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Lessons From The Stories Of Médecins Sans Frontières & Médecins du Monde March 23, 2011

Posted by ctwayfarer in Charity, Life's Lessons.
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Take My Hand

Take My Hand (via viking_79 @ Flickr by-nc license)

I’ve been meaning to put this down in writing for a while. A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon a profound discovery. Going over some of the (arguably buried) history of how Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières), the famous humanitarian NGO, formed and then how a couple of doctors belonging to the organization felt it necessary to branch out and create a splinter group called Doctors Of The World (Médecins du Monde), I came upon an idea.

It’s not WHAT tire that meets the road that counts but rather IF in fact the tire meets the road.

For in the end, be it the Red Cross with their confidentiality agreements with governments and troublesome secrecy, the MSF with their bothersome apolitical stance on humanitarian crises or Médecins du Monde with their ideology, no agency is likely to satisfy one’s philosophical aspirations fully (yup, not even Islamic Relief or any other Muslim NGO). It’s not what humanitarian NGO you choose to join that matters as much as what you, as a person, accomplish on the ground meeting with the needy, the destitute & the dying and doing something about it. Those people can’t wait until you’ve figured out what’s wrong with your life as you sit cooped up in a dark den in some corner.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that one’s efforts as an individual, even as part of an NGO, would bring about the profound changes one envisions in the societies they serve. You do what needs to be done, one starfish at a time. Measuring success in individual lives saved rather than fret about the hordes that one might have rescued had things been different. Every life saved a source for continued resolve. Each day a new beginning. And to keep at it no matter how futile it all seems until the very end. After all, such an approach would bring one more solace and inner peace the day they depart this life than knowing that when it mattered most, they could have actually done something and yet did nothing. Something. Anything. Before it was too late.

I’d say it would probably make sense to limit your goals to one or two priorities on the ground. Not more. And think of an NGO, not as some kind of vehicle to accomplish grand objectives, but to value it objectively for what it really is. Just a means to get organized with a bunch of other concerned humans who share those limited priorities.

Thinking logistically rather than philosophically can sometimes reap greater results. Between the MSF and MDM (using them as examples here. pick your favorite NGO groups), wouldn’t it make more sense to ask the question, “how many volunteers?” rather than, “what’s their worldview?” There might be legitimate concerns about ideologies, sure. No denying that. But one has to ask how often do these things overshadow everything else? And how often do we allow ourselves to slip into paralysis by analysis. Sometimes even when the ship to accomplish the mission that we profess to fulfill has long set sail!

An eagle’s-eye view at ReliefWeb strengthens this perspective. Myriads of NGOs – of every color and philosophy imaginable – all working together to save and help preserve the sanctity of human lives. And at the end of the day, individual people doing their tiny bit to get the job done. One person at a time. If the destitute survive, perhaps they would be more likely to sit with you and have a chat about what you think constitutes the essence of life. Wouldn’t you agree?

©  ctwayfarer @ Contemplations In Transit