Saturday, August 29, 2009

School's Out For Summer

I feel like apologizing for my longest absence yet from this blog would be playing the same tune for you readers that I have played many times over the summer. However I do apologize if you have been checking the blog only to be disappointed. I could blame it on Europe (which seems to be the trend as far as the healthcare debate goes right now), I could blame it on the two weeks in Little Rock, or I could blame it on my recent move to Houston to begin work with the Houston Early Age Risk Testing and Screening (HEARTS) organization at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston ( However a wise man in India told me that whenever you point a finger in blame you are always pointing three back at yourself. I have thought of few instances where this saying is not true.

So I hope we can all make this water under the bridge and move in a POSITIVE direction to a new chapter in the discussion of STUFF. Let’s go.

The last month or so for me has been one of transition and constant exposure to new experiences. I visited five countries in two weeks and learned many things about how some western European countries operate. For example Switzerland has a private health insurance system that is not controlled by the government other than the fact that the government requires all citizens to have a bare minimum of coverage (almost like automobile insurance here in the United States). Instead, they have 15 companies that the individual citizen chooses from, almost a forced capitalism if you will, to provide their health insurance. I thought this was an interesting idea since I am under the belief that change to our healthcare system must happen but it must be a hybrid system that combines both reform and a respect for our capitalistic traditions. The current system is unsustainable given that healthcare costs are rising 2% faster than our GDP.

I have digressed however. I returned from my adventures abroad on August 5 and went straight to a Mexican (Tex-Mex) restaurant. I found it ironic that the only country that can do decent Mexican food is in fact, America. The next stop for me was Little Rock where I got to see most of my classmates, the staff and faculty at the Clinton School, and friends. It was nice being home, eating all of my comfort food such as Buffalo Grill (four times) and seeing the sights and sounds of the city that I have fallen in love with.

After a whirlwind couple of weeks I made the six and half hour journey down south to Houston. I am 24 years old, living with my parents, having the best possible Capstone Project opportunity, and taking classes to become an EMT. Life, I must say is pretty good. The main reason why I am here though is to help better children’s lives through public service.

As I have learned over the past year or so, public service comes in many forms. I have had my preconceived notions about what it means to be a public servant; police officer, military, paramedic etc, all the “normal” jobs that people see daily as serving the public. However, as I have been thrown into the “deep end” of public service, I have changed or added on rather, to my definition of a public servant. I would have never thought that as a graduate student I could be a public servant. But here I am two days into the job, just back from India and I realize that even the work that we do as students as huge impact on the lives as many.

All of my classmates and many students around the world are doing the same thing. We have an incredible opportunity to help others as students, an opportunity that is available to no one else in any other field. Given our flexible schedules, our enthusiasm, and the natural curiosity that comes with being a student we are in the unique position to positively impact the world as no one else can. Thinking back to undergraduate I feel as though I wasted valuable time that could have been spent serving others rather than myself. Not saying I look unfavorably on my undergraduate days because I assure you I do not. I just did not realize the potential that I had to help others.

Now I am working everyday on helping prevent the sudden cardiac death (SCD) of school children in the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States. I have just returned from India where I was responsible for ensuring the continuation of projects that literally enabled people to live. I had classmates help educate indigenous populations on reproductive health, help build a better life for prisoners, and various sustainability projects. Based on what? That we are students? Pretty awesome responsibility.

So to conclude this rant, the last four months have been an awakening about me, about the world, and about how I can impact others. After doing something like I did this summer and like many have done before me and will continue to do hereafter, I realize that the potential for public service is in us all and we have the ability to make a difference through means that most have never thought about as public service. My definition of public service has expanded greatly and for that I am thankful.

Next time on “Positive Stuff” I will go in depth about the work that I am doing with the HEARTS organization and its impact on the entire community.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reverse Culture Shock

This is now day eight of my European trip and I must say that it has been the experience of a lifetime. While I am not able to upload any pictures I will be sure to let you know when Ashley updates her Facebook with a link to said pictures.

One of the things that I have noticed is how clean the cities are that I have been to. There is certainly a noticeable increase in government services in terms of street cleaners, police, and other emergency services. These are all things that I noticed were lacking in India. Secondly there is constant construction on new buildings and repairing of old ones. There is also a noticeable commitment to the environment. There are recycling bins on every corner and the cars are of course smaller. In fact during a 24 hour period here in Milan, Ashley and I have counted 201 Smart cars.

In a less academic adventure, we went to Laga da Como (Lake Como) yesterday and it was exaclty like you see in the movies. However nothing can describe actually being there. The villas sprawling up the tree covered hills, the serene water, and freshest air one can imagine. Towards the end of the day we took a trolley up the hill and had an authentic Italian meal (I had lasagna) overlooking the lake. Needless to say it was very enjoyable.

For now we are boarding the 3:10 train to Zurich. I cannot wait to see the Swiss Alps. Hopefully there will be wireless so I can upload photos. I shall keep you posted.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hola and Adios

I have been absent from my blogging duties for a while. Mea Culpa. However I have been documenting every bit of the trip so far. Ashley and I are about to leave Barcelona for Milan but over the past five days we have been to Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid. All I can say so far is that Spain is absolutely amazing. It is beautiful and the people are very helpful and friendly. I also noticed how clean the cities are and the obvious presence of municipal services.

These are just some preliminary observations of course but in the mean time click here to see the photos from the trip so far. I will later expound upon my thoughts in a more insightful and detailed manner. For now it is off to the overnight train to Milan and hopefully no power outages on the train. More on that later. Adios!!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Final Countdown

I chose this title for my last blog post from India for several reasons. One, it is kind of an obvious title. Two, the band who sings it, Europe, might be the greatest band known to mankind. And finally it was the choice I convinced the hockey team at the University of Alabama to come out from the locker room to from our second intermission break. In fact the last time coming out of the locker room I heard it I became very emotional because I knew that this was the last time I would ever hear the song as a player for the University of Alabama. It was something that meant a great deal to me and still does.

I am at the end of another journey however. This journey was one of the best things to happen to me, much like the hockey team. Throughout the last ten weeks I have gone all over the state of Gujarat and Rajasthan, including the Pakistani border. I have learned a great deal about organizations and humanity. If you have been following this blog for any length of time you have seen some of the stories that I have uncovered as part of my work here. Well I will be the first to tell you that they are just an infinitesimal fraction of the stories of pain and suffering but also stories of hope, life, and understanding. I feel as though I have gone through a transformation in terms of how think about the world. "The World" is no longer something that is in a text book or in a lecture it is real and there is a lot more left to see.

As I am writing this I am sitting in the office saying my goodbyes and thanking everyone that I have met over the last ten weeks. But there are some that are not here in this office that need to be thanked for everything that they have done for me. First I would like to thank the Clinton School of Public Service, The Clinton Foundation, The University of Arkansas System, the great state of Arkansas, Joe Ballard, and Dean Rutherford. The efforts of the aforementioned make the International Public Service Project possible for my classmates and I and will continue to do so for the classes to come.

Secondly I would like to thank 1Well. Dan Morrison and May Yu are two of the greatest people I have ever had the chance of meeting, much less working with. They are patient, kind, and caring. They have put up with me since December of 2008 trying to make this project a reality and no amount of gratitude is sufficient. The entire 1Well team are dedicated public servants and embody the word service in every facet of their organization. For more information please go to It is worth your time.

I would also like to thank SEWA for showing me their beautiful country, the good and the bad. We had a great time together and I consider it an honor to be associated with an organization such as theirs. In fact Secretary Clinton has been in India on a five day trip and several of the women I regularly interact with had a private one and a half hour meeting with the Secretary to discuss women's issues in India. Both the former President and Secretary Clinton are strong supporters of 1Well and SEWA.

I would like to thank the people of India for showing me warmth and hospitality. I sometimes felt like I never left home because of how hospitable and friendly people were towards me, a complete stranger.

Finally I would like to thank my classmates, friends, and family, for all of the supportive emails and updates as to what is going on back home and around the world. I have missed you all terribly and I thoroughly enjoyed every blog posting, postcard (Thank you Belize), care package, and Skype calls.

I am at a lost for words where the past ten weeks has gone but I know soon enough that it will all hit me and what I have just done is something people rarely get to experience but often dream about. I will miss India for now, treasure the memories I made, and look forward to making new ones on return trips.

But for now I am off to experience many more cultures as Ashley Davis ( are traveling five countries in Europe and both she and I will will be reporting on the 'Positive Stuff' that we find over there on our blogs. See you all soon.



Friday, July 17, 2009

A Little House Cleaning

As I have read my classmates blogs I noticed a few features or posts rather that I too would like the world to know about, such as what books I've read, but the main one I need to respond to right now is the IPSP Biggest Loser competition. Adam and John have both made reference to this competition on their blogs, and, and the fourth member, Chad, just has not talked about it because I think he realized that any effort on his part would be futile.

The reason why I mention it now is because up until yesterday I thought it was smooth sailing. I am in country where the temperatures have exceeded 122 degrees, there is usually no AC, there is no meat, and you cannot even have the occasional beer. So could John and Adam really take me on? I thought 'no'. Then I read John's blog and he said that he had already lost 20 pounds. This also does not concern me as I have lost 30. What does concern me is that I have four days left on my project and John has a month. In addition "Positive Stuff" will be going on a trip to Europe for two weeks which will surely not be good for the competition. So what are my options? I am left with only one conclusion, that being I shall live the Gujarati lifestyle until the official weigh in (for all those of you that just laughed or were just filled with an extreme since of doubt you are correct).

However one thing that I will take away from this experience is that I have re-discovered the joys of working out. After work nearly everyday, barring monsoon rains, I have been working out and finding it a great release. I feel great and I would like to keep that going so I plan to do so upon my return to the states.

In another personal update, when I move to Houston to begin my work with the HEARTS organization (Houston Early Age Risk Testing and Screening) for my Capstone project through the Clinton School, I will also begin my training to become a paramedic, a lifelong dream of mine. The plan is to get my basic certification and continue my education when I return to Little Rock in January.

And in case you have not had enough me yet here is what I have read to date:

"Pirate Coast" by Richard Zacks
"Arkansas Politics and Government" by Diane D. Blair and Jay Barth
"Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell
"Anti Memoirs" by Andre Malraux
"Looking Back at the Arkansas Gazette" by Roy Reed (Clinton School Speaker) (

...and I will be finishing out the summer with "The Defining Moment: Franklin Roosevelt and the
First Hundred Days" by Jonathan Alter, Newsweek's senior editor and former Clinton School Speaker.

I think that that is enough of me for now. Tomorrow is Saturday and I will be in the office all day wrapping up my final few days so if any more epiphanies come into my head I will be sure to let you know.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Back in the Saddle

One of the unfortunate things about international travel is that in a lot of cases one is completely dependent upon technology for the most basic things including, but not limited to, communication. The current predicament that I find myself in is that my laptop has contracted the computer version of H1N1 and is on its way back to Dr. Kari. This also means that my computer will be eating at Buffalo Grill before I do.

However I am entering the last week of my project and I cannot believe it is here. My classmate and good friend Ashley Davis is the only one who precedes me in terms of being completely finished with the entire project and I took a few lessons from her blog about what life is like outside of this intense experience ( As I spoke with Ashley during her final week she could not believe it was happening, much as I cannot. Ashley also told me that she could not even think about it because of how busy she was during the final stretch. Yet another similarity in the "Final Week" experience.

I have however had the time to reflect only for a moment as to what I have experienced here in the just nine short weeks. From the monkeys bouncing around at all hours of the day on their pedestrian appendages (sometimes two and sometimes four), the unique and all to familiar taste of the curry leaf, the heat (122 where I was for the Fourth of July), and the extreme warmth and generosity of people here including the ones in the villages who were all to eager to spend a day's pay on me so that I could have a Fanta. However there are of course other things that will not soon escape my mind as I have never seen such poverty and hopelessness, whether the people who are living it knew it or not. How life's basic necessities can be absent when the when pain and suffering are so present.

A final thought for now came from the wonderful experience I had just yesterday. Ela Bhatt, the founder of SEWA and a very influential and gracious woman, gave me the honor of sitting down to have a conversation with her. She met me at my guest house where I had prepared a table with the fresh picked flowers that my security guard assembles for me everyday and places into water bottles. I also had a bottle of water with two glasses on a tray underneath the fan on my front porch so we could escape the heat outside and the train wreck inside that my place has become. We sat and talked for close to two hours and one of the many things that she said to me that I will never forget is that, "We are all trustees of society". I have not fully digested all the possible meanings of that statement but initially I could not help to think to myself that if we all felt our vested interest in society and the responsibility we have towards each other, people will begin to see the need for their positive role and participation in society.

For now SEWA will continue to bring people together to give them a voice. A voice that is necessary as the people here are truly under-represented and not empowered. This Union does not represent those that are already making $80/hour but rather those that will make $80 in year (if that). As Ela Bhatt said to me yesterday, "Organization without values is a terror and values without organization is just as bad". I have a new concept of social justice that puts into plain sight the words that Professor Jehan Raheem spoke to us about during the spring semester.

I hope to be online again tomorrow to keep you updated as to my thoughts about my final days here in Ahmedabad. In the mean time please keep Nikolai DiPippa in your thoughts and prayers for a full recovery. He his a wonderful staff member at the Clinton School and even better friend.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Let Freedom Ring

I was sitting in the office today ready to go on a site visit to Dungarpur in the northern state of Rajasthan (One of the only other areas besides here that has yet to feel the effects of the much needed monsoon) and then I received a phone call. It was from the district coordinator telling me that something had come up and we would have to push the trip back till tomorrow and return on Sunday. A common occurrence here in India and no big deal except that this weekend happens to be my favorite holiday of all, the 4th of July. I was planning on visiting Rajasthan anyway but with some European friends who were going to relax and enjoy the sun (if that's possible) but now I will be working in the desert on the most awesome of holidays.
In a vain attempt to provide solace for my patriotic soul I started thinking about it. I am going to a desert wilderness where a loose confederation of villages are dependant on one another for survival and to ensure that life in this area goes on as it has for years. Then I realized I am going to an area that was just like America so many years ago. True the wilderness was different but the need the same. Also India has only had its independence since 1947, when the movement led by Gandhi effectively forced the British out of India (Little bit more peaceful than our spat with Britain). The desire for basic human rights that John Locke talked about are as present here as they were in 18th century America (sans slavery). I will be helping bring these basic human necessities in another country to people who need it desperately.
On certain holidays, such as Thanksgiving (my second favorite) and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, we have trained our brains to think about those less fortunate than others. But I think on our own holiday celebrating our independence we should also think of others less fortunate, our troops overseas fighting for the very freedoms I am referring to, and how blessed we are to be Americans.

I would be lying if I did not say that I am going to be a little bit jealous of my friends skiing on the lake, grilling out, being with family, or any of the other ways Americans celebrate Independence Day. However I know that the work that I am doing is much needed and I will certainly say that this is a 4th that I will never forget.
Happy 4th of July to all my fellow countrymen and women. May the Stars and Stripes forever fly and continue to strive to serve as model of justice, peace, and humanity for those who call it home and those who are her neighbors in world.

I would also like to wish a happy birthday to Momma Stokes as it will be her birthday on July 3rd. I love you Mom.