In it together: Making the invisible feel seen

Amber Christino Jordan
4 min readAug 16, 2023
Photo © IOM 2019 / Amber Christino

LOOKING FOR WORK IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA!

Earlier this morning, a post caught my eye in an online community for humanitarian workers I’ve been a part of for the past couple of years; a doctor wanted to leave behind her job in a private clinic to volunteer somewhere in the world where her services are most needed.

Immediately I thought how cool it must be to have such a useful skillset that helps people — and how fortunate this doctor is to be able to drop everything, salary included, to go and do something that fills her heart with satisfaction. Most of us don’t have that luxury..!

My thoughts then turned to my own skillset, how I’m using it to advance my life and serve others. My line of work, communication, is much less glamourous than medicine. I’m an editor, a writer, a teller of stories. I put human faces on complex social issues in the hopes of creating just a little more empathy in the world. Whether or not I’m ever successful in this endeavor, I’ll probably never know, but still — I keep trying.

Ever since I was a young girl, I felt a quiet calling to serve others in my own way. I spent nearly every Sunday of my teenage years feeding the hungry in downtown Baltimore. When I moved to Paris in my twenties, I volunteered for several nonprofits that provided food and shelter to the homeless, including refugees and migrants. After finding work with the UN, I traveled frequently to Burundi where I interviewed dozens of people — in the most remote corners of one of the poorest countries in the world — to help raise awareness of their plights while showcasing their admirable courage.

Volunteers with French nonprofit “Solidarité Migrants Wilson” distribute food to migrants and refugees on the outskirts of Paris at the height of the pandemic. Photo © Amber Christino 2020

While I always had a “job” to do during these activities, I spent a lot of time simply talking to people. Asking them questions, looking at them in the eyes, really listening to what they had to say. Offering my hand, expressing sympathy, embracing them in a hug. Truly treating them as my equals.

I’ll be fully transparent — very few of these experiences could be described as comfortable for me. It is incredibly uncomfortable to witness extreme poverty and misfortune. It’s also challenging to navigate the very delicate balance of power between the so-called ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ Despite the discomfort, I push through. I may not always get it perfectly right, but still — I keep trying.

Over the years, through all my experiences on three different continents I have come to realize that regardless of origin, legal or economic status, most people just want to be seen. Truly seen.

I am not a doctor, but I do possess a special skill that perhaps not many people have: I go out of my way to make the invisible feel seen, even when — especially when — it’s uncomfortable.

This will come as no surprise, but people who are homeless, marginalized, living on the fringe of society for one reason or another, are usually not treated well by others. When beggars ask for money on the street or in the metro, most people shift uncomfortably and look away. Some even hurl insults, or worse. If we’re being honest, they are typically seen as less than human. Less deserving of the rights and comforts that the ‘rest of us’ enjoy.

I’ve also come to realize that we don’t actually need to travel to another corner of the world to do something meaningful.

Yes, we can help by feeding those who are hungry, or offering shelter and medicine to those who have none. However, this is not everything. I would argue that it’s not even what’s most important. Treating someone as a human, with dignity and respect, costs absolutely nothing. Everyone can do it, regardless of their resources, and you can even start today.

We are all busy and it’s easy to get caught up in the bustle of our daily lives, but taking a moment to make eye contact, to smile, to offer a word of encouragement or any other small gesture of kindness — this is doable.

To lift others up in their moment of despair — is there anything more valuable we can do as humans?

And maybe, hopefully, when it’s our turn in the trenches, someone will extend a hand, a smile, a reminder that ultimately, we are all in this together.

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Amber Christino Jordan

Sharing stories of humanity, family and my journey working with marginalized groups. Hoping to help conquer xenophobia with radical compassion.