Lyceum speaker to share stories of service
By BY DAVE TICEN
April 6, 2013 at 3:03 p.m.
Updated April 5, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.
Occasionally in life, we're privileged to encounter extraordinary individuals who, by virtue of vision, energy, commitment, goodwill and perhaps other undefinable qualities, have made the world a better place. Surely, it is a keenly developed humanitarian spirit that motivates these people to perform heroic deeds that have improved and even saved the lives of multitudes of people.
History records the acts of Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Oskar Schindler, Nelson Mandela and others who selflessly and often at great personal cost devoted their lives to helping those who needed it most. For every one of the famous, there are more who have done much, mostly anonymously, to improve the lot of humanity. While not all these individuals make the history books, all nevertheless are deserving of our admiration. We have one such person scheduled to visit Victoria on Tuesday as the featured speaker in the last program of the 2012-13 Victoria College Lyceum lecture series. Mary Lightfine will be speaking at the VISD Fine Arts Center at 7 p.m.
Lightfine is a nurse, an occupation that by definition is devoted to the service of others and is in a broad category we can identify as the "help professions." Just by doing her job as an emergency room nurse, she's in a position daily to help her fellow human beings in situations of dire need.
More than 20 years ago, at a crossroads in her life personally and professionally, she felt an overwhelming urge to do more. Acting on this urge, she volunteered for the organization Doctors Without Borders, which is devoted to providing humanitarian aid to people who live in some of the saddest, most deprived and dangerous places on Earth. Her first trip as part of this organization was to war-torn Somalia in 1992, where a devastating civil war raged, creating widespread starvation in the country and causing hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.
In her 2011 book "Nurses, Nomads, and Warlords," Mary tells the story of her first humanitarian mission. Seeing a tremendous need from the people of an entire nation on the verge of calamity, she left her job in an Ohio hospital to move to Mogadishu, Somalia. There, living in a thatched hut for several months, she did what she could to help relieve the suffering of Somali citizens and in the process, helped change her own life to one infused with and enriched by humanitarian service.
In the intervening years, she has lived and worked in more than a dozen places where people suffered under dire conditions through no fault of their own - places that can accurately be described as "Hell on Earth." Her various residences have included: New Orleans in the wake of Katrina; Europe to aid refugees from Kosovo, who suffered almost unimaginable atrocities at the hands of their government; the mountains of Afghanistan during the still ongoing war, where omnipresent land mines represented only one type of peril she faced; South Sudan, where an entire people suffered from government-inspired genocide; and Nicaragua after a severe hurricane. In short, where humanitarian crises have existed in the last two decades, chances are good she was there. In each, she has been involved in efforts to supply food and essential medical care to people, usually experiencing personal danger and forgoing the creature comforts we all take for granted. She has faced flying bullets, death threats, an attempted kidnapping, the possibility of disease and a variety of other perils in the course of her charity work.
Mary has created a complementary organization, Volunteers Without Boundaries, (http://www.volunteerswithoutboundaries.org/) for which she is currently president, to help tell her story and generate support for the international humanitarian effort. Doctors Without Borders, founded in 1971 by a coalition of French physicians and journalists, is an organization with the mission of providing emergency medical aid to people suffering from war and other manmade crises, famine and a variety of natural disasters. Volunteers routinely help people who have lost hope with no viable options for their health, safety and well-being. The organization was granted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.
Mary's inspiring story has been featured on the History Channel, Life magazine, PBS, an ABC news documentary and is the subject of several articles in professional journals. Please plan to attend her multimedia presentation at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Fine Arts Center. Admission is free of charge.
Dave Ticen is the chairman and a longtime member of VC's Lyceum Committee. Ticen works as a librarian in charge of user education at the VC/UHV Library.