Let me tell my story backwards:
I just recently got back from working on health and education with young girls and women in a small, rural village in Burkina Faso, West Africa for a few years. I lived in the dry, northern Sahel region of Burkina and taught health & hygiene to primary school girls and self-esteem building & HIV/AIDS education to secondary school girls. I also spent time volunteering at the local health clinic. I learned so much about the integral role of women in community health. I got to know many of the women of the community and their stories. This experience has sparked in me a flame for learning about and working to impact public health.
I have always been interested in community development, but now see public health as helping individuals and groups view their lives as choices. Once a person believes that they can manage something as basic, yet so crucial, as their health, it can really affect the hopefulness that they feel about other possibilities in their lives.
I do not believe that the definition of health should be limited to "absence of disease". It is important that our definition of health include the power and sanctity of our spirits, which is what will propel us to live powerfully, even in the presence of disease.
I have always believed that being able to view yourself holistically as a postive and capable individual is key to living a happy and successful life, whatever shape that success may inhabit. However, this responsibility does not rest only on the individual. We must all help to shape our societies and to recognize and value the varying sources of strength that make up we who are as individuals and, ultimately, as communities.