Saturday, 25 February 2017

I Can't Help Everyone: But Everyone Needs Help!

How many of you remember this image?  For those not as chronologically mature as I am this was a state of the art electronic arcade game. For many, it was the scene of many misspent teenage hours.

I’ve been in Amman for a few days now, working alongside colleagues in the Jordan, Syria and Regional offices. Each day my day starts with a short walk from the hotel to the office. It’s not far, but due to the absence of footpaths, the apparent disregard for road rules, and the chaotic traffic, it reminds me of Frogger. Except that Frogger was ordered and there was a pattern! There is no pattern here, there are lanes, but they are ignored — but when you cross the roads it is like you have been transported (ala Tron) into the (badly) pixelated world of dodgem cars. (You know how they tell you “do not intentionally hit the cars”, but let’s face it that’s why you drive a dodgem car– there’s no dodging, there’s only revenge!)

But I noticed this morning that where there was hesitation on day 1, there is now an inherent confidence almost an arrogance in my stride as I step out boldly into the traffic to cross the road. If you wait on the side for a break in the traffic, you will go nowhere; but calculate your best chance, step out with confidence and it’s almost as if the cars bow their heads and say — well done, you win!

These random thoughts were milling around in my head this morning as I was contemplating the state of the world and trying to work out how I balance the seemingly unending needs of the world with the resources available. Part of my role is to advise the organisation in its response to complex humanitarian crises; to weigh up the needs with the resources, to understand the organisations global response, identify the gaps and determine if there is a part that we can play.

Today we have famine declared in South Sudan, potential famine in Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen. Ongoing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. We have drought and weather crises in Southern Africa; earthquakes in Haiti and Solomon Islands; floods in Sri Lanka and Peru, wildfires in Chile, and a historically unprecedented number (65M) of displaced people. (And that’s not all!)

It feels like Frogger: all shapes, sizes and conditions of vehicles bearing down on me, on us, and not in nice neat lines, but from random directions and with varying velocities. No sooner have you dodged one than another lines you up for the strike.

In my role, perhaps my hardest decision is trying to work out who to help. How do we decide whose need is the greatest? I appreciate that we need to prioritise and strategise; I understand that we have limited resources and we need to focus on where we can have the greatest impact. But in making these subjective choices (albeit informed by our best data and knowledge) it still means that there are desperate people (asking for help) that we choose not to help. I can define my value proposition and I can couch this ‘prioritisation’ in all the best strategy speak I like but in the end it is a choice I make (we make) - do I help her, or him?

When I am given a dollar, how do I choose that the priority is to help the boy who fled Mosul and now has no home or prospect of education rather than the Somali girl who is desperately hungry because the rains have failed and the crops are dust? And what about the child that lives in the country I can’t even access because the risk is too great because of war — how is that fair, or right?

As I thread my way through the 5 ‘lanes’ of traffic I eyeball the guy that inches forward just as I step in front of him and I hear myself saying: I can’t help everyone; but everyone needs help! I can’t do everything; but everything needs doing!
And so today, I sit with colleagues hearing again of the immeasurable and unfathomable cost of the Syria conflict, the children who are frightened, hungry, alone and their need for more — more cash, more time, more food, more water, more advocacy, more hope... and at the same time my inbox fills with pleas for help from others who feel hopeless to respond to the growing needs in Somalia, in South Sudan and... 

I am called to be a change maker — that call came for me a long time before I joined World Vision, but today my thoughts are with the multi-millions who need our help. I am not suggesting we shouldn’t spend time developing our best strategy and choosing our priorities — we need to be smart otherwise we risk being ineffective — but I am saying it is never that easy. I wish it were as easy as making a strategic decision and enacting it — but then I remember that child: the one I met in a freezing cold tent in Lebanon; the one I buried in Sri Lanka; the one I played soccer with in Mongolia. When I translate the strategic decision into a face, a name, a story, when I look behind the data to the person—then it becomes raw and real.

My experience is that being a change maker always comes at some cost! There will be a cost to me personally, but it is only as, and if, I make the decision to be an agent of change in my sphere of influence that the organisation stands a chance of being influential and transformative and it is only then that I can honestly stand before those that support us and say — we are doing our best.

But before you think that it is all cost, gloom and hopelessness — let me hasten to add that there are also times of amazing fulfilment and joy as you see lives transformed, communities empowered — children laughing, smiling and dancing - because of the work and the choices that you are part of.

We stand on the side of the road watching the traffic stream toward us; we can choose to stand there paralysed by the chaos and risk, and in so doing be impotent to effect change, or we can watch for the ‘gaps’ and step out tentatively, confidently, arrogantly — we can risk doing something or nothing, we can risk messing it up or making it good — but one way or another we will be Change Makers.

[Daryl Crowden: February 2017]