Three Days in Badistan

Earlier this week I was with a team tasked by the UNDP with fact-finding in an IDP camp. To be honest, it was chaos. I led the team in, and after some confrontation with the camp leader we had to leave again. After regrouping and better observation of protocols, we were asked to come in and meet with the camp inhabitants. A short time later, just when we thought we were making some progress, it all kicked off. Armed men entered the camp and went straight for the camp leader. They were not happy that he was colluding with the enemy, us. I overheard them saying that they were being paid to protect the camp, that the UN was the enemy and not to be trusted.

The one in charge looked at those around him, pointing his gun at each one of us with menace, and then he singled out a young lad from the camp. Calmly and quietly, all the more frightening, he ordered his comrade to shoot him. A deafening bang and the kid was dead. I kept my head down, trying to blend into the shadows and started looking for an escape.

The killer then took hold of one of our team, a young woman, and was about to take her from us – one of the possible scenarios that we had discussed when doing our risk assessment. Back then we had debated whether we would fight back or stay quiet, and one of our colleagues had stated quite simply and clearly that she didn’t want to be taken off and raped. The expectation of support hung heavy in the air, but I continued to keep my head down, trying to blend into the shadows and looking for an escape… this was not going to end well.

Then the bastard in charge grabbed the camp leader and ordered him and a female doctor out of the camp. As we watched them disappear through the gates two shots rang out, followed by haunting screams. Then silence.

After some time we started to stir, and a few of us headed for the gates. There we found the two alive, but badly wounded. I went to help the doctor, brought her back over to one of the benches, and using my newly acquired first aid knowledge, I attended to the horrible gunshot wound on her left hand.

Now I was staring to feel good, feeling useful again. At last I was meeting a need and making some difference. Short-lived.

She looked deep into my eyes and asked me why I had come, why we had brought all this trouble on them. I said that we were here to help, but she said look at what has happened because you are here. We need food, water, medical supplies, and you brought none of these. You brought only your stupid questions. Why did you come, aren’t there those in need back at home that you should be helping instead of coming here, to something you don’t understand, don’t know anything about and cannot help with? I felt hollowed out, unable to look her in the eyes, conflicted, and confused.

A baptism of fire in Badistan – a role-play training camp in the woods a few miles SE of Gatwick. An experience that was at once safe and yet disturbing, thought-provoking. Do we belong here, do we have a legitimate purpose, a necessary role, can we help make any difference – or shouldn’t we just stay at home and look to help there! Great questions.

Badistan IDP camp, one of several training scenarios organised by the ILS team.

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About Kevin

Management Consultant in public health in the developing world. Current interests include sexual reproductive health, male circumcision, development aid and the business of delivering healthcare services in resource limited settings.
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