Dear Friends and Family,
It seems crazy to say, but we’ve reached the last step of our journey. After 16 weeks of flights, homestays, site visits, guest lectures, challenging discussions, and more challenging good-byes, it’s time for us to begin thinking about a new set of obstacles as we readjust to life back where we began. We write to you now from Luján, a small town a few hours outside of the city of Buenos Aires, where we are spending the final three days of our program reflecting, connecting, and preparing to readjust.
Our arrival in Buenos Aires was, itself, a readjustment. Although, in many ways, Buenos Aires seems to have the most “Westernized” culture of any foreign place we’ve been, the city has its own unique features that have helped to make it an integral part of our comparative studies. One such feature is the perspective of healthcare as a human right. This manifests in the policy that allows all people seeking healthcare in Argentina to receive free treatment, regardless of whether or not they have insurance or status as a citizen or permanent resident. This may have been what most impressed us about Argentina: the actualization of free healthcare for all.
Perhaps our most valuable firsthand look at the public healthcare system in Buenos Aires was our visit to local “CeSACs” – public primary health care centers in different parts of the city. Here, we were able to see the ways in which the Argentine health system is working to integrate various medical specialties along with social work, psychology, and early childhood intervention to provide interdisciplinary care at the primary level.
Through our site visits, classroom work, and, in many cases, homestays as well, we were also able to get a glimpse into Buenos Aires’s “culture of psychology.” The city has one of the world’s highest concentrations of psychologists, and this fact influences both the way mental health is incorporated into the health system and the way people experience and discuss their own day-to-day lives in Argentina. Unlike in Vietnam and South Africa, where mental health could often be a challenging subject to broach, we were able to use mental health in Argentina as a lens with which to examine local political and social factors.
In order to understand the present state of health in Argentina, however, we had to spend a good deal of our time learning about the nation’s history. In the last forty years, Argentina has experienced and been shaped by two prominent crises: first a military dictatorship in the late 1970s and early 1980s under which some 30,000 citizens “disappeared” at the hands of the government, and then a catastrophic economic collapse in 2001. Both of these historical moments have had profound influences on health and political identity in Argentina. We visited to a former clandestine detention center from the dictatorship years, now maintained as a remembrance site, to understand the continued meaning of the memory of what many Argentines call “state terrorism.” We saw the ways in which community resilience can arise from political failings when we visited the La Juanita cooperative, an organization for community empowerment formed by unemployed citizens during the economic crisis of 2001.
Outside of our academic time, we had an equally special experience in Buenos Aires. We walked the streets, jogged the parks, and rode the city buses. We sipped mate, ate the local asado, and snacked on alfajores. We experienced the local nightlife and spent an evening taking a tango class in the old neighborhood of San Telmo. We visited art museums and spent an afternoon at La Feria de Mataderos, a local craft, music, and food fair in the south of the city.
And now, here we are at the final step of our semester-long journey. The last few days have been a time for reflection, discussion, and preparation for readjustment. We are thirty-four students, and it would be impossible to try to encapsulate even one of those experiences, let alone all of them. The one thing that is clear is that, through all of the challenges, joys, embarrassments, and proud moments of the semester, we have formed a powerful community that none of us will soon forget. The time has come for hugs and good-byes, but with them a promise to keep in touch and a hope of being back together soon. Our journey, for now, is done, but the next adventure awaits.
IHP Spring 2015 Health & Community II