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Studying tuberculosis in Peru

January 6, 2015
Written by

Lily Bonodanna is researching tuberculosis in Peru.

LIMA, Peru—My name is Lily Bonadonna, and I’ve just graduated from the department of anthropology at the University of Michigan. By some mix of incredible generosity and good fortune, I have been sponsored to study tuberculosis here in Peru with the 2014 Raoul Wallenberg Fellowship. It is really humbling to have been given this opportunity and I am going to try and share it as best as I can with all of you.

So how do I want to study tuberculosis in Peru?

Well, to answer this question I think I should tell you a little bit about myself, where I come from and how I think about things like health. I was born in Michigan, but grew up in Windsor, Ontario. In my family, I am the first generation in North America. My dad is from Italy and my mom is from here, Perú.

My parents pushed me hard as a kid, and I learned to see the world in terms of opportunity. My dad never had the chance to go to college, but my mom, leaving Perú after the late 1970s start of terrorism in the country, did. Her parents had the resources to help her.

So as I became interested in health in university, I too started to understand it in terms of opportunity. Who can buy the right food? Who has a park near their house to run in? Who can go for regular check-ups at a doctor’s office?

These questions hold their answers not in the body, but the greater web of social and political-economic conditions we all live in. This is how I am trying to study TB. I want to understand how tubercle bacillus predominantly finds itself with the opportunity to infect the lungs of Peru’s most vulnerable populations – those people living in “pueblos jóvenes,” or shantytowns.

Here, I have been graciously offered to collaborate with the Instituto Nacional de Salud (National Institute of Health). It is through them that I will have access to areas of high TB prevalence.

For now I will be on the coast, in Lima, the country’s capital, but in time, I will travel to the sierra (highlands) and selva (jungle), as well. I am going to introduce you to the places I go, the people I meet, and the (million) things I learn throughout this year.

It is important to remember, though, exactly why I get to do this – Raoul Wallenberg. He saved more than 100,000 Jewish lives in Budapest during World War II. He was a Michigan graduate with a striking sense of morality and keen fascination with the world around him. He defied authority and eventually died in an attempt to prevent gross acts of cruelty and injustice.

Today, his legacy continues. I along with all of the other students receiving fellowships in his name get to explore that which intrigues us because of him. It is hard for me to express how thankful I am – how lucky I feel to be able to come here, to learn about health and Peru and in turn, myself. I invite you to come with me, ask questions, and point out things I might be missing. The relationships we form with others are some of our greatest sources of knowledge. And I am going to try and learn as much as I can here.

You can follow Lily’s blog here.

Apply for the Wallenberg Fellowship here.

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