First Hand Accounts

"The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do." ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach (American Author)

I started with reading books. Being a social worker I figured that I knew a lot about the issues in Africa, what I came to find out was that I had an unfathomable amount more to learn. I knew the basics whereas I needed a masters to really understand. And, after all the books I've read, I know that I do not truly understand as I believe no one can....unless they actually go there. I read about the HIV crisis and its direct linkages to the pharmaceutical industry; I read about children being abducted by rebels needing new soldiers for their wars; I read about orphaned children and the kindness of poverty stricken Africans who take them in; I read about the genocide and I read about using rape as a weapon of war; I read about the historical context of slavery. Eventually, I started reading about international development and various humanitarian aid projects, which proved to be interesting and exciting. When I would travel home for vacation to see my family, I would often make a conscious effort to check the title of the book I was reading to ensure it wouldn't be upsetting to anyone. At times, I found myself wandering the isles of Chapters for serious chunks of time...looking for new information to find and devour. It was amazing how little I knew, as I felt myself to be a socially conscious individual. I was wrong in that assessment of myself; however, I've been making significant strides over the past while in becoming one.

Reading first hand accounts of the young girls in Uganda impacted me deeply, as they spoke of their terror at being kidnapped and used for "pleasure" and war (Stolen Angels by Kathy Cook).  Reading stories of journalists who travelled into war torn Africa to observe scenes that left them flirting with post traumatic stress disorder was dumbfounding. However, it was the stories of the African women who took in orphaned children that spoke to my heart, such as the story of Mrs. Haregewoin Teferra (There's No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene) - an Ethiopian woman who filled her home with hundreds of children with HIV/AIDS.  I've always enjoyed reading about real life and I have often heard that I read depressing and disturbing novels.....I mean, who wants to read about little girls being kidnapped in Uganda? Not many people, I imagine, or may be a lot...who knows. Regardless, I began to educate myself on a variety of issues that were happening in different parts of Africa and, as a result, I began to learn about how individuals, groups of people and organizations are attempting to help.

I was immediately drawn to the work being done through Médecins Sans Frontières  (MSF, Doctor's Without Borders), a well-established medical relief organization that has been working internationally since 1971. What spoke to me about the organization is that they are not affiliated with political or religious groups and that they observe impartiality in their medical ethics, providing humanitarian assistance to all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, and political views. No one has to 'sing for their supper' or pledge allegiance to anyone else to receive aid. So, I began reading books that provided first hand accounts of MSF field workers experiences working in various African locations, such as Six Months in Sudan by James Maskalyk and Hope in Hell by Dan Bortolotti. Instead of quelling my interest, these books simply fuelled it as they described the conditions Africans were living in and the relatively small sucesses of humanitarian aid organizations in comparison to the population of people needing assistance. It was facinating.

As I became more informed, my dreams of travelling to Africa became more defined and easier to articulate; however, they remained dreams due to having no idea of how to transition them from this place. I started to wonder, then imagine, what it would be like to actually go away to Africa for a period of time and I asked myself, is this even possible? Most days I answered myself with a resounding 'NO!' as it seemed unattainable from many aspects. Financially, practically - in terms of work - and the biggest element being that I was still kind of a mess....mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Despite any other reasons I could surmise, in knowing myself as intimately as I didn't seem possible or, at best, did not seem likely. I felt disappointed in myself, knowing that other people do these kind of things regularly because, if they didn't, organizations like MSF would not exist. I wanted to be one of those people but, at the time I didn't understand that I possessed the fortitude to become one because I was too lost.

Despite feeling wayward, when people asked me what I wanted to accomplish in this life.....marriage, children, establishing myself within my standard answer became, I want to go to Africa. It was virtually the only thing on the bucket list. I wanted to be able to provide my own first hand accounts of my experiences.

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