An American’s Journey in Pakistan: The Experiences of Cynthia Ritchie

Perceive the world through Cynthia Ritchie’s eyes, and you will gain a glimpse into Pakistan unlike any other.  Cynthia Ritchie has traveled around Pakistan and meticulously navigated the country’s social, political, and cultural layers.  She is now on a mission to produce a docu-series that will capture “the true spirit of Pakistan,” by showing its beauty, vibrance, and devotion to hospitality.

Cynthia Ritchie, a former Goodwill Ambassador to Pakistan, was inspired by her personal experiences to produce a docu-series about nation. By capturing “the true spirit of Pakistan,” Ritchie aims to facilitate a broader global understanding of Pakistan’s strengths and its potential as an emerging democracy.

While her mission may seem daunting, Ritchie is no stranger to conquering challenges. A Louisiana native, Ritchie had a traditional Southern upbringing, which emphasized tenacity and stability. She was expected to follow a straightforward path by going to school, getting a good job, and retiring there. However, Ritchie insisted on following her dreams, even when they pointed her in unconventional directions. Despite her decision to follow an unorthodox path, Ritchie credits her Southern upbringing with teaching her the tenacity that enabled her to achieve many of her goals.

From an early age, Ritchie dreamed of visiting a foreign country and delving into a completely unparalleled culture. Stories about the cultural marvels of Egypt captured her young imagination. Traveling to Pakistan “gave me the opportunity to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams,” she fondly states. “Pakistan became my Egypt.”

Along with her dream of traveling abroad, Ritchie has had a lifelong passion for volunteering and public service. Ritchie’s earliest service efforts include volunteering to help homeless and transient populations and the mentally ill. She has also volunteered for a political campaign and worked as a trained mediator. Ritchie knew early on that earning money would not be sufficient. Ritchie was determined to ensure that her career produced a positive impact upon the lives of others.

In furtherance of her dreams, Ritchie received an extensive formal education. She received a bachelor’s in pre-law and earned master’s degrees in education, psychology, and public relations.  Through working on a local official’s political campaign, Ritchie was introduced to the Pakistani community. Annise Parker, who went on to win the Mayoral office, oversees a large constituency of Pakistani-Americans. Additionally, Ritchie worked on several legal cases with Pakistani-Americans. Along with her philanthropic ventures, she also worked in medical communications for several years as a chief medical researcher and writer, and as a community liaison for the City of Houston.

Ritchie received the opportunity to represent the City of Houston in Pakistan as a goodwill ambassador in 2010. She spent the next two years living and working in a country whose culture was “completely foreign” to her. She dove right into the project, touring the country, making humanitarian aid trips, and fundraising at a time when Pakistan’s relations with the United States were uncertain. Throughout her travels, she applied her skills in resource mobilization and cultivated relationships with people from all walks of life.

During her tenure in Pakistan, Ritchie was invited to work as an adjunct health communications lecturer for the Federal Health Ministry in Pakistan and as chief medical writer for a Pakistan-based pharmaceutical company. These challenging but rewarding opportunities required her to draw upon her work experience in medical research, training in law and medicine, and deep commitment to public service. Ritchie was fascinated by Pakistani culture and began to pick up some Urdu.

Ritchie also experienced several difficulties. During her time in Pakistan, Ritchie became severely dehydrated. Her travel companions, Pakistani-American doctors, ordered her to be rushed into the hospital, where her blood was drawn. Ironically, soon after, she would attend a conference where “reusing latex gloves and recycling needles” were claimed to be medical issues faced by doctors in Pakistan. And when a female healthcare worker with a bloody glove tried shaking her hand as a welcoming gesture, Ritchie was confronted with the fact that the universal sanitation principles of health care were not so universal. Another conflict Ritchie recognized was the limited health care available for civilians residing in remote locations.

However, the use of telemedicine, a way of monitoring patients in small communities with trained EMTs and monitors, was a promising way to bridge gaps in health care access. Prescriptions are printed live for the patient, allowing medical assistance to reach inaccessible areas. Nevertheless, there are still many improvements that need to be made before the Pakistani people can fully benefit from the health care advances that are taken for granted in the developed world.

Although her journey was not always easy, Cynthia retains a deep fondness for Pakistan.  “Humans are humans and there are so many similarities I understood,” Cynthia explains. “Compassion is a universal language, and that opened up a lot of doors for me. People understood I was genuinely there to learn, make the most of my time there, and understand the culture one can never learn from a video or book.” She compares Pakistan’s hospitality to that of the Southern hospitality she was accustomed to back in the United States. One of her fondest memories, one she would lecture about later to the delight of Pakistani University students, was a Skype call to her mother after her first two weeks in the country. Her mother noticed that she had gained a little weight. “Everywhere I go, Pakistanis feed me,” she claimed to her mother, who quickly went from worried to self-assured. She soon discovered additional similarities between Pakistan and Louisiana, noting that both cultures emphasize, “food, caring for your family, and treating your elders kindly.”

Having found common ground between Pakistan and her Southern origins, Ritchie is now working on producing a documentary that will promote a positive outlook between Americans and Pakistanis. Her goal? To illustrate Pakistan in a way that is purely “objective but optimistic” and showcase a “celebration of culture” which highlights the kindness Pakistani’s show to one another. By visually demonstrating the Pakistani acts of compassion for the local community, she will prove that individuals do play a vital role in social welfare for the Pakistani people. When individuals pull money out of their pockets, it is “for no reason other than social good.” Ritchie’s docu-series, which top Hollywood talent has expressed interest in supporting, also strives to examine the public and private sectors, the accomplishments of women, and to highlight “things you don’t hear about in the West,” including the achievements of the country’s army, who has a large of unit of male nurses serving as first line responders  Consequently, the docu-series explores the ‘traditional’ roles between men and women in the healthcare sector.

Despite the political turmoil and proliferated violence the country is currently facing, she hopes the docu-series will remind the world that Pakistan has much to be proud of. The docu-series will be under the umbrella of Kultur, Inc. (http://kulturworld.org), a California-based nonprofit organization which seeks to enhance multicultural understanding and connectivity.

Donors interested in contributing to the cause can a check to: Derek Thiele, attorney-client trust account, Thiele & May LLP 3 West Carrillo Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA.

According to Ritchie, “KulturWorld is committed to exploring our world, providing content that enlightens and informs, while  promoting mutual respect and understanding in our global community.”

You can follow her on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/CynthiaDRitchie