Desperation. It wasn't until I was well into my twenties that I understood - even witnessed - the actual meaning of the word in its most raw, unpleasant form.
I was in a displaced population camp in South Asia accompanied by a couple of locals. We were engaging with inhabitants, furiously taking notes and photos, and trying to absorb the camps' realities, stories of inhabitants, the noise, decrepit surroundings, and the foul odour of fermented garbage and open gutters in the merciless heat.
Amidst all this, an elderly woman came running through the crowd gathered around me. She stood before me, clasped my hands in her hands, stared up right into my eyes, and uttered the words in the local dialect: "Please, please save my son. I beg you."
Elderly widow in a displaced population camp. (Photo: Hanna Adcock/RSF)
While she frantically repeated the words with her tongue, it was her eyes that communicated her feelings directly into my heart. I looked past the overt marks of age, tears, fatigue, and the tragedies of history, and saw desperation in its most stark form.
As the numbness slowly faded from my mind, I realized that this old, frail mother was ready to do anything for her son, and at that very moment she felt there was no other option than me.
Me, who after having traveled thousands of kilometers was standing in the middle of a displaced population camp, unsettled by jet lag and the sheer unfamiliarity of the surroundings, clumsily trying to make sense of it all and keep from drowning beneath the mass of discomfort and emotion. But as the realization of the woman's pleas crept in, it gave me a much-needed jolt of adrenaline and woke me from my frozen state.
I managed to get to her son and found him lying on the ground in a bad state, barely conscious. One of my companions, a doctor, checked him and confirmed that he needed urgent medical assistance if he had a chance to survive.
To this day, I don't remember the particular details of how I, with the help of the two others with me, hurriedly carried him on a plank of wood through the narrow, winding alleys of the camps, trying not to stumble or lose our footing. Looking back, my mind seemed to have had abandoned my body, watching from a careful distance as my motions were guided by an unseen force.
Displaced population camp in South Asia. (Hanna Adcock/RSF)
I would later learn that the woman was a widow and the young man was the sole survivor of four siblings. She barely had any worldly possessions; all she had was her son. Through some struggles and with the help of flagging down a transport on the main road, we eventually made it to a hospital, and using every influence that I could wield as a foreigner, we were able to ensure he received urgent treatment for his ailment, including finding a willing individual who could donate O negative blood for him.
It was not until many months later during a future trip that I was to meet the young man and find him to have regained his health completely. We embraced, overjoyed at the outcome of the experience fate had made us share.
I subsequently asked to meet his mother, only to learn that she had since passed, but that in the days prior to dying, expressed relief that she did not have to bury another of her children. As he expressed his heartfelt thoughts of whatever role we had in providing a dying woman with that sense of relief, we embraced yet again, this time the tears reflecting the sorrow of her passing.
We are presented opportunities everyday to make a difference in the lives of those around us, near or far, through our actions, time, or money. Whether we embrace that opportunity is up to us and, evidently, even the smallest of gestures or actions can veritably snowball into lasting results.
At the very least, our positive gestures or actions can help save someone from having to experience the harshness of desperation, an accomplishment in itself.
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