Sunday, December 17, 2017

The moment that 'broke' me last week

South Sudanese refugee children take in the view
My goodness, it’s been one heck of a year. Does anyone else feel like they’re hanging on by a thread waiting for January to come!? #anyone #anyoneatall? I write to you from a very small plane currently mid-air on my way home to Kampala. This is my rhythm. I do a trip and then I write. I find it very cathartic. Helps me get those feelings out.

I’ve just finished a week-long trip with World Vision – my last one for the year. And before you even question why someone who has worked for Compassion and Tearfund would choose to do an assignment with them, I’d like to knock that one on the head. There is FAR too much going on in our world for any kind of ‘competition’. Far too much at stake. It’s going to take every single organisation playing their part to move our heaving mess of humanity forward. And I, for one, will not sit on the side-lines playing favourites. I’ve worked for about 24 charities since I began doing this and can see genuine merit in each model and approach to development. No NGO is perfect. We are all interconnected and we all need each other. It’s truly one of the greatest privileges of my life to bring the work on the field to living colour for as many incredible NGO’s as I can.

South Sudanese refugees are transported to their plot of land
But I will say - this year has taken its toll and I’ve been feeling it these last few weeks. I want to be real about that because Instagram doesn’t tell that part of my story very well. In my job I regularly get to see the aftermath of the very worst humanity has to offer. This year I’ve interviewed sex slaves from the Congo, former Isis wives in Iraq, unaccompanied children coming into refugee camps, child labourers and victims of war to name but a few. Every month there’s been a new story. Their stories, so precious to me. Each face, each family.

When I get home from a trip like this, the truth is that I usually can’t physically bring myself to look at these photos for at least a week. Sometimes more. I can’t even open the Microsoft Word interviews on my computer. It’s just all a bit too much. 

South Sudanese refugees are transported to their plot of land
I find it so ironic that I do this kind of work. I was the girl in school who couldn’t bear to listen to stories of the Holocaust or anything like that. Could.Not.Handle.It. Barely handled the freaking news. Tim once tried to have me watch a documentary on child soldiers and I flat out said no. I prefer shopping at the mall and reading Your home and garden magazine. And then one day I found myself sitting at a bus stop in downtown Kampala and I met a former child soldier. He was a mass murderer and here we were sharing an apple together. We became fast friends and one day when he was at our house for dinner he told me how he was abducted as a child and forced to become a child soldier. All of a sudden this ‘issue’ came to life before my eyes.  I remember literally shifting my physical position on the couch and leaning in to every word that softly came out of his mouth. I remember hearing how he would purposely shoot in the air and close his eyes as they ambushed a village just so that he would miss shooting people. History had all of a sudden become personal. And history now had a name and flesh and was eating my spaghetti Bolognese!

That was the catalyst point for me. I then started reading books on child soldiers and learning all I could. Today, it feels like I cover a new humanitarian issue every single month and each issue then becomes personal.

A sweet South Sudanese baby whose
spent his life living in a refugee camp #iphone6
But for the first time this year I went on a trip and I didn’t ‘feel’ it. Usually I have a moment each trip where the emotion bubbles over and I cry. Sounds silly, but for me, that’s a good thing. Sometimes it’s during a three hour interview where the excruciating details are all just too much, and sometimes it’s in the privacy of my room later that night. But for whatever reason this one particular trip I wasn’t feeling it. It was a hard hitting subject matter I was dealing with but ‘I’d seen worse’. And I lamented this to Tim. I never want that to happen again.  I want to feel it deep. Every. Single. Time. I want to feel it like Jesus feels it. I want to see these people the way he does. Photograph them the way he would. I want to listen to them, ask the right questions and stand in awe at the organisations pushing back the darkness.

So this week with World Vision I was praying specifically that God would ‘break’ me again. And he did. #typical. I was taking some photos when out of the corner of my eye, my colleague, Laura, alerted me to an elderly woman creating quite the scene. Apparently she’d be in the Reception Centre in the Refugee Camp for four weeks and was supposed to have been resettled to her plot of land after a couple of days. Instead she watched as day after day, truck after truck took more and more people away leaving her behind. She had fled to the refuge camp with no family and she had no idea where they were. She’d come to Uganda carrying her handbag and that was it. Her worldly possessions were piled up beside her in a neatly tied heap. All of them were things that had been given to her in the past few weeks. And here she was saying that she was going to board this truck by force. She wanted to be resettled. Hated staying in those long tents where over 200 people sleep each night. Sadly, her plot and shelter were not ready yet and so in absolute defeat she struggled to lift her items onto her head and make the embarrassing walk back to her tent. 
*Not the woman I'm referring to*
iPhone photo from earlier this year

My camera now slung behind my back I took one look at her and my eyes welled up with tears. She looked just like my Grandmother. But she was a single woman, all alone in a massive refugee camp with no-one that knew her or could help her.  So I made my way over to her and, with the help of two grown adults, lifted her bundle onto my head. Tears streaming, and I mean, streaming, down my face at the injustice and the lack of dignity for her and thinking with every step how I’d hope someone would do this for my grandmother. About halfway along, Laura could see I was struggling and so took the bundle onto her head and walked her 'home'. Even now, tears well in my eyes as I think of the beauty of that moment. She then sat down next to her and just rubbed her back. There was nothing to say, no translator around. Just a deep sense of our shared humanity.

Reflecting later I was reminded that “because Jesus loves us, he allows us to feel pain that draws us to him.  And in the midst of pain He weeps with us for a world that is not as he intended, for sorrow that he did not design.” Katie Davis.

So with that beautifully tender moment to end the year on, I’m off to take a break for a few weeks. A good, proper break with my family that are flying in for Christmas. I hear self-care is all the rage these days. After all, I’ve got some Your Home and Garden magazines to catch up on.  


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