Higher? Faster? Farther? Scared!

Why do we refuse to make full use of our performance potential in the current situation?

by Steffen Richter, 2015/10/22

The call reached us at Berlin in the middle of keynotes, cookies and a surely valuable exchange. The “Humanitarian Convention”, deeply rooted in the capital, is a kind of get-together for the various players of the international humanitarian aid sector. Just yet, just here, the call for help of our field unit barges in many mostly theoretical discussions about emergency aid strategies and their usefulness as well as possibly compelling new ideas.

Just for a moment reality knocks on the door of the fancy location at the Charité. “When will the world finally look at this place?” This question sums up the trauma, the desperation and the many immediate borderline experiences of a six person field team, which tries for days and days to master the chaotic situation in Presevo, a small town at the Serbian-Macedonian border. And who tries to fulfil its own commission: to help people in need. Words fail to express this extent of suffering.

Since 1979 humedica organizes diverse emergency interventions. Starting with the targeted shipment of relief supplies to many locations worldwide it matured into a globally recognised aid agency with a wide range of relief measures. Its focus is on the medical teams, which are among the fastest operational teams worldwide due to both the effective corporate structure and the long experience of the medium-sized organisation humedica. All medical volunteers demonstrate a remarkable, genuine commitment during their two weeks shifts before they return to their daily routine at home straight afterwards.

humedica staff members have seen a lot, let alone in the last decade of interventions. A nearly inconceivable number of injured and dead people, untold destruction such as after the tsunami 2004 or the earthquake in Haiti five years ago. Reckless brutality in pointless battles, preventable famines and yes, also endless flows of refugees. Each dramatic scenario stood on its own, each intervention left bruises and lessons to learn and provided new motivation for humedica.

The Allgeau colleagues, who equip their teams from all over Germany and sometimes even beyond, have a wide experience. However, these days there is a difference. “There is no doubt that we have lived to see a lot”, confirms the general manager Wolfgang Groß, one of the co-founders of humedica. “But the current situation revolving around the massive movement of refugees has definitely reached a new dimension.”

Take this telephone call just mentioned above. Highly trained professionals, prepared thoroughly for emergency interventions, who address as well in their daily work many awful, desolate and hopeless conditions, give free reign to their desperation and cry without restraint. Day by day they have to confront the dramatic consequences of consequent human egoism and resulting ignorance.

Presevo is the central registration office for refugees, who plan to travel on to Northern or Western Europe via Macedonia and Austria in order to apply for asylum. Nothing in this small city, which certainly is not inhospitable under normal conditions, is prepared for up to 10.000 newcomers every day. The registration is mandatory for refugees, the queue on a small, massively protected lane appears to be lining up endlessly besides the streets of Presevo.

These people know how it sounds and feels when barrel bombs come down, lethal gas spreads out to unfold its detestable effects, urban warfare raves. These people felt relief, when they left the endangered places they used to call home, they believed themselves to be safe. And all of these people now have to wait in an absurd line, for hours, for days. Men, women, children, babies, all age ranges are present. They all are desperate, wounded all over their body, mind and soul. They all are soaked to the skin. Hungry. Thirsty. They all long for peace, warmth, gentleness, sympathy. And all of them are forced to wait in this line. Although no authority speaks out, the small group of aid workers know the reason for these extremely harsh conditions and the message they convey: nobody ought to come up with the idea to stay because he suddenly feels welcomed here.

“We work in the cord, treat patients, pour hot tea, distribute food, get children changed, supply people with plastic bags used as provisional rain ponchos. Mostly we run out of clothes after a short time already, then we try to wrap the children at least in plastic bags. They weep, whimper or have already stopped uttering any sounds at all.”humedica coordinator Victoria Wenz-Tappe wrote in the humedica intervention blog on one of her desolate days in Presevo.

The Netherlands nurse Astrid de Kuijer adds: “For the first time on a mission I have to cry while working. Of all humedica interventions I took part in, this is by far the worst. Tears run down the faces of all team members, in silence we drive on to our accommodation.”

We give our best on the phone, try to bolster them up, discuss further measures, stand on their side. Not one of the humedica field team stops at the point of desperation, they continue to give all they have. They serve. They live charity. After this call from one of the worst places in Europe these days, many questions remain, insights as well.

Slowly falls into place what differs this intervention from others and what is it that shocks the volunteers up to this degree. After all other disasters the world was ready to help, to console and to assist, voluntarily even for the longer term. This willingness is obviously lacking in the face of the current refugee crisis. Yes, there is war in your country. Yes, flee your homes. But no, do not come to us.

Presevo demonstrates to the world the collective European human failure, when it is about time to transfer the much quoted values and beliefs, the very own culture, from the casual, kind of noncommittal theory into the sometimes less than perfect reality. This does not only apply invariably for the European hegemonic powers, but also for the many tag-alongs of the so called solidarity group, which never before proofed to be as shallow as now. Not even the last crisis in Greece revealed the member states egocentricity to such extent as the challenges of today.

Presevo demonstrates to the world the collective European human failure, when it is about time to transfer the much quoted values and beliefs, the very own culture, from the casual, kind of noncommittal theory into the sometimes less than perfect reality. This does not only apply invariably for the European hegemonic powers, but also for the many tag-alongs of the so called solidarity group, which never before proofed to be as shallow as now. Not even the last crisis in Greece revealed the member states egocentricity to such extent as the challenges of today.

Basically it is not about the brown mob that will be there to a controllable extent at all times, independent of the changing socio-politic circumstances. The social principle to prosecute or denigrate the supposedly weaker is simply too alluring. This is neither about the enraged citizens, among whom some dubious protagonists use the medial lechery and pretend to incorporate a majority that isn´t really theirs at last. In the end these people unmask themselves constantly generating much public interest.

Isn´t it more about the question, why we as a nation with a worldwide respected reputation for organisational skills, engineering knowhow and economic power generating wide profits, consider to raise the white flag in the face of a definitely challenging, but surely not unsolvable task? And therefore to defy our own performance potential?

German history is a book with many chapters, where situations such as the current one were successfully and lastingly mastered. We Germans met the challenges of reconstruction, reunification, storm floods, soccer backlogs just before the final whistle and many more. Whenever profit maximisation, economic aims and prosperity are at stake, the maxim “Higher!Faster!Farther!” holds. Afraid of our own courage – quite the contrary. Don´t we all grow with each task? Shouldn´t we grow with each task? Of course turnover must be increased, productivity rendered more efficient. Didn´t we face this attitude since our childhood? Haven´t we been socialised correspondingly?

How plausible is therefore the massive worriedness, spread also via media, about the uncertain situation and the question whether more or less than supposedly one million refugees will have found or will still find their way to Germany after exhausting days of travels? Seeking for protection, help and peace. What paralyzes us while putting our constitutional law to a practical test, a law that we are rightly so proud of?

We are no sweet rabbit mesmerized before the lethal snake, because there is no snake in sight.

Yes, there are immediate and definitely difficult challenges ahead. Yes, we will reach some goals only by efforts and sacrifices. But are suffering people not worthy of sacrifices? May it not also be us one day, who will need help and support from outside some time again? Isn´t it obvious, that we all can only live in peace and prosperity, if we care for each other across all borders?

Presevo is anytime. Presevo is anywhere. What can you do? What will you do?

Note: The comment reflects the personal opinion of humedica press officer Steffen Richter. It does not necessarily represent the view of the aid agency humedica.

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