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Meet Nurse Roberta Gately, Humanitarian

Meet Nurse Roberta Gately, Humanitarian

Terri Polick | NursingLink

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words; but to a nurse and humanitarian worker like Roberta Gately, a picture can change a life.

Gately’s life started changing back in 1986, after returning home from a busy day at work in the emergency room. It was hot outside, so she turned on the air conditioner and opened up a diet Coke before flopping on the couch to watch television and relax. The nightly news was on, and Gately started watching a story by a local reporter who had traveled to Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion.

The reporter, who was dressed for inclement weather, was at the Pakistani boarder describing the horrific conditions in the refugee camps while standing in a torrential rainstorm. Right behind the reporter was a terrified refugee mother and her children, all dressed in rags, huddled together underneath a makeshift tent made from a raggedy blanket and rickety sticks. When the frightened, malnourished mother looked into the camera, Gately felt a connection: “I felt as though they were looking right at me.” At the end of the reporter’s story Gately called a rescue agency that was looking for medical help. “I’ve never looked back,” she said. “A lot of nurses think about doing aid work. I had always thought about it and I’ve never regretted my decision.”

However, it’s one thing to see refugees on the news, and another thing to see them in person. In the beginning, Gately’s emotions got the best of her. “It’s heart-wrenching,” she said. “The first time I went to Afghanistan, I broke down in tears.” But people didn’t need her self-absorbed melancholy, so Gately quickly pulled herself together and got to work. The secret to working in third world war zones and keeping your head in the game, is to be focused on your work.

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Since then, Gately has traveled and worked in some of the most remote, war-torn areas of the world. Her background as an emergency room nurse was invaluable, and the training provided by various different aid organizations she has worked with throughout the years prepared her for some tough situations. Gately learned how to set up refugee camps while triaging an overwhelming patient population. She never allows herself to forget her mission, even when things look bleak.

But what about working under fire, when your own life may be at stake? Gately considers herself lucky, as no one has tried to hurt her or her colleagues. “I try not to think about it,” she said. “No one thinks that something can happen to them, but there have been so many aid workers killed just this year in Afghanistan. It’s become a really dangerous occupation.”

Still, some precautions are necessary. The last time she traveled to Afghanistan, Gately went with a French aid group and used an Irish passport, since the Taliban targets Americans. No one in the group knew her true nationality. Additionally, Gately and the other aid workers followed strict orders not to fraternize with American and coalition soldiers.

Next: Role of the Media >>

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