Being Human Calls Medical Volunteers into Disaster Zones
We understandably escape from the fire, evacuate the danger zone, and protect ourselves from harm. So, what is it that makes someone run into the fire, go toward the danger zone, and stand in harm’s way?
World Humanitarian Day 2015
On April 25th, 2015, tremors tore through the earth violently, changing the lives of the people of Nepal and surrounding areas forever. As buildings toppled, schools crumbled and families lost loved ones, those who could, sought safety and stability through evacuation in the tumultuous days following the quake. As the full impact of the disaster was still being felt, another group made preparations as well. Both locally and internationally, they took leave from jobs, made arrangements for family and childcare, packed survival kits, gathered supplies, and boarded planes heading directly into the heart of the disaster zone.
The term ‘humanitarian’ is a common one among non-profit organizations. I’ve used the word hundreds of times myself, but it took on new meaning as we departed Istanbul for Kathmandu in late April of this year, on my first direct disaster response with Project HOPE volunteers. I looked curiously around the plane taking us to where help was needed most, unsure of what to expect as each disaster context is different despite training and preparations. The flight was fairly barren for the large jetliner, filled exclusively with aid workers spread out across four or five seats, taking full advantage of the long flight to get much-needed rest before the true work began. Khakis and backpacks, satellite phones and medical kits filled the overhead bins. Brightly-colored vests and matching t-shirts with organization logos reminded me of a school field trip, teams identified and sticking together for the journey ahead. For the first time, I saw what meant to be ‘humanitarian’ – reaching down to the core of what it means to be human.
They say our survival instinct is “fight or flight.”We understandably escape from the fire, evacuate the danger zone, and protect ourselves from harm.So, what is it that makes someone run into the fire, go toward the danger zone, and stand in harm’s way?It is the other fundamental part of being human – caring for others, making a difference, relieving suffering, lending a hand. This humanitarian spirit is to be celebrated, embraced, and lauded. I think of the Project HOPE volunteers and all of those who responded in Nepal or any humanitarian crisis around the world. Monica made sure her children were safe with relatives while away, knowing that her advanced nursing skills could save lives. Sama, who grew up in Nepal as a child and has family in the affected region, was prepared to leave her job if not granted leave to volunteer as a surgical nurse in her home country.Russell knew that his operating room nursing skills would be vital to support the exhausted and understaffed local hospital, overwhelmed by traumatic injuries following the quake. Ann, Emily and Cheri were quick with a smile while tending to physical and emotional wounds.Each of the volunteers came for their own reasons, and each one made personal sacrifices in order to answer the deeply personal call to be human.
Of course, not all of us are in a position to leave everything behind to go headfirst into a disaster zone, but part of what bolsters and gives strength to those who do, is knowing that they are supported.Supported through an outpouring of goodwill. Supported via donations of all sizes to reach those in need. Supported through large-scale medical supplies given to replace ribs, splint fractures, cast broken bones, and bandage wounds. Supported through stories, encouragement and kind words.Let us remember that we all have the power to be ‘humanitarian’… reaching down to the core of what it means to be human, caring for one another in times of great need.