Boston, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, Boston Schweitzer Fellows Program, Change agents, Chinatown, community, community service, culture, Empowerment, Health, leadership, photography, photos, Social Determinants of Health, Tufts Medical School, Tufts-Schweitzer Fellow
For Tufts-Schweitzer Fellow Alan Hsu (whom you may remember from the Schweitzer Fellowship’s new video, “Creating Change, Improving Health”), photography isn’t just a hobby. It’s a tool—and one that he’s using to encourage young adults in Boston’s Chinatown to grapple with social issues, broaden their concept of health, and ultimately become leaders within their community.
“My hope is that the children in the program will develop a heightened awareness of factors that affect their lives, so that they can discern what might be changed for the better—and how they might effect such change,” says Hsu, an MD/MPH student at Tufts Medical School.
Through the “Lens on Health” photography club Hsu launched in partnership with the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, a group of high school students in Chinatown spent August 2011 through February 2012 using photography to explore the multiple and varied determinants of health—including food, art, community, environment, and culture.
Along the way, they developed heightened senses of community and self-confidence, and used their photos as vehicles for expressing (and addressing) powerful ideas. Click here to flip through their photos and captions, and click here to view a photo book of their work (Hsu will be presenting each student with a copy of the book when it’s done being printed).
“I especially like the caption Changling [Zhang, age 15] wrote for his flag photo,” Hsu says. “It is, ‘The flag flapping in the air, it means hope, right?’”
Why did you decide to develop your particular Schweitzer project?
Photography is a highly effective narrator of the “human story,” and can be incredibly powerful not only in documentation but also in the expression of ideas and concepts that would be hard to put into words. In developing my project, I wanted to take these features of photography and provide the children in the program a voice through a universal medium that was relatively free from the constraints of written or spoken language. I also wanted them to delve deeper into the less-than-obvious things that affected their lives, their health, and their communities.
What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
My hope is that the children in the program will develop a heightened awareness of factors that affect their lives, so that they can discern what might be changed for the better and how they might effect such change. Health is an endpoint of such an array of factors, and my goal is to have the children expand their understanding of these factors and thus widen their “Lens on Health.” With this understanding, it is my hope that the children will be inspired to serve as agents of change in their own community.
What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
The most pressing health-related issue of our time is that people feel that they lack personal agency, and that they cannot make a change in either the status quo or in their own “human story.” I think this lack of empowerment is deeply intertwined with the systemic and structural challenges that contribute to health-related issues such as poverty, obesity, smoking, and difficulty in assimilating to a new country. This issue needs to be addressed by providing an environment where people can discover their voice and develop confidence in their own potential to make powerful impacts in their own lives and their community.
What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?
The quality and depth of the kids’ photos! Many of them are better than any I could ever take. [Click here to flip through a selection of the students' photos]
What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and, ultimately, Fellow for Life) mean to you?
I hope that my experiences as a Schweitzer Fellow will ultimately be a microcosm of where I go with my career — that even if I do have the choice to spend nearly all of my free time to myself, I instead make the choice towards service.
Alan Hsu is a Schweitzer Fellow in Boston, MA. Click here to read more about The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF)’s Boston Schweitzer Fellows Program and the Fellows like Hsu it supports in creating and carrying out yearlong direct service projects that improve the health and well-being of vulnerable people and communities. To watch a video that tells the Schweitzer Fellowship’s story, click here. To make a gift to in honor of Hsu, click here.
Each week, Beyond Boulders delivers a new installment of “Five Questions for a Fellow” – an interview series with Schweitzer Fellows across the country and in Gabon, Africa who are leading the movement to eliminate health disparities. For an archive of previous “Five Questions for a Fellow” interviews, click here.