How to Survive a Disaster, Part 5: Be powerful when you can, and help others be powerful too

This is the fifth 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

Much of the suffering of an ongoing disaster comes from the sense of powerlessness it can create. People affected by emergencies often depend on the kindness of others for everything — shelter, medical care, food and water, even the right to live at all. If you become very sick, you have no choice but to depend on the care of others. If you lose a loved one to violence or disease, you are powerless to bring that person back. 

Powerlessness leads to despair. But even and especially in disasters, people can and do find ways to exercise their own power, and help others do the same.

Sometimes, it is an act of power to go to work. Like medical professionals all over the world, ECI’s physicians and nurses are putting their lives on the line every day. After they encountered their first possible COVID-19 case, two of our nurses, Georges and Pierre, volunteered to stay in isolation in the clinic where they work, rather than risk infecting other members of their communities. It’s not comfortable to live in the clinic, but they chose to do so. That was powerful. 

Last year, armed groups attacked health workers fighting the Ebola epidemic in DRC more than 300 times, leaving six dead and dozens wounded. It can be dangerous for physicians who work in international organizations like ECI to be known publicly. That is why it took real courage for our medical director, Dr. Johny Muhindo, to put his own picture on a brochure we developed about the COVID-19 epidemic. To him, it was more important to show his patients a friendly face than to remain in safe obscurity. That choice was powerful too.

It isn’t just health care professionals who have the opportunity to be powerful in this moment of crisis. Around the world, essential workers are building their own power every time they make a delivery, clean a toilet, or cook a meal. And in doing their work, these essential workers — like Georges, Pierre, and Dr. Johny — are giving the rest of us the power we need to get through the pandemic.

Next: Humanity matters more than anything.

Photo: Dr. Johny Muhindo, and nurses Georges Muhini and Pierre Masirika. 

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