All I can do is make this borrowed time matter

On April 27, 2019, a gunman entered the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Poway, California and opened fire on innocent worshipers. In the chaotic few minutes it took for one person to dramatically change the lives of the hundred people worshipping on that day, Lori Gilbert-Kaye stepped in front of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein — saving his life and losing hers.

Rabbi Goldstein’s words, spoken in the aftermath of the tragedy have stayed with me.

I do not know why God spared my life in my Poway synagogue. All I can do is make this borrowed time matter.

The simple words he used to make sense of the calamity — make this borrowed time matter — carry with them an urgency and insistent willfulness to make something positive come from the ashes of tragedy. Rabbi Goldstein defiantly waved his bandaged hands, forever reminders of the day, and shouted, “terrorism like this will not take us down.”

In reflective moments I find myself expressing similar defiance: “poverty and inequality like this will not take us down.” Suffering in the world, particularly in insecure and conflict-ridden corners, should make us uncomfortable; not in a self-deprecating or disparaging way that inhibits action, but in a way that motivates and inspires us to do something to make the world a better place.

There are reasons to be inspired. Everyday I work with men and women who are creating order from chaos. Our Afghan partners are doing extraordinary work with poor and displaced women. They are changing the lives of hundreds of Afghan moms and their children. These incredible people lead organizations that are truly making their borrowed time matter.

Shindand Women Social Foundation (SWSF) is led by Dr. Safiullah Haidari and his family. Their continued support of women in rural Shindand District, many of whom are widows, has been both compassionate and heroic. Their family has endured death threats and the loss of family members to the brutality of those who prefer power and control over bringing relief to others. For most of us, doing good is respected and congratulated. For others, doing good is a truly heroic act. For them, to continue to do good requires a saintly level of courage and compassion.

Together, SWSF and Karadah Project have provided life-sustaining goats and hens to widows and poor women, offering them better nutrition, increased revenue, and hope for a better life. With the help of the Unique Zan Foundation, we built a wall around a rural medical clinic that we hope will encourage more women and children to seek better health care within its protection. We are also looking to improve the education and opportunities for children in Shindand District.

Women Education for Better Tomorrow Organization (WEBTO) is a women-founded nonprofit focused on other women who are languishing in austere and hopeless displacement camps. Imagine all that is familiar has been left behind and all that is in front of you is unfamiliar, unfriendly, and unwelcoming. Think of how you might feel if a group of women came to you and said we want to help you. We’ll give you marketable skills, teach you how to read and write, provide you with food for your family while you train, negotiate contracts so you can earn as you learn, mentor you, and provide you with a space where you can see hope.

WEBTO’s director, Fatima Qattali, and other members of WEBTO are changing the lives of hundreds of women through our Vocational Skills Program and livestock distributions. We have not stopped there, however. While we are supporting the immediate needs of displaced women, we are looking to the future through a kindergarten for their children.

Today, a record number of people have been forced to flee from persecution, conflict, and violence, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. About 40 million of the over 68.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world still live in their own countries. Far from the media coverage are millions who languish anonymously in internally displaced persons camps. These camps, meant to be temporary, quickly become permanent places of hopelessness — filled mostly with women and children.

In a world of inequities, displaced and poor moms survive. This capacity to persist in some of the most austere environments is a super power. Day after day they rise with the sun, do what is necessary to support and raise their children, and retire with the setting of the sun. Those are super powers worth nurturing.

What might happen if these moms were given a chance to learn a new skill? What promise might be fulfilled if they received mentoring and opportunities to start small businesses? What would be the result of someone investing time in teaching them to read? How might things be different if their children, already academically disadvantaged, received early education intervention through a kindergarten? What would be the generational impact of helping one mother?

This is how we are making this borrowed time matter. If you would like to help, click below:

LTC (retired) Rick Burns is founder and president of Karadah Project International, an Iowa nonprofit corporation focused on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Veteran-founded nonprofit building sustainable and long-term solutions in partnership with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan from the heart of the Midwest

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store