(Photo: Lauren Rockburn)
Nancy Christine Edwards participated in the Bellagio residency program in 2018. During this residency she worked on Not One, Not Even One: A Memoir of Life-Altering Experiences in Sierra Leone, West Africa. She is a nurse and epidemiologist who worked in the field of global health and development for forty years. Nancy is a Distinguished Professor and Professor Emerita at the University of Ottawa.
A few words with Nancy
“I had written several short stories about my experiences in West Africa, and I was considering writing a memoir about my community health work in Sierra Leone. The memoir was not the main project that I set out to complete at Bellagio. However, the residency provided me with much-needed time for informal discussions with talented authors who shared their writing experiences and expertise. I left the residency feeling encouraged to seriously embark on writing my memoir and with ideas for important cross-cutting themes, including pursuing a career in global health and undertaking community health work as a cultural outsider.
I spoke to other residents who had written poetry, memoirs, and other types of nonfiction. I found their work, the provocative themes of their writing, and their reasons for writing, inspirational and informative.”
In 1978, Nancy Edwards left Canada for Sierra Leone, where she spent five years working in health care as a Cuso volunteer. Young and idealistic, Nancy’s role seemed straightforward – to improve outcomes of maternal and child health. She quickly learned, however, that barriers to healthcare are deeply interconnected with issues of poverty, power, cultural practices, gender, and geography.
Not One, Not Even One recalls her life-altering experiences as a nurse in these remote communities. Nancy, acutely aware of her role as a cultural outsider, made her home with villagers, listened to their challenges, and learned about cultural nuances. Throughout the book, hardship, tension, and conflict are buffered by humor, hope and community. Local advocates – such as mothers, traditional birth attendants, and village health committees – are celebrated for their work.
Four decades after her arrival in West Africa, Not One, Not Even One documents how a five-year period has shaped Nancy’s life and research career – in a story brimming with humility in the face of tangled obstacles.
To find out more about Nancy’s work, visit her website.