Emergency: A sanctuary of peace and care

I was taken aback to find the Emergency Surgical Centre for War Victims an unexpected place to find some peace and healing in Kabul – a desolate urban landscape battling pollution, abandonment, and entrenched human suffering. Inside the walls of the hospital, some of the few in Afghanistan that are not laced with barbed wire or maintained by armed guards, budding trees and green grass offer a glimpse of what Afghan life must have been like before thirty years of war.  Unfortunately – and this is the way things seem to be in Afghanistan –  to enjoy this peace of mind and serene oasis you must be a victim of war.

Kathy Kelly and Joshua Brollier, following their June 2010 visit to Afghanistan and stay with Emergency, wrote an excellent piece on the Italian NGO’s work and the people they met.  In “Unarmed and Courageous,” Kelly and Brollier write:

Emergency is treating war victims as patients, and won’t allow police or military to enter the hospital, carrying weapons. Circumstances that occasion an injury or a wound never determine whether or not the patient will be admitted. While neutral as regards offering medical treatment, Emergency has been clearly partisan in it’s rejection of all wars. Their literature and outreach clarifies that the most important preventive measure to safeguard against war related wounds and injuries is the abolition of weapons.

This was my first exposure to Emergency and its inspiring work that seems deeply-rooted in the philosophy of nonviolence.  Consider Emergency’s mission statement:

EMERGENCY is an independent and neutral Italian organisation.

EMERGENCY provides free, high quality medical and surgical treatment to the civilian victims of war, landmines, and poverty.

EMERGENCY promotes a culture of peace, solidarity, and respect for human rights.

Emergency’s philosophy and, more importantly, consistent commitment to provide medical care to victims of war and poverty without distinction provide both an urgent, life-saving resource in the immediacy and a moral compass orientating us toward a future without war.  Emergency, at least in its 12 years in Afghanistan, has been able to treat Afghans from all sides of the multi-faceted conflict and its untold numbers of innocent bystanders – 90% of the victims of conflict are civilians – without being the target of any attack or kidnapping.  This speaks volumes of the power of nonviolence and the commitment to recognize the humanity of all people.  For Emergency, its best protection to continue their work for themselves and their patients is found in its universal commitment to care for the human person and community.

Gandhi’s contention that “all men (sic) are brothers” is the kind of framework that undergirds his nonviolence.  It is also the foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Emergency quotes on the back of its activity report:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
The acknowledgment of this principle
“is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”

If only all the organizations in Afghanistan – non-governmental and governmental – shared a similar philosophy and commitment for care and peace, the endeavors for a world without war would make much more progress.

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