Finding calm amid the chaos
Voni is grateful that he has seen some of the best and worst that life has to offer. For over a decade, he’s worked to help those stricken by humanitarian crises including refugees from Syria and those hit by the recent storms in Houston. “Disaster brings chaos. Life becomes a base struggle for survival. There’s often looting and fighting. But for some reason I can’t comprehend, people who have lost everything also rise to the occasion. Random people do the most amazing things.”
Voni jokes that he discovered his “calling” through a hatred of Canadian winters. Israeli-born, he was studying medicine in Montreal but “couldn’t find a sense of purpose or stand the weather.” He decided to volunteer in Nepal. “I loved it. We learned so much, especially from our mistakes. Probably the biggest lesson was that partnership with local people is pivotal. Without it, even if you come with the best of intentions, you can harm rather than help.” Today, he is co-CEO of IsraAID, an Israel-based organization that brings humanitarian assistance to virtually every major crisis area around the world.
Voni is thankful for the many dedicated people he works with, for the deep connections that are created with communities in need, and for the lives saved and improved. As an Israeli, there is pride “in bringing our knowledge and the best of Israel” to the world. As a Jew, “I’m thankful that we have gone from persecution to being able to fulfil our responsibilities to others.”
He found reason for gratitude even when, three years ago, he was hit by a debilitating back injury. “I rushed straight from Iraq to burying victims of Ebola in Sierra Leone. My body gave way. It was carrying the stretchers, the sweat and heat of working in protective suits. It was also the stress, being around Ebola is terrifying.” The injury caused Voni to be bedbound for almost three months but he used the time for strategic planning so that “IsraAID can best achieve our vision, which is to provide immediate assistance but also long-term partnership to people struck by disaster and trauma. It was a painful but productive time.”
For Voni, “there is something calming, grounding, to unite together in the middle of devastation, to understand what our mission is.” Thanksgiving is a single day of gratitude. But Voni finds – and gives us – reason to be thankful all of the time, even among hardship and uncertainty.