The term of “compassion fatigue” was heard at the first time from Ahmad Arif, a Kompas journalist. He told about a journalist who stayed for a long period for doing reportage at disaster ground. According to Wikipedia, compassion fatigue has a definition as a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time.
Thus, reflecting at previous experience several years ago came across in mind about a concern, whether or not what is experienced today as compassion fatigue.
Starting in 2003, most of time was spent to serve and accompany East Timor refugees. Post referendum in 1999, a wave of hundreds thousands of East Timorese flee across border to West Timor. Thousands of children eventually were separated because of the chaotic situation at that time to bring up a lot of cases of child trafficking and separated children.
We who were in Java Island perhaps never understood about the condition of East Timor experiencing civil war. In the end they decided a referendum, which afterwards declaring pro independence party to establish a new country.
How was so depressed at the first time worked with an international humanitarian organization focusing at refugee, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). Being present among thousand of refugees was the biggest passion during that time. The mandate was run according with JRS missions, i.e. to accompany, to serve and to advocate.
Every working day, meetings with the refugees amazed. They are scattered in many camps, such as in Noelbaki, Tuapukan, Naibonat. Not to mention those in other districts in West Timor, East Nusa Tenggara. Hearing heroic story to sadness very was close to the ears. Many of them were militia groups that have a history of fighting in the jungles of East Timor. Many of the stories they shared and sometimes did not know what to respond their stories. Hearing and hearing their stories made them comfortable with our presence. They got their emotions have been expressed to relieve the sadness having to leave the land of their ancestors.
Another story, how they lost relatives during the civil wars for decades, loss of property due to evacuate, or separately with the children because they did not have time to save, the encounter with a militia which according to his story of finding Xanana’s hiding place. Then, a meeting with an old lady took place in her hut. This extraordinary ‘mama’ always served food and drinks every time we visited her hut. Not unexpectedly, a story behind the lady who was so kind worked for pro integration militia groups. She had expertise to interrogate opponents until she got information. Could imagine what she did during that time. There was another story of a pro-integration militia who incidentally had to send sugar and coffee to the custom gathering in his village, that now using a passport.
Their condition is very poor. And we have to adjust with their living. We drank what they served though less sure of the taste to the tongue. Eat what they cooked. Once, when the dry season has occurred, they could only eat sago from Gewang trees, which was usually fed to pigs. Dining with a sprinkling of grated coconut was presented at that time. It taste good though when the stomach is empty. They were people who respected us as friends. They would be more concerned with us as guests to serve whatever they had.
Accompanying means being close to them. We also sincerely blend with the environment camp there. When it rained and high water existed everywhere in their shelters or camps, we had to pass through. Stepping ground with rainwater no longer felt disgusted. The rainwater mixed with pig shits or dog’s stools, chicken or human waste stepped on when inundations appear in the camps.
Being present among poverty, sadness, anger, emptiness, joy, and the desire to return to ancestral lands were precious moments in life. Although it was not realized had made changes in the self, what is arguably as compassion fatigue. A tremendous burden to bear stories of the past when they were in the land of ancestor. Almost every day for 4 years, the routine of listening to their stories was undertaken. Tens or even hundreds of human story landed on the ears, mind and heart. They are friends and friends with unique life story
There is truth, those engaged in humanitarian work such as disaster or violence conflict, requires space for ‘free’ from what is seen, heard and felt. Avoid too long at the disaster site or rotation to achieve physical and spiritual balance is very helpful in distancing compassion fatigue.