When asked halfway through GAiN's disaster response training how the week matched my expectations, I can honestly say I had no idea. We were provided with a packing list before we left and that was about it. The pre-training information is deliberately elusive so each exercise is a surprise, just as it would be in the field. At 4.30 am at the train station on my way down to Gatwick, with my thoroughly packed suitcase, a willingness to learn and an open mind, I sat in the dark and thought, 'well I wonder what's going to happen next?'
The training is one week long and takes place in the beautiful Latvian countryside, just outside of Riga. If we pass the training, we would be added to GAiN's DART database, and ready to leave at short notice for a disaster area. Arriving at a quaint guesthouse with swimming pool and sauna and after eating the most delicious home cooked meal, I could have been fooled into thinking it was going to be a relaxing week. After three days of theoretical training, we put what we had learned into practice with a number of practical exercises, cumulating in actually delivering aid to Latvian people in need.
I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say the sight of Klaus, the founder and CEO of GAiN Germany and his friend Victor enthusiastically interrogating us and throwing paper airplanes at people's heads in their role of customs officers, will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Part of our theoretical training involved learning about negotiating intercultural differences, something we found we were already practicing while mingling with each other, as the group consisted out of 21 diverse and lively German, Dutch, Swiss, Spanish, Canadian and British participants. Our cultural differences were obvious when we put ourselves into groups depending on our style of dealing with conflict. Us Brits sloped off to the accommodating corner, too polite to deal with the conflict openly. We'd rather accommodate the other person's needs. In one exercise, the leaders of the training pretended to kidnap me to test our response to an emergency situation. After blowing on my emergency whistle, Luke my fellow Brit participant walked over and calmly said: 'why don't we all just sit down and have a cup of tea?'
For me personally, DART was so much more than the actual training itself. I developed practically, socially, relationally, spiritually and mentally. I have never before felt every value, goal and practical action that I aspire to, so closely mirrored by an organization and group of people. To see unconditional love in action so tangibly and professionally was a privilege. I left the training with confidence in my skills and 20 new friends.
Katie joined the DART Training in 2015 in Latvia
The city of Erbil that I entered yesterday (December 2016) was in no way comparable to the city that I left two years ago. It wasn’t just the temperature that went down from 50 degrees above zero to below zero that gave me this feeling. Two years ago the whole city was crowded with improvised refugee camps. In almost every school building, park or church you could find a refugee camp. By now, a lot of these camps are gone. People have found shelter in houses or the refugee camps are transformed to long-term facilities. Tents are replaced by container-housing and apartments are built in the unfinished buildings. It still doesn’t meet my conditions for having a decent life, but it is intriguing to see how people are able to fall down four times, but stand up five. Even coming from the most miserable circumstances, people manage to make the best out of their lives.
This DART mission will be slightly different than the mission in 2014. The goal in 2014 was mostly to work in the refugee camps in the city of Erbil. The scope of this mission will take us outside of the borders of the Kurdish Autonomous Region. The ongoing liberation of Mosul and the surrounding villages caused a new wave of refugees. This wave of refugees is accommodated in large refugee camps that contain tens of thousands of refugees. We will be working together with these camps to provide food, but also mattresses, blankets and other supplies to keep the people warm, as the winters in Iraq can be really cold. Besides the cooperation with the large refugee camps, we are also involved in a few other projects. The food package program that we launched two years ago is still going on and growing, as at the moment we provide monthly food packages to more than 300 families.
Another project that we would like to start very soon and I am really excited about is facilitating local youth in humanitarian work. We would like to involve them in clearing the liberated villages of rubble and in building and renovation projects. By involving them we not only let them contribute in rebuilding their own country, but we also make them aware that better times are coming.
Rick was a participant in the DART missions in Iraq in 2014 and 2016/2017