Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Voice of Refugees

Yaad-e-sarzamin mein bheega rehta hai

Dil ke kisi kone mein ek dard chhipa rehta hai (Urdu)

Distance from the motherland is always combined with some pain, which is often times sleeping in some little corner of our hearts. However, when this pain wakes up, little drops of tears find their way to our eyes.

For those of us who had to leave to their native country for a job or other reasons, there’s the opportunity to visit our dear ones and the places where we grew up. But there are those who are forced to depart from the land where they were born because of fear of death or persecution. They seek refuge in other countries, while many get accepted, many also get refused. Some wander from country to country/border to border to be able to survive, struggling for basic needs far away from all that knew and enjoyed growing up.

According to the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol defines a refugee as any person who “As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his [or her] nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him [or her]self of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his [or her] former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

In addition to being in a foreign place, refugees face suffering in different forms. Daoud Hari, in his book ‘The Translator’, talks about the Sudanese refugee women who were raped repeatedly in exchange of wood for daily cooking in the camps at the Chad border. Thanks to the good work of agencies like Red Cross and UNCHR, many refugees are able to obtain basic support. However, no assistance received in the foreign land can remove their desire to return with their head high and live freely in their own nation. Following is a humble effort to capture a small part of the pain that a refugees experience every day:

We were forced to migrate

Fear accompanies us

We yearn to go back,

Our home beckons us

Foreign is this place,

Foreign is the culture

With the memories and legends from our land

Our children, we nurture

Out of the walls of our homes,

We fear for our honor and dignity,

For no fault of our own,

We have been ripped off of our security

O, God almighty!

Did you forget us?

We too are your children

We beg you, protect us

O, power of humanity!

Come and assist us

We will do our share,

But please support us

We want to break up with fear

and make friends with hope

Far away, from the suffering and pain

With courage, we desire to elope

One day, the sun will truly shine

One day, our miseries will be over,

One day, we will return to our homes with smiles,

One day, our grief will have a closure

And if the Lord calls me before that,

I will make only one humble demand

that my soul makes the voyage to Him

through my beautiful motherland

Friday, September 23, 2011

Accountability for Dignity

Today I was reviewing the guide planning and managing shelters for the disaster survivors in the US. I was very impressed with all the considerations that are taken to meet the immediate needs of all the populations and the structure in doing so. Amongst many excellent insights, the guide also cautions the shelter managers about the sex offenders and other anti-social elements.

This exercise made me remember the IDP camps in Bhuj, Gujarat after the 2001 earthquake and in the southern coast of Sri Lanka after the 2004 Tsunami. In Gujarat, in the GIDC shelters, each family had a little space covered with metal, which would get hot in the summers, very cold in the winters and would get flooded during the rainy seasons. It was one room for the whole family with hardly any privacy for anyone. In Sri Lanka, shelters were made of tarpaulin or wood and like in Bhuj, were not organized enough to meet the specific needs of all.

I wonder how the IDP camp managers in resource poor countries do the screening for sex offenders and attempt to protect the inhabitants against the bad guys, where most of the time, there are no official records of sex offenders. I know the Sphere Project and IASC Guidelines for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support strive to mainstream Protection for survivors as a function in any humanitarian emergencies. As a result, I hope there are monitoring/assessment groups across these sites not only to look for potential risks be it physical, psychological or social in nature.
This monitoring team must include and train inhabitants in the camps/shelters. These teams must have good representation from all the vulnerable groups. It would also require a community-based system for referral and follow up actions in response to relevant observations or notifications. Training for these teams must include (a) awareness about their basic rights including the right to receive assistance with dignity, (b) active listening skills and (b) referral and follow up system.

There must be no excuse for attack on dignity and honor of a human being. More so, in a site which is being supervised with organizations that owe their very existence to the humanity. Just because there is scarcity of resources, respect and security should not become a luxury.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Synergize Goodness

As I was reading FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency in the US) plan for assistance for Special Needs Population, I was overwhelmed to see that it is articulated with sensitivity and empathy. They have a comprehensive list of people with special needs including those who don’t speak the primary language of the country. They realize that all needs of special populations are not the same and same type of assistance cannot fit all. They aspire to meet these needs without charging anything extra from this special population.
I hope other countries are equally sensitive of special needs of people even during the time of emergency. I know there are enough good people around the world and their concerns and recommendations need to be heeded by all. If all the goodness found in the people could come together and synergize, it could change this world for better.
Sometimes, what keeps these good people apart, in addition to time and space, is the ever-evolving set of linguistic and cultural interferences. If there could be a system, which may include educational institutes and internet, where people could become more aware, sensitive and accepting towards each other’s background and world-view, then we can significantly reduce biases. Once we are more accepting towards each other, all the goodness could be amalgamated together to heal the wounds of humanity created by poverty, injustice and hatred. Yes, it is a beautiful dream and we need to dream before we can realize them.
So, my dear people, please a take minute and reflect on what stops you from collaborating with other people to do the right thing for those who are in need, special or not.  Let us break the chains of prejudices, if there are any, walk beyond the boundaries of our fears and embrace the goodness around us regardless of the package (skin color, religious, linguistic or cultural background and other preferences) that carries it to us. If we recognize and appreciate goodness, we will be able to encourage and amplify it too.  
For info on FEMA:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Global Peace Starts from My Heart!

• Acknowledge beauty in every thing including yourself and those around you.

• Words that have a long term positive impact on people are usually the words of appreciation, don’t hold them back! Encourage and uplift as many as you can.

• Don’t let the smile leave your beautiful face for too long. If somebody is responsible for taking it away, you take the responsibility of bringing it back. :-)

• Facilitate safe expression of feelings. Actively listen to those who want to share their feelings and encourage writing, drawing, dancing, singing, theatre, sports, praying and other activities that are appropriate.
• Focus on the purpose. Every step you take must bring you closer to at least one of your goals.

• Serve without boundaries. Biggest service is to enable one to be self sufficient as much as possible.
• Take charge of the situation. No one can imprison your imagination or put your brain in chains.
• Let compassion be the most important ingredient of your soul.

• Last but not the least, have a relationship with your creator. If He created you, he knows how to fix you, as and when needed.

Congratulations and many thanks for your contribution to Global Peace!


It’s all about the roots! Our roots don’t pull us down, they enable us to grow farther away to explore the unknown skies! #roots #trees ...