This March, I had an unexpected opportunity to go back to Honduras – this time for my job in the UNC Office of Global Health.
The trip involved visiting a local NGO and providing technical assistance for their childhood malnutrition projects. We visited field sites in the rural areas around the capital city (Tegucigalpa) to observe a program that consisted of mothers and other caretakers bringing their 0-2 year old children in each month to participate in growth monitoring and growth promotion activities:
Growth monitoring consists of weighing the baby during each visit, and tracking their growth by weight over time. Monitors compare the baby’s weight and growth to standard charts that help them determine whether the child is growing adequately.
Growth promotion consists of providing counseling to the mothers of children who aren’t growing adequately. The counseling helps them identify the causes of inadequate growth (illness, not eating enough, not eating the right things, etc.) and how to remedy those problems so that the child’s growth can get back on track.
In Honduras, children don’t typically suffer of acute, severe malnutrition. A child may look relatively healthy, but be suffering from chronic malnutrition that causes their growth to stagnate. Without monitoring their growth regularly – and intervening when necessary – their growth is stunted, and they don’t develop properly.
And so it is with us, I think.
With all that talk about growth all week, it got me thinking about my own growth as a person. How often do I measure my growth, and compare it to where I ought to be? How often do I make a plan regarding how to get back on track?
That trip to Honduras served as such an opportunity to monitor my growth. There were multiple occasions throughout the week when I took pause and stepped back mentally, as if watching myself through a window, and marveled at how much I have learned. How much I have changed. How much I have grown.
I’ve spent the past two years in a rigorous graduate program that many of us describe as a sprint to the finish. The pace and volume of work has been incredible, and the juggling act has captured so much of my attention that I’ve taken little time to reflect on and notice how much I’ve been learning.
But the beauty of growth is that it happens while we aren’t watching. Small, incremental changes aren’t really noticeable hour by hour, or day by day. We face our daily struggles and triumphs, we solve problems, and we learn – not really noticing as we go along that we have actually grown. The danger is that our stagnation can also escape our notice – just as we can grow, we can also stall or even regress in subtle ways that we aren’t aware of.
Being in Honduras this time around felt like pushing “pause” for 10 days and stepping out of my normal life. What I discovered was that my story from the past couple of years is one of immense growth. I felt a degree of confidence I didn’t know I had. Things that were difficult for me a year ago came naturally. Questions I once didn’t know to ask slipped off my tongue easily. Ideas and problems that I’ve discussed and debated in classrooms became real before my eyes – and though I still didn’t know how to solve them, I could talk about them and struggle with them alongside some very, very smart people. And it made me think to myself – by jove, I know things!
Having such an experience 2 months before graduation was such a gift. It made me realize that the challenges are indeed worth it. It is easy to lose sight of that when grad school means being up at 2am formatting references on the 18th draft of a research paper, or scheduling long days filled with back-to-back group meetings. But to take that pause and see how much what I’m learning matters – and to see that I am indeed growing and still have so much more to learn – was motivating and inspiring. I came back with renewed strength and vigor, and I was able to sprint to the finish as hard as I could with a renewed spirit and my head held high with hope.
Alongside some of the most incredible, compassionate, intelligent, and inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure to meet, I will graduate tomorrow. We’ll celebrate (oh yes, we will!) all that we have learned and accomplished together.
Of course – growth is iterative (!), and our stories aren’t yet over.
But we’ll close this chapter knowing we are better than we were when we started, and knowing that yes –
We have grown.