Tuesday morning I set off for the International Street Medicine Symposium to be held in Boston, MA. I lugged my borrowed suitcase (thanks Chris, my own are far to Mary Poppins esque for public travel) to meet my coworker who was driving. I was giddy about the days to come, to see my family, to be home and all to come at the Symposium. We had an nice ride out full of music, laughs and gas station food. I took the T into Braintree from in town. I was so grateful to see my first real association with home in it smelly, dated and cementy glory. Seeing home and getting a ride from Haley, I am sure you all have assumed I cried at this moment…its true.
Wednesday I spent the morning with Haley, which was the most heart filling way I could have spent my pre-symposium time to kill. I wish I could have seen all of my beautiful friends in the short time I spent in Boston, but it will only make Christmas even sweeter.
My afternoon was spent in town at the conference, being inundated with faces and personalities from around the world, all vehemently committed to the mission of Street Medicine. This afternoon was devoted to talking about the basics of street medicine, its history and how to start up a program. It was directed mostly towards budding programs, giving advice on logistics, resources and how tos. The power of medical students in this field was surprising and promising in my eyes. Many of the programs represented this week were sprouted from the dreams of medical students or supported by medical students in its conduction. I find it exciting that medical students are considered a resource and power in the Street Medicine movement. Students are often an untapped valuable resource. Though some of this news was not new to me, being in the atmosphere was enough to energize me wholeheartedly for the days to come.
I skipped out as soon as I could and hopped on the T back to Braintree to spend the night with my family. Though I have gotten used to the bus system of Pittburgh, I greatly appreciated the familiarity and simplicity of the T. Getting a taste for home was unsurprisingly bittersweet. The comforts of my squishy bed, Patrick and watching television with the family was long overdue, but it was also a swift kick reminder that I am far away from home.
The next day my wonderful father drove me into town to start the first official day of Symposium. His gesture was MUCH appreciated versus the early AM T ride but it is not lost on me that he was conveniently skipping an appointment in the process, sneaky.
My days at the symposium were filled with speakers, workshops and mingling with people dedicated to street medicine. I met Dr. Jack Preger, a British man who has spent many years working in Calcutta and served as a testimony at the Vatican for Mother Teresa in her canonization process. I met medical students from all over the country volunteering time at their respective outreach programs, seeking a career rooted in social justice. I met people from Iceland, Denmark, Nigera, Czech Republic, Puerto Rico and more.
The most remarkable woman I met was a medical resident from Czech Republic. She is literally pioneering the model of street medicine in Prague. Working with the Salvation Army and a non profit called Nadeje (meaning hope) she is creating a system of health care for the city’s most vulnerable ‘rough sleepers.’ Andrea Perkarkova spoke with humility, but her drive and passion for her work was palpable. I wish I could articulate the humility she expressed with justice, having spent the past four years working tirelessly to advocate for change in health care for the homeless. I spoke to her afterwards, hearing about her goals and the struggles she faces from society and the government of Prague. She said she felt herself well up at the first day because she was surrounded by people with the same passions as her. I could deeply relate, having felt that way many times throughout the week. After her 45 minute presentation, she received a well deserved standing ovation from over a hundred people who not only support her dream but appreciate the devotion she has put forth for those most in need. It is safe to say she is my new hero. Though Andrea touched my heart the most this weekend, the beautiful words of Dr. Vargas “Chaco” filled all of our hearts with inspiration. Careers in street medicine are physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually demanding. Gathering in one place and receiving the beautiful words of Dr. Vargas pulled us from the microscopic view of every day struggles of lacking resources, lacking time and entering into the chaos of the people we serve. I left Saint Anselm driven to find a cause I could invest my life in, driven by people I can relate to and who value striving for social justice.
“We have reached a point in which the need to grow as an international movement challenges us to seriously consider objectives and goals of long range and transcendence. It is time for us to decide if we only want to see each other every now and then to find encouragement throughout the sharing of the beautiful stories we live daily, or if, besides that important part, we want to start changing the stories of thousands of others who live on the streets by making sure the reasons that led them and still keep them on the streets are addressed in a structured and strategic way. It is time to ask ourselves, where do we want to go?” – Dr. Vargas
“The streets have to be our loving and eternal challenge to move in solidarity – into provocation and direct confrontation of a system that produces homeless people and misery. ” – Dr. Vargas
The presenters from around the world addressed the needs for the homeless in their community, whether it is adult rough sleepers, families or street children. There were a few terrible accounts of the plights of street children in developing nations. I could go on about these topics for days, as I have a nursing midterm’s amount of notes on the week, but I will spare you all from the cerebral concepts. Topics included research on suicide in males facing homelessnss in Spain, Outreach for street children of Indonesia, TB treatment in England and much more. Feel free to ask if you have interest in topics of homelessness!
I was also lucky enough to befriend some medical students and a bubbly young woman from Iceland! She and her mother work in a shelter for women experiencing homelessness. Mike and I (Mike works at OSN) joined Olof and her mother for dinner at Harvard Square one evening. She and I had a lot of fun chatting throughout the conference and enjoyed sharing our mutual favorite places of the city, as she worked there as an Au Pair years ago. I also joined my coworkers from OSN for a trip to the JFK Library and to Salem. Salem was a sight and very fun, but definitely solidified my preference for Christmas over Halloween.
This week has evidently been eventful…and I didn’t even gush over the incredible work happening at BOSTON healthcare for the homeless. I will spare you all but their work is profound and revolutionary in the field of Street Medicine. On the ride home, I finished the book My Own Country by Abraham Verghese which ended with this line, a perfect way to sum up this experience.
“I remember the acts of human kindness that illuminate our world”