By Jennifer Rawlings
( originally published in CHANGE.ORG)
My left arm still hurts from the typhoid shot I got yesterday at the immunization clinic on the Air Force base near LAX. I milked my sore arm most of the day asking my husband to carry the laundry and make coffee. I am dreading taking the anti-malaria medicine. The last time I took it I was traveling to the Horn of Africa and had bizarre nightmares and broke out with Rosecea on my cheeks, which persists to this day.
I am traveling to Haiti on Tuesday to entertain the US Forces that have been deployed there since January. I will be sleeping in a tent, using a porta-potty, and dining on Meals Ready To EAT (MRE’s).
I have been traveling to war zones for the last ten years to entertain the troops. I have done over 300 shows for the military in countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, South Korea, Kwajelean, Japan, Guam, Germany, Iceland, Italy, England, Qatar, and Djibouti. In ten years and over 300 shows this will be the first time ever that I will go to entertain troops that are deployed for a strictly “humanitarian mission”.
I love entertaining the troops and I realize that it is privilege. Many people misunderstand the armed forces and simply categorize all soldiers into one category or type. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to look down their noses at the men in women in uniform as either less educated, war-mongering or ultra conservative. That has never been my experience. In fact, because people in the military have seen so much of the world, they are often compassionate and articulate “world citizens”.
I directed the film: “ Forgotten Voices: Women in Bosnia” and it was financed by two Lieutenant Colonel friends that I met on my travels. One of them was in the Air Force and the other was in the Army. I did not approach either one of them for the money; I actually called them to see if they knew anyone in Sarajevo that I could interview. And when I explained to them that the film was going to be about women and the aftermath of war, they both said: “ Those are important stories that must be told. I’ll give you the money.”
I know lots of wealthy thinkers who play the role of compassionate citizen, but never actually do anything to shine a light on the problems of the world. My two friends put their money behind the knowledge that they had gained over years of deployment. They knew that war continues to destroy lives long after the last bullet is fired and decided to help educate others.
That is why I am very excited about this trip and the opportunity for change that can occur in Haiti. Over 20,000 troops have walked the streets of Port-au-Prince. They have undoubtedly been effected by the death toll and destruction caused by the earthquake. The earthquake is the natural disaster that brought all these men and women to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and the images of collapsed buildings will be photographed and forgotten by most of the deployed.
What will not be forgotten and will play in the minds, and manifest itself in action, is the poverty. The young specialist who walks thru the tent cities with cases of water and food rations will carry the images of the starving and destitute with him for his entire life. The humbling experience will likely propel him to volunteer at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. The young nurse deployed from Florida might dedicate the rest of her life towards trying to reduce infant mortality by educating mothers about nutrition.
I realize that not all of the troops will join the war against global poverty but some of them will and that is how change happens: one person at time, sharing information, creating an opportunity, rebuilding a home, and sometimes writing a check.
Earthquakes are a devastating force of nature. Poverty is a devastating force of man. If an army of individuals can work together then we can rebuild cities and eradicate poverty.