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Americares President and CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis leads a health-focused relief and development organization that saves lives and improves health for people affected by poverty or disaster.
The affection for local can be a powerful force
I started my career as a journalist in a small town in the Midwest United States. As a reporter, I came to know the town’s mayor and police chief, business leaders and shop owners, school teachers and pastors, youth sports coaches and moms and dads. All lived in the town and loved it. At the time, there was a nationwide economic downturn, but despite this and other challenges, residents worked hard to make their town safe and the schools good for their children. They sought new employers who might bring jobs. They wrestled with what to do about abandoned historic buildings and storefronts in their once vibrant downtown.
I stayed for only a year before moving on. But I saw firsthand the value of what I would now call local patriotism — the deep sense of pride in your hometown, personal commitment to civic engagement and willingness to collaborate to make things better.
I recently learned the term “local patriotism” from “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America” — a new book by Deborah and James Fallows that’s on my summer reading list. The authors spent several years traveling around the country in a tiny plane, landing in mostly small and mid-sized towns to find out what makes them tick. It’s enjoyable reading: I love the Fallows’ stories of residents rallying to rebuild their towns in unique ways and the wonderful surprises they found in every community.
Patriotism is top of mind as we celebrate our national Independence Day here in the U.S. on July 4. It is often said that the most quintessentially American event is a small-town Fourth of July parade in Anywhere, USA. Hometown celebrations reflect the best of national allegiance and local patriotism.
I met this landowner in Makwanpur, Nepal, who showed his local patriotism by donating land so his community could have its own health clinic.
I have seen local patriotism at work around the world during my own travels. I saw it in a rural community in Nepal where I met the man who donated land so his town could have a new health clinic, built by Americares after the 2015 earthquake. Devotion to community was evident when I sat beneath a tree in a village in Liberia with a young woman who had been elected chief (a very big deal!) as she met with village elders to talk about the future of their town. I saw the love expressed as well in a mountain village in Ecuador when I met with parents at the new one-room school house they had built for their children.
Clinic staff comes together in Anderson, South Carolina. With local support and governance, the free clinic can offer care to low-income uninsured patients.
Photo by Matthew McDermott
In Greenville, S.C., that same spirit was on vivid display when I visited the local free clinic, one of more than 1,000 that Americares supports across the country. The Greenville clinic is staffed by hundreds of community volunteers, funded with help from the town’s private donors, run by a local board of directors and connected to area hospitals — all for the benefit of low-income uninsured patients who contribute their own work and efforts to Greenville.
That’s local patriotism. And it still inspires me.