Resurgent contributor Yvonne Lucindo-Biyo reflects on her overseas commitments as part of a humanitarian organization, and what it all means to her growing children.
This piece took a long time to be written because I did not quite know what to write about. The ‘assignment’ was to write about the mission I am currently working for, and that is the Syria mission. There are lots of things happening, so I should be able to find a topic to write about. But how do I filter the noise and write about what moves me? I have no answers, except maybe because it is too painful to write about a place that I do not know intimately, have not yet set foot on but have only seen through the eyes of destruction, death, and heartache.
So this weekend, my youngest child responded negatively when I asked if he enjoyed watching Rouge One (I have not seen it myself so it might be a spoiler alert), and when I asked why, he said that there were too many good guys killed. He couldn’t believe that a movie would be made where the good guys got the short end of the stick. He said that those who were hit just kept at it; in his mind, when hit, they should have taken cover, gotten to a better position, and sniped the enemy from a safe place. I told him that they must have stayed because they are brave that way, that they did not want to run so they stood their ground and gave up their lives for what they were fighting for. In the face of evil, they would rather sacrifice for the greater good than have their efforts be for naught.
And that resonated so much with the medical and non-medical personnel that we were supporting in Aleppo. We were making donations of drugs and medical materials so they could continue caring for the people of the area. Theirs was a choice to stay, to provide assistance to people who needed them when maybe they themselves needed help, to make sure that the injured and sick had a place to go to, to do the work that they had sworn to as professionals, and to be in the place that is their own. We’ve seen the videos of nurses breaking down while making sure that the newborns in the ward were all safe. But there are also untold stories of logisticians receiving huge amount of cargo and ensuring that it gets distributed while a small corridor was still open back in August, of truck drivers braving the night runs and working against time to get the materials to warehouses or health facilities that needed them, of photographers and videographers who document what is inside so we do not forget, and of doctors, nurses, and other medical staff carrying on and moving to different places once their health facility was bombed. That they did not give up when East Aleppo was besieged speaks about their commitment, passion, and humanity.
As a humanitarian worker, I have not become jaded to the nature of the work that we do. It might be a small drop in the ocean of needs but I still think that we make a dent in the lives of people we support. However, I work in relative comfort and safety compared to the daily reality of the areas that we pin on our maps. Is my empathy enough to compensate working from afar knowing that this is a limitation that we have to accept?
As a person, I feel helpless. How do we continue watching the events unfolding and not feel a sense of not having done enough?
As a mother, I cannot even begin to imagine how it must feel to have all that you love and hold dear taken from you in the aftermath of an airstrike. How young and teenage children are forced to grow up in an instant or over time as they are surrounded by unimaginable horrors. How do I then tell my own children that movies can and do depict what is happening in the wider world? Good people die because they are brave, because they stand for their principles, and because they face the battle head-on.
I want my children to hear Aleppo stories, but I want them to hear it from people who are from Aleppo itself. I want them to understand that Halep was a significant spot on the Silk Road which resulted in a melting pot culture; I want them to know how it was growing up in a place that was culturally, historically, economically-rich, and tolerant of its inhabitants; I want them to hear that there was just Aleppo before, none of this talk of East or West; I want them to internalize that you choose to stay or leave depending on your circumstances, on opportunities presented to you, or on your priorities, and that that choice is very personal and the right one you make at the moment. I do not know if it is too much to burden young children with but I need them to know that the world is not just the place where they are currently living in. They are citizens of the world, thus they should be tolerant of others, that good and bad exist, that they will be presented with hard choices growing up, and that they should always choose goodness and love above all else.
In the words of a colleague:
Humanity, perspective and love! – Johanna Linder, co-humanitarian