Lately I’ve been hearing words like “overwhelming,” “scary” and “stressful.” We’re all trying to make sense of the world — and many feel lost. This past year brought another barrage of dizzying headlines: partisan battles here in the U.S., and political upheaval across the globe. In the humanitarian sector, we’re witnessing relentless wars and human suffering in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan; the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); and catastrophic storms in Japan, Mozambique, the Bahamas and the U.S.
Surveying today’s media landscape, it would be easy to conclude that the world has gotten more chaotic and dangerous. We are increasingly told how divided we are. It’s hard at times not to feel hopeless.But have things truly gotten worse?
As the CEO of a Los Angeles-based organization that has been on the front lines of every major conflict and disaster of the past 35 years, I’ve seen the very worst.
I’ve seen children who lost limbs from bombs disguised to look like toys during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I’ve worked alongside our heroic doctors inside Rwanda during the genocide. I’ve faced drug-fueled teenage boys carrying AK-47s in Somalia as we worked to deliver food to people dying of starvation.
Over the decades, in every corner of the globe, my colleagues and I have seen the most brutal, heartbreaking, soul-crushing tragedies imaginable. But that’s just one side of our story. We’ve also seen extraordinary acts of love, courage and compassion. We’ve discovered, time and time again, that humans are staggeringly resilient, and that every story can be rewritten.
So what about the heartbreaking headlines of 2019? Those, too, deserve a reframe.
Syrian refugees in surrounding countries are rebuilding their lives and communities with support from committed humanitarian agencies. In Yemen, peace talks are underway and our doctors continue to work tirelessly to save one child, then another, then another. Two new vaccines and a concerted effort by the international community are helping to prevent the spread and transmission of Ebola in the DRC, while a groundbreaking treatment is saving lives. In the Bahamas, communities have joined together to provide shelter, medical assistance and mental health care for those who have lost everything. We are in all of these places, providing health care and training for as long as we’re needed.
And we’re not alone. Around the world, caring and compassionate people are coming together to contribute to the common good. Since we started our work more than three decades ago, the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has been cut by half. The number of people living in extreme poverty has been reduced by one-third. And HIV rates have declined by 40 percent.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Recently, our doctors in DRC delivered a premature baby girl named Victorine. Born in a war zone to a mother infected by Ebola in a country with extremely high maternal mortality, Victorine could easily have been another tragic statistic. Instead, she’s a new beginning — born, against all odds, free of the deadly virus, in the hands of skilled health workers. Victorine’s mother died in childbirth, but her family calls her “Victory” — and her life has sent a ripple of hope through their community.
Victorine’s story reminds me: we must always recognize and celebrate our triumphs, even in the midst of tragedy. Progress is never easy and never linear. But our fate is intertwined, and hope remains our greatest bond.
Whatever 2020 may bring, I believe in our shared humanity and our common goals. We are powerful authors of the change we seek. Our story can and still is being written — and there’s hope yet.
Nancy A. Aossey, a Cedar Rapids native, is president & CEO of the International Medical Corps.