September 29, 2011
“We cannot force empathy”
In 1985, at the age of 10 years old, I saw my first picture of a malnourished child. It was a child from Ethiopia, and it is an image that has forever haunted me. The concepts associated with the image drove me to become a nurse, and to eventually work for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders.
Today as I toured school groups through the refugee camp, the shocked looks on students’ faces brought back to life my 1985 memories. For some the camp brings up subjects they may have never confronted before. Understandably, this can be challenging.
A student on one of my tours cried in the malnutrition station today. I left her to cry, because malnutrition is hard to comprehend. It is an injustice. Death to malnutrition is unpardonable. I often wish that the situation of malnutrition in this world made more people cry, and made more people act. I wanted to congratulate and thank her for crying, to thank her for her empathy.
At one point in the day I headed into the streets to encourage people to come to the exhibit. I met some tourists who clearly told me that they were in Quebec City to visit the city not to hear about the problems of the world.
The stories of so many flooded into my mind. The stories of those who were not expecting to have their lives interrupted by rebel attacks, who had not been prepared to have their entire lives turned upside down. The stories of children who had spent their lives preoccupied with playing and learning until the day they were kidnapped and turned into child soldiers. I wanted to share so much, even to force so much upon these tourists, but there was no point.
We can’t force empathy. We can only share with those that are open to receive information. And we just have to be patient and hope that this time will come.
Each one of us is touched by something different. For me it was malnutrition. That was the case in 1985, and it continues to be the case. For some it is reproductive health care. For some it is access to water. Today the potential of my 1985 experience was often in my mind. With every group I wondered if there would be a station, a moment that would recreate my 1985 experience for someone else. It motivated me to tell as many stories as I could, to create as much of a reality as is possible here in Quebec City.
1985 will forever stay with me. I hope that for the same reason 2011 stays with some of these visitors.