Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: refugee crisis

Still, Hatred Is Not The Answer

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday, November 20th, 2015. 

Few are those who have not heard about the latest terrorist attacks claimed by ISIS in Beirut and Paris. At the same time, many news outlets have updates on the refugee situation. It is not to be solved any time soon, and according to some political analysts, we have seen nothing yet. The crisis is not about to end anytime soon, nor will the deluge of refugee slow down.

In the wake of the Paris attack that shook the western world to the core, there are many questions that remain unanswered. Why would anyone do that and what do they hope to achieve? How are we ever to stop the deadly machine that creates countless ripples of violence and harm, directly and indirectly?

It is unfortunate that one of the consequences of such attacks is the increased resentment Muslims experience from people who are overtaken by hatred. Just like worry does not solve anything in case of a stressful situation, hatred will solve nothing but only breed more hatred.

Yes, we are steeped in a moral dilemma that may not have a solution, but hopefully there are steps to mitigate some of it as we move along.

Whatever your opinion is about Syrian refugees, one thing is clear: resenting Muslim people, the ones here or there or the ones in between countries, will do nothing to shed light onto the crisis we’re in.

As our children hear on the news about terrorist attacks and then they hear contradicting opinions about whether refugees should be accepted by countries like ours, truth is they have little to learn from news outlets alone or from opinions flying this way or that.

As with so many (all) issues of our troubled world, education is key and it should start with our youngest ones. Instead of being politically correct at all times while at the same times being plagued by contradictory feelings, we should have them learn and we can learn with them, that in many parts of the world people turn to violence to get the message through and they are, in most if not all cases, opposing the very thing that would otherwise enlighten them and see different solutions.

Playing into the hands of groups like ISIS and allowing them to make us resent other Muslims will only isolate people and communities and thus create in the end more breeding ground for more hatred-based reactions to appear. It’s a vicious circle of the worst kind.

The US Congress just passed a bill that will have every Syrian refugee’s immigration documents (those who make it to that stage) personally signed by the heads of the US intelligence and security agencies in order to prevent possible terrorists from entering the country.

But, as New York Times columnist Nickolas Kristof points out, it is worth taking into consideration that a terrorist might not come as a humble refugee but, say, a graduate student. The issue is already a thousand times bigger than a few seconds ago, isn’t it?

In a way, that is perhaps what an organization like ISIS aims to create: alienation at all levels, fearmongering and hatred between people, which in turn provides some of the most fertile grounds for more violence and more conflict.

Then again, albeit the Syrian conflict is the most present on the news because of its gravity and the ever-growing waves of concern relating the long-reaching arms of terrorism, there are other serious crises happening around the world that people are less, if at all, aware of.

A humanitarian crisis of big proportions is unfolding as we speak in Nepal, where the survivors of the earthquake in April are not only undernourished and in great need of medical supplies, but the country’s border with India has been under a severe blockade for the last couple of months, which greatly aggravated the many troubling issues that Nepalese people had to face after almost 9,000 of them died and almost 2 million lost their homes.

And there’s more. In 2014, according to UN High Commission for Refugees, there were 60 million refugees and internally displaced people around the globe, the highest number since the WWII. Almost half of them are children. To all of us who have the privilege to tuck our children in bed every night, that is unthinkable.

Placing the Syrian refugee issue in the context of global refugees and displaced people who find themselves at the present moment in great need of help may just add compassion to their plea, which in turn may reduce the resentment and stigma associated with various ethnic groups.

Time will tell and though desperately needed, an answer is far from reach. This is not a black and white issue. But if we judge a whole nation or religious group based on a few (or more, unfortunately) extremists, we are only making more room for negative outcomes and potentially pushing more people to seek acceptance on the wrong side of being human.

Because truth is, there are two sides in each of us. A compassionate approach to life is nothing but a matter of choice, despite the occasional temptation to give in and join the ranks of those who fear and resent.

What’s A Child’s Life Worth?


Initially published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday, September 18, 2015. 

SoftnessIt is hard to avoid feeling broken-hearted and also befuddled over many events unfolding lately.  From a refugee crisis growing by the day, both in the number of people suffering but also in the controversy surrounding the political and social implications of various countries accepting them, to news of children being killed in Canada, one cannot help but wonder if the world is really turning topsy-turvy this time.

Humanity is slowly (or not) being buried under its own indignities, some so gross and unforgivable we find it hard to make peace with it, now or ever.

The photo of the little Syrian boy who drowned off the coast of Turkey circled the world many times over, prompting people to step up and demand governments to act to address the awful refugee crisis.

Many wondered about that photo, asking how and why it impacted so many people while other photos of children dying or dead from Syria, Africa or Ukraine, or even here in Canada, have done little but show up on the news and cause a temporary shudder.

The thing is, the photo made people aware of a situation so dire it is baffling it took so long for us all to react the way we did after seeing the lifeless body of a child washed up on a beach.

The EU and the rest of the world are still far from having found viable solutions to lessen the severity of one of the most massive human displacements in history, yet the matter is being discussed and analyzed at length, powered at least partially by the photo.

A little boy lost his life, and that is beyond sad, yet his death and the fact that the world saw it have become the catalyst that will help prevent other children like him from dying needlessly.

Here at home, recent incidents involving very young children should become strong catalysts of change too. In Penticton, a 5-year-old boy was killed by a pickup truck while crossing a busy street (on a crosswalk) with his father and older brother. Not only was he hit by the truck, but the driver kept on driving not realizing what had happened, until he was flagged down by people, and after not hearing the boy’s father yelling at him to stop.

What are we to learn? That some of the trucks on our streets are so big you cannot see a smaller size adult from the driver’s seat, let alone a child? Do we need them so big that they become a menace for pedestrians?

Before we even know what caused the accident (will we ever?) how determined are we to make driving distractions a thing of the past, be them phone or alcohol-caused, how harsh the punishment for both and speeding too, so that we can prevent other people from dying needlessly?

The case of the little girl in Alberta who died an atrocious death at the hands of a monster who first killed her father, is as shocking as it is incomprehensible. As a parent, it is hard not to crumble inside just thinking of the fear and pain that child had to go through before she died.

Will we hold ourselves accountable as a society to do right by her and her father (if a shocking photo is not to be shown) and ensure cold-blooded killers like theirs do not ever get to hurt anyone else ever again? Or will we forget too soon because such shocking things are hard to bring up? Let’s hope not.

We should hug our children once more every night, find more compassion for each other and strengthen the bonds with the people in the community we live in so that we can do all that we can to prevent any other children or adults from being killed in our midst.

Another toddler, just a couple of months younger, was found in Victoria by the RCMP officers that responded to a 911 call. She could not be resuscitated. While the police informed the public that ‘this is an isolated incident and the public is not at risk’, the reality is that we are at risk, very much so, simply because we’re in it together. It’d be shameful if we chose to think otherwise.

We do not know the nature of the injuries that caused the toddler’s death, nor do we know the nature of her mother’s medical distress. We can assume that it was perhaps a case of post-partum depression or psychosis, which is a reality for approximately 8 to 12 per cent of new mothers and should prompt our local and provincial governments to allocate proper resources and funds to help prevent and treat such disorders, as well as other mental disorders that plague our society.

Will the media be diligent enough to inform us later so by knowing the truth we can press for necessary change?

There are then the many cases of children in foster care, some of whom die at the hands of their caregivers (see the case of the 2-year-old girl who, two years ago, was found to have fractures and bruises by the coroner, yet the cause of death was declared unknown), never to be heard of again, their death not able to stand out as a horrible enough event that prompts us to better our ways so that no other children have to die or suffer while in foster care.

Should we fear that if we do not have a visual reminder strong enough to shake us to the core we will just cringe and move on? Using photos of children under such dire circumstances may just look callous and inconsiderate, yet considering the above cases, all of them, and seeing how a photo was enough to make the world wake up and demand action, what should we do about the children who are dying only to be seen and remembered by their loved ones, their sad passing unable to create strong enough ripples to influence obligatory change?

No child is more or less important than another and in failing to prevent the (preventable) death of any, we are not only failing humanity, we are failing ourselves and the values we hold dear at a personal level.

We can argue about the correctness of publishing photos of dead children until we’re blue in the face,  truth is there is a high risk of more children dying of various preventable deaths unless we’re shaken good by a photo so hard to look at that it will never leave us.

Unless, of course, we are reminded of the preciousness of life simply by looking in a child’s eyes and realizing that all it takes is kindness and a made up mind to make good things happen. For them and for us all.

Compassion Starts Where Judgment Ends

Initially published as  column on AM News, now part of NewsKamloops

This past week I was among the many people who got to see the photo of a little Syrian boy who washed up on the shores of Turkey as a result of the horrific crisis that has thousands of refugees flee Syria. It’s the kind of photo that shakes and rattles people’s hearts, whether they have children or not.

The crisis is not new and there are now 4 million refugees in five host countries and a total of 15 million people in need of assistance inside and outside of Syria, according to Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid organization presently on site in the Middle East.

While most people were horrified and considered the very image a visual of our failed humanity, some opinions opened the door to controversy and criticism. Peter Bucklitsch, UKip member and parliamentary candidate in the 2015 elections, said the boy was well dressed and well fed and his parents too greedy for the good life in Europe.

His tweet (deleted since) garnered supportive comments alongside highly critical ones. The ones defending the comment said there are plenty of hungry people already in the UK and other European countries lining up for food at food banks, there have been cuts that made impoverished people poorer and increased crime, and an influx of refugees would make matters worse.

Most people called him heartless and worse. Factually speaking, the comment is nothing but harsh judgment applied to people he knew nothing about and, from a compassionate point of view, there is little more one should say about a dead child other than ‘that is sad and unfortunate, unacceptable by anyone’s standards.’

Others argued that there are many children dying, not just in Syria, but in Ukraine and Africa and that a photo should not steal the front page the way this one did.

These are strange times indeed, where we can show our best or worst sides. There is no competition regarding children dying and where it happens most, and there should be no ‘us versus them’ either. A child that dies is one too many. To argue that too much attention is being given to one cases versus the others causes us all to lose track of what’s important and engage in useless rhetoric.

They do not call this situation a crisis for nothing. While political analysts are not entirely surprised to see how far it got, there are no adequate words to properly describe it either, which is why photographs are worth more than any. European governments have been accused of having supported the US war on the Middle East and North Africa for more than a decade, which lead to the displacements and desperation we see today.

It is overwhelming to say the least. More than half of the Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. In the context of the Western societies protecting their young ones, often to the point of bubble-wrapping, we have to think of what children in war-torn countries witness and go through, and what that says about our world as a whole.

There is no us and them, really. Race, colour and religion do not matter when we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis like the one taking place in Syria.

Some people wonder why anyone would opt to get themselves in shoddy boats in order to cross the Mediterranean Sea, putting themselves and their families, including children and infants, at risk of losing their lives.

Desperation is a mighty beast.

What would we all do if our country was subject to a war such as the one in Syria? How many of us would be willing to live in camps or outside of camps, never making an attempt to flee in search of a better life? How many of us would risk anything for that one chance to have it better for ourselves and our children?

I would argue that the world, troubled and exhausted as it seems, has enough resources still for all who live on it. When there is a will created by compassion in face of tragedy, there is a way to carry out good deeds.

It is easy to express judgment when removed from a situation. Trouble is, judgment stops compassion in its tracks. Whether we are talking about the missing Aboriginal women in Canada and the governmental lack of attention to it, or the human slavery that is still very much alive and an unfortunate part of the western world commercial goods market, or the humanitarian crises happening in many places around the world, allowing compassion to have a front seat reminds us of a simple truth: we are only as human as we allow ourselves to be by opening our minds and abstaining from judgment so that compassion can thrive instead.

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