Knocking at the gates

It can be difficult keeping track of all the humanitarian crises in the world, and even harder to keep track of the response to those crises.

But one way to keep up on what’s happening is to follow the organizations that always seem to be where there is the most need: Organizations like the International Rescue Committee, or IRC. IRC has made it easy to keep up with them by collecting all their news and posting it on one constantly updated web page.

On Monday, for example, IRC posted new items on their work in South Sudan and two updates on their fight against Ebola. In one, IRC president David Miliband noted that the big, urgent response may stop the immediate crisis, but not the disease:

“The U.S. and other armed forces are doing vital work to build clinics to treat Ebola patients,” Miliband said, “but victory over the disease demands the recruitment and training of an army of community-based volunteers with the credibility and knowledge to educate local people. Treatment alone will not curb the disease. We need to empower the population so they break the chain of transmission.”

The very front of the front lines

When it comes to the front lines of the battle against Ebola – or any other health issue – nurses are the infantry, fighting in the trenches. They spend more time with, caring for, and treating patients than anyone else.

So it would be natural, you would think, that nurses would be the first priority when it comes to things like pay, benefits, hours, workload, schedules and safety gear. But many nurses will gladly tell you they often feel like they’re the last priority of hospital administrators, not the first.

This has been a common complaint for years, but Ebola has raised the stakes and heightened the tensions: Up to 100,000 nurses are going on strike across the nation today to protest a lack of training in caring for Ebola patients and a lack of safety equipment to protect them when they do.

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest nurses union, representing 185,000 registered nurses, says 85 percent of the nurses they surveyed said their hospitals are not prepared for Ebola patients and nurses have not been adequately trained.

Some also say the issue might not be an issue if nurses were predominantly men:

“It’s a women’s issue,” NNU executive director RoseAnn DeMoro told the Washington Post. “If this were a [predominantly] male profession, the dialog would be different.”

Getting on the list

One of the things you realize very quickly when you begin to serve those in need is that the need always – sometimes overwhelmingly so – outstrips the supply of resources available.

You can take comfort in knowing you’re doing all you can, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s so much you simply cannot do, no matter how much you wish you could.

Voices for Creative Nonviolence has a moving depiction of this dilemma by Kathy Kelly.

Kelly writes of Afghan Peace Volunteers’ “Borderfree Center” in Kabul, where their Duvet Project pays poor Afghani women a living wage to make warm duvets to protect the poorest against the cold temperatures. Last winter, 60 women, 20 from each of Afghanistan’s three main ethnic groups, made 3,000 duvets.

“These heavy quilts, stuffed with wool, can make the difference between life and death during Kabul’s extremely harsh winters,” Kelly writes.

It’s also good for the women who make the duvets:

“Along with bringing needed warmth to destitute families, it invites people from different walks of life to work together. And, in a society where women have few if any economic opportunities, the women’s earnings help put food on the table and shoes on their children’s feet,” she writes.

But there is only so much money for the program, and only so many women can be on the list to make the duvets.

Those who don’t make the list will become “. . . A steady stream of women who come to the door, refuse to leave, and insistently beg us to understand their desperation,” Kelly writes. “Some will shout, many will break down in tears. Very few will go away without having sat in the courtyard or stood helplessly outside the gate for several hours. . . . They will come, constantly, persistently, desperately.”

It is especially hard for Kelly to watch this, she writes, when the United States spends billions to wage war there, a war that appears to have been largely ineffectual:

“I wish they could knock on the gates of the Pentagon, and refuse to go away.”

Changing of the guard

At its annual assembly, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious gave an emotional farewell to executive director Janet Mock, a Sister of St. Joseph, whose three-year term ends Dec. 31.

Now, members can say hello to her replacement, Joan Marie Steadman, a sister of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame, Indiana. She takes the post Jan. 1.

Steadman recently completed a five-year term as president of her community and had served previously in community leadership for 10 years. She has also been associate director of healthcare ethics at the Markula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University; vice-president for mission at Holy Cross Hospital, Salt Lake City, Utah; and regional executive team member at Holy Cross Health Services of Utah.

She holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from Saint Mary College in Notre Dame, Indiana, and a master of arts degree in spirituality from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.  

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report.]