Our Volunteers Speak

Tal Shami, Social Worker: Trauma and Resilience Aid and Training - Mozambique Operation April 2019

Tal’s thoughts during her service in Mozambique: I’ve been here, in Beira, Mozambique, nearly 3 weeks. A month has passed since cyclone Idai hit and we still see the destruction everywhere. People were left with nothing. People lost family members, villages lost all their crops, dirty water and destruction.

But along with all the destruction and hardship, I see hope and strong people determined to return to their lives after this disaster. And there are times of relief and laughter like the time the rain caught us in one of the villages and children ran up to me calling me to join them under a piece of tin roofing for shelter.

Invisible Armor:   A friend asked me how I do it: How do I cope, listening to the terrible stories of loss and destruction every day; meeting a mother or father who have lost everything; a man who has not eaten for days… I realized that I wear invisible armor, as one must, in order to go on, in order to function without breaking down. And then one day I meet someone who pierces that armor. Philip is a 3-year-old boy we met the camp. At first, he said nothing. He came near, silently, standing nearby, watching and saying nothing. Gradually he began to arrive daily. Then one day he told us his name: Philip. He began to speak. One day we walked side by side and I took his hand. I picked him up and hugged him and he hugged back and held on tight. The hug of this little man managed to penetrate the invisible armor I was wearing. I knew I would have to wear the armor again in order to do my work, but for a time I was unshielded and open, exposed to all the feelings, all the difficult stories, the hungry people, the destruction and the uncertainty of the people. On the way back from the camp I understood that I had to keep my invisible armor. And what helps maintain the armor is what we see around us: A man who says at the end of a group session that he draws strength from the stories of the others; or someone who says that of all the help they were given in the camp, these sessions are the most meaningful; women who sing at the end of a group conversation, smile and gratitude. All this helps the armor stay and so that we can continue to do our work. And Philip? He just wanted a hug. A small boy with an orange shirt, a winning smile and a hug that says that he just wants someone to hug him and not leave.

Tal’s inspiration: “I will be a hummingbird.”  When I was at the university studying social work, I saw this video clip -- the story of the hummingbird told by Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. I decided then that I would be a hummingbird, doing the best I can, little by little, to help where I can. When I ask myself, why bother to go so far, to do all this difficult work, if it will only be like a drop in the sea? Then I think of the hummingbird and I know that even a small change is worthwhile.  https://youtu.be/IGMW6YWjMxw