Saturday, 5 April 2014

When you next get a report from a war zone

told to you by a journalist dressed in a bullet proof vest ducking for cover as the sniper's bullets start flying - try imagining what it is really like to be there. Can you?
When we watch television there is a distance between us and the action. It never seems quite real.
We can look and say of the millionth Syrian refugee to reach Lebanon, "That's shocking" - and we may even feel genuinely disturbed and distressed by what we see but it doesn't feel quite real does it? The idea that half those refugees are children, most of whom don't go to school and many of whom are working to try and feed themselves and their siblings because their parents aren't there or can't help if they are there, is something we know at a "yes, I heard that" level.
It doesn't really register in our consciousness or our emotions that an entire generation of Syrian children has been affected by a senseless war or that girls in Afghanistan risk their lives simply because they want to learn to read. It doesn't seem quite real because we aren't there to experience it for ourselves and we have seen so much of it on television that really we don't quite believe it do we? We think the media is sensationalising something don't we....and yes, in a way they are.
But there are all the things they don't tell you either....the filth, the violence, the noise, the lack of water and any sanitation, the lack of food, children dying, adults dying, grief, anger, fear. It's all there - a lifetime of trauma even if things calm down, the war stops and they go "home" to rebuild their lives. And yes, most of them want to go "home". Many adults want to go to the past where things were different. The children just want to feel safe and go to school, kick a soccer ball, read a book or watch television.
And the aid workers who go in to help leave traumatised too. The images of distress are seared into their brains. They need to "switch off" in order to survive and go on helping.
And the journalists? They risk their lives too. One of the photographic journalists was killed in Afghanistan yesterday, killed as he covered the Presidential elections - the elections people are risking their lives to vote in. A colleague was critically injured. They are not the first journalists to be attacked and they won't be the last. Peter Greste is deeply unfortunate to be where he is in an Egyptian gaol - but there is still some hope for him. There is none left for the family of that journalist in Afghanistan.
So, next time you watch the news - can you try and imagine what it is like and try to understand the risks they are taking so that we can watch from the safety of a comfortable chair in front of the television set?

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