When I launched Rena Roots social enterprise three months ago, I wanted to support countries in crisis and contribute to ending poverty. I wanted to bring forward a business model that puts humanity first. Now, we face Covid-19, a global crisis that has shaken the world. If there is one thing that I have learned in my 10 years of humanitarian work is that this too, shall pass.
The most important thing to remember in times of crisis is calm, care and compassion.
We need to stay calm and care for ourselves and one another, especially for the most vulnerable ones in our communities. Calm also allows us to reflect without fear, to be well informed and make conscious decisions that can save lives. We need compassion to remind us of our collective humanity and fragility, but also remind us of our strength and resilience. As borders shut and as we isolate in our homes, we are more connected than ever. Borders do not define humanity.
In times of crisis, we see the ugly but also much beauty. Heroes among us rise and their trait is almost the same anywhere in the world - they are selfless and humble. They elevate humanity beyond individualistic goals. They are health care workers, your next-door neighbor, you and I in our humblest hour, caring for our families and communities. Amid all, we see our collective humanity stronger than ever. That’s why I have always loved working in humanitarian crises. Your heart gets scratched and torn by the ugliness but also filled and humbled with so much humanity and beauty and with stories of resilience and strength.
Usually, to save lives, we have to go somewhere and do something. As a humanitarian worker, it was always somewhere ‘far’ in a developing country. Today, saving lives means staying at home. In retrospect, it has never been easier. When I think about my life experiences, I am too familiar with curfews and movement limitations. The first time I experienced this was during the 1997 war in Albania. Later on, I experienced it in my first field mission in the southern Philippines, followed by eastern Ukraine, compound-life in Afghanistan, post-Ebola Liberia and other places around the world. The life of a humanitarian worker can feel like a prison at times. Yet, the frustration is overhauled by a sense of responsibility and a higher mission that goes beyond yourself. Adaptability and resilience settle in.
I fear about developing countries, where health systems are weak and can succumb to such a pandemic. My hope and prayer are that they will have had enough time to prepare and contain the virus from further spreading. Time is of the essence. Social distancing is not possible in many developing countries. You cannot simply go out in your backyard and isolate at home, especially when home is a refugee tent or a slum. It is hard to wash hands often in places where there is limited access to clean water and sanitation supplies. The list goes on and on.
I write this as I sit comfortably at home with my loved ones, focusing on things that I can control. My hope is stronger than my fears. I hope yours is too.
Stay home. Save lives. And may we, as a global community, be better prepared next time.