Compassion is a Virtue

A human is the most perfect and yet complex being on the earth. An individual can show their qualities, either negative or positive, in a variety of ways depending on a particular situation. After working in at least four different emergency responses, our human behavior never ceases to amaze me. On a return trip from Sevare after a mission, a town 500 kilometers from the capital Bamako, I had more insights about the complex and sensitive ethnic conflict in Central Mali through an unlikely source.

The slow on-set, deepening security crisis and growing ethnic conflict in Central Mali is plunging a significant number of families, especially women and children, into vulnerability in Koro District. Ethnic conflict has also flared over land between the animal herding and farming communities, making the security situation very volatile in this district of Mopti Region. As a consequence, an increasing number of families from the two communities are fleeing their homes for fear of being targeted and attacked. In the middle of all the fear, anxiety, uncertainty and disorientation, the paradox is that there are still people ready to help their own kind, regardless of race or ethnic group.

Last week I came across an individual with such rare qualities working in our emergency response team, providing much needed relief to the affected persons in affected areas. His compassion went beyond our response effort. During a two hour trip, my travel companion shared with me his personal view and experience of the crisis. Isaac Poudiougo, a driver for World Vision Mali for the past nine years based in Koro office, showed me how difficult and complex this conflict is. Born and bred in the Koro, he had a completely different view of the terrible conflict.

"My neighbor was killed by his own kind."

After an hour’s drive, Isaac points to a burned police station in a village where there was hardly anybody left and says, "Madame, I lost a cousin here. He was the “gendarme” (local name for policeman) in that police station, burned by armed men. He was inside when they burned the station to the ground.” I must confess that I went silent for a while, before giving my condolences.

Obviously my immediate reaction was to change the subject in order to lighten up the conversation but Isaac was determined to share his experience of the conflict with me. "Madame, my two neighbors had to abandon their houses because of this conflict. One of them was killed in his own house a day before he was preparing to leave. The rest of his family, his wife and children, were saved because they had left the house days before the incident. My neighbor was killed by his own kind. They accused me of being a traitor,” said Isaac, clutching the steering wheel tightly. At that point I needed to learn more about his neighbors and the relationship between them.

“I had to help him, he is a human being like me."

So I asked what had happened to the other one. “I had to keep my other neighbors’ children in my house for a while and I had to find him a place to hide in a nearby house,” said Isaac, looking pensive. Well aware of the risk, Isaac had the bravery and compassion to help is longtime friend and neighbor. “When they came to look for him, I told them that he had gone and I didn’t know his whereabouts. After this incident my neighbor was able to get in contact with some relatives that had fled and reached Burkina Faso. Days later, transport was arranged and the family fled to safety on the other side of the border,” Isaac said, shaking his head with relief. Isaac’s neighbor was saved because of his will to help, his compassion, a virtue that is not given to us all.

When I asked him, what motivated him to do this, he simply said with a deep sense of regret, “I had to help him, he is a human being like me. I really don’t understand why we  are fighting each other. This is ridiculous.” 

Like Isaac, World Vision staff in Mali are committed to providing much needed relief in hard to reach, complex and sensitive crises like this one. In some cases, we risk our own lives to help neighbors.

I hope Isaac’s story compels you to act and support our relief efforts in the Central Mali Emergency Response.