Monday, July 04, 2005

Playing God broke my heart

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2092-1678326,00.html

In the Sunday Times, 3 July 2005, Deirdre Fernand interviewed Claire Bertschinger.

Claire has written her autobiography entitled Moving Mountains.

More than 20 years ago, Ethiopia was troubled by civil war and famine. Claire was in Ethiopia, working at a Red Cross feeding station. Inside the feeding station were those who were to be fed. Outside were those for whom there was no food. Rations were limited.

“I felt like a Nazi commandant, deciding who would live and who would die,” Bertschinger said.

Claire has worked in war zones from Lebanon to Afghanistan.

In the summer of 1984 Claire was a field nurse in Mekele, the capital of Tigray province of Ethiopia.

Claire could feed only those with the best chance of survival.

Hopeless cases were turned away. She would feel children's thin arms for any sign of muscle.

'I also looked into their eyes for a spark of life.'

'My feelings of guilt about my own role in the famine were so strong that I couldn’t face them . . .

'I forgot those who I had helped and remembered only those who had died because of the cruel selection process.'

...Geldof came to her emotional rescue. He said: “In her was vested the power of life and death. She had become God-like, and that is unbearable for anyone.”

“At last,” thought Claire, “they do comprehend. That’s what made me think I could move forward.”

Recently Claire had treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Her recovery has led to her book, a percentage of which will benefit the African Children’s Educational Trust, which pays for boys and girls to attend school.

In Uganda in the late 1980s, Claire was setting up feeding centres in prisons.

"One day she was approached by two inmates who led her down dank corridors to a cell. There they offered her tea in a china cup made with condensed milk. Then, removing a brick from the wall, they presented her with their most precious possession. 'It was a piece of a Mars bar, wrapped in cloth.'"

* African Children’s Educational Trust http://www.a-cet.org/

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