Bearing Witness – a new digital campaign connects healthcare workers in the UK with their peers in Humanitarian Disasters by Hesham Abdalla

Humanitarian disasters seem pervasive in the news, with Afghanistan being only the latest in a long list of devastating events. When reading and watching accounts of these crises however, I often find myself swiping past them, shutting out the victims’ pain that would otherwise be overwhelming.

The stress is particularly acute amongst Healthcare professionals working in these humanitarian contexts whose plight is exacerbated by their sense of responsibility and a lack of organised support to mitigate the negative impacts on their own mental health and wellbeing. This is even more critical in conflict settings where the threats of deliberate psychological and physical harm are all the more real.

Many healthcare workers working in these areas report feeling personally and professionally isolated and express the desire for an opportunity to share their experiences. Those I have met describe wanting to tell their stories and those of their patients and to seek resources, support and ideas.

As healthcare professionals ourselves, we have uniquely developed skills in listening, understanding and connecting with others. Recently we have also understood that these seemingly small acts of compassion can reduce levels of burnout, reduce stress and lower anxiety for both the recipient and provider of that care.

With this in mind, as a paediatrician I reached out to Save a Child and The Health Foundry to create a campaign to help alleviate the distress of fellow healthcare workers battling through these humanitarian disasters through the power of listening. In return I anticipate reducing the pain or ambivalence of healthcare workers in this country observing helplessly from the sidelines, through providing them with a meaningful intervention.

The Bearing Witness campaign was set up on the Hexitime skill exchange platform to bring together healthcare workers in the UK with their peers working in humanitarian disasters, giving them a platform to tell their story. Hexitime will provide a platform to support the process of this exchange, matching willing listeners with colleagues seeking an ear. As well as the emotional benefits of offering their time to listen, participants will also be rewarded with an hour’s credit which they can use to take up other offers on the Hexitime platform, or which they can donate to others to use.

You or anyone else within the health and care sector can offer an hour of your time to listen to, understand and appreciate the story of a healthcare worker on the front line. Do this by registering on Hexitime and logging a listening offer, tagging it to the Bearing Witness campaign. This short video describes the process.

We anticipate that through the conversation there will be professional and personal learning from each other. There may also be clinical resources and training materials that can be subsequently shared.

We hope that there will be the opportunity for deeper connections to be formed between health workers across borders, and that this in turn will lead to solidarity and mutual support. For those in paediatrics there will also be scope for offering further clinical advice, which will be facilitated by our campaign partner Save a Child.

In the first instance we will be inviting colleagues impacted by the recent violence and conflict in Palestine to take up offers tagged to the campaign. We will then extend this campaign to other humanitarian contexts which are sadly numerous around the world, and where the least we can do is show compassion and bear witness.

  1. Visit the Bearing Witness campaign page for more information, to support the campaign and to offer an hour of your time to listen to those who need to share.
  2. Attend the campaign launch Monday 13th of September at 6pm with an online event

Register to attend the free launch event.

Hesham Abdalla

Hesham Abdalla is a consultant paediatrician and director of medical education and quality improvement lead in Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust. He has over 10 years’ experience of leading service improvement seen through the twin lenses of patient and staff experience and has led teams to a number of Patient Experience, Patient Safety and Quality Improvement awards. Twitter: @hesham_abdalla @hexitime

Declaration of interests

I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: Co-founder and director of Hexitime Community Interest Company, Trustee at the Point of Care Foundation.

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