When an international disaster hits: start with a small act of kindness

We read about disasters and conflicts around the world almost every day, even in our local newspaper. But when I see news about international conflicts and war I often try to ignore and move on as quickly as possible. Not because I don’t care but just because I wonder what I can personally do with such horrible international news? If I do start thinking about big disasters in the world, like the MH17 or the international refugee crisis, it overwhelms me. It is too awful, too big and too unbearable. So I move on.

Or so I did, until 17th July 2014. On that day, the MH17 was shot out of the air in Ukraine. And this time I couldn’t ignore and move on as one of my very best friends was on that plane. This time it was not just another disaster far away from home. This time it was Pim who was being shot. This time an international conflict had an incredible impact on my life and friends. I don’t know but maybe this was my wake-up call like a lot of people experienced the past few days when the images of the 3-year old refugee boy were published.

Last autumn, I was invited to train a group of young women in Kosovo who had recently become politically active or were thinking about taking up a more active role in their party. I said yes as I strongly believe women have something to offer to our societies, whether at home or abroad. But maybe even more so as I felt I had to do something, even if it was just to honour my friend Pim de Kuijer who himself was very active in defending democracy around the world. Then again, I wasn’t too sure what I was going to teach abroad, let alone how me training women abroad was going to make a difference for the people in my street, my friends and family.

The real –and maybe obvious- reason became clear to me when I said goodbye to the women organisers in Kosovo. As a thank you they gave me a certificate that states: “Thanks Irene Janssen for your contribution in spreading democracy.”
It was only then that it hit me that we can all contribute to freedom and democracy; something so incredible valuable yet fragile that it can hit us all if we don’t keep defending it.

This week I was particularly touched by the pizza delivery in Brussels that opened up one day to bake and deliver pizzas for the many refugees in the city. And many of my friends handed in blankets and cloths or decided to support a charity that helps refugees. It reminded me of how we can all do something when an international disaster hits: just start with a small act of kindness!

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