This week, we continue our series on Borders, Boundaries, and Barriers with a very informative and enlightening piece by Mo Henderson, in which she outlines the work of Doctors Without Borders and how we, too, can live without borders.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which translates to Doctors Without Borders was founded in 1971 in Paris by a group of journalists and doctors. Today, it has grown into a worldwide movement of nearly 68,000 people. They provide medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare and are bound together by a charter guided by medical ethics and the principles of impartiality, independence, and neutrality. They are a non-profit, self-governed, member-based organisation and members agree to honour their charter principles, these include:
1 Providing assistance to populations in distress.
2 Helping victims of natural or man-made disasters and victims of armed conflict, irrespective of race, religion, creed or political convictions.
3 Having neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance and claims to full and unhindered freedom in the exercise of its functions, while respecting their professional code of ethics and maintaining complete independence from all political, economic or religious powers.
4 Finally, as volunteers, members understand the risks and dangers of the missions they carry out and make no claim for themselves or their assigns for any form of compensation other than that which the association might be able to afford them.
I am deeply impressed by people who selflessly offer their service for others in this way, how do they move towards suffering, not knowing what to expect? Individually, they may have all kinds of reasons, but without their help, many would not survive.
Volunteering to go and help others you don’t know must be a particular kind of calling, and not everyone would deliberately seek such work. Those who choose to engage in humanitarian work in difficult conditions, such as war, famine, or natural catastrophe, and who consistently return to those conditions must be blessed by having cultivated specific virtues. For example, courage to take risks, patience to be with difficult circumstances and the diligence to wholeheartedly be with the process, applying effort and hard work to protect the team and everyone in many different ways, while at the same time not abandoning the humanitarian principles illustrated in their charter.
The faith to do such work without knowing the outcome is essential to carrying on. Having the courage to continue this work is often supported by the reciprocal relationship, which survivors reflect through having their faith in humanity encouraged by experiencing the existence of human kindness, which seeks the good in people and being accepted despite their identity as allies, opponents, race, gender, religion or political convictions.
I never cease to be amazed when I see, on TV, acts of kindness within the most extreme struggles of war. People focusing wholeheartedly on rescue work, holding and hugging those who have lost loved ones and struggling to do the best they can for their families and friends, while all the time surrounded by the horrors of war.
In a sense this humanitarian example is comparable with what the Buddha taught, that suffering exists and there is a way of responding to it with practice in our daily life, the virtues described are not too far removed from the practice we as a community do our best to cultivate. We may not be called to travel to other countries and our daily life may not be so extreme, although relatively speaking we can experience wars of a different kind, where suffering can be created. With practice, our work could be viewed as becoming border less in a way that frees us to take risks, lessens the hold on grasping at identity and helps us to let go of the uncertainties of life. Having faith in the work that comes to us and making decisions to act, or not, needs courage and focus in order to do our best for all, not forgetting ourselves in this process. I don’t doubt the humanitarian work described is well supported by their organisation, educational training, and working teams. Similarly, the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are, in our order, an essential foundation in the cultivation of enlightened training.
Thank you to all the helpers, whether it is consciously known or not.