Some of you may find it strange that in this issue of our “Newsletter from the Sierra Madre,” which generally focuses on matters of health and empowerment in rural Mexico, we turn to events in South Africa.

This shift from local to more global concerns reflects our growing awareness of how small the Earth, as a sociopolitical unit, has become. You will recall that in our last newsletter (No. 18) we looked at how the well-being of a village family in the Sierra Madre is affected by growing of narcotics. We noted how this, in turn, is linked to international drug traffic, to the huge foreign debt of poor countries, and to the unjust world economic order.

The powers-that-be in the world today are linked through an increasingly sophisticated communications network. The art of economic and social control is fast becoming an international science. And for those who resist, the overt and covert techniques of terrorism, torture, destabilization and ‘low-intensity warfare’, are remarkably similar in the campaigns of the U.S. government, the Philippines government, the South African government, and their various allies.

In the world today, it has become clear that isolated struggles for health and equality, even in a remote village or slum, are inseparable from the global struggle for a more just world economic and social order. Poor people in a single village will not gain control over the factors that determine their health and lives, until they join together with many others to bring about transformations at the national level. Similarly, a poor country that tries to answer to the needs of its people through advancing a more egalitarian system, will find that certain powerful nations try to prevent it from succeeding. We have discussed the close parallels in the ways the U.S. (Might is Right) government and South African (White is Right) government impose their selfish ideologies on their weaker neighbors.

Today the self-determination of many developing peoples and countries is in jeopardy. Just as poor persons in a village can find strength through unity, so the more progressive poor nations must join together and take a stand against their exploiters.

But for such a stand to have any hope of success, developed nations whose leaders have more of a social conscience must stand behind the people of poor countries to form a coalition of solidarity.

Equally important is for those of us who are citizens of an oppressive superpower, but whose first allegiance is to the world community, to join in the defense of all people’s rights. Only through a massive awakening of people in rich and poor countries alike to the need for new leadership, and a new nonexploitative world order, can our planet and our species hope to survive.

A Suggestion for those Committed to World Health

I am often asked by sincere young U.S. citizens (especially those who have majored in international health or development) what they can do or where they should go to best help the poorest and neediest in the world today.

Increasingly my considered response has become, “stay at home!” Or if you do go to a poor country, do so not to provide, but to learn. Learn what changes are needed in U.S. foreign policy—and U.S. lifestyle—so as to permit the world’s disadvantaged peoples a fairer chance at self-determination. Then come home to the U.S. and join the battle to awaken others.

Only when there is a massive organized demand for the humanization of policies within powerful countries, to match the swelling struggle for justice among the world’s oppressed majority, can we hope to forestall global annihilation, and begin to promote “health for all.”

Our chances for such global transformation may be small. The process must begin at home in small ways, and through a growing network of solidarity. The obstacles are daunting and the outcome far from certain. But the nature of the struggle itself, and the friendships it generates, makes it worth it. HW