Natural Disaster

Journey to Justice, Three

Small steps into Big Issues

Burtigny, Switzerland, 2008

Photo: PDI Pakistan

In the mountains over Geneva rests a too small town. In that town stands a building that was once an orphanage. When it was no longer needed as an orphanage, its owner drew up a will that donated it to a non-profit working with children. Housed in the uppermost attic like spaces was The Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Centre.  Teachers, students, volunteers, guests, came and went from this labyrinth of Swiss architecture, but explicit care was taken to keep it well maintained and beautiful. Some say this is a gift of the Swiss.

I had come for four weeks to volunteer with the WCAC having met their leader, Janna, in the first few weeks of my Children at Risk training the month prior. She had taught with words that released and solidified so much in me – words that helped me see that writing and communication and advocacy were worthy pursuits of the soul. I spoke with her during those weeks at the Children at Risk training and we decided that I should come see what the WCAC did and help with some projects.

With rusty French and a heavy bag I arrived in Burtigny in the Spring of 2008.

The WCAC was putting together a new website. One goal was to offer simple articles that explained the major social issues of our time. These articles would be used as a catalyst in connecting ministries and organizations to each other and to the deepest needs in communities. My task was to write some of them.

I remember each one I penned (sometimes I hop over to the website to read them. You can find them under the page Published to the right), but the one I remember the most was Sudden Natural Disaster.

“The devastating effects of natural disasters . . . are hitting the poorest the hardest.”  It starts.

I dove into websites and research for this topic – I dove into all of them, but this one struck me in particular. I had never really thought of the fact that the poor are hit harder when disaster strikes. I had never thought that they were living without help or infrastructure before, and when devastation came, had nothing to turn to. Governments had been leaving them behind all the time. After a disaster was no different.

At the end of the article I quote Andy Atkins of Tearfund, “Airlifting stranded people from floodwaters and sending food packages to those affected by drought can no longer be our sole response to weather-related disasters.  As a global community we have a moral responsibility to invest our aid money upfront in helping the planet’s poorest people prepare for predictable disaster. If we do not, then many thousands of lives will be needlessly lost and billions of pounds of aid money will not be used to best effect . . . In the developed world we invest millions of pounds into reducing the risks associated with floods and droughts. Yet we do not follow the same strategy with our international aid budgets.”

His quote challenged me to look at the way the world operates from a new vantage, from the vantage of the poor. The Women and Children’s Advocacy Centre taught me to look from the vantage of a child.

I was told when I was in Burtigny, “Either you will love the time here, or you will come face to face with your own wilderness.” In my own wilderness I learned to look at the world from the vantage of the heart.

When we think about the world, it is often disheartening. Problems are complex, and often solutions are even more so. At the WCAC I discovered that if you look through the heart, the eyes of a child, and the eyes of the poor, the world gains simplicity and decisions become less and less about the top of the pyramid or the bottom line, and more and more about precious people.

In an effort to record and remember my own journey into the justice issues of the world, I am taking each piece of heart-wrenching realization and compiling them. More to come.


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