Consider helping a charity without Borders

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    Perhaps most courageous thing I have ever seen in life was also among the most heartbreaking.

    It was a man, a pensioner, dressed in the only few clothes he had left.

    His hands were blistered and twisted, pushing a small, rusting wheelbarrow through the mud.

    It was an odd sight, the crowd either side of him parting like the Red Sea in the Bible.

    Yet it was hard to see where God was that day, staring at the precious cargo he steered.

    Because on closer inspection, what appeared at first to be his load of nothing more than a bundle of rags, turned out to be his wife, shrouded in blankets, nearing death.

    The man, whose name I’m ashamed to say I have long since forgotten along with the many others from those horrors of 1999, had walked for far more days than he or any in his wake could ever genuinely remember.

    No less than 10, no more than 20.

    The shoes on his aching feet were nothing but scraps of leather bound together in a ripped t-shirt, his toes numb with cold, soles bleeding profusely.

    The couple’s home had been bombed, or more accurately, shelled by Serbian troops trying to vanquish Kosovo of ethnic Albanians.

    His age spared him death. Others from his village, he told us, were not so lucky.

    Not the men folk, lined up and executed.

    Nor the young woman, he said, who perhaps wished later that they had been killed too.

    His sense of duty, of love, willed him through hundreds of miles of mountain treks where only goats dared tread in normal circumstance.

    He was heading for the tiny Albanian sanctuary of Kukes, which despite being several hundred miles away, was still the closest hospital he could reach.

    This man, staggering, stumbling, crying, made for a humbling picture.

    Exhausted as he pushed his beloved wife the final few hundred yards across the tiny checkpoint at Morina, he ignored the spite filled cat-calling from Serbian paratroopers hurling insults and spitting at him, throwing the odd kick.

    Those on the other side of the crossing had to wait until he reached no-man’s land before they could lunge forward to try and help him those last, faltering few paces.

    But this man, bursting with pride and longing, shrugged them all off – determined it would be he who took her all the way to safety.

    He only yielded his grasp of the handles when they were prised away by medics on the Abanian side of the Border, who immediately lifted her into a nearby tent set up as an emergency triage.

    He dropped to his knees, hands clasped in prayer, and kissed the ground.

    But when he tried to stand up again, he couldn’t. He was too spent, so was carried shoulder height by others into the same tent to watch over his wife.

    We gathered outside, fearing she had died, that his efforts had in vain.

    The doctors from Medicines San Frontiers worked on her there, in the field as shells flew overhead, for more than two hours.

    They swore at us in the crowd to move back and give them room.

    They called on people to donate blood.

    And in hushed tones, they asked us all to pray.

    Three hours later, they told us she would in all probability be okay. It was her husband who was giving them more cause for concern.

    But they were “satisfied” they had done enough.

    Eventually five hours or so later, a truck came for them both and they were carefully packed off to hospital.

    Just in time for the next wave of refugees on foot, in wheelbarrows and upon tractors to be seen rising over the ridge.

    I never, ever found out what happened to that old couple, but remain in awe the sense of devotion which prevailed.

    But more than that, I remain inspired by seeing first hand the life-saving work carried out by those Doctors Without Borders, MSF.

    Every year I chose to donate money to their cause which includes urgent operations ongoing now in the likes of Sudan, Haiti, Kenya and other places.

    Admittedly, this may not be the most festive of blogs for the season, but it is one for this time of reflection.

    So as 2010 draws to a close, if you are looking towards a charity to support in 2011, please take a look at the MSF website and consider supporting them too.

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