in 1996 Dr. Michael VanRooyen was accused of being a government spy while offering humanitarian aid in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then called Zaire. His prosecutors thrust an AK-47 into his face as they decided his fate. Thankfully, he survived.
This story is just one of the many courageous anecdotes found in VanRooyen's new book, "The World's Emergency Room: The Growing Threat to Doctors." The book details his experience as a humanitarian worker in war-torn and environmentally ravaged countries. VanRooyen's, an emergency physician and the director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, joined us to talk about his work on Boston Public Radio on Tuesday.
"I think it is a deep privilege to be able to work in a circumstance like that," said VanRooyen's about his humanitarian work. " You see the world's difficulties and challenges, and you get to do something about it. In that respect, it's a deep privilege to do it," he said.
VanRooyen has worked in the humanitarian aid field for the last 20 years. When he began, the main causes of death or disability were motorcycle and car accidents. "Now it is direct attacks by militia or direct attacks to hospitals," said VanRooyen. "This erosion in humanitarian neutrality."
Despite the increased risk, the amount of young people choosing to become humanitarian workers continues to grow. "There are more and more young people who want to find meaning in getting out in the world and being in part of the world. The field of humanitarian assistance is growing massively." said VanRooyen's.
The key to VanRooyen's success he says is knowing and understanding the communities he works in. "The more I know about the local conditions, the more I know about local staff and the local organizations, the safer I am. The humanitarian aid worker cannot be protected by guns, or weapons, or barbed wire, or the military. They're protected by the communities in which they work," he said.
Dr. Michael VanRooyen is an emergency physician and the director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. You can listen to his interview with Boston Public Radio above.