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Disaster Relief in Accra: Reporting and Trauma

This past Thursday, I attended a relief event that has proven to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to witness. In light of the emotional aspect of this event, I’m going to try and keep this blog post short and to the point, primarily because finding the words to describe what I saw is incredibly difficult.

As many people may know, on June 3rd there was a major explosion and fire at a gas station in Accra, which was a result of some major flooding. The death count from the explosion was nearly 175 people, and I’m not even sure how many people were killed or injured from the flooding. The flooding resulted in people scrambling to keep their lives together and find resources to survive. Here we are, a month later, and people were still suffering as if it happened yesterday. The relief event was held by Metro TV, the TV network where I am interning, Citi FM, where Frannie is interning, Happy FM, and Fidelity Bank. At the relief event, teams of people were packing boxes full of supplies such as condensed milk, blankets, juice boxes, crackers, rice, canned fish, soap and laundry detergent, fly traps, toilet paper, mattresses (that were basically just couch cushions), and so on. My boss told me that he didn’t want me to help or do anything; just sit and observe. I was given a chair behind some makeshift fences made out of tables and ropes, and simply sat and wrote about what I saw.

Some of the things I witnessed were: people beating at each other to get resources, cops breaking fights apart, people storming the supply station, children and adults crying, and much more. Many people were continuously coming back for more and more- twice, thrice, four times- while some people were scrambling to receive goods for the first time. People were in need and believed they needed it more than their peers; however, everyone was in the same situation. Children and adults came up to me and asked for juice boxes, “Can you please help me?” and my response was painful.

“I’m just here to report.”

Those were some of the hardest words I’ve ever had to say. While Frannie was there packing boxes, I was given orders to sit and watch as people swarmed and fought like two packs of lions fighting for a single zebra carcass.

This felt like the definition of white privilege, something I didn’t personally feel comfortable identifying with.

Though I would have loved to attach a photo to visualize the scene, I am both happy and disappointed that I didn’t have a camera to snap a photo. As much as it would be a powerful image, I don’t necessarily want to remember their pain. This not only taught me that I have never truly seen struggle until I saw these people, but it also taught me that I don’t think I could work in relief work, nor could I report on traumatic events. So basically, I want to work in creative and feature programming even more, because I don’t know if I would be able to spend every day at work reporting on the struggles of large groups of people; I don’t know if I can the emotional capacity nor the ability to remove myself emotionally from every story of trauma, suffering, or heartache.