Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reality Check on Foreign Aid

I heard the news today of the medical aid workers who were killed in Afghanistan over the weekend and my heart fell.  As a physician who has spent a fair amount of time in devloping countries providing healthcare, I have always been aware of the inherent risk involved.

In one of my many trips to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua we were on the road between Bilwas Karma along the Rio Coco and Puerto Cabezas, which was our home base, when we were passing through a small town and were held at gun point until our Miskito translator could convince the drug runners to take money and let us go safely.  Looking back on that incident 10 years later, I am aware of how easily it could have gone the other way.  At the time, I trusted that they wouldn't really hurt us.  Naivete can be so dangerous.

While in Haiti, our compound was under lockdown several nights due to civil unrest.  Several of the people there complained about that, but I figured they knew more than I did, and I was perfectly happy to be kept safe.  Plus, from the perspective of Project Medishare an entirely volunteer run organization that was requiring 150-200 volunteers a week to function.  Any perceived increased threat to the workers could cripple the organization, and, despite the difficulties, I believe that organization is doing good work.

The night before I arrived in Haiti, there was a bus accident involving a group of college relief workers.  Several of whom were critically injured.  They were all taken to the Project Medishare hospital because even though it was  "hospital" in tents on the airport, it is one of the best staffed trauma centers on the island.  Many of them had to medivacced to Miami after stabilization.  I shudder to think what might have happened to those teenagers without that group.

So, back to what happened in Afghanistan. Apparently it was a small group with a Christian affiliation that was conducting eye clinics in a small province and they were killed on a mountain pass near where this picture was taken.  The Taliban has claimed credit for the killings of the 8 medical aid workers and their Afghani translators for "trying to convert the Afghan people to Christianity."

It is horrible, my heart aches for their families and the loved ones left behind.  I miss my 20 something year old self who was certain that even with a gun pointed at me I'd be fine.  I pray for all relief workers, and especially for those who were involved in this tragedy.  May it not prevent others from being willing to give.

My dad made me write out a will and file durable power of attorney paperwork before I went to Mongolia.  Maybe he had a point even though I didn't want to think about it. Will this deter me from doing this kind of work in the future, probably not.  I don't want to think that my idealistic side is dead.


Adri said...

Learning of the deaths of foreign aid workers is always sad.

I was shocked to learn through a coworker not that long ago that her church had several people leave on a mission to a country posing as English teachers.

This trip was obviously to one of the countries currently involved in serious unrest as they weren't allowed to divulge where they were going for security reasons.

I was absolutely appalled to hear that. If you are unwelcome for religious reasons and go under the guise of an education or medical aid group you are not only putting your own life at risk, but that of the people you are trying to help. What kind of damage are you doing to aid relations in the area? My biggest question to this woman was what danger are they putting REAL English teachers in that country in? She seemed completely unfazed.

I am completely in awe of individuals such as you Dr. Lisa and groups who raise money and take risks to provide education, health services, housing and supplies to people in need, but it makes me very scared to see the lines blurring between aid organizations and missionary trips.

I'm afraid that countries that want nothing to do with Christianity and Western culture will continue to lose trust in aid organizations...

Dr. Lisa said...

I know, Adri. I don't know whether they were or were not on a religious mission/ medical relief trip. Not sure anyone does. Unfortunately, with zealots of any religiun just hte fact that you have a different point of view can be threatening.