When’s the last time you felt uncomfortable? Truly, deeply uncomfortable? My last time was a few weeks ago.
Back then, I told you about baby Rosella. A young girl with a cleft lip who came to us with nothing more than her clothes and some water. I told you about how we picked her up from Bekadoka, an obscure village which has less in it than your average first-world home. To me, it looked like they had nothing … Just before Christmas, we were able to fly her back home. As I watched Rosella sleep on my lap for those two hours, I couldn’t help but fall into deep thought.
I feel privileged, but how do you deal with feeling privileged when you’re standing in a forgotten village and you see poverty passing by in a person who is ill or disfigured, and can’t get any help? Someone just like you and me, who has needs, hopes, desires and dreams just like you and me, but unlike you and me – simply because of where they are born – will never get the opportunity to realise many of these. This feeling of privilege slowly vanishes and gets replaced by a growing sense of unfairness, something bigger than myself.
And I can’t really deal with it, to be honest.
People are constantly telling me how noble our work is, how it helps so many people. Although I really appreciate the encouragement, it still feels like the kind words are merely a band-aid being stuck over a much larger, complex wound. How do you deal with the gaping injustice, the huge contrast with home, the helplessness – not being able to do anything when it’s right there in front of you? This really feels like salt in my ‘charity wound’. In the Netherlands, around Christmas-time, I have the opportunity to band together with my fellow Duchies at big charity events to give money to non-profits. We open our hearts and wallets for a month, we are moved and touched by something we see, we act … but then … after our contribution we wrap our hearts in bubble wrap and cover it up with a nice piece of paper. Protected from all that is ugly; the very real, unrelenting ugly that is only a number of hours travel away from home. Tomorrow, I’ll see something again that I am unable to do anything about.
When we picked Rosella up in Bekadoka I could have said, ‘Gosh, I feel so privileged that we can pick you up. It’s amazing that we can help you.’ Yes, it is amazing, but I feel anything but privileged.
I feel uncomfortable. There is so, so much I don’t understand.
I look at Rosella, so serene, resting on my lap. She’ll probably never understand how her life could have been very different. How small her chances were of being chosen out of the millions here in Madagascar to step onboard an airplane, fly to a ship and get a free surgery.
Her new dress that she changed into just before we took off covers my legs. She looks like a fancy little gift with a ribbon and everything. After two months of not being in contact with anyone from home, Rosella and her mother step off the plane to the sight of her father waiting on the dusty airstrip. He had spent his morning making the long, five-hour walk from their home, and we now witness him being rewarded with what his heart has yearned for for so long – seeing his little girl’s lips restored.
Before they begin their journey back home, we are invited into the local clinic, where the village elder thanks us. He asks if we can help more people. It’s like their trust has grown; they see that our help really does have a positive impact on their community. I thank the people for putting their trust in us. It takes a lot of courage to step on board into an unfamiliar world, full of unfamiliar people.
We turn around, hop on a plane and continue to the next screening. I can get on and off whenever I want. I can join or leave whenever I feel like it. It’s surreal that it works like that for me. So easily. I will always be responsible now that I’ve seen how people who are no different to me are living in such different circumstances. Just because I’m a flight away doesn’t mean I can leave it alone. It won’t leave me alone.
As for Rosella, she can now smile like any other little girl, she can eat how she’s supposed to eat. Hopefully one day, with her lips that can now form words like it’s supposed to, she’ll tell other people that there is something called hope.
Thanks Eunice for editing! You’re a kiwi rockstar.