How to Survive a Disaster: Lessons from Eastern Congo

This is the first part of a series by Abraham Leno, our executive director, called “How to Survive a Disaster.”

Read the rest:

  1. Lessons from eastern Congo
  2. Disaster is a part of life, and you are not alone
  3. Survival builds expertise
  4. In a crisis, you learn what business you’re in
  5. Be powerful when you can
  6. Humanity matters more than anything
  7. You can still have joy

Many in the United States are just now experiencing a condition that most in the developing world have always known: fragility. Even in the richest places on earth, the coronavirus pandemic is breaking down the economic and social structures that once held up daily life. Grocery stores are empty. Flights and buses are canceled. Jobs and livelihoods have vanished overnight. And the human suffering brought on by the virus itself has overwhelmed the most sophisticated health systems in the world. There are mass graves in New York City. Victims die alone.

I see the shock of the pandemic in my children’s eyes. They were born in the United States to professional parents, so they are accustomed to a life where everything just works. For them, there have always been groceries on the shelves, there has always been care for the sick, and they could always move freely around the country and the world. But as a former refugee and a lifelong humanitarian worker, I know that my children’s experience is far from universal. Abundant food, adequate medical care and freedom of movement are the global exception, not the norm. Most of the world’s people are used to living in places where fragility is normal.

Today I have the privilege of leading ECI, where we work every day to help unleash the limitless potential of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo — people who have survived 25 years of sustained conflict, disease and deprivation with undiminished optimism, brilliance and joy.

At this moment of global crisis, I want to share with Americans — including my children — some of the ideas I have learned from a lifetime of partnership with people who have been through the unimaginable and survived. At a time of confusion and despair, these ideas might help you find your way to clarity, and even hope.

Tomorrow, I’m going to start with the worst part of the for many Americans: the shock that something like this could happen here. Read on.

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