Connecting local responses around the world
March 1, 2017
Do we Europeans behave like the legendary frog? You know the story: the frog was living in a pond whose water was heating so slowly that it noticed nothing until it died in boiling water. Is our fixation on “the economy” so strong that we pay no attention to the fate of fellow human beings? Are we so mesmerized by the current US excesses that we leave unnoticed the gradual abandonment of our own values? Not long ago, I was proud to belong to Europe, a beacon of human rights. Now I am ashamed: we let people die while they knock on our door as they flee the bombs we throw on them. Where did the fundamental values of Europe go? Not long ago, I was a proud Belgian, not just because of our beer and of our football, but because Belgium was a free and a safe country. Now I feel betrayed by a government that disrespects court orders. I feel insecure when an administrative official can decide without court judgement to deport foreign citizens born in Belgium if they break the law. Who will be next? Where will this dangerous skidding stop?
Is there anything else to do but to vent my anger? Should I shout at politicians who slowly but surely chip away at our basic rights? With this question in the back of my mind, I left for East Africa to launch “What makes us human?” as part of our #letsreconnect campaign, feeling angry and powerless.
Nairobi. Wangu Kanja has every reason to be angry. After she was raped some years ago, she decided to turn her experience for the good: she founded the Wangu Kanja Foundation dedicated to a society that is safe and free from all forms of violence. I asked Wangu how she saw the advocacy role of her foundation. Would it consist in shouting outrage about rapists? Or about disparaging politicians who ignore the rights of victims and survivors of sexual violence? The key sentence in her response was: "You have to understand the process." There was no trace of anger in her response. Just the determination to build shared understanding.
Entebbe. Hosted by Health Nest Uganda (HENU) the book launch exemplified the remarkable collaboration between civil society, government and HENU. I asked my host Arthur Namara from HENU how such collaboration came about. "True, older persons' rights are not yet a priority in Uganda. Many older persons are abandoned as traditional family ties loosen. Health services designed to serve children and primarily deal with infectious diseases, are not equipped to take care of older persons’ needs. But when they met with the President, they did not shout for their rights. They adopted as starting point that the President cared. And when he understood their plight he gave immediate instructions for government to help older persons address their challenges."
Kigali. Father Aloys Guillaume teaches dogmatics at the Grand Séminaire in Butare. We met when I checked in at the Centre Saint Paul. "Your book is relevant for us in Rwanda. How can we fully recover our humanity after having reached the bottom of inhumanity during the 1994 genocide? " He went ahead and contributed greatly to the organization of the Kigali book launch which took place near the Sainte Famille church where more than 700 people perished during the 1994 genocide. The shoah, the Balkans, Rwanda, …. What shall we do to stop the seemingly unavoidable tailspin towards the next round of horrors? During our breakfast conversation Father Aloys mentions umudugudu and tuseme. In Rwanda, the government stimulates local discussion and reflection for collective action by umudugudus, the country’s basic administrative structure. In some umudugudus, victims and actors of the genocide reconstruct their lives together. Some schools organize “Tuseme“ or Let us Speak Out clubs, an Africa-wide initiative by FAWE, the forum of African Women Educationists which improve gender relations.
Now in Mauritius after stops in Nairobi, Entebbe and Kigali my anger is subsiding. It is being replaced by a determination to act. The practice of SALT is putting me on the right path. Appreciation without judgment is at the core of SALT practice. Because with SALT we do not separate people into categories of sinners and saints, we open our minds to understand ourselves and others. Because we seek strengths without preconceived ideas we leverage the positive energy that is harbored in each person. That energy is available for local action. What will I do differently when I return to Belgium? When politicians act to reduce our human rights, I will not let anger take hold of me. Rather I will seek to let them know my point of view with the basic belief that they care. I’ll work with even more determination at weaving local links for action starting in my own village. That may be a modest start in view of the daunting challenge in front of us in Europe. But that I can do, and I am not alone on that path.
I have always used happiness as my inner compass, and I conclude this note peaceful and happy.