Thinking about various friends who are in difficulties, and reflecting on a recent blog about my trips to Ukraine made me think about this couple, George and Marion Mills. Down to earth east Londoners, they gave up a successful business, relocated to Essex and started a charity British Aid for Deprived Children. They have worked tirelessly for over 20 years, taking aid to eastern Europe, most noticeably to Ukraine, where they have been instrumental in setting up and building a hospital for children in a town 30 miles from the site if the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
I could write a whole post about them, and their work. That may come later, but what I want to share are words George said to me on my first trip to Ukraine in 1994. They resonate because I sometimes find it difficult to balance the urge to help and be needed with a tendency to overcompensate by giving too much of myself and not really helping at all !
I had spent my first couple of days out there taking photographs in the huge delapidated old hospital and visiting families outside the town who were living in abject poverty with their sick and disabled children - many unable to leave their homes as they had no transport or even wheelchairs. I was pretty traumatised by what I saw, and when I found myself one evening in a pizza restaurant with a group of aid workers, eating and drinking and generally enjoying ourselves, I found my food sticking in my throat. Turning to George, I asked him (probably rather accusingly!) how he could do this, how he could know that these children and families were struggling, that they were not even eating salad, let alone pizza.....that I had seen things so sad and troubling and was now expected to behave as normal. I was beside myself with grief and anger.
George tuned to me calmly and said - "Pen, if you are sitting on a bench next to a man with no legs, the last thing you need to do is to cut off your own legs to be like him - what you need to do is to go away, make your legs really strong and then come back and help him..."
I may have finished my pizza. George certainly finished his. I try and remember those words when I am feeling so overwhelmed by concerns over others that my own life goes on hold......sometimes I even succeed!
see link to their charity on the right