Loving Thy Neighbour

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

In commemoration of World Day of Social Justice 20 February 2021 and International Mother Language Day 21 February 2021

I recall a Sunday last year, when I received dozens of greetings from online LGBT+ refugees who had been rejected by their biological families, and yet these young adults greeted me from the other side of the world with what I presumed was a traditional African mark of respect towards an older person: “Hello father…” – and then I realised that it was Father’s Day and they were sending greetings to their new dad.

“G’day Mate” (Australian ‘strine’)
“Uraho” – “Muraho” (Kinyarwanda – Rwanda)
“Oli Otya” (Luganda – Uganda)
“Selam” (Tigrinya – Eritrea)
“Tadiyass” (Amharic – Ethiopia)
“Ma Nabad Baa” (Somali)
“Kudual” (Dinka – South Sudan)
“Mbote” (Lingala – Congo)
“Amosi” (Luo – Kenya)
“Hujambo” or “Habari Yako” (Kiswahili)
“Marhaba” (Arabic – Yemen)

As a single man, I never had children of my own – although as a school teacher for many years, I worked daily with many young people and built varied relationships with many (one of my earliest students, with whom I was recently reunited due to the miracle of social media, turned fifty-years-old last year). And it is through such opportunities in social media that I have come to learn of humanity’s latest incursion into new social territory – changing our understandings and responses to new forms of human relationships.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

A Whole New World…

Such is the power of World Day for Social Justice, which aims to highlight ‘poverty, exclusion, gender equality, unemployment, human rights and social protections’. Its theme for the 2021 is, ‘Social Justice in the Digital Economy‘. This seems to be an acknowledgement of a new normal that is emerging: digital life (though not just in financial economics, because there are other forms of investment in human, planetary and environmental infrastructure that are at least as important as pecuniary interests). It seems fitting that my own, much more humble reflections on social justice in 2021 should also focus on digital social media that have the power to change the world, in particular through giving us unique opportunities for access to people whose heroic work for social justice should inspire us all.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

As a science and space enthusiast – as a futurist – I enjoy the exploring new ideas and new worlds and new technology – and I find it amazing that the virtual world holds the power to change our real-life world in ways that could not be anticipated. Social media is possibly the next epochal change for humanity – because it holds the potential to help us evolve into a better species.

Social media demonstrates that social evolution is a tangible force – unstoppable, immutable, inevitable – and reminiscent of that old song, For the Times, They Are A-Changin’, or in acknowledgement of the modern social blog that It Gets Better, we should either join in or get out of the way.

I will let some of my extended social media family speak for themselves.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Global Village, Global Family

Social media has introduced me to one young man who describes himself and his situation:

“A polite Ugandan who was born gay by nature and discriminated against due to the homophobic environment and rigid culture and religious norms starting within my family itself and my entire community. Even during school, I knew life would never be fair to people of our nature…

“Fortunately, I was received by the UNHCR and taken to a place that they thought I would be safe (Kakuma camp). This place has seemed more tough and dangerous even more than before, due to exposure to more tough times.”

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

Life in the camp is difficult. One refugee from Yemen reports:

“Everyone accuses the LGBTQ community in Kakuma camp that we are the cause of the Corona virus, hunger, thirst, disease and all the problems… They say we are LGBTQ people, so they want to get rid of the LGBT community in any way, even if we are killed.”

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

Meanwhile, a young woman tells me:

“We are attacked almost every day by the Turkana natives and fellow refugees who don’t like LGBTI community… Even the police discriminate [against] us. My first house given to me by UNHCR was burnt by homophobes. We are [also] discriminated [against] while receiving key services like medication and water. We are attacked and cut like animals. One day we went to seek protection from the UNHCR compound … and we were badly beaten and tear-gassed by the police, ordered by the UNHCR sub-Office.”

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

And so they endure machete attacks, typhoid and malaria, medical neglect, attacks upon property and person, and starvation rations from the UNHCR. Is the ‘solidarity and compassion’ of which UNHCR Commissioner Filippo Grandi speaks?

As each day dawns in Kakuma, LGBT people count their blessings, as explained to me recently by one trans refugee when recounting the previous night’s attack of having a number of shelters pelted with stones:

“Here every day, night, stones come from every corner, and we all live in fear. Great thing no one got hurt yesterday, but they [were] attacked.”

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

“It is Better to Light A Candle Than to Curse the Darkness” – W L Watkinson.

Yet these young people give me hope for the world. They demonstrate the power of Martin Luther King’s declaration that ‘Darkness is only driven out with light, not more darkness.’

They are fine young adults who seek to make a difference in the darkest of settings, offering medical assistance and seeking to build shelters for the homeless and the endangered. One young man explains his idealism:

“I just wanted to say to you that I actually believe very strongly that the homophobia that is driven by some Christian people, and lots of churches and lots of people have faith in Africa. It is wrong. And the message that I understand of the Gospels is about love, and it’s it’s not about judging people. But you will find that through history – you know, there were times in the Bible when lepers were put outside the camp, they were untouchable. And in modern times, we know that lepers don’t carry disease, that you can’t pick up their disease from them. And it’s the same thing. And the different groups all throughout history, who have been ostracized, you know the word ostracized. It means to be not accepted to put out… they’re not part of us. And there’s been all kinds of different groups of people who’ve been treated like that. And it’s very, very sad that some Christian people today have such a cruel and oppressive attitude for another human being. But that’s why we’re trying to help you in some way. And let you know that there are Christian people, and people who don’t have a faith in God at all, but they have hearts that want to reach out and help. Just like you want to reach out and help the people around you.”

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

Although I do not share his specific faith, I do share his faith in humanity and a positive human future. I have become involved with Humanity In Need – Rainbow Refugees, an unincoporated non-profit group that seeks to assist these young people in building a better future for their people. Would you like to help build their world?

Another of my young friends reports:

Am working with a team Humanity In Need (HIN) to help support fellow queer refugees here in the camp with mobilisation, counselling and advice where necessary.

All this we have managed to reach with the support of our Australian friends who with there support we have managed to reach to help provide emergency medical assistance which is very necessary because the UNHCR medical centers are filled with homophobia.

As well as food availability to some LGBTIQ mates and we are planning to provide shelters to many homeless mates. All this is done to help create some safety before the UNHCR intervenes.

(Anonymous – used with author’s consent).

So far, through the miracle of modern social media, I know that they have saved lives from typhoid and malaria and homophobic attack, they have built (or rebuilt) shelters and provided hope for many people who otherwise might feel hopelessness. To me, their humanist precepts of kindness and decency and compassion cut across race or religion or resistance. I believe that this is possibly the most compelling form of immortality – through assisting the lives and betterment of our extended family, endeavouring to create a better future, and leaving a legacy of an improved world around us.

I publish this to coincide with World Day of Social Justice and International Mother Language Day because social media gives us new opportunities for social justice – and surely the commonest mother tongue we all share is the power of the human heart. Amidst their trauma, my young friends have (hopefully) experienced kindness to some degree, and I know that some of them seek to pay it forward by being kind to others. I invite you to join them: Humanity in Need – Rainbow Refugees

Stop Press: As this blog article is reaching publication stage, news has come in that UNHCR Kenya and related agencies are holding a meeting with LGBT refugees in Kakuma. It is hoped that protection, shelter, food, water, medicine, mosquito nets and resettlement will come out of this meeting.

©2021 Geoff Allshorn

Disclosure: Geoff Allshorn is President of Humanity in Need – Rainbow Refugees. Uncredited photos were supplied by LGBT+ refugees from Kakuma, and are published with the consent of those people.