My Dark Night of the Soul in Aid Work (Part I)

This week an anonymous Missing in the Mission blogger shares what she terms her ‘dark night of the soul’, in the first of a two-part post. Grief can be scariest when it seemingly erupts out of nowhere, yet refuses to be stemmed. 

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Original artwork by Francesca Belardini Arte.

August 2012. In the UK, it was the summer of the Olympics, of the Queen’s golden jubilee, of jet streams that interrupted every sunny day with sudden downpours. It was also the year when the world was supposed to come to an end, when the planets were to come into total alignment with the sun – an astrological event occurring only every few million years – and when we were to move beyond the technology, modernism and cold logic of the last few hundred years and towards a state of deeper consciousness, more connected to the earth and humanity.

That month found me in my small box room in my parents’ house, in hysterical tears. The tears were so uncontrollable for so many days and weeks, that I could be anywhere – not just in the quiet solitude of my bedroom – and I would start welling up with sadness and despair. I could be on the bus, or in a shop, or sitting at dinner with my family, and I would have to start choking back the wave that came rushing in; Oh no, not now…now is not the Continue reading

Writing to Save Our Lives

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Is anyone reading me?  Source: http://static.guim.co.uk

Writing is a matter of life and death.  I sincerely believe that.  If you do not, consider what it meant for a person’s name to be written—or not—on Schindler’s list.  If writing were not so grave, governments would not target journalists with such chilling zeal.  Words are power, and we face a moral obligation to harness them with as much heart and conscience as we can.

As crucial as I know the act of writing to be—a godsend for humanitarians and, we hope, a salve for readers—I marvel and sometimes despair at how much we are writing about so little.  My natural inclination should be to support the proliferation of the written word.  But when The Guardian published a “call to arms” last month, calling for an end to the “report writing madness,” I raised the pitchfork.  We are writing into the void.  When I Continue reading

Self-Connection for Survival

This week’s blog is by Leora Ward, creator of Healing in Service. Leora has worked for many years in the social justice, women’s empowerment, and humanitarian fields.

How do we really know when we are whole? How do we know when we are healed?

I have been stewing on these questions for a while. And, when I look at them on the page, they seem silly. They seem like the embodiment of my privileged, Western upbringing… only questions that would come from being raised in a society that obsesses about success and encourages women to uphold an unrealistic notion of perfection. And, when I take a gentler and more loving look, I see hope. These are questions borne out of a desire and a longing for true happiness. When read without judgement, they are simply the innocent questions of an aching heart.

My curiosity about my own journey and why I became a humanitarian worker has haunted me for years. I never knew how to respond when asked, “Why did you choose this work?” I sometimes answered out of guilt, sometimes out of ego. Sometimes I would say that my grandparents were Holocaust survivors and it was my duty, or that my sister worked for Continue reading

A Personal Reflection on World Humanitarian Day 2016 and women’s safety

This post is written by Sarah Martin, via The Cassandra Complexity, for World Humanitarian Day. Please also take a moment to sign this petition for better aid worker protection.

Cassandra Complexity

Sarah Sudan The author in happier times in South Sudan circa 2005/2006

In 2012, I took a Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) course before I went to Libya with the British government for the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. I was really nervous as in mid 2011, there had been an attack on the hotel where I had been working in Kabul, Afghanistan days after I left and I realized I had never felt safe in that country and didn’t trust UNDSS to ensure my safety. I was most nervous about how I would react to the “fake kidnapping” part of the training- and as it turns out – I was fine, but one of my colleagues was not. She was a survivor and experienced a flashback during this section of the training. Our mostly male trainers had no psychologist on standby and were not prepared to support her so I was…

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Maternity and mortality

This post was written by an anonymous Missing in the Mission blogger on July 30, 2016. The views expressed are those of the author and not of any aid organizations.
Kunduz intensive care unit

“August 2013: Files lie on a desk at the ICU of Kunduz Trauma Center. Photo: Mikhail Galustov” Source: What Was Lost in the Kunduz Hospital Attack by MSF-USA on Medium.com.

A maternity hospital we are supporting in Northwest Syria was bombed last Friday. I found out in a series of emails from colleagues Saturday morning, with links to gut wrenching news coverage. My Syrian colleagues confirmed the events with cell phone photos and videos sent through WhatsApp and Skype.

Health facilities being targeted in war zones with air strikes isn’t front-page news anymore. While I was supporting the Syrian team in Turkey last month, we had a team meeting on the 28th of June. The security update announced that in the month of June there had been 27 attacks on health centers in Syria so far—one a day. Attacks on health facilities are also not unique to the hell that is the war in Syria right now. Conservative reporting by the WHO found 57 attacks on health care in 17 countries during the 3 months between January 1 and March 31, 2016. Nor are the perpetrators of these health care Continue reading

The mo(u)rning after

This post is written by an anonymous contributor.

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“Cosmic Bruise” by artist Ivy Michelle Berg, available at: ArtbyIvy

Like many who work in humanitarian aid, when I am asked about why I do it, I dissemble and misdirect, I make a joke or change the subject without actually answering. Sometimes I tell the truth as a joke, and hide it in plain sight. “World Peace” is such a reliable cliché to raise a smirk and avoid the question. To say out loud why I really do it, to put those words into the air, is too hard. I am afraid of the look I will see in the other person’s eyes, and afraid of their judgement. I am afraid that if I am honest, I will have to say it through the medium of a jaunty pop song, possibly from the 80’s. Because the truth is, I do it because I believe in love and I believe love can make the world a better place. Saying it out loud sounds so adolescently idealistic, so sentimentally naïve at best, self-righteous, arrogant and sanctimonious at worst.

I left my job at the end of last year in a maelstrom of mess; stretched out to the point of coming unravelled, shattered by too many emergencies, and a level of hostility within the organisation that I was entirely ill-equipped to withstand, profoundly disillusioned. I felt like the worst kind of fool for believing in any of it, and no longer had any faith in my own judgement. In the months since then, I have been trying to work out what happened, to parse out what it was all about, and to find my way back to myself.

I know about fear, as so many of us do. I know about those moments of absolute clarity when we think we may actually die, today, now. I know about the exquisitely heightened alertness of being in a moment that could go either way; a checkpoint guard toying with Continue reading

Brené Brown & the Power of Vulnerability

In aidspeak, ‘vulnerability’ is almost always a negative word. It denotes weakness, fragility,  a heightened possiblity of something or someone being in danger or at risk, unsafe or unprotected. It is something to be guarded against, mitigated, planned for; we often talk or (moreso) write about how our programs will ‘target vulnerable populations’ or ‘reduce vulnerability.’ We show donors and security officers how we recognize existing vulnerabilities and have made plans to keep ourselves and our staff safe.

This is not the fault of the aid world. Merriam-Webster defines vulnerability as meaning “easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally” or “open to attack, harm, or damage.”  A quick scan of other online dictionaries did not turn up any indication of Continue reading

Random acts of kindness

This post is written by an anonymous contributor.

BBC Radio 4 has a magazine programme on Saturday mornings, hosted by ex-Communard and now the Reverend Richard Coles; it’s essential listening for me when I’m at home, and doubles as my backdrop to experimental cooking.

About 5 years ago, the programmed featured a slot precipitated by a listener who wanted to thank a stranger who had helped them in a moment of crisis. Since they had not even taken the person’s name, they thought they might reach them by telling the story, and saying thank you, on national radio.

Listening as I fiddled about with lavender ice-cream, I thought about such critical moments in my life; times when complete strangers offered help and kindness for no reason other than as a gift of humanity. I decided then that I would make an effort to ‘do’ a random act of kindness every day, that I would pay attention and act when I thought it would help. And so for the last 5 years, I have done this – sometimes with very small gestures and other times by doing something more significant.

For example, I was once at Paddington Station at 8.30am. It was rush hour into London, the station was packed with people, the entrance to the Tube had been closed because Continue reading

Next deployment: TBD

This post is by Missing in the Mission blogger Suguru Mizunoya. 

Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.

 The Great Binding Law, Iroquois Nations

“Voicing for the voiceless” is a phrase that I liked and used frequently during my service with UNICEF in Africa.  I was (and am) so proud to work for children.  I had been giving voice to children in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere, many of whom still suffer from lack of access to education, clean water, shelter, and nutrition. But I didn’t know that children in my own hometown in Fukushima, Japan, were also voiceless.  The day the Great East Japan Earthquake hit our hometown—and three nuclear power plants in Fukushima started to meltdown—they too needed a voice.

* * * *

March 11, 2011. Morning in Kenya. My mobile phone rang. But I turned it off, as I was working. It rang again. Again, I turned it off.

It was a nice morning in Nairobi, and I was attending a workshop. The workshop just started and I did not want to be distracted by a call. Then the phone rang a third time. Thinking it must be an emergency, I picked up. “Suguru, a huge earthquake has hit Japan. Somewhere in the north. My parents are away. I just opened all the doors of our house so that we won’t get stuck inside.”

It was my wife in Saitama prefecture in Japan. She delivered our baby boy four months ago and was staying in her parents’ home until the baby grew big enough to travel to Kenya, where I worked.

“I called your mom in Fukushima. I was able to talk with her once. She was fine. But I can’t reach her anymore. Something is wrong with the mobile communication system. I can’t call my mom, either. I am scared.”

I told my wife to stay at home and try to fill the bathtub, just to secure water. And try to collect more information. As soon as we hung up, I told my colleagues that I needed to Continue reading