Aug 21, 2010

Let's all be humanitarians

Shabnam Riaz
Disaster strikes and we are jolted from our comfortable sofas in the living room to have a look at close-up images of devastation. It's unnerving to see those tormented faces with haunted eyes looking at a camera lens as if to make a personal connection. Women, balancing frail babies precariously on their sides and heavy loads on their heads, are walking along a road. Men with sombre expressions lead the way. Everyone continues lumbering along -- precious salvaged items tucked inside their armpits.
A reporter appears out of nowhere. "Where are you going?" comes the question. The man keeps walking, a camera in his face does not change his distant look. He does not answer. The question is repeated. This time he makes eye-contact and replies with an inaudible sigh. "We're just walking away from the water. We don't know where we are going." The reporter is mistakenly encouraged and delves in for more human fodder: "Have you lost everything?" comes the insensitive inquiry. The man stops. Looks at the camera and says, "It may seem that way to you, but I have my family left. I am not going to stop until I find safety for them."
The camera zooms out, you lose interest and change the channel. More pictures come in quick succession and you see gushing torrents of rabid water, ravaging any living thing that dares to cross its path. People in small clusters take refuge on rooftops that are a few feet above certain death.
The scene changes and the usual 'blame-each-other-till-we-have-a-coronary-scream' shows are on. Precious time wasted, crucial energy being spent on venom-spitting, burnt-out egos that have nothing left to offer but an inclusion in a prime-time debacle that overshadows the real disaster.
At the end of another calamity-stricken day, the viewer – both exhausted and confused at the trauma, casualties and overwhelming statistics -- falls into a restless, ghostly sleep tossing around all night, finally falling into a black void of deep disturbance.
The morning-after dawns, and in comes the cavalry. Hundreds descend on the hungry and destitute, but again, their presence is of the extra-terrestrial kind. A one-way show, relaying images of the predicament and misfortune of millions.
Nevertheless, the Good-Guys manage to get their gear together. People call them the "humanitarians". Belonging to organisations and groups that include volunteers, these individuals are relentlessly driven. Their adrenaline rush comes from dealing directly with those in turmoil and providing them with the magic word: relief. In any form or any amount, anything that can be a form of respite for those fellow human beings' endless suffering.
These humanitarians are a cultural shock for us. They don't need fancy speeches, primetime viewing slots or glorified interviews, where they drum into the public what they intend to do. The humanitarians focus, reach out and deliver. They are usually the first to reach disaster-afflicted areas and to start work immediately. No bickering, no ego-hassles and minus self-serving agendas, these guys mean business and don't appreciate anyone who drags their feet.
But hey, wait a minute. I just looked up the definition of 'humanitarian'. According to the good old Oxford Dictionary it is: adjective -- concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare. Noun -- person who seeks to promote human welfare.
So, in other words you don't need to have specific training to become a humanitarian? And wait a minute, another click of the mouse displays other synonyms. Words such as caring, kind, compassionate and charitable come into view. That's funny, aren't these supposed to be universal human qualities? You know, the sort of attributes we were all born with? Well, it looks like somewhere along the way we lost touch with the essential traits of being a human being.
There is a bright side though, as I suppose we do not have to lose hope. All we need to do is to reconnect and rekindle the spirit that will eventually take over and lead us to the direction that this blessed month of Ramazan asks us to take.
Oh and yes. When we usually ask the clich├ęd questions of what a child should be when they grow up, I suggest we tell them to be a humanitarian first.

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