I gave birth four times in an hour. Don’t worry they weren’t real babies, just a rather oddly packed bag I had hidden under my costume. Volunteering for the RedR Australia Personal Security and Communications (PSC) training course was almost as educational and challenging as when I participated in the training last year. In the space of 24 hours I was a soldier, militia, refugee, UN aid worker and then just regular old me at the bar with a glass of red wine. Best 24 hours I have spent in a long time.
I am not going to tell you about the course. I am not going to share details of what happens during the training. Not because I don’t want to, in fact I really do want to talk about it but this is a course that you need to go into unsuspectingly in order to get the most out of it. I will say that when I did this course last year I walked out knowing it was the most beneficial thing I had done to prepare myself to be an emergency aid worker. PSC put me through my paces, made me face up to some fears and doubts, essentially it helped me to be more physically, emotionally and psychologically prepared to work in an emergency.
What I am going to talk about is how playing a refugee affected me. For no more than an hour and half I played the role of a refugee. I spoke only in French, well bad French, and was pregnant with a very heavy bag. I was cold, my feet were wet from the mud and grass, my hands numb, my back sore and my hair dirty from leaning against a tree. Being the drama queen that I am I may have become a little too attached to the role but I started to feel scared and very alone. No one could understand me, no one could talk to me and after while people gave up. They looked at me and then turned away to talk to each other. I found myself becoming more and more distressed as I went into my fake labour and noticed how most of my cries went unheard.
When my time as a pregnant refugee was over I mentally started to review my times in the field. Did I ever talk over someone because I couldn’t understand their language? Did I focus more on my translator than I did the person whose story I was listening to? I did I ever not hear the cries of someone I was there to help?
I initially decided to volunteer for the PSC course because I thought it would be a laugh. And it was, I had a great time. I also learnt that little bit more about myself. I’ve stopped being worried that the empathy (and tears) I have in the field is a lack of resilience. In fact empathy it is exactly what I need to be an emergency communicator.