Toward a Liberation Movement


Presented By Monica Sanchez


When I was asked to participate on this panel on Liberation Medicine I wondered what I, as a non-health care professional, could add to the discussion. I started to think about what Liberation Medicine means to me personally.


The obvious association I made upon hearing the term for the first time was to Liberation Theology. But the life of seminarians and theologists seems far removed from those of the rest of us. After all, they have chosen a life path based on the contemplation of esoteric matters, self denial and devotion to the service of others. It is easy to admire their work, but feel it is well beyond our own capacity.


That is why taking that concept and extrapolating it to another profession seemed so right. It accomplishes two important objectives. First it takes the religion out of the mix for those among us who feel the church has done too much harm to do any good. Second--and I think most important--it proves that anyone can use their own field of expertise to help others and to make this a better world.


Upon hearing the term for the first time my mind immediately extrapolated the concept to my own profession. I am a magazine writer and editor. I do my best to support the promotion of health and human rights by volunteering with a non-profit organization called Doctors for Global Health, producing their newsletter and PR materials. Thus, you could say I am practicing Liberation Editing.


It may sound silly, but just think of the possibilities. All too often, people believe that to make a difference--to really help--they would have to make a radical change in their lives. But the reality is that every occupation is needed in this world and every occupation is needed to make this world a better place. When Dr. Lanny Smith was in El Salvador, they built a bridge over a river that claimed the lives of local community members every rainy season. The engineers who volunteered their time and expertise to build that bridge were practicing Liberation Engineering.


Even the most unlikely of occupations can be turned into a vehicle for the empowerment of those less fortunate than ourselves. The Trickle Up organization in New York, for example, gives small loans to help people start their own businesses. FINCA International also loans working capital to destitute women who would never qualify for regular bank loans. The philosophy behind both organizations is that a very modest amount of capital (as little as $50) allows someone living in poverty to pay for the raw materials needed to start a variety of small-scale, income-generating businesses, such as raising chickens, baking bread for market sale, or starting a handicraft business. What these organizations are doing could be labeled Liberation Banking. The plumbers who donate their time and expertise to Habitat for Humanity are practicing Liberation Plumbing. The computer expert who volunteered to network the computers in El Salvador was practicing Liberation Computer Science. My mother, who is a surrealist painter, often uses her medium to denounce the horror of violence and injustice we have created in this world, which I would say qualifies as Liberation Art. There is no end to the possibilities.


In an article about Liberation Medicine we published in the DGH Reporter, Dr. Lanny Smith said that one of the goals of promoting the concept of Liberation Medicine is to address and remove the sense of isolation described by Dr. David Hilfiker in his book Not All of Us Are Saints: A Doctor's Journey with the Poor. Dr. Hilfiker states that, "Medical practice in a community of poor people often seems a solitary specialty without research, common cause or shared experience."


That feeling of isolation is often experienced by any one who wants to make a difference in more than just their personal bank account. But imagine the community that could be built if everyone working to improve their own backyard could feel a part of a much larger group of people doing the same. A Liberation Movement, made up of Liberation Medicine, Liberation Editing, Liberation Engineering, Liberation Banking, Liberation Plumbing, etc., etc., etc. Each of us would then have a network of professionals from various fields who could help us brainstorm and solve problems in unique new ways.


Of course, simply doing "charity" work does not qualify as Liberation anything. Some of the most oppressive forces in our society do a lot of "charity" work. That is why it is important to extend the definition for Liberation Medicine to this Movement: "The conscious conscientious use of one's own vocation to promote human dignity and social justice." Any type of Liberation work requires working for and with our fellow human beings with full awareness that the same chains bind us all, even if some of us have an easier day to day life.