Making a Difference, Claire Bertschinger

Uploaded by SGIVideosOnline on 23.05.2011

Ever since I was a small child, bandaging my teddies, I always wanted to be a nurse and work abroad.
I'm not sure why, it was just something powerful inside me.
But becoming a nurse was not easy.
School was a nightmare for me.
I was put into a lower class year, and was unable to read or write until well in my teens.
I was even bottom of that class and ended up in the reform class with all the other so-called dunces.
It was only when I was in my twenties that my mother read about dyslexia in a woman's magazine,
and we realized that that was what I probably had.
I eventually managed to become a nurse
by working hard at what I was good at, which is caring and compassion.
Of course, to pass the exams I had to work twice as hard as anyone else,
but I got there in the end.
And by the time I was in my mid-twenties I found myself in war-torn Lebanon, working for the Red Cross.
My second posting was to Ethiopia in 1984.
I was in a very remote part, cut off by the political regime and the fighting in the area,
and that's where I eventually met Michael Buerk.
The situation in Ethiopia has gone well beyond the stage
at which words like tragedy and disaster have any meaning.
The Red Cross have picked out five hundred mothers and children out of the thousands
and are treating them in an improvised shelter.
It's run by an Anglo-Swiss nurse from Hertfordshire.
She has to choose who amongst the hundreds who camp outside should be let in, which babies will be saved.
I had only limited supplies and on selection days,
I always had to turn away hundreds of starving children, as we had insufficient food for everyone.
In the days that followed,
I knew that they would die from hunger, and somehow I felt responsible for their death.
Until that BBC report,
the world had little idea about what was happening in Ethiopia at the time,
or if they did, they turned their back.
I spent a year in Ethiopia and had no idea the effect my interview was having around the world.
When Bob Geldof saw the report, it had a profound effect on him.
This inspired him into setting up the Live Aid concerts.
I've spent much of my life working in a variety of war zones as a nurse for the ICRC
which is the Swiss branch of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
They are the guardian of the Geneva conventions.
I worked in over a dozen countries with the ICRC,
but in 1993 I found myself in the Ivory Coast, where I got malaria and came close to death.
It meant that I couldn't work in a malarial zone again,
and I found myself as a training officer in Geneva with the Red Cross.
Ever since my first experience of working in a war zone,
I knew that war was wrong. It comes at far too great a cost of human life,
and I knew that there had to be an alternative.
I looked to my Christian roots, but I found the idea of a deity,
deciding my fate, terrifying.
Especially after all my experiences of seeing different religious factions involved in bitter conflict,
I needed something I could use here and now.
Fortunately, I found Nichiren Buddhism,
which fits in very well with my everyday life.
Eventually I was introduced to the Soka Gakkai.
I knew as soon as I read its philosophy that it could work and this was for me.
It explained that we all have different life states within ourselves,
and it is up to us to reveal our highest life state for peace and happiness in this lifetime.
It taught that it is possible to create value out of every moment of life.
I finally understood that I did not have to work on the frontline to create value.
In fact, I realized that I had more influence by working at home in the UK,
rather than on the frontline where the wounded people,
whose lives I saved, would go back out into the war again only to kill or be killed.
In 2003, the BBC called and asked me to go back to Ethiopia to make a film with Michael Buerk.
Survival is a triumph of will and nobody leaves unscathed.
I didn't want to go.
I thought that I would be vilified for not being able to feed everyone who needed food.
Although people praised me for the work I had done there,
I still felt I had condemned thousands to their death.
One of my friends pointed out
that I could take this opportunity to create value out of all I had witnessed and lived through.
To my great surprise, I was welcomed with open arms in Ethiopia,
and this proved to be an opportunity to exorcise some of the ghosts that had been haunting me.
I realized we can all make a positive difference to this world. Daisaku Ikeda,
the international leader of my Buddhist movement, once wrote,
"A great revolution of character in just a single person
will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation,
and further will enable a change in the destiny of all mankind.”
I decided to write a book about my experiences to tell the truth about war,
that there are no winners in war, ever.
The title, Moving Mountains, came from a discussion with the Mujahideen warlords in Afghanistan.
They asked me how I could make a difference to their war.
And I reminded them of an old proverb,
that there's nothing sweeter, softer or gentler than water,but water has the power to move mountains.
In 2005, Claire received the Woman of the Year award,
and in 2007 she was awarded the International Human Rights Nursing Award.
In 2008, she was awarded an honorary degree and will be receiving another this year,
which she says feels rather bizarre considering her early experience of education.
In 1991, I received the Florence Nightingale Medal.
At the time I was working as a field nurse in Afghanistan,
and the day I heard about my award,
I had just returned from the Mujahideen frontline, collecting severely wounded people.
To me, I was just doing a job that I enjoyed and was good at.
Recently at a ceremony with the Queen at Buckingham Palace,
Claire was awarded the highest British honor, being made a Dame.
Claire said the honor has given her added vigor
to use the award for the future to continue her work for international humanitarian aid.
Now, much of my time is spent teaching and inspiring new nurses.
I'm also lecturing all over the world, and the message that I convey is that we can all make a difference.
If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.