By Anna Ter-Zakarian
YEREVAN and LOS ANGELES — This is something I have always believed: discovering the beauty and vulnerabilities of different cultures gifts us with connection, humility, and an open heart.
Through my work receiving a master’s in global medicine, I first discovered internal fulfillment from getting involved in global health — learning about the strengths and challenges of different care settings, and responding to community health needs in culturally sensitive ways. As a medical student, this creative impulse for new perspectives was still alive and pulsing, deep within me.
My birthplace was California, but I never forgot that my heart belonged in the Armenian highlands. And so, with the support of Dr. Roger Ohanesian and Dr. Nune Yeghiazaryan, I came to Yerevan this December as part of the Armenian EyeCare Project Observership Program to participate as a medical observer.
Founded by Ohanesian in 1992, the EyeCare Project focuses on direct patient care, medical education and capacity building of Armenia’s ophthalmologic infrastructure. My hope was that through the program, I could bear witness to the miraculous alchemy of sight being restored and hope being reborn at the Malayan Eye Center — the largest eye institute in the country.
My journey to Armenia was in pursuit of myriad goals: to study, to learn and to reconnect with the marrow of my heritage, which had long been lost to time, geography and translation. I thought my observations would serve to highlight the differences in patient experiences between the American and Armenian healthcare systems. And yet, despite variations in cultural paradigms, what impressed me most was the commonality in the longings and fears of the patients. Across oceans, from many colorful traditions, their songs resonated of pain, wonder, and an extraordinary hope for renewal — paralleling my experiences with patients at the Los Angeles County Hospital. My journey helped me realize that longings for strength and regeneration of that precious light which saturates our lives are universal; discovering this thread of commonality was the keystone to my global health experience.