Brussels, Belgium, September 26, 2023
As I stood sweating next to the pharmacy in the 40 degrees Celsius heat of Sierra Leone, the storekeeper came running up to me.
“We have a question,” he said, “Where are you from? India, Bangladesh or Pakistan?”
After eight years in the humanitarian field, I finally got a range of countries to pick from.
“I will go for India,” I said.
I hoped that they would not ask where in India, because then I would have to explain to them that I am actually from Fiji, an Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
I have never yet met another Indo-Fijian in my years as a Pharmacist in Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders is one of the largest independent humanitarian organisations in the world. They are independent, neutral and impartial and work in more than 80 countries responding to medical emergencies.
Troubled countries of the world
We are talking 2015 and I had just been on my first two assignments to Ukraine. During the War of Donbas, I used to sit with my family and friends and passionately talk about what I saw. It was surreal, almost impossible to imagine hearing gunshots, crossing heavy military checkpoints and mortars being fired at night.
Then I went to Iraq and Syria the following year and again I came back filled with stories.
But it seemed especially in my community that no one was really listening.
After visiting countries like South Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Palestine where the war is still a real problem, I stopped discussing this, especially in conversations with other Indo-Fijians. I just felt they were so detached from reality, happy in their little Island life.
I left home about two years ago (home being New Zealand as my parents migrated to that country when I was a child) and came to live and work in Belgium for Médecins Sans Frontières Head Quarters.
The people in Europe seem much more engaged in what is happening in the world. People I talked to finally did care beyond their backyards! It was almost like a sense of belonging.
Pride and joy to parents
In an Indo-Fijian community, it is not common for children to do these things and travel to these places. My parents have always been very brave to allow me to go beyond just helping my community and to reach people on the other side of the world. In the beginning, they used to worry. When I was in Gaza, they would follow the news of Gaza closely, at the edge of their seats. Now they are still worried, but they are happier and prouder that I am going to places and helping save lives. They do their best to spread the awareness within their circles.
In many aspects, I feel that we have become a society that is so focused on ourselves that we have forgotten that there are bigger issues in the world today. Not until you have seen people fleeing for their lives and gunshot patients being brought to hospitals do you really understand what these people are going through.
I also feel that we are so poorly informed and neither do we reach out to seek more information. I am speaking out to my community, to the Indo-Fijians, there is much more you can do to help the world. I am doing my part but are you truly doing yours?
Aiesha Ali is a graduate of Pharmacy, currently employed at Medicines Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) in Brussels, Belgium. The above article was sent by her.