Cultivating A Full Soul: The Role of Empathy in Global Citizenship
Written by Vinussa Rameshshanker
Let us take a few steps back in time to my third visit at Kawolo Hospital, one of FullSoul’s three pilot facilities in which we first implemented our Maternal Medical Kit (MMK) project. It’s early February (which means it’s scorching hot in Uganda), Meron and I are outfitted in our hospital scrubs, and we’ve come to Kawolo to conduct an observation shift in the delivery room of the maternity ward. These shifts were extremely valuable to me at the start of my internship, as it helped me immerse myself in the context and learn about the inner workings of the hospitals.
Tentatively, I greet the head midwife of the ward and make my way into the delivery room to the back wall so that I can avoid being in the way. It is a cramped space with low air circulation, three delivery beds, and a small stand of basic medical equipment. There is a mother already on one of the beds and she is howling in pain more so than other mothers I’ve observed with previous deliveries. I can tell by her moans and restlessness that she is almost fully dilated and ready to push. As the midwife starts to make her way over, I lock eyes with the mother and for a moment I feel it all – her pain, her anxiousness, her fear, and her anticipation – as if it were my own. Without realizing it, I walk across the room, take her hands in mine, and try to soothe her as she pushes new life into this world. Just for a moment, the three of us are fighting and pushing together, wishing so deeply that in a few moments, she will be holding her pride and joy in her arms. Minutes which feel like hours pass and with a final push, a final squeeze of the hand, and one last scream, a baby boy weighing in at 2.8kg is born. As soon as this happens, I can feel the mother’s body relax as she loosens her grip on my arm. Yet, I am still tense as I wait to hear the baby’s first cry signalling that the he is alive and well, complete with a pair of pumping lungs and strong, kicking legs. Soon enough, I hear a high-pitched cry ring through the room. The mother’s fear and pain that I felt so deeply within me has now been replaced by relief and pure joy. We share a shy smile before I step back to make room for the midwife, who is calmly cleaning up the baby before placing him gingerly in his mother’s embrace.
Now, I’d like to bring us to the present – it’s nearing the end of April and I’ve come a far way in terms of finding comfort within my new home here in Uganda and my role with the monitoring and evaluation team for FullSoul. Despite the weeks that have passed, all the experiences I’ve had, and the lessons I’ve learned, I am constantly brought back to those few tense yet precious moments I shared with the midwife and mother in the delivery room on that hot February morning. What transpired was a true expression of empathy by both myself and the midwife. We allowed ourselves to step outside our own existence to join the mother in her experiences and emotions. Expressing empathy is an extremely powerful and significant act – one that places you in the life of another, where you are not only walking in someone’s shoes but rather feeling the ground beneath their feet at the deepest level.
Personally, I view the ability to experience empathy as analogous to a light switch. Like a switch that triggers a series of steps in an electric circuit to brighten a room, empathy has the ability to move us within, to touch us so deeply that we learn how to intertwine our lives and views of the world with those around us. To put it simply, empathy works to drive us to take action in the world. In fact, I feel that empathy might be the single most important ingredient for global citizenship, igniting our capacity to understand the workings of the greater world beyond our own circles and reflect on one’s role within these these complex systems. Without a doubt, empathy awakens the global citizen within us, pushing us to engage with the world and accept our part in protecting global welfare.
Since February, I’ve had several experiences similar to the one I recounted above from Kawolo Hospital. Some disheartening, some joyful, and some utterly frustrating; yet all which caused me to experience such intense emotions and drove me to act in some way. For instance, I have recently been spending quite a bit of my time working at a desk as opposed to within the hospital settings immersed in analyzing data from our recent efforts to assess the evaluation readiness of FullSoul’s maternal health project. Despite my physical distance from the healthcare facilities, its these experiences that evoked such strong emotions within me that serve as a constant reminder that every ounce of effort dedicated by myself and the rest of our FullSoul team towards achieving FullSoul’s mission matters. Whether in the field or in the office, its expressions of empathy and the recognition of myself as a global citizen that allow me to approach my work with drive, compassion, and a full soul, regardless of the task at hand.