It is very difficult these days to not engage in political discussion. Outrage from both the left and right dominate the news cycles and breaking news has become a seemingly hourly occurrence. It is far too easy to apply a political calculus to virtually all events regardless of their significance. So it is time to take a break, maybe only a momentary lapse, but a break nonetheless and focus on a deadly serious issue where politics does not play a role.
Yes, there actually are well-intentioned, serious-minded, angels of mercy roaming the lands and I had occasion to take part in an exercise recently that for a brief moment reminded me that not all hope is lost. There are problems that torture our souls and solutions that are within our reach that can restore our faith and confidence in the goodness in mankind. Unfortunately stories like these receive too little coverage in the avalanche of sensationalism that dominates contemporary media coverage. This is only exacerbated by the reinforcement of existing perceptions fostered by the echo chamber effect that directs us to validate strongly held positions on the issues of the day.
But here is the silver lining to a very dark chapter that is unfolding as we read these words. The issue is an expanding global refugee and displaced persons crisis and the organization that is dedicated to helping those trapped in it is Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). The organization was founded in 1971 by French doctors intent on providing aid to victims of natural disasters, following up on efforts to provide emergency medical care to those affected by the civil war in Nigeria in 1968-1971.
Their help is needed now more than ever, given that the world is experiencing the highest number of displaced people since the end of World War II. Today there are nearly 66 million people who have left their homes due to conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations. That number has doubled in the past decade alone and is expected to continue to increase exponentially in the years to come. Last year alone 10.3 million people were newly displaced, with over half coming from just three countries: South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria.
MSF provides over 39,000 doctors, nurses, logisticians, epidemiologists, mental health professionals, administrators and others in over 70 countries. In 2016 alone they conducted nearly 10 million outpatient consultations. From treating malnourished children to fighting and preventing deadly epidemics to delivering medical care in conflict zones MSF is often the first international organization to arrive at the scene of an emergency.
According to data released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2016 there were over 28,000 newly displaced individuals each day, or in other words every hour over 1,000 people were forced from their homes. Displaced individuals fall into two categories: first, there are refugees who cross international borders to escape conflict or persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group(refugees fear returning to their country of origin because they will be persecuted or harmed); the second category are internally displaced persons who face similar circumstances as refugees but remain in their country of origin. Together they comprise a massive movement of individuals seeking new homes and new lives after having left behind all their worldly possessions.
In addition to the three countries mentioned above refugees are most likely to come from Somalia, Sudan, Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar, Eritrea and Burundi. The top 10 countries of arrival of such refugees include: Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Uganda, Ethiopia, Jordan, Germany, Congo and Kenya.
MSF provides displaced people with urgently needed assistance, from primary health care to psychological aid. They set up hospitals in refugee camps, help women give birth safely, vaccinate children to prevent epidemics, and provide access to safe drinking water. In order to increase awareness to the seriousness and depth of the problem MFS is bringing “Forced From Home” across the country in an attempt to capture the many hardships and barriers refugees face as they flee their oppressors. Imagine the fear, frustration, and danger these individuals and their families face as they seek freedom. Imagine how you can help!
The interactive exhibition, “Forced From Home,” has educated young and old alike to the dangers and risks that accompany the plight of a refugee and recently I had the opportunity to participate in the program as it ended its West Coast tour in Santa Monica. The tour included stops in Boulder, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Portland and Oakland, and they are in the process of planning a tour of the Midwest and South next year. The exhibition is an attempt to educate and motivate our better reflexes to help our fellow men, women, and children and a call to action.
The process afforded by “Forced From Home” is certainly meant to inform even the most well informed but just as importantly it is designed to motivate individuals to actually do something, whether through private donations (nearly 90 percent of all revenue to MFS is from individual donations) or volunteering time and energy to promote the goals of the organization. But the primary goal is promotion of an awareness of an issue that is growing at an exponential rate and tests the humanity that is necessary to sustain a livable world. It is that serious.
Staying informed is critical. Adding your voice to discussion of the hardships facing refugees and internally displaced persons by supporting increased assistance is vitally important. Spreading the word through your social media contacts is helpful and encouraging friends and others to regularly check www.forcedfromhome.com to keep abreast of the latest updates on MSF’s work will help facilitate increased awareness.
At a time when increasing cynicism, anger and frustration is contributing to deep political polarization in democratic societies worldwide the activities undertaken by MFS strengthens our resolve to unify for the common good. When the threat of withdrawal of assistance and/or isolationist policies that divide rather than unite a humanitarian response to this crisis is entertained consider this an opportunity to demonstrate our compassion for those in distress.
There is no political or policy agenda at play here. People are in dire need of help and face life-threatening circumstances and unimaginable hardships. Please take the time to visit www.doctorswithoutborders.org to learn more and use this opportunity to make the world a better place.