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How to Survive a Disaster, Part 2: Disaster is a part of life, and you are not alone

This is the second 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

Part of what makes the coronavirus pandemic so difficult for many Americans is the sense of shock that comes with it. If you are suddenly confronted with intense economic hardship and the real threat of illness and death, it is the most natural thing in the world to feel terrified and very much alone.

But most of the human family has endured prolonged suffering like this before. The experience of survivors can provide comfort, hope and wisdom. That is the beauty of the #InOurHands campaign by our friends at Alight: from all over the world, people who have been through difficult experiences have the most powerful messages of hope to offer.

Three people with writing on their hands.

By accident and then by choice, I have spent much of my life in places where disasters are happening. When I was growing up, my family and I spent eleven years as refugees in Guinea. That experience made me want to pursue a career in humanitarian work. Ever since, I have worked in one challenging place or another, from South Sudan to Balochistan in Pakistan, Darfur, Liberia and, now, eastern Congo.

Because of my experiences, I am never surprised by disaster. Neither are the people I work with in Africa. In eastern Congo, people have lived in a continuous crisis for a quarter century, from the civil war of 1996 right up to today. And these modern crises build on a dark history of Belgian colonial rule, the autocracy of Mobutu Sese Seko, and the assassination of a democratically elected leader by our own CIA.

Because of all the challenges they have endured, an abundance of strength and spirit has permeated the Congolese culture so deeply that there is an unshakeable confidence in the worst of times. Even though COVID-19 is a new challenge, people in Congo know the moon will still be there at night, and the sun will rise again.

That is true for my friends in Congo, for my children, and for you. Disaster is a part of human life, and we are never alone in it.

Next time: How survival builds expertise.

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