Monday, September 7, 2015

Taking Responsibility by Rachel Black

            Week two at the OTS La Selva Research Station is officially in the books. Over the past two weeks we have had the chance to go on ethnobotany walks around the station, visit plantations, and hear lectures on tropical diseases and ethnobiology. Although our lecture topics vary, a consistent theme is the idea of taking responsibility, whether it’s for yourself, for those around you, or for your impact in the world.
            I first noticed this when one of my Costa Rican professors was teaching us about the National Health System; he would always use the phrase “my country” when referring to Costa Rica. For example, while describing some of the slums in Costa Rica he said, “thousands of people live like that in my country”, and when discussing the benefits of universal health care he said, “In my country, it doesn’t matter if you cannot afford a doctor, you can receive help here”. While this phrase might just be a discrepancy in translation, it also implies a deep responsibility for the care of others. Granted, there are going to be benefits and drawbacks in any health care or government system, but I think taking responsibility and identifying with those who are sick, malnourished, inadequately housed, etc. is the first step to being able to enact real change. In my country I am a citizen with a vote that can affect policies, a volunteer that can care and speak up for vulnerable populations, and a hopeful medical professional who can aim to serve others through my studies and work.
            This past week we also had the opportunity to visit several plantations that grow crops such as heart of palm (palmitos), bananas and pineapples. The tours were engaging and the managers were incredibly helpful, but I was startled by how little the workers were paid each day, even though it was always above minimum wage. After the visits I started to think about how little I know about where my food comes from; I’m not sure where many of these products come from or how the workers are treated, and with such little research I could very easily be propagating their mistreatment by buying certain products. It reminded me that being a consumer isn’t a passive role, but a choice to take responsibility for the working conditions of others around the world.

            Ironically, I think it took leaving ‘my country’ and coming to a completely foreign place for me to be able to recognize the changes I want to make in my own life to become a more responsible student and global citizen when I get back home.

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