Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Weathering the Storms Together

I begin this week with a word of congratulations for the Fiji Times. It was a pleasure to be part of history to read the first issue of their new-look paper. The Times have changed indeed.

My sincere thanks to those who supported the YWCA-organised Peace Vigil for Gaza last Thursday and for those of you who took time to reflect on the sad events that continue to unfold in this besieged territory as well as on the need for peace and reconciliation in our own country.

Today history (so far as this this year is concerned) is expected to repeat itself. As the nation reels from the torrential rain and flooding of last weekend, the weather office has predicted another round of the same, beginning today.

The devastation is not complete. The true extent of the disaster will not be known until people living in evacuation centres return home, until farmers survey their fields and count their livestock and business people go through their goods; until every missing person is accounted for. To measure this disaster in terms of dollars and cents only paints half the picture of the cost of this disaster. The cost of shattered dreams, the pain of losing everything – this is immeasurable.

Yet, when the international aid is finished, when the government disaster management programme ends, when the state of emergency expires – that is when we will feel the full brunt of this disaster. Children who are expected to begin school next week have lost uniforms, text books, stationery and the like. Hundreds of dollars gone; money scrimped and saved. I know some families who due to economic hardship could only give their children school things for Christmas last year – and now have no means of replacing these items. Jobs and livelihoods have been lost yet school, building and other fees and fund-raising activities remain due in the next few weeks.

Yet, in the words of Winston Churchill, our darkest moment may be our “finest hour”.

Among tales of death and destruction, other stories are coming to light. An indigenous Fijian man carrying a frail Indo-Fijian woman to safety; an indigenous Fijian family, fleeing the floods, finding refuge with their Indo-Fijian neighbours.

It is times like these, when politics are put aside, when we look not at our our differences, our status, or religion but at our common need; our common humanity. Even our neighbours who are in conflict with the military regime, recognise that there is a time and place for everything and that this is not a time for diplomatic rows but a time to help people in need.

While many of us have lost everything, or, at the very least, been inconvenienced by the flood (my family and I missed our flight back to the UK), there are many of us who have escaped this disaster, and the one to come. How we help our brothers and sisters in their hour of need, may be our finest hour. Already there are flood appeals, with requests for donations of money. But soon you may be asked to open your cupboards, your wardrobes and drawers, your bookshelves. Soon you may be asked to open your homes and your hearts– to relatives, to friends, but possibly to strangers.

When the call comes, and it will come, if not from our nation's leaders, or community or religious leaders, then from our consciences; heed the call. It is a call not just to help out, or to give from your excess but to share the little you have with those who have nothing. It is to truly be in solidarity with those who have lost everything – even hope. Or perhaps it is to give them hope.

Yesterday as I was working on my column, I heard on the radio of the flood appeal concert to be held in Albert Park next weekend (Saturday 24th January). I remembered the few appeal concerts that I helped organise over the years in Suva. Musicians and popular singing artists gave of their time freely to raise funds for those affected by cyclones and floods. I always marvelled at how musicians, who themselves struggle to make a living, earning only when they perform, could give their time for free. Many of them felt that as they could not give money, the least the could do was lend their talents to help raise money. I appeal to all musicians in the from the Pacific Harbour – Suva – Nausori corridor (professional and amateur) to join in and take part in Radio Fiji's Flood Appeal Concert. For the public it will be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy local live music and while the concert will be free, the collection bucket will be passed around for those who wish to express their appreciation and support for the flood victims in cash.

But the storm is not over yet. The cyclone season lasts until April and we need to continued to be prepared, in case the worse is yet to come. And then the storm within our nation which continues to rage, unabated. The words of the band Queen “Thunderbolts and lightning – very very frightening!” come to mind when one thinks of the storm that is now in its third year. The words “democracy” and “election” seem to be treated as vulgarities by the current regime. While our neighbours are offering humanitarian aid as a result of the floods, once this ends it will be a return to the coldest war possible in the tropical heat. Our reliance on foreign aid in the wake of crop failure and the struggling economy will be made more evident.

But just as we as a nation are rallying together in the midst of natural disaster, we can rally together to address this political disaster. All it takes is for those in leadership to open their heart and minds.

I know it is a big ask. But we're already in the process of doing this now. Could not we just keep working together?

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light, peace and the spirit of unity.

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