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Reflection #1: It Takes A Village

by Helen Fosam

“It takes a village to raise a child” is a well-known African proverb often used to describe how a community interacts to provide for and positively impact a child’s life. Even the former First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton, said so during one of her speeches. However, this proverb also reminds us that no success can be attributed to one person. I’ll come back to this later.

In Africa, it is literal, especially in the village setting. It does take a village. A child is everybody’s child, cared for, chastised, and praised by any adult, irrespective of biological connection. I, and many who came before me, experienced that African proverb. In my early years, my paternal aunt cared for me for many years, treating me precisely like her two children. My mother raised my maternal aunt. My father paid the school fees of his junior brother, and the list goes on and on. Even in the family unit, an older sibling cares for the junior one. And the practice continues today. 

The execution of this proverb is one of the many reasons I love African culture and take immense pride in being an African. Did I say one of the many reasons? Yes. The African culture is not perfect. In fact, there are many aspects of it that I do not like; however, the respect we have for our elders should be emulated worldwide. For example, how dare you call your father, mother, uncle, or aunt by their name! But it does not mean you do not know their name. Indeed, anyone older than you, even siblings in the same family, must be addressed with the correct prefix – Auntie, Uncle, Ma, Broda, Sista, etcetera. And dare I say it — what will happen when a child occupies a chair while an adult stands? Those of you familiar with the culture will know precisely what will happen! 

But I digress, so let’s get back to it takes a village to raise a child and the reminder that no success can be attributed to one person. Of course, individual hard work goes into success; however, ‘success’ is defined. But the opportunities and the right environment are created by someone to support that success. The aunt that influenced my early years taught me the values of sharing, tolerance, adaptability, and a strong family bond. School fees that were paid — I didn’t always know who paid them — enabled me to get an education, which, by the way, was provided by members of the community. Doors were opened by individuals who accepted my undergraduate and postgraduate education applications. Several people provided the knowledge and skills I gained. Of course, I had to do my part at every stage of the journey. But you see the trend. I did not do this alone.

So here I am, several years later, with time to reflect on my journey from then until now. I now have knowledge and skills given to me by members of the village. So how do I give back to the village?  

Helen Fosam is the founder of the Missing Link to Improved Health Outcomes (MiLHO) Initiative. The initiative focuses on creating online continuing medical education courses for healthcare professionals in Africa. We are currently beta-testing our pilot course on type 2 diabetes. Click here to subscribe and to access the free diabetes course.

A medical writer focusing on continuing medical education, Helen has roots in pre-clinical research, in academia as a faculty member, and in the healthcare sector as an R&D adviser. She holds a Ph.D. in Physiology from Sheffield University, UK, MSc in Biochemistry from Sussex University, UK, and BSc in Biochemistry from Kent University, UK.

The MiLHO Initiative emerged from a combination of a personal medical emergency, the role CME played in that emergency, and the realization that healthcare professionals’ access to and participation in CME is critical to evidence-based patient care and their optimal health outcomes. The mission of the MiLHO Initiative is to support healthcare professionals in Africa to access relevant and affordable CME in their local settings. Join us. Together, we can make a difference. Click here to subscribe, and then forward the link to your contacts.