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An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-first Century

Listening to authors, specially the ones who are compelled to write book or books from their own transformative, personal experience is fascinating. I believe in our age, listening to authors and writers should be enlisted as 'a sacred practice'. Why? Because first of all the author's becoming an author is a testimony of his or her tasting the experience and 'only those who taste, knows'. Secondly one who is able to articulate his or her experience is someone who carries the possibility to access the heart of those who listen or read them. A book written from authentic experience is worth considering as sacred and the author himself or herself follows the footstep of a prophet with vision upon whose heart the sacred inspirations descend.

Upanishad, the sacred text of ancient India is collection of wisdom which was written down after being spoken by sages and wise men. The name Upanishad derives from the words which means "to sit down near (to listen)". In our age also, we must sit down to listen and specially to those who have been blessed to have powerful and rich transformative experience through their own life.

Just tonight I was listening to a talk by Canadian physician, writer and humanitarian activist Dr. James Orbinski (born 1960), author of the book, An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action for the Twenty-First Century. He delivered this talk regarding his book written from his personal experience of working with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders).

If you wish to think of saints of our time, think of people like James Orbinski, no, more than that, if you wonder how saints of our time look like and act like, see no other but James Orbinski, may God bless his path and give him long life to serve more for our tear stained humanity.

[>] Listen and Watch Dr. James Orbinski via Forum Network

In the talk among many other thought provoking and heart warming examples, he spoke very eloquently about what it means of solidarity and compassion.

"humanitarianism in my view, in my exprience is about direct and immediate actions that seek to relief human suffering. And the drive for equity is rooted, in my view, in a solidarity that emerges from our common dignity as human beings. And for me, the humanitarian act is rooted in the experience of compassion as solidarity.

Solidarity is not the same thing as compassion, it derives from compassion, but in a very particular way. And too often we see the suffering of others as somehow separate from ourselves and we can choose to take pity on those who suffer. And sometimes we take charitable actions towards the relief of that sufferng. However when one literally see the other as equal in worth and dignity, when one literally sees them in the same way as one sees oneself, then compassion leads not to pity or simply charity but to solidarityy that works with people to relief suffering.

Its a solidarity that takes human suffering seriously, at its most basic, refuses to accept the unacceptable."

Review of the Book, An Imperfect Offering

An Imperfect Offering is a deeply personal, deeply political book. With unstinting candor, Orbinski explores the nature of humanitarian action in the twenty-first century, and asserts the fundamental imperative of seeing as human those whose political systems have most brutally failed. He insists that in responding to the suffering of others, we must never lose sight of the dignity of those being helped or deny them the right to act as agents in their own lives. He takes readers on a journey to some of the darkest places of our history but finds there unimaginable acts of courage and empathy. Here he is doctor as witness, recording voices that must be heard around the world; calling on others to meet their responsibility.

“An Imperfect Offering is more than a memoir of life on the frontlines of disaster - it is a provocative and revealing meditation on what it means to be human. What do we do, and what should we do, in the face of unspeakable suffering.” - Ottawa Citizen

"An essential text for our dire times. Orbinski plunges into the heartbreak, the maelstrom, the moral dilemmas of the genocide territories of the world - Rwanda, Kosovo, Sudan - and finds there enough courage and redemption for us all to feel that there is hope for our sad humanity."
- Ariel Dorfman

About James Orbinski

In 1988, James Orbinski, then a medical student in his twenties, embarked on a year-long research trip to Rwanda, a trip that would change who he would be as a doctor and as a man. Investigating the conditions of pediatric AIDS in Rwanda, James confronted widespread pain and suffering, much of it preventable, much of it occasioned by political and economic corruption. Fuelled by the injustice of what he had seen in Rwanda, Orbinski helped establish the Canadian chapter of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders/MSF). As a member of MSF he travelled to Peru during a cholera epidemic, to Somalia during the famine and civil war, and to Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

In April 1994, James answered a call from the MSF Amsterdam office. Rwandan government soldiers and armed militias of extremist Hutus had begun systematically to murder Tutsis. While other foreigners were evacuated from Rwanda, Orbinski agreed to serve as Chef de Mission for MSF in Kigali. As Rwanda descended into a hell of civil war and genocide, he and his team worked tirelessly, tending to thousands upon thousands of casualties. In fourteen weeks 800,000 men, women and children were exterminated. Half a million people were injured, and millions were displaced. The Rwandan genocide was Orbinski’s undoing. Confronted by indescribable cruelty, he struggled to regain his footing as a doctor, a humanitarian and a man. In the end he chose not to retreat from the world, but resumed his work with MSF, and was the organization’s president when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

“Ummera, ummera–sha” is a Rwandan saying that loosely translated means ‘Courage, courage, my friend - find your courage and let it live.’

It was said to me by a patient at our hospital in Kigali. She was slightly older than middle aged and had been attacked with machetes, her entire body rationally and systematically mutilated. Her face had been so carefully disfigured that a pattern was obvious in the slashes. I could do little more for her at that moment than stop the bleeding with a few sutures.

We were completely overwhelmed. She knew and I knew that there were so many others. She said to me in the clearest voice I have ever heard, “Allez, allez. Ummera, ummera-sha” - ‘Go, go. Courage, courage, my friend–find your courage and let it live.’

- James Orbinski, An Imperfect Offering

"As Albert Camus wrote, the doctor’s role is as a witness–to witness authentically the reality of humanity, and to speak out against the horrors of political inaction... The only crime equaling inhumanity is the crime of indifference, silence, and forgetting." - James Orbinski

. Nobel Lecture by James Orbinski, Médecins Sans Frontières, Oslo, December 10, 1999
. TRIAGE : Dr. James Orbinski's Humanitarian Dilemma
. Triage: Documentary on James Orbinski's life and work
. Dr. James Orbinski Reads From "An Imperfect Offering"
. Excerpt: 'An Imperfect Offering' via NPR
. Review of An Imperfect Offering via Guardian



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Technology of the Heart: An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-first Century
An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-first Century
Technology of the Heart
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