First, Do no Harm
Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase that means “first, do no harm.” This phrase is the basis of the ethical principle of non-maleficence which medical students learn in medical school. In the care of their patients, they must first make sure they are not harming the patient. Then if they can do good, then they must. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, wrote “The physician must … have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm.”
As volunteers, orphanage workers and poverty alleviation workers, we must first, do no harm – to ourselves or to the poor we are trying to serve. Second, we must do good to best of our ability. Get the best training possible so that we can give those we serve the best we can give. Don’t be deceived by what people often say. They say, anything is better than nothing. They say that people are suffering. Don’t just stand there, do something!
We believe that volunteers can change the world. But this doesn’t happen at random. For a volunteer to be effective, he or she has to be the right person (well trained), working in the right place at the right time and doing things the right way. It doesn’t matter how well educated and skillful a volunteer is. If he is not trained, he will end up hurting and not helping the poor. The truth is, don’t just do something. Prepare yourself and do it well. A volunteer is a doctor to the souls and minds of poor people. This is a bigger task than simply caring for the body. All over the world, people are harming themselves and the poor in the name of helping them. Good intentions are not enough. A good heart is not enough. You must add the right interventions, at the right time, in the right way.
We may say, but the poor don’t have anything better. Well, that may be true. But if you and I take advantage of that to go and give them substandard care, who do we expect to make the change to raise their standards of care to humane levels? Do we expect some angels to come from heaven and raise the standard of care of orphans so that we can simply follow that standard? They are our brothers and sisters. God has given the privilege to us to be the ones to love them as we love ourselves. We want the best for ourselves, don’t we? Then we should give them the best too. Let’s not make the switch to “anything can do” when it comes to them. You know what? Be the trail blazer, be the only volunteer who takes the time to spend months or years training and preparing yourself so that you can offer your best to the poor and reduce the chance of hurting them.
Don’t let your good work stand as a testimony against you. Many people will be condemned by their mediocre standard that they show toward the poor.