I had a long argument with myself on the drive home today about humanitarian aid, and the international community, and a place called Ezo. Ezo is out on the border of Western Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic. It has the misfortune of being where the Lord’s Resistance Army, of Uganda civil war fame, have chosen to move in and wreak havoc. The long argument I was having was about the contents of an email I received which read:
I’ve just received the following from the ECS Development Officer in Ezo Diocese. The situation there is horrendous can you organise help?
I am hereby submitting this emergency need for help to people in Ezo. Just in the last month there have been about 13 attacks on people in Ezo. People around Ezo have been sqeezed to Ezo town but last week on August 12 & 13 Ezo town was seriously attacked at night by a very big groups of LRA. In which three people died on spot including one of our Lay Readers. Those who have been abducted, their number cannot be established because so many people are still missing. This attacks occured within Ezo town where there are already 17,000 thousand internal displaced persons and refugees from Congo have been settled.
Making it more worse the only hospital in Ezo town was targeted by the LRA and all the medicines and medical equipments were all taken and the remain one they could not carry were all burnt down. Three of the medical personnels were also taken.
During this attacks many people lost their properties more especially food items as it was the most targeted items by the LRA. The situation on the ground is terrible and need immediate attention.
The church itself have lost 2 of its Arch Deanries, four Deanries and 12 parishes. Four of our pastors and lay readers have been killed so far. As the church we are unable to react to people needs so we need help more especially medicine and food items so that we can be in possition to react to people's needs.
Ezo has been cut off from Tambura districts which is 54 miles from Ezo and Yambio which is 100 miles from Ezo. All the movement on the way has to be by the help of military. Now that most of those who can afford to travel have run to those two districts through the help of military escote. But those who can not afford to travel more especially the old one are still in Ezo waiting only for when they will be killed because the LRA attacks has just become a routine act.
So as a church we can not run way leaving people behind in such situation. So we need your help and all those who can be in positiuon to respond on this serious situation.
Diocesan Development Officer
ECS Diocese of Ezo.
Through the bumpy, watery ditches out to the Juba neighbourhood of Muniki where I live, following a painfully slow and overloaded minibus I had this debate. Past the trucks of SPLA soldiers headed to their barracks; past the huts of the squatters; past the motorcycle taxis stuck in the mud of the rainy season. The argument went a little something like this:
‘What sort of person can go home and make beans and rice and cut tomatoes and onions and sit down at the table when you know these things?’
‘How is my not eating going to stop something over which I have no control?’
‘Does it make you a hero or a horrible person that you can turn off your computer and sit down to dinner when there are people who will, only a couple hundred miles away, be kidnapped and killed throughout the night?’
‘Whether I eat dinner or not it doesn’t really matter. They’re going to die either way.’
‘Is it really enough that you are ‘here’ and ‘doing something’. It might be enough to get you to sleep but is it enough? Really?’
‘What are the options? Not being here? How is that better? What does that help – except that you don’t have to watch. It makes drinking your latte easier but it doesn’t change anything.’
‘And, how, exactly is your ‘being here’ changing things?’
That is a question I cannot answer. I should have learned by now to avoid having arguments with myself.
I think that there are all sorts of things that we tell ourselves – that I tell myself - to make myself feel better when confronted with the chasm between human need and our ability to address those needs. Everything that we say is right and true even if they’re not fully reconcilable. That there is value in being ‘here’; that you ‘have to be the change you want to see in the world’; that one person can make a difference; that doing something is, quite often, better than doing nothing. But it is also true that you cannot actually ever save the world – some days you can’t save anyone; that this is someone else’s war; that you are never going to be able to do enough.
And into this chasm you can slip in these arguments with yourself about whether ‘protection through presence’ is actually a valid argument. The argument that being around and watching might make ‘less horrible’ things happen because you’re watching. . Frankly, doing the watching sucks because you don’t feel much like a hero, or helpful, or even that you useful at all. All you are doing is watching people slide into an abyss and, as Neitchze said, ‘when you stare long into the abyss, the abyss also stares into you.’ All that you feel is small and helpless standing on the brink of the abyss with the power of tens of millions of dollars, the influence of the most powerful military powers on earth, and the sway of the entire international community behind you. You stand there knowing there is nothing that you can do for the people of Ezo tonight.
Whether you eat dinner or not. Whether you sleep or not. Whether you write a blog. There is nothing you can do.