Volunteering in Challenging Times
Mike Bassey, Country Director Nigeria
My mother-in-law has lived a long and full life because of the kindness and sacrifices made by an American volunteer. She loves to tell the story of her life and how her daughter was saved by a daring doctor during the Nigerian Civil War.
In 1967, she was in labor for one week and risked losing her child. At this time medical facilities; where they existed in any form, were either destroyed through air raids or their personnel had fled to safety. In the face of extreme danger, she and her husband sneaked under the cover of darkness to the sounds of gunfire and mortar into a nearby medical facility where an American doctor worked. On arrival at the medical facility, they were met by the lonely figure of a night watchman. He was there to guard the American doctor as she waited for the next evacuation by her home government.
The situation at the medical facility seemed hopeless. The building where thousands of lives had been saved was destroyed during an air raid; power supply to the medical facility was also affected, there was neither personal protective equipment nor basic equipment required for this level of medical work available. However, as in the case of Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers; in the eyes of this doctor, there was a glimmer of hope. The volunteer doctor chose to help this couple despite the challenges and the danger she herself faced. Within a few hours of arriving at the medical facility, the baby was born, the weeklong trauma had ended, and mother and baby were in good health.
Then the beleaguered couple awoke to the realization that they had no toiletries, napkins, baby clothes, etc. More so, the couple and their baby who were deemed discharged on arrival had no means to return home that night since their safety wasn’t guaranteed inside the hospital.
Going above and beyond, the volunteer doctor did not only provide her skills and the materials for the satisfactory execution of her work, she again filled the gap by volunteering to drive the couple and their newborn baby that night back to their village. The couple were eternally grateful to this doctor but were worried whether she ever made it back safely to the medical facility. They later heard from the lonely night watchman, that ‘the American government came and took the Doctor home;’ meaning that she made it back safely to the medical facility.
The above story has often made me reflect on volunteerism and the motivating factors for people to help one another, even under precarious circumstances. While Winrock’s Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers are never in danger like the volunteer who helped my mother in law, they certainly face challenging situations during their Farmer-to-Farmer assignments. Every Farmer-to-Farmer assignment is unique, and every volunteer is equally unique. Every volunteer has a similar or more touching story written or told about them. Stories they may never get to read or hear told.
My mother in law has met many of our Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers while they have been in Nigeria. The actions of the volunteer doctor many years ago eternally endeared her to Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers. When I asked her why she told me; ‘… they are humble and committed, they are also friendly, they respect our cultures, they are ever-ready to learn and to share, they work and make the best use of what materials they find around, they are exposed to all kinds of risks … the work these volunteers do is invaluable.’
Whether volunteers are on the frontlines providing support in a time of war, or poverty, or hunger, or infectious disease, volunteers are one and the same – they are motivated by the need to give. Like my parent’s in-law, these volunteers understand that there are risks. Like the American doctor, volunteers know the potential risks – measurable and hard to measure risks; however, to these folks, the benefits of one saved life and the sanctity of life far outweighs the challenges posed.
At this point and on this occasion of National Volunteer Week 2020 in the United States, I join the good-hearted people of the United States of America and the millions of people the world over whose lives have been impacted in one way or the other by F2F volunteers to doff my hat in honor of this group of wonderful people. I would also like to appreciate volunteers across the world who have given up their safety, time, personal comfort, and other resources and to help the most vulnerable through the COVID-19 crisis – these are the real heroes of our time.