Dundo, in the north of Angola, on the border with Democratic Republic of Congo, has two big refugee camps, those camps were my home for the last three months of 2017. They were my home because they made me feel at home, even though I know a refugee camp should never be a home for anybody.
My time in Dundo was filled with challenges, loss, and pain but, even in the darkest moments, it was such a blessing to be there. As a doctor, I was always thrilled by the feeling of saving someone, it’s almost magical, but I realize that what is most special, more than saving someone, is taking care of people: day by day, with an endless patience and love. It’s not just about keeping refugees alive, it’s also about keeping their hopes, strength, light, and love alive, and making sure that those beautiful things don’t die in their hearts. For me, that is love.
Working with refugees is so special because it helps us realize how important it is to assume people are hurting and how important it is to always be kind. Because we don’t know what they saw, what they went through, what they lost, or what pain they carry in their hearts. Even when they tell us, even when we give stitches to their open wounds, even when we can almost see it with our eyes, we don’t know, and we will never know. For me, that is love: allowing them to feel and to be hurt, to be sad, to understand them, and to feel their pain as ours. Love transforms everything and heals everything.
The special thing I really like the most about working with JRS in Dundo is that we don’t leave when it gets dark, when it’s painful, and when it hurts. We don’t leave the refugees just because it’s difficult: when people die, when there are troubles, when people are sick, when they are hurt. We don’t just leave and that it is beautiful. That is also love. It’s that love that allows us to see them not as refugees, asylum seekers, or people who have fled war, but as a person, as a human being. When we see refugees as people everything changes because it is not just about war and conflicts, it is about how war and conflicts hurt them and continue to hurt them every day.
I really believe that light always shines brighter in the dark so all the small little gestures – that are full of love – are incredibly powerful: holding their hands, asking how they are, speaking to them in Lingala, checking in at the hospital to see if they are getting better, stopping by in their tents just to say hello, smiling a lot. They appreciate that because that’s how we remind them they are special. I remember the little kids saying that what they liked about the mama mundele from JRS (that means ‘white mama’ in Lingala) is that she holds their hands and she looks at them. I felt so blessed for being able, every day, to hold their hands and to make sure they knew I could see them.
So, for me, love is my #Do1Thing. Because it was that love that made me fly there, and live there as it was my home, and see them, and take care of them and their hearts. If we must choose one thing to do, let’s all choose love. Let’s learn more about what is happening in the forgotten places of the world, and then let’s go there: hold their hands, see their eyes, and get to know their hearts and what they carry inside.
Let’s make sure they know they exist for us.
Let’s choose love and let’s let love be our thing.