The Grandest Challenge

The Grandest Challenge Symposium was well worth the trip to Toronto.

Along with hearing the inspiring messages from people such as James Orbinski, founder of Dignitas International, and Samantha Nutt, founder of War Child Canada, I realized it is okay to be angry with the ways of the world.

In fact, Stephen Lewis seems to be able to sum it up best when he told the audience they shouldn’t feel deflated after hearing message after message of health failures on a global scale and about health inequality.

“Be angry, oh my god, there is nothing better than to ricochet between anger and rage,” he said, but added that people shouldn’t feel helpless.

His wife, Michele Landsberg, a long-time columnist, has always told him that the very definition of a columnist is someone who wakes up every morning and gets into a rage. This makes me feel like my anger at world events is not totally misplaced and means I’m not alone, which I find reassuring.

The event itself took place for more than six hours in the beautiful Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library.  It was packed with ordinary people listening to doctors and experts with extraordinary messages.

Abdallah Daar and Peter Singer spoke about their recent book, The Grandest Challenge, and how they see the way to a better future for all, especially those in developing nations is innovation. To that end the pair founded Grandest Challenges Canada, an organization that gives grants to people doing innovative research. One such person is Ophira Ginsburg, who just so happened to be sitting next to me. She has this amazing project that allows community health workers to take breast cancer screening to small communities in Bangladesh.

Up next was one of my heroes, James Maskalyk, an MSF physician and author of Six Months in Sudan. He said something that I have been trying to avoid for years – well ever since giving up the dream of being a doctor to be a journalist.

He said, it doesn’t matter how sweet the story is, or who hears it, the best way to help people is to physically help each individual. He wants people to go to medical school and sign up for MSF. I have to believe that the stories I tell, especially those about people on-reserve or those in developing countries, are helping those people, or else I don’t have much else to cling to.

James Orbinski and Samantha Nutt are physicians, authors and truly amazing people. I feel like the world would be a better place if they could just be heard by everyone. I only recently read my signed copy of Nutt’s book Dammed Nations and I think it should be required reading.

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