Too afraid to start up the generator

Troubled by a rebel attack on Abéché, Chad

Enough time has passed by that I can tell you this story about a generator.  It happened during the time when rebels attacked the town of Abéché.  It is the story of a time when I was under intense pressure to back down in my stand for our friend.  Those who sided with me remained silent but many, while few stood against me, but seemed vocal and determined to have it their way.

We were in Abéché, serving with Bakan Assalam.  At the time, Bakan Assalam would help the Aunties and Uncles of orphans by providing medical and nutritional assistance.  As a result, many of these orphans were able to survive despite the harsh conditions of the deserts of Chad.

My role at Bakan Assalam was to develop the language of the village where they had opened their first dispensary in the 1960s. Rebels had just invaded Abéché.  Our team was on edge.

In the heat of it all, our Director left because of crippling back problems that only got worse due to the tension of the situation.  So, we formed a committee of three to lead the mission on-site, and I was on it.

That month, a few days after American Thanksgiving, we woke up to heavy artillery fire on the outskirts of town.  The rebel army carried weapons from China, paid for by the Sudanese government.  They called the French military base, and warned them to stay out of it or face the consequences.

the courage to start up the generator despite a rebel attackThe military presence in town rushed to respond, but they couldn’t push them back.  All who rushed to the battle to save Abéché, lost their lives in the battle that day.  Seeing the futility of opposing the rebels, many of the police and some of the military rushed home, changed into their ordinary civilian clothes, and sat in front of their houses to see what would happen next.

Thus, the town was in the hands of the rebel forces against the President.  They drove around in their Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, making sure that there was no more resistance.  Satisfied that they had won the battle, they drove to the prison and broke the doors open to free their prisoners.  They burned down the Palais de Justice, apparently to destroy the evidence of crimes.  Then, after the sun had set, they drove out of town and back into Sudan.

The Need for a Generator

For weeks, the team laid low, as abandoned NGOs faced pillaging and Presidential Forces returned to reestablish order.

Over the coming weeks, these troubles obviously affected our team.  As a result, without my knowledge, the single women on the committee decided over lunch not to run the generator, for fear that someone might come and steal it. woman-sweatyLibby, one of the nurses on the team but not on the committee, nervously approached me.  With all we’d lived through, and the typical Chadian heat, she’d had difficulty sleeping without a fan during the day.  Could I ask for the generator to run for a few hours during the late afternoon?

Although our family lived on the Orphanage grounds, we still enjoyed the benefits of electricity.  We had solar panels which allowed us to have light, refrigeration and fans.  But because Libby needed fans, and the danger had passed by then, I brought it up during the team meeting.

You would have thought that I had asked us to load the generator up into a truck so that we could bring it to the long-gone rebels as a donation!  The other two women on the committee got very, very angry at me in front of everyone else.  For many minutes and with much trepidation, I firmly insisted that we needed to have the generator turned on in the afternoons for a few hours.  And I did this with no reference to my discussion with Libby.

The Reaction

The fierce anger generated by those two women against my proposal made Libby cry, and program on negotiation at Harvard Law fist slamother team members were shocked.  One of the women on the committee strongly stated, “If the generator is stolen, it will be all your fault!”

I took responsibility for what would never happen, and thankfully, they backed down and allowed us to run the generator a few hours in the afternoon from that day on.

When we’re forced to muster all our courage to stand for someone who is hurting, what do we do?  Do we stand up for them, only if it benefits us?  Do we try to avoid conflict at all costs, and leave the voiceless to suffer without the help they need?

For all of us who are in a position of authority, let’s stand for those who aren’t being heard, who are too afraid to speak up for themselves, even when doing so causes us only trouble but offers them the possibility of relief.

Tell us if you’ve ever had to stand up for someone in the comments below.

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