The Brutal War that Invaded Safe Homes in the Diaspora

By Nicole van der Vorst

I would like to shed light on a subject that, in my humble opinion, deserves more attention. As someone who is somewhat of an “outsider” but close enough to the Tigrayan diaspora, I have witnessed the effects of the Tigray war on many of my friends and acquaintances.

Externally, you appear strong and resilient. I have seen your tireless efforts to bring the war to the world’s attention and fight for its end. You continuously fundraise, petition, demonstrate, document, and create foundations to support the innocent civilians of Tigray, all while maintaining a calm and peaceful exterior in your own life.

In the diaspora world, everything appears normal; there are no bombs dropping, no shootings, no rape, and no lack of food. There is no immediate physical danger, yet you have lived with constant fear, desperation, uncertainty, and anxiety. You push through day and night, while internally dealing with distress, exhaustion, grief, anger, depression, and suppressed trauma. Let’s talk about it.

I don’t claim to have all the answers or solutions to these issues, but I am here to offer some help. At least consider what you’ve been through, acknowledge that you might need help, or realize that fighting for Tigray came at a cost for you, too.

Let me ask you, what price have you paid? What sacrifices have you made? We need to acknowledge them because you matter. We can only help others if we take care of ourselves first. Are you willing to talk about and work on these issues?

Think of it this way: just like flight attendants instruct passengers to put on their oxygen masks first before helping others, the same applies to you. Don’t you feel the same way? I’ve seen it happen under the phrases “they need it more than I do” or “their suffering is bigger than mine”. Though, don’t get me wrong, I am not here to judge or put any blame. I want to shine some light on you. From what I have witnessed, Tigrayan diaspora have often put themselves last, focusing on Tigray’s needs. But your suffering counts too. You have wounds that need healing.

How many marriages and relationships in the diaspora have been lost or strained due to the war on Tigray?

How many, in the diaspora, have faced job losses or job-related difficulties due to suppressed stress and grief due to the war?

How many have suffered psychological issues from the inability to express their traumas and the horrific images they’ve seen from Tigray?

How many have worked tirelessly and sacrificed themselves to support their family and Tigray’s cause? And how many have neglected their personal lives and relationships due to stress and anxiety?

It’s essential to address these questions and the consequences. Despite everything, you might say it was worth it, and you’d do it all again. I admire you for your dedication, but I also see the toll it has taken on you.

Imagine this scenario: You have your life, responsibilities, a family of your own, and you’re on your way to work. As you pass a street, you encounter a lady in need, and with your good heart, you offer your help. In the process of trying to save her, you end up getting injured yourself. Despite your injury, you manage to bring her to a hospital. At the hospital, a nurse rushes to help both the lady and you. Now, let me ask you a question: What will the doctor do? Will the doctor only focus on helping the severely injured lady and ignore your injury? Or will the doctor also take care of your well-being?

Common sense tells us that the doctor will attend to both the injured lady and you. However, when it comes to applying this to our own lives, we often struggle. We tend to prioritize others’ needs above our own and neglect ourselves for their benefit.

Maybe you’ll say, “but people in Tigray lost their life, women got raped, TDF soldiers got really traumatized,” my traumas, stress, etc. mean nothing compared to them, they need the attention, not me… and yes, all of that is true, in a sense. While it’s true that others have suffered immensely in the Tigray war, it doesn’t diminish or invalidate your own suffering. Just like in the scenario with the injured person on the street, you deserve care and attention too.

I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your life while also fighting for justice and peace for Tigray. Look closely at the areas in your life where you may be lacking or struggling. Consider opening up and discussing these challenges with someone you trust, perhaps how you find it difficult to sleep at night or how you feel overwhelmed by the pressures on your shoulders.

Talk about the challenges of juggling your own full-time job and the responsibilities you feel towards contributing to the cause of Tigray. Acknowledge if you have been dedicating more time to Tigray than to your own family, and how this has affected your relationships. Recognize that you may have allowed your children to spend more hours on screens due to being preoccupied with the situation.

Have genuine conversations about the emotional toll of losing loved ones without having the chance for proper farewells and closure. Share how the exposure to horrific images has impacted your well-being. Be open about any feelings of depression and anxiety that you may be experiencing. It’s important to discuss how your faith in humanity and your neighbors may have been affected in these trying times.

Moreover, try to find ways to cope with not being able to return home and see your family. These conversations will help you acknowledge and process the emotions you are experiencing, and seeking support can play a crucial role in healing and finding strength during difficult times. Remember, it’s okay to seek help and express your feelings as you navigate the complexities of life and your commitment to Tigray.

You’ve accomplished so much thus far, and even if you feel it’s not enough, remember that you deserve to take care of yourself and seek help when needed. Don’t brush off your feelings or continue without self-reflection. The survival mode strategy of “ajoki/ka [ኣጆኺ-ኣጆኻ]” may not serve you in the long run. While you deserve all the admiration and applause for the sacrifices you’ve made, now is the time to critically evaluate your past actions before igniting the next wave of struggle, whatever it may entail.

How successful have you been? Do you think there could have been other strategies that would have made your struggle more successful with less personal suffering overseas? I could have shared my observations and thoughts, but again, it would not be the same as having an insider’s insight. I left it for you to consider.


Nicole van der Vorst is from the Netherlands and works as a social worker in an organization that assists immigrants in her country.