Expect the Unexpected
by Damaris Frick
Damaris (centre) with people affected by flooding in Machilipatnam, India
I BELIEVE I have the best job in the world. I am spending a year helping The Salvation Army’s International Emergency Services in various locations around the world.
At the moment I am in India for nine weeks, assisting Major John Kumar, the local emergency relief manager, with his various tasks. Since the Indian Ocean tsunami one of John’s main responsibilities has been to start and monitor the many tsunami-related projects in the India Central Territory.
One of the inspiring aspects of my job is that I never know what to expect. I can end up dealing with a wide variety of tasks, especially in a country like India where things happen and get decided spontaneously.
|Villagers in a flood-hit region of India try to rescue a few belongings from their homes|
|These scenes of devastation, with people struggling to carry on, were common in the monsoon-hit villages|
|Damaris helps distribute rice in Machilipatnam, India|
My first task – to the amusement of my brothers, who are graphic designers in Germany – was to create a brochure documenting the Army’s tsunami relief work. I’d never done anything like it before but I just had to get on with it!
One evening John took me to a studio to record some words for a video about the tsunami work. I doubted that I was the best person for that job, not being a native English speaker. But such things are of no concern to people in India, so John and I took turns reading the passages. I’ve never been in a studio before and I felt like a rock star. I didn’t have to sing though – but there have been occasions where I had to do exactly that. At a wedding in Pakistan, on my previous placement, I even had to dance!
I have begun to get used to situations where I need to make an off-the-cuff speech or say a prayer on the spur of the moment. People in India love speeches – the longer the better! Working with a translator helps though, as it gives you short breaks to think of your next sentence.
Sometimes my work is really sad. The reason for my being in a certain place is, after all, that it has faced some sort of disaster. People I meet have been through terrible experiences.
In Pakistan it was a devastating earthquake. In Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and other countries it was the tsunami.
These are just the disasters we hear about in the Western world, especially if Western people are among the victims. But who cares about the heavy monsoon rains in India which flooded whole villages in late 2006? Most people in Europe or northern America won’t even have heard about them.
Well I have been there and the devastation is tragic. There have been at least 31 deaths, hundreds of villages in
six districts were inundated and more than 13,000 houses severely damaged. As I write, at least 60,000 people are homeless. Many people lost their income because the rice fields on which they would usually work are under water and the harvest is destroyed.
The Salvation Army’s India Central Territory, supported by International Emergency Services, was able to work in 158 villages where we distributed rice to more than 14,000 families. I felt sad to see the people’s misery and also the limits to what help we could offer. But I also felt happy and privileged to be able to do something for people in a situation where they can’t help themselves.
It is really good to work alongside John. He has years of experience and provides me with insight into many aspects of the work.
Some things might seem to be a bit chaotic and not as organised as I think they could be. This can be very frustrating, though I am beginning to see that it is just another way of working.
John’s job is not an easy one. Sometimes it’s a balancing act between his understanding of professional relief work and the demands of the territory. Often the need is huge but the resources are limited.
You sometimes have to disappoint people by telling them you will not be able to give any assistance because the money you have is connected to a specific disaster which they have not been affected by. For someone in need that is hard to understand and it breaks my heart to see the hurt in their eyes.
I dare say not many people would call my job the best in the world or would want to do what I do. Certainly there are moments when I miss friends or family, occasions when I’d love to attend a church service in my own language and times when I dream of European food.
At the moment I have no place of permanent residency. My belongings are at my parents’ place, I am a member of The Salvation Army in Chemnitz, Germany, I am employed by International Headquarters in London and I live and work wherever I am sent. In September I lived in Manshera, Pakistan, now it is Chennai, India, and I have no idea where I will go in 2007. There are some rare moments when that makes me feel a bit homeless and lonely.
But on the other hand I have gained plenty of places I can call home. There are many moments when I feel so utterly privileged and blessed, times when I feel so close to people who are from a completely different background. I have developed friendships that go beyond all barriers of culture, age, gender or language.
I get the chance to learn such a lot and I get to see and know so many places, cultures and people that are stunningly beautiful. There are situations of such intensity that I know I will never forget them.
Deep in me there is a longing to change the world at least a little bit and the desire to be used by God for his glorification. And in the end this is the most important thing for me – more important than any short-term advantages or disadvantages.
Since writing this article, Damaris has discovered she will commence her next placement in January 2007 in Uganda