Character: Build It Here
The Heroine of Yorkshire
Cokie van der Velde is a 54-year-old grandmother from Yorkshire in the UK. She is also a doctor and sanitation specialist working with Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontierers). For the past twelve years, she has volunteered her skills in service to humanity, restoring health and saving lives. Right now she’s in Liberia sacrificing the comforts of her family and home in England to care for those suffering from Ebola. This is her third time on this death-defying mission to save the world from this global threat.
The BBC’s program, “The Why Factor”, interviewed Dr. Cokie van der Velde the other night. I am a grandmother, too. I had to ask myself as I listened to her calmly tell the horrific story of caring for Ebola patients: if I had Cokie’s skills would I be willing to do what she is doing?
Mike Williams is the host of The Why Factor, aptly named, because as he unfolds the stories of those he interviews, he adroitly interjects the question, "Why?", to get to the core of what motivates those whose lives prompt the question, “Why did you take the risk?”
If you think that you cannot stand to hear another story about Ebola, please stay with me on this one. Cokie will not take you down the road of despair. Her story will leave you with hope and not the flimsy kind of hope that people speak of when they have no real solutions, but the kind of hope that marches through the darkness toward the light, the kind of hope that echoes those standard words of heroes, "Don't worry. We got this one."
Cokie answered Mike Williams' persistent question with grace: "Why are you willing to risk your life for strangers?"
"I go partly because of my belief that there should be social justice in the world - that there should be some sort of equality. The people I'm helping are part of the human race, part of humanity - in that respect, all people for me are the same. I feel I have as much obligation to help a stranger as I do to help someone I know."
Mike asked why she had chosen to be a doctor in the first place. She related an experience from childhood about a news story on television of a small child who had no family, nowhere to live, no means to support himself. Cokie said that as she watched the program, she said to herself, “I need to go help people.”
Cokie’s last comment in the interview revealed her motivation for working amidst the most fearsome disease facing humanity right now, “Eventually we will get this epidemic under control. I will feel elated that I played a small role.”
Here is the entire interview.
Here is the accompanying article in the BBC News Magazine.
Here is one of Cokie’s journal entries from a day’s work at the clinic in Liberia.
Learn more about Doctors Without Borders’ heroic work to stop Ebola and how you can help.