"The good we can be if we so choose" said James Orbinski, founder of Dignitas International and former Doctors without Border's president. Last Thursday I caught the first in the 2009-2010 The Author Series co-sponsored by The New York Society Library and WNET.ORG held at the Merkin Concert Hall.
Mr. Orbinski spoke to promote his book An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action for the Twenty-first Century. A personal memoir and also, according to the Author Series program "an urgent call to confront suffering in all its many forms, from one of the greatest living humanitarian activists." The statement, "... greatest living humanitarian activists" isn't a stretch either when you take a look at James Orbinski's resume, which includes a Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 for Doctors without Borders - on his watch. (btw, 2009's Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Friday October 11th, 2009).
The activist proved to be a powerful speaker. He bravely stated his politics and talked about the importance of humanitarianism and politics coexisting. He recalled emotional, distressing experiences in places like Rwanda where he witnessed the genocide up close and personal. He then addressed the idea of hope and dignity. He encouraged his audience to find one humanitarian interest and to pursue that interest. "...Find your passion..." he said. Use that passion to inform what type of humanitarian work to focus on.
I find the idea of humanitarian work to be overwhelming and therefore I don't end up doing much more than making monthly donations to favorite organizations or emailing government officials. Mr. Orbinski said those things are important, but a person can do so much more with voice and action. I like to find editing work (there is a 2007 documentary on James Orbinski entitled Triage: Dr. James Orbinski's Humanitarian Dilemma) that has a humanitarian or activism aspect. That makes me feel like I'm doing something with voice and action, but it still doesn't always feel direct enough and I think that's what Mr. Orbinski was there to address, because he's right, we need to look at "the good we can be if we so choose".
Check out his book at amazon.com
You can rent Triage: Dr. James Orbinski's Humanitarian Dilemma. Take a look at Netflix