneur.


In 2009, I came here to UConn to work with researchers, and I enrolled part-time in the Agricultural & Resource Economics program for my Master's degree. Last year, I made the scary decision to quit my job, and, at the age of 35, pursue my Master's Degree full-time. My goal is to start my own non-profit. I hope my non-profit will serve a very unique role in development, and that it can be used as a model by other people working in the developing world. Last week, I received a grant to return to Gatemala this summer. I will be creating a business case for the creation of my coordination non-profit as my Master's degree thesis.


It takes a long time for adaptive agricultural technologies to be adopted by the world's poor, who often do not know the technology exists and lack the training to understand its use. There are scientists, engineers, doctors, and other researchers all over the word whose work can benefit the people I worked with. I want to try to bring that work to the people who need it most, in a way that does not threaten their culture and values, so that they embrace it. I want to help women, who cannot own land, to have small businesses growing vegetables and herbs. I hope children can become intermediary basic health workers. I'm trying to find a fast-growing tree crop that can be used to enrich soils for reforestation and as firewood, as an alternative to cutting the last stands of remaining cloud forest. I am hoping to work with engineers who can teach me methods that people can collect enough water for their household needs. I'm trying to find ways they can feed their animals in enclosed spaces, so that children may attend school, and the sales from the sheep can be used to fund secondary education. Eventually, I will probably start a school myself.


Over the past 8 years, I have slowly learned that what I do best is threefold: I see problems and think of ways to solve them. I get the right groups of people talking to each other to make that happen. Finally, I empower people to teach others. These are my particular gifts, just as each one of you has a different set of gifts.


What my overseas experience was most instrumental in teaching me was to have confidence in my own abilities. In the US, I was another person with a specialized Bachelor's degree in animal science, competing with other people more qualified than me for jobs. In Guatemala, I learned that I was wanted as a community leader because I was a person with an education, who cared. By embracing this mindset, I have been able to overcome many obstacles and barriers in my career and personal life, and I am now in a position to create the life I want.


Many of us who worked overseas become overwhelmed, and wonder if we can ever do enough to give back for being lucky enough to have been born in a place where education, running water, and medicine is taken for granted. My take-home message for you today is this: you each have a set of talents that can be used to make your world a better place. By being willing to care, and to use logic, strategy and reason to understand and solve problems; you will make the world better. We live in an interconnected world, where political unrest in Libya affects whether or not you can afford gas for a weekend trip. By learning about your world, you learn how to talk to people in your hometowns, your workplaces, and your classes. When you learn what it is that you do best, and how to apply your talents to the things that interest you; you become more successful than you ever imagined before.


Many of us in the younger generations struggle with information overload. We are inactive because we don't know what the right course of action is. We debate climate change while the poorest people in the world struggle already with its effects. We hear half-truths and scientifc fallacies on the news. We don't reach out to the poor in our own neighborhoods because we don't know where to begin. Our own job prospects are often limited as we gain experience living on our own, and we have little to spare. We do not know how to best invest that little bit in order to really make a difference, so often we end up not doing anything at all.


My only advice to you is to stay informed. Learn to ask questions about your world, and learn to find your own answers. Follow the directional course your questions take you, and you will find your life's calling. When the opportunity to learn from another person's perspective is presented, take it. You will learn more about life from one afternoon spent talking to a political refugee than from 3 months reading newspapers. It is, after all, the experiences in life that people remember on their death beds.


Your world needs engineers to solve its water, heating, and energy usage challenges. It needs people willing to speak out against injustice and racism. Your world needs people to help explain what is going on to those who are ignorant by choice or circumstance. It needs people to care about its soils, water, wildlife, and ecosystems. It needs economists to figure out how to tackle pressing social issues. Teachers, doctors, lawyers, sanitation engineers, youth developers, businessmen, plant scientists, truck drivers, veterinarians, and artists all are needed to give their talents accordingly. Social entrepeneurship is a way to take the lessons learned from the modern business world, and use them to solve pressing world problems.


Social entrepeneurs in America help unemployed mothers buy sewing machines to start small businesses. In Poland they provide recovering addicts a place to live and work while learning valuable job skills. In Chile, they help bring technology to farmers trying to sell produce in a world market. In India, they teach children of prostitutes to document their own lives on film and sell photos to fund their education. In Guatemala, we are using science and engineering to combat climate change and provide alternative livelihoods. The key defining factor of social entrepeneurship is that we consider improving human, animal, or environmental welfare to be as important as creation of profits is to traditonal business models. We are accountable for our actions, and we must plan our strategies with the same acumen and foresight as any CEO.


I'll leave you with this thought.


When I was in 5th grade, our teacher asked us to imagine our perfect life. Like many other little girls, I imagined being a veterinarian. When I drew a picture of my life, I lived in a little cabin on top of a mountain, and I rode my horse to work. In the summer of 2003, thanks to an opportunity provided me by my overseas experience, I lived in a little cabin on top of a mountain. I worked as a field vet, and yes, I rode my horse to work, accompanied by my dog. When I was 10 years old, though, I never could have imagined how being asked to help deliver a human baby on the dirt floor of a hut in another country would make that little picture of my life so much bigger that it could reach thousands of people. I hope you take the opportunity to learn, before you graduate, what it took me 35 years of trial and error to learn. It gives that much more time to make your own mark on your world.


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? 















© 2011 Marie Anzalone

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Featured Review

This is an outstanding speech, Marie. Your life experiences are ones that everyone should take to heart and learn how to become more involved in the world around them. Your unique voice and perspective is a definite call to serve humanity.

Thank you.

Posted 7 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


You set a great example for the rest of us, this is an encouraging, motivating story. Thank you for sharing, and most important, thank you for the work you do.

Posted 7 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This is an outstanding speech, Marie. Your life experiences are ones that everyone should take to heart and learn how to become more involved in the world around them. Your unique voice and perspective is a definite call to serve humanity.

Thank you.

Posted 7 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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Added on April 3, 2011
Last Updated on April 5, 2011


Marie Anzalone
Marie Anzalone

Xela, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Bilingual poet, essayist, novelist, and technical writer working in Central America. "A poet's work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, .. more..


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