Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma

February 12, 2008

One of the most inspiring people we met during the course of the Kickstart project, was James Orbinski, the current head of Dignitas International and the former president of MSF International. He wouldn’t want us to launch off into hagiography in this space, but there’s no real need to. Take a look at those two organizations and the work speaks for itself.

2008 is going to be a coming out party for Orbinski, and hopefully his message as well. If you don’t know who he is now, you certainly will. In 2006, Orbinski set off to write a memoir about his years working at the heart of humanitarian crises – the Somali famine and the Rwandan genocide among them. As a result, he returned to Africa to confront the past through the prism of still unfolding realities. The team behind the Oscar-nominated Romeo Dallaire doc Shake Hands with the Devil (Director Patrick Reed and White Pine Pictures’ Peter Raymont) decided to follow him. The result is Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma, which has just screened to glowing reviews at Sundance. It’s Canadian Premiere will be this spring.

Here are some clips below.

On Triage.

On the need to fundraise.

The book, An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action for the 21st Century will be published by Random House in April.

In our talk with him, Orbinski spoke of learning about responsibility in high school. As it was put to him by a teacher, to be a truly responsible citizen required that you were “response-able”, that you were ready and willing to do what needed to be done. Orbinski struggled with what he needed to be doing in his life. His taste for adventure led him to leave school twice, once to help start a hotel with his friends in the Laurentians. His time at Trent saw Orbinski gravitate to clinical psychology, which took him to a Youth Detention Centre in Calgary after graduating. As he told us, Orbinski was “exploring with intent,” trying to learn where he needed to be and what he needed to be doing. He finally found his answer during his third year of med school, while doing immunology work in Rwanda. It was an “aha” moment that forever changed him.

His has since been a life devoted to humanitarian aid and its myriad challenges. We’re eagerly awaiting both the film and the book.

For interviews Orbinski has given about Triage and a look at the trailer, visit Dignitas’ News & Events Page

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