Tending Needs Around the World

Cameron Macauley '79 takes a lot in stride. A humanitarian aid worker for seventeen years, Macauley survived jail time in Indonesia; a cholera outbreak in Angola, war in Southeast Asia, and grueling physical conditions in the Brazilian jungle. A Patagonia-clad adventurer might brag about this kind of hardship, but Macauley, while an admitted wanderer, was more interested in solving health-care problems than testing outdoor gear.

An anthropology major at Kenyon, Macauley in his junior year visited a Navaho Indian reservation. Stirred by the appalling health-care conditions the tribe endured, he made up his mind to help under-served populations. After graduation, Macauley enrolled in a four-year physician's assistant training program and then took up his first post abroad at a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border.

"It was fascinating and one of the high points in my life," says Macauley, who now lives in Boston. He ran one of two clinics in the 66,000-person camp and together with Cambodian medics saw some three hundred patients a day. "I had to grow into the job," he recalls of the demanding load. Still, the "joys and frustrations" were of such intensity that he didn't give a thought to leaving.

Someone else did that for him. In 1984, the camp was completely destroyed by the Vietnamese army. Some twenty thousand people were killed or driven into Thailand, including most of Macauley's Cambodian friends. That he was not hurt on this occasion--he was away from camp--or, in fact, during his entire career, was due to a bit of luck tempered with caution, Macauley says.

"I am also not a foolish person. The organizations I worked for provided security and good advice. But I know other people who have not been so lucky and have seen terrible things."

Macauley moved to Indonesia and found a volunteer position as a surgical assistant at a mission hospital in northern Sumatra. As he had in Thailand, Macauley immediately began to learn the local language, Bahasa, one of six he would learn to speak, read, or write during his travels. (The others were Criolo, Portuguese, Yano-mami, Fulani, and Khmer.)

But Macauley was in for another nasty surprise. A few months into his new posting, he lost his passport. Informed of his dilemma, the local police took the opportunity to express their distaste for the hospital where he worked--run by a Lutheran aid agency--by throwing him in prison for a week. Discouraged and tired, Macauley was actually grateful when he was deported. "I needed to go home," he recalls.

After three years as a physician's assistant at Gardener State Prison in Massachusetts, Macauley joined the Peace Corps. He was sent to Guinea Bissau, in west central Africa, to run a community clinic and train villagers to treat basic illnesses. "It was difficult," he recalls. The literacy level of residents was extremely low; few had electricity or running water, and his transportation was limited to a mountain bicycle.

Of the twenty-two original Peace Corps volunteers, only ten lasted the full two years. Macauley was one of them. He helped to build a fully functioning clinic from the ground up.

In 1990, Macauley returned home again, but two years later he joined Health Volunteers Overseas in Mozambique. After years of civil war, land mines littered the landscape and he ran a training program for local surgeons in the proper procedures of amputation. When a peace accord effectively ended the need for his work, Macauley moved to Angola to manage an immunization program. One of his Brazilian colleagues, Angela Maria Gilberti, became his wife.

The couple then took a posting in Brazil with a Dutch organization that ran a health-care program for the Yanomami Indians. Macauley was in charge of retraining the nursing staff in several remote outposts in the thickly forested Yanomami Indigenous Area.

There were no roads, and Macauley and his colleagues often walked for hours through the jungle to reach a village. Nevertheless, he found the experience extremely fulfilling. "Working in the medical field, you find such great need in developing countries," he says. For the Yanomamis, the major causes of death were malaria, snakebite, and the common cold, to which the Indians had not developed immunity.

Macauley and his wife moved back to Boston in 2001 to study, and last year he received a master's degree in public health. He was also honored with the 2003 Humanitarian Physician Assistant of the Year Award.

Although he and his wife had every intention of returning abroad after his graduation, last summer they became the parents of baby Alexander. Working under the tough conditions of the Third World would be far more difficult with a small child. So Macauley took a job in Boston supervising health programs in Africa. But he has every intention to eventually return to Brazil with his family. With a little luck--tempered with caution--the world will be there for the wandering.

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