Arthur J Pais discovers what drives this year's Rhodes Scholars
From Haiti to India, carrying the power of insight
When he was about 13 years old, Anand Habib asked his biochemist parents Geetha and Mohammad Habib if he could spend a few days
in an Indian village. He wanted to see for himself how
people managed to survive despite hardships and also
see how nongovernmental organizations and the government sought to alleviate some of the problems. So his
father took him to his village deep down in Tamil Nadu’s
south. “He told me he did not want to stay in a place just
for a few days,” his father recalled last week, soon after
Anand had been declared one of the 32 winners in the
United States in the fiercely fought for Rhodes
Scholarship. “He wanted to go abroad, not only to India
but other parts of the world and work in relief camps and
other humanitarian projects,” Mohammad Habib added.
For the last few years, Anand, who grew up near
Houston and volunteered in his high school years for a
halfway house for immigrants who had risked their lives
to come to America through the Mexican border, has
been doing that. He has worked in India, Mexico,
Guatemala and Haiti, with medical and professional
Anand, who graduated with a biology degree from
Princeton, has spent the past four months in Haiti,
where he has learned Creole and treats cholera and other
conditions that have become dangerously prevalent following the 2010 earthquake. He is serving as a public
health fellow and interim administrative director at a
clinic run by the Medical Missionaries.
Habib flew back to Haiti soon after
the final Rhodes interviews in
Houston. He will work there for at
least eight more months.
The Rhode less traveled
Established in 1902, the Rhodes Scholarships are the oldest and most celebrated international fel- lowship awards in the world. Rhodes Scholars are chosen for their outstanding scholarly achievements as well as their character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential for leader- ship in whatever careers they choose. The 32 Rhodes Scholars were chosen from 830 applicants endorsed by 299 colleges and universities. The scholarships may be for up to two years of studies and boarding at Oxford University and travel. Most of the winners are in their early 20s. Past Rhodes Scholars include for- mer President Bill Clinton.
You are in Haiti and you have
worked in Guatemala, Mexico and
India with NGOs. You have written
vividly in your journal.
I remember looking up to see an
emaciated representation of Christ
nailed to a cross and above him are
written the words, ‘todo es posible
para el que cree’ — all is possible for
he who believes. In the year since I
visited the traditional medicine cen-
And health for all…
The wails from the adjacent cholera ward pierce the Haitian night. I jolt awake, filled with indignation. “Whata‘stupid’death,” Haitianswouldsay. Inthetwen-ty-first century, no one should die of cholera, not even here in
the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, where injustice is
aplenty, but hope, as with potable water, remains a luxury.
Although progress towards greater health equity is slow, I still
believe as Martin Luther King, Jr. did, “the arc of the moral
universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Through an
appreciation of the biosocial nature of health and an embrace
of pragmatic solidarity via service, advocacy, and research
work, I have resolved to help pen a more hopeful future.
My commitment to social justice sprung from volunteer
work during high school at Casa Juan Diego, an immigrant
half-way house in Houston. There, I met individuals seeking
refuge after a harrowing cross-border journey. They arrived
fatigued and disheveled, suffering from unknown illnesses.
Vigilante Minutemen camped outside, however, often prevented them from seeking needed medical care.
At Stanford, I began to confront such health injustices by
teaching ten-week courses on nutrition, exercise, and substance abuse to disadvantaged youth in East Palo Alto.
Appreciating the value of my own education, I viewed my
actions as a method of empowering underserved youth to
choose healthful behaviors. My students’ enthusiasm encouraged me to use health education as a tool to tackle pernicious
health inequities in India. For four weeks in 2008, I taught
120 students a curriculum designed to address local health
needs, including the importance of good hygiene and a balanced diet. A conversation, however, with two students,
Dotam and Arun, led me to question the efficacy of my
actions. They astutely identified the environmental degradation and staggering poverty plaguing India yet concluded that
deep-seated corruption would undermine their attempts to
address these ills. Health education alone could not overcome
the underlying realities that threatened their health and limited their agency.
I have realized repeatedly that I can no longer overlook the
socioeconomic and political dimensions of health. While
shadowing in the overflowing wards of Hospital Civil on a
service-learning trip in Oaxaca, I listened as a patient’s father
heard that doctors could not determine how his daughter had
contracted fulminant hepatitis. The list of possibilities was
too long, and the time left to act too short. Mayan women
whom I surveyed about prenatal care in Guatemala lamented
their loss of children from perinatal complications; yet, they
expressed wariness at visiting clinics operated by a government which had waged a bloody civil war against them and
staffed by Mestizo physicians who treated them disdainfully.
Even in East Palo Alto, lack of grocery stores and chronic violence hindered the students whom I had taught from eating
healthfully and exercising.
By engaging in health work globally, I have also become
startlingly aware of the historical underpinnings of health