New coaching effort enhances maternal care in Indonesia & Mexico

A baby died the night I arrived in Chiapas, Mexico to provide implementation training on the Safe Childbirth Checklist. The mother almost lost her life, too. She was laboring at home with a midwife when suddenly, her labor stopped progressing and the baby started showing signs of distress. The mother began losing a lot of blood. The midwife was unable to provide emergency care, so the mother was taken by ambulance to the small healthcare facility where she was saved, but her baby was not. I was standing outside the facility when she was brought in and I could see her family waiting powerlessly in the courtyard.

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A Letter to Mr. Mandela


Dear Mr. Mandela,

I am so sorry that it has taken me this long to write.  I’ve intended to write you for ages and I am sorry that it took a glimpse of your mortality to remind me that I must seize this moment and not put it off any longer.

Mr. Mandela, when I read your book six years ago, I could not put it down.  I was completely mesmerized by your story and your heart.  I would read your words on the bus to and from work, frustrated by the lack of privacy that public transportation offered; trying unsuccessfully to hide my tears as they fell freely onto the pages.  I was moved by the mere fact that you existed – a man so wholeheartedly and single-mindedly devoted to a cause that it would enable him to lead an entire revolution from behind bars.  You, who were not free in the natural, had the ability to set others free because you knew where freedom existed in the first place.  And you held to this ideal even though it was rejected for years, and is still often rejected today.

“As a leader, one must sometimes take actions that are unpopular, or whose results will not be known for years to come.  There are victories whose glory lies only in the fact that they are known to those who win them.  This is particularly true of prison, where one must find consolation in being true to one’s ideals, even if no one else knows of it.  Even in prison, I was assured that I would survive, for any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose because I will not part with it at any price or under any pressure.”

You humbly acknowledged that your strength did not come solely from some secret place within yourself, but that it poured forth from the strength of the collective identity that you had with your fellow man.  You wrote:

“It would be very hard, if not impossible, for one man alone to resist.  I do not know that I could have done it had I been alone.  But the authorities’ greatest mistake was keeping us together, for together our determination was reinforced.  We supported each other and gained strength from each other.  Whatever we knew, whatever we learned, we shared, and by sharing we multiplied whatever courage we had individually.”

Mr. Mandela, the profundity of your legacy is staggering.  It leaves me speechless, breathless, hungry, full of wonder and hope.  In order to lead a revolution of freedom, re-designing human thought, you had to know the life of a prisoner and the mind of the enemy who put you in chains.  Your entire platform of change was built on not only your vision, but your solidarity with those whom you were trying to set free.

“Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.”

Mr. Mandela, I’m so sorry that you are sick and that your tired body is finally giving out.  I’m sorry that I can’t sit by your bedside and sing you songs to usher you in to the other side, where you will finally shed this skin and be clothed in radiance.  And even now, I am weeping while writing this.  My heart is broken that I will never get to look into your warrior eyes and hug you and whisper words of gratitude.  But, I am confident that you are passing over peacefully and without fear.  You lived well.  You wasted yourself for the sake of others.  You achieved true vengeance over your enemies by bringing the fullness of life to those who were oppressed.  You sacrificed being a father to your own children in order to be a father to an entire nation.  I am honored to have lived on this earth while you walked and laughed and bled and wept.  Someday, I will visit Robben Island and touch the walls of your cell and cry and remember everything you did for our people and the price you paid to do it well.

May you go in peace,

Emily R. George

Helping Young People Adopt Healthy Sexual Practices

In 2011, Fenway Health became one of 19 sites within the Adolescent Trials Network (ATN).  The ATN is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct HIV/AIDS research among young people between the ages of 12 to 24 years old.  As seen in the graph below, HIV prevention research is crucial among adolescents because this is where some of the highest incident rates of HIV infection are found…

Continue reading this post here, on the Fenway Health website.

The Painful Process of Authentic Compassion

I like to think of myself as a curator of friendships.  A content specialist of hearts painted gold, who brave the desert creatures and stay awake through the Gethsemane of the soul.

I collected this one heart over a decade ago and tucked her carefully inside my own.  She had just returned from the West Bank where she had made her home with Palestinian Arabs.  Returned to a Midwestern town, to a small, Caucasian, pro-Israel Church, full of cars with W bumper stickers in the parking lot, where people lined up asking her, “How was Pakistan?”  And her face would glow the color of her hair and she would smile and graciously say, “It was fine,” and then swallow a fiery lump down in her throat.

That summer, I watched as she found healing and solace while tending to her melliferous bees.  We would spread fresh honey from bell jars on bread, and I would ask her question after question about the conflict within.  She would point out specific regions on the map that was hung above my bed, finding hope when I began to understand.

Little did she know that the West Bank was just the beginning of the constant cycle of suffering, compassion, and freedom that would be her life.  She wandered the streets of Calcutta, among the heroin-addicts and slum dwellers.  Built shelters in Sri Lanka when the tsunami decimated Southeast Asia.  Became homeless when Katrina blew in from the Atlantic.  Joined me as I worked with sex slaves in the red light district of Bangkok.  Provided food and housing to refugees in Darfur.  Went back to Jordan.  Moved to Afghanistan.  Fled when her colleagues were kidnapped.  Sought asylum in Amsterdam.  And then resettled in Kenya.

She has been homeless and displaced; a refugee and a wanderer.  She has seen more brutality inflicted upon the human race than most people in this generation.  She has stared at the heavens and begged for rain and then seen a small black cloud the size of a hand appear.  She is covered in spiritual DEET, capable of entering into the darkest of territories and coming out, afflicted, but not crushed.   She has died over and over again and has held tightly to the only thing this life can give to her.

And when she writes to me now, from her small cottage in Kenya, and describes the spiritual trenches with tears flowing freely and with intention, I can easily share with her about the kid I know who contracted HIV from his uncle, my college friend who was raped and is now with child, and the aching of my own broken heart from love that has been lost.

Because she walks around with her own broken heart, cracked from the hundreds of times she has known and loved and suffered.  Because she sits with me, a million miles away, but in the same Garden.  Crying out with me that the cup would be taken, dreading the constant request for another death that will ultimately bring life.  A woman who would never fall asleep while I am sweating blood, because she is sweating blood, too.

And it is for her that I write this, to remind her that he is coming and has overcome.  That where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.  That sorrow and sighing will pass away.  That blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  That a bruised reed he will not break.  That by his stripes we are healed.  That we will no longer be called “forsaken.”  That we will run and not grow weary.  That there will be a garment of praise.  That there is always more. That the sons of Satan will fall down at our feet and confess that he has always loved us.

So, let us lift the cup and drink quickly now.

Here’s to her.

And here’s to Him.

HIV Rates Are Rising Among America’s Youth


Infograph Designed by John Hanawalt

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report stating that over 50% of young people in the United States who are infected with HIV are not aware of it, and adolescents between the ages of 13 and 24 account for 25% of all new HIV infections in the United States.  Out of 12,000 new infections in the U.S. among this population, 72% occurred in young men who have sex with men (YMSM).

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 44% of all HIV infections occurred among YMSM.  Although this percentage is slightly lower than the national average, it underscores the dire need for therapeutic and behavioral interventions which are tailored specifically for this cohort in Massachusetts.

Addressing sexual health needs and HIV prevention among YMSM can be tricky because many are questioning their sexual identity and orientation and are not open with providers about their sexual behaviors.  Additionally, stigma and homophobia can prevent at-risk individuals from seeking medical care or HIV testing.  According to a recent report by the CDC, only 35% of young people have been tested for HIV.

The Adolescent Trials Network at Fenway Health has opened a research study for YMSM between the ages of 18 and 22 called Project PrePare which seeks to find out how youth can take and benefit from Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP).  Truvada was approved by the FDA for HIV prevention in July 2011; however, adolescents were not well represented in the initial research.  Project PrePare projects that by making PrEP, along with condoms and regular risk-reduction counseling, accessible to this young cohort, HIV transmission rates among YMSM will be reduced.

Project PrePare lasts approximately one year.  Study participants will receive regular blood work, HIV testing and counseling, Truvada, and medication adherence counseling while participating in the study.  Additionally, each participant will participate in a behavioral intervention called Many Men Many Voices.  Many Men Many Voices is a seven-session, group-level HIV and STD prevention intervention for gay men. The intervention addresses factors that influence the behavior of men who have sex with men, including cultural, social, and religious norms; interactions between HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases; sexual relationship dynamics; and the social and psychological influences that racism and homophobia have on HIV risk behaviors.

If you or someone you know may be interested in finding out more about this study, please visit the Project PrePare website at:  On this website, individuals are given the opportunity to take an eligibility quiz to determine if they can participate in this study.  All answers are completely confidential; a simple “yes” or “no” will be sent to a study recruiter, along with optional contact information that the individual can provide so that they can be reached.  Additionally, anyone who is interested and would like more information can email Emily George, RN, MPH, the Boston site Project Manager, at egeorge@fenwayhealth.

Young, HIV-Positive MSM: Cover Your Butt Against HPV

A new study looks at the protective effects of Gardasil vaccine in young, HIV-positive men who have sex with men.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that gay and bisexual men (men who have sex with other men) are about 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than men who only have sex with women. HIV-positive males who have sex with males are at increased risk of developing anal cancer and/or genital warts compared to the general population. However, those who receive the Gardasil vaccine could be protected.

To continue reading this post, click here.

The Grass is Always Greener…

I recently read an amazing blog from Tales of the Hood that I would like to recommend to you for your reading pleasure.  This post hit home for me after some heated responses (both pro and con) that ensued around one of my previous posts entitled “Redefining the Fairytale.”

The post from Tales of the Hood is entitled “Wanting What You’ve Got” and can be found here.  This post comprehensively depicts the inner conflict that many of us face when attempting to fulfill the personal and professional desires of our hearts.  Enjoy!