I recently wrapped up a project that I’ve been consulting on for over two years – a project working with Syrians displaced from their homes, their lives, their families, their futures. I know I’m not alone in working on a project like this where you spend time getting to know people, working with them, eating in their homes, seeing them get married and have children, demonstrating throughout it all this kind of hard core resilience that most of us will never have to exercise in our lives.
But instead of feeling good about completing the project, I find myself with that sinking feeling. I’m alarmed by the fact that we are no closer today than we were years ago to helping the Syrian people. We’ve done all sorts of “supporting” and “advising” but has it really changed the reality? No – it’s not even scratched the surface. And now the project is ending, the donor is feeling good about “results” and is shifting attention elsewhere. And I feel like screaming “but now what?” How can you move on when help and money and service is still needed?
On past projects, the sinking feeling has stuck with me for a few weeks and then slowly faded away as something else occupied my attention. After all, I could actually walk away. For me, it was a job, it wasn’t my life in the balance. But for those few weeks, I feel guilt. I feel anger. I feel frustration. I feel depressed. I feel tired. And I have to keep reminding myself that it was worth it to be there with people. Even if I didn’t accomplish anything I would label a “result” – I built relationships, I listened, and I cared.
If you find yourself with that sinking feeling – do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Just because we can leave a project, a country or a job behind, doesn’t mean we have to ignore how it affects us. And it doesn’t mean we have to just get back on the horse either – find another project, find another country. In fact, I’m sure my Syrian friends would be the first ones encouraging me to do what I need to do to get back to myself. And if that is seeking help and getting therapy, then do it.
–Elizabeth Reiter Dettmer, Aid Worker and Co-founder of the Mind Field