Former Doctors Without Borders head speaks at UND
Dr. James Orbinski worked with Doctors Without Borders in Rwanda in 1994 when war, political assassinations and genocide led to the murder of more than a half million people. Powerless to stop the killings, Orbinski and his medical team did what ...
Dr. James Orbinski worked with Doctors Without Borders in Rwanda in 1994 when war, political assassinations and genocide led to the murder of more than a half million people. Powerless to stop the killings, Orbinski and his medical team did what it could, including keeping open a hospital that gave at least a semblance of shelter for people fleeing the slaughter.
"When you do something, it may not be everything, but it is something. And it matters," Orbinski said Wednesday night, speaking at Chester Fritz Auditorium on the 50th anniversary of the UND Honors program.
His appearance was part of what the university calls its Great Conversations series, in which participants, such as Orbinski, answer questions from a discussion facilitator --in this case, Robin David, associate director of the UND Honors Program -- and from the audience.
Orbinski, a Canadian, is a globally recognized humanitarian and one of the world's leading scholars in global health. He has worked in some of the most disturbing and complex humanitarian emergencies, including Somalia's civil war and famine from 1992 to 1993, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the refugee crisis in Zaire in 1996 and 1997. He was international president for Doctors Without Borders from 1998 to 2001.
In 1999 he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Doctors Without Borders for its pioneering approach to medical humanitarianism, particularly its emphasis on bearing witness. He practices clinical medicine at St. Michael's Hospital, University of Toronto, and helped launch a multidisciplinary PhD program there in global health.
'To do something'
Orbinski began the evening talking about how he decided to go to Rwanda and what made him stay when it was so dangerous.
"I didn't decide to go to Rwanda for any great humanitarian reason," Orbinski said to David. "I had been there before. It is a small country."
Being familiar with the culture and the geography, and knowing people there helped him decide, he said. Still, during his time in Rwanda, one of the first things he did was to organize plans for him and the team to evacuate if evacuation became necessary.
"I was perfectly prepared to leave at any time," he said.
Orbinski said one of his heroes had been Canadian Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire, who served as force commander for the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda.
"He chose not to stop genocide because it was impossible," Orbinski said. "But he chose to do something and to me that is our glimmer of hope. For those who can do something, if they do it, then we all have a future."
The Wednesday event was sponsored by the UND Honors Program, office of the Provost, office of the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Student Government, and UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
The Great Conversation with Orbinski was the culmination of a year-long observance of the Honors Program's 50th year, according to the university.
In conjunction with the Great Conversation, the Global Visions Film Series at UND scheduled showings of two related films.
"Living in Emergency," about Doctors Without Borders working in war zones in Liberia and Zaire, will be shown at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the UND Memorial Union Lecture Bowl. It is open to the public; suggested admission is a $1 donation.
The other film, "Triage," a documentary in which Orbinski plays a major role, was shown Oct. 19.
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