A young public health doctor’s year-long experience in northern India providing medical care for a Tibetan community living in exile leads to life lessons in compassion, generosity, and patience. As a young physician in training, Timothy yearns to make a difference in the world. While working at a U.S. community clinic, he encounters the health problems of refugees who had fled their countries’ human rights abuses. He soon realizes that his passion is to live abroad and serve a community as a physician. Following his formal medical training, Timothy lives for a year in Dharamsala, the “Peaceful Resting Place,” home of the Dalai Lama in northern India. Working alongside other volunteer colleagues, Timothy’s journey leads to the joy and anxiety of delivering babies by candlelight, the sorrow of tending to dying children who have suffered terrible falls, the frustrations of treating drug-resistant tuberculosis, and the challenges and rewards of delivering preventive health messages to newly arriving refugees from Tibet.
Timothy H. Holtz, MD, MPH, FACP, is a public health specialist, an assistant professor at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, and an internationally recognized expert in global health. Dr. Holtz is a founding member of Doctors for Global Health, a non-governmental organization with health and social justice projects in Latin America and Africa. Since 1999 he has worked in Southern Africa, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America on malaria research, multidrug-resistant tuberculosis control, and HIV/AIDS management and care. He is board certified in internal medicine as well as preventive medicine, and was elected a Fellow in the American College of Physicians in 2003. He currently teaches courses in tuberculosis, health and human rights, and social medicine at Emory University. Along with Drs. Anne-Emanuelle Birn and Yogan Pillay, he is a co-author of the Oxford University Press’ Textbook of International Health, by Paul Basch. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his family.
I had long wanted to be on this plane, a plane taking me back to India, a country I had fallen in love with as a senior college student studying abroad. I had made a vow back then to myself and to the country that had taught me about love and beauty, poverty and squalor, and the wealth of the spirit within, that I would return to repay the favor and give something back. As we neared landing, the bird’s-eye view of the million morning fires of Delhi sent my heart back 8 years, to the moment when I first set foot in India. I remembered a squalid morass, the acrid smell of heavy air full of rancid odors, the sight of everything painted with the brilliant colors of red and yellow, the startling sight of crowds of humanity merging into one, and poverty unlike anything I had seen before. People everywhere. The image of entire families living, cooking, eating, and sleeping in the streets or in dismal squatter camps had never left me. Now, as the plane made its descent into Delhi International Airport, I saw those same families huddled around their morning fires, warming their hands and preparing their daily batch of chai tea. It occurred to me that their situation probably had not changed much over the years, although mine had.
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