Never judge a book by its cover. You never know what’s on the inside until you start to read the pages.
That’s sort of how it went when we sat down with the unassuming Ed Pettitt. Ed Pettitt is your average amazing guy that is so astounding and enthralling we didn’t know whether to jump up and down in our seats with glee or hug him to death like the big teddy bear that he is. He is a storyteller without telling a story. Ed is a do-gooder without trying to do good, and he is a game changer without realizing he is making the change. And the reason is that he is so humble and down to earth and the path of kindness that he walks on for others comes so naturally for him that he doesn’t even realize how utterly dominant he is.
Ed Pettitt is from upstate New York and has an undergraduate degree in Biology, where he became interested in public health and more specifically with HIV and AIDS. So, he did what anyone would have done, and joined the Peace Corps to make a difference. He was sent to Botswana, where he helped build and implement programs for remote AIDS clinics and started Boy Scout Troops and lived with the Bushmen for two years. With this tribe, he learned to live the life they lived. There was no electricity in the village, and the nearest village to this one was 70 miles away. These Bushmen were hunters and gatherers, and Ed Pettitt studied them while helping them.
When Ed’s solar powered fan broke, a young boy from the village fixed his fan and Ed was astounded at how he knew how to fix something that was so complex with such ease, so he knew that he was smart, yet uneducated. Ed took this boy under his wing and taught him English to repay him for fixing the fan, and realized that others in the village could also learn English, so he established the first library in the village.
This path of kindness had changed the first life that Ed Pettitt had touched, and this boy left the village and went to boarding school and graduated first in his High School class. Ed was there to see it. He also got a scholarship to complete his A levels in the capital city, which would make him eligible to go to college.
When Ed Pettitt was in high school, he had to find a health issue and do a story on it. He chose to do a story about a young girl and her mother who had AIDS and how the epidemic was ravaging the African continent, and there was no help. Ed was determined to change this in some way, shape or form, he just didn’t know how. At Cornell University, he trained as a student help counselor at the health center for HIV patients and for those that had just been diagnosed. He spent his summers on the Amazon River in Brazil to do medical research, which is where he became fascinated with the indigenous people and also knew he wanted to help in a remote place, and this is when he realized the Peace Corp was the right choice for him.
His hope was to go to Kalahari, which was the most remote place in the Peace Corps at the time, where he could immerse himself in the people, the culture and in walking the path of kindness and helping with the AIDS crisis that was spreading across the country.
Ed Pettitt spent a total of 6 years in Botswana, where he can speak several of the local languages and is considered family by many of the tribes there. He is a gateway to the community and a path of kindness that they never expected, but most especially for that one young boy that he took under his wing, who was orphaned and ended up with a full scholarship to Michigan State University for engineering, which Ed signed off on to get him to the United States.
Ed Pettitt currently works as a Senior Project Coordinator at Baylor College of Medicine International Pediatric AIDS Initiative at Texas Children’s Hospital, where he designs, implements, manages and evaluates public health programs in developing countries. At the age of 32, he develops toolkits and curricula for delivering high-quality adolescent HIV treatment, care and support and he creates and implements protocols and guidances that facilitate the transition of care for HIV-positive adolescents entering adulthood. Ed Pettitt not only serves as a technical adviser on adolescent HIV care and related issues for USAID, WHO, and UNICEF he is also the co-chairman of the Global Health Innovations and Action Foundation whose goal is to reduce the mortality of women in underdeveloped countries by bringing quality healthcare to them.
And, if that weren’t enough, Ed Pettitt has helped produce a film, Looking For Life, that was directed by Daniel Koehler. This film is a Fulbright-National Geographic Scholarship project that is based on the Bushmen in Botswana that Ed Pettitt lived among. Looking For Life follows the daily lives of the people, but especially two boys, one being the boy that Ed took under his wing. Both boys were born in the game reserve, but one boy and his family were removed by the government, and his family was relocated, and one refused to be relocated. The film shows how these two boys have adapted in an evolving world.
Ed Pettitt on Walking the Path of Kindness
The Peace Corps has led to every path that I’ve been on. If you are open to opportunities that take you outside your comfort zone, your life unfolds in ways you never know or had planned. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith because you never know what’s around the corner and then embrace them wholeheartedly.