On 19 August 2003, we lost 22 colleagues in an attack on the United Nations in Baghdad, Iraq. The tragedy profoundly changed the way in which humanitarians operate – from being respected, to being targeted – and led to the creation of World Humanitarian Day (WHD).
Today, 20 years on, our work has grown in scale and complexity. We aim to help almost 250 million people – 10 times more people than in 2003.
Out of tragedy, good things can emerge.
It is my privilege to know many people who do their bit to help others: women, refugees, detainees, children, convalescents, palliative care, disempowered and dispossessed others.
Thank you to them all. I draw inspiration from their example, and I hope that others do as well.
“Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” (Schindler’s List, 1982).
Today, and every day, let’s do something to help our fellow humans (and other living/sentient beings), and to make the world a better place for our having been a part of it. Our personal journey is finite, but we can contribute to a larger story.
Leaving a legacy of having saved or helped others, increasing the sum total of love and compassion in the Universe – surely there is no greater legacy or form of immortality.
“They say in Heaven love comes first
We’ll make Heaven a place on Earth.”
Belinda Carlisle, ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’, MCA, 1987,
Written by Rick Nowels and Ellen Shipley.
About fifty years ago, I was a geeky (and closeted gay) teenager living in a family that identified as members of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. My father was an elder, and my mother – although equally intelligent and capable – was consigned to women’s duties that were deemed to be fitting given the church’s sexist attitudes. Dad was involved in the discussions between elders of three churches at the time: Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists – who ultimately agreed to form a new church, the Uniting Church in Australia.
I recall Dad expressing frustration over the many meetings that he attended as part of these talks. He recounted arguments by those debating what would happen to expensive church property after the merger, for example: would individual churches keep the property and revenue from private schools, or would these resources be merged and shared?
Often, questions about sharing money were asked in ways that would appeal to the better angels of their nature: “What would Jesus want?”
But the common response was more cynical about keeping it for themselves: “Jesus has nothing to do with this.” – A reply that frustrated my somewhat idealistic father.
Even though I was still a young lad, I also found such hypocritical selfishness to be disillusioning to my naive childhood faith. Here were people publicly proclaiming their belief in a religious figure who, for them, represented lofty ideals – but when it came to walking the walk, they turned away from his principles. Five decades later, I see the same hypocrisy in many religious people today: televangelists, megachurches, homophobes and transphobes, cathedrals dripping with opulence while beggars starve in the streets outside. And their homes – like their hearts and minds – so often remain fortified and insulated against welcoming strangers and sharing their abundance.
This lack of hospitality created another philosophical quandary in my young life – religious folk proclaiming that sodomy was homosexuality and therefore an abomination; whereas the Bible itself explicitly explains the abomination of Sodom: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” – Ezekiel 16:49 (ESV). How many religious people gorge themselves upon their promiscuous materialism and overflowing cups of plenty, while refusing to extend little more than tokenistic breadcrumbs of hospitality to the stranger, the refugee, or the homeless – thereby practicing the true sin of Sodom? By contrast, how few of them open their empty megachurch buildings at night, offering their sanctuaries to those seeking sanctuary? Or donating spare rooms in their manses or parishioners’ homes to those needing shelter from the storms of life? Or gift lovingkindness to victims of domestic violence? Open their hearts and homes and families to members of our wider human family?
Such blindness to their own ethical double standards, and their willingness to seek scapegoats by blaming LGBT+ people for imaginary sins as a distraction, helped to sow the seeds of doubt in my young mind regarding the ethics of religion.
Any philosophy that presumes to explore profundity, deep meaning, or significant cosmic consequence, should concentrate on important matters instead of intellectual detritus. Even today, whenever I walk past a religious street peddler who is distributing religious tracts to passersby, I want to ask them (as I wanted to ask them when I was ten years old): why aren’t they using their time and resources to feed the poor or save lives?
Do theists want to prove their god exists? Then they should go out there and change the world. Stop navel gazing and self-indulgent debating of meaningless rhetoric. Stop showing off your imaginary piety on street corners or from the top of pulpits; get out and walk the walk. Feed the poor. Solve poverty and inequality and systemic injustice. Cure cancer and HIV and a hundred other medical problems. Abolish guns and cluster bombs and nuclear weapons. Resettle sixty million refugees. Solve anthropogenic climate catastrophe. Educate people out of their racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, cultural white supremacy and tribalism, and their worship of gluttonous capitalism. Provide universal shelter and safety. Establish a universal basic income. Provide free and universal education and health care. And what about the orphans and widows and prisoners?
Tear down the divide between western society and the so-called ‘developing world’ – a form of apartheid that is more global than the Berlin Wall, more genocidal than Hitler or Atilla the Hun, and more unethical than the white supremacist attitudes that permitted a division between slaves and slavers.
Build a better world today instead of waiting for some imaginary afterlife. It is not only immoral to ignore the approximately 14,000 children under five who die every day, but it is also akin to people in the 1930s who looked away and chose not to see the Holocaust happening before their eyes. You say you are pro-life? Then get out there and stop killing people through your wilful neglect.
Instead of waiting for some presumed miracle from elsewhere, work hard to be that miracle here and now, today. Be the answer to your own prayers or aspirations. Whatever higher ethical principle you claim to follow, let that principle live today in your life and works.
None of these actions will, in themselves, go one splinter towards providing evidence that a god actually exists, but they will help to demonstrate that maybe a form of heaven is possible, and that maybe certain ethics and aspirations are worthy of some consideration. Are theists promoting a culture that worships death, or one that promotes life, and a more abundant one at that?
These same questions could also be asked of atheists and humanists.
Amidst street riots and police violence in Kenya, I have received these thoughts from an LGBT+ refugee friend in Nairobi, who must stay anonymous in order to protect his safety. Meanwhile, the rest of the world looks away. #BlackLivesMatter?
I have struggled to sleep the whole night. My mind has been an absorbing marketplace through the dark cold hours. Insomnia is a rare visitor to my comfortable bed. As blurry thoughts ate at me, I finally achieved some clarity at the hour of 6am and I rose to write.
I am certain a good chunk of us haven’t slept peacefully for a long time. Our brains buzz with gargantuan anxieties that we don’t tell nobody about. We manage to chuckle them out in memes and mates intrusive gossip and bullying each other in cyberspace; but in the dead of the night, when our thoughts come back home, we can barely withstand the heaviness we carry in these wretched bodies.
Last Wednesday we witnessed nationwide protests. An occurrence I haven’t experienced as a refugee in Kenya for 5 years of this nation probably since 2002 when Moi and KANU were ousted out of government. I was 14 and lived in Uganda.
It was disturbing to see what transpired in Mlolongo; a place in our vicinities Kitengela, a Nairobi suburb and hometown to many refugees including those with LGBTQIA profile .To appreciate the context, these were places that barely had any commotion during Post Election Violence in 2007. When things were too bad.
Nanyuki, Nyeri, Sondu, Kisumu, Mombasa and countless other places; people came out to express their rage at the high cost of living. Matatu operators disengaged their gears. Taxi drivers joined in to voice frustrations of low pay from their parent employers. The police were teargassed in their own lorries by their own canisters thrown back at them by angry youth. I mean, how bad can it get?
But what did President Ruto say in reaction? This is what’s been riling up my head lately. The son of Sugoi in all his intelligence made Raila the scapegoat. He still thinks we’re in the era of nusu mkate politics. He retaliated in classic white imperialist fashion just like his predecessors going back to Jomo Kenyatta; with a hard heart and threats.
Ruto is like that father who is loved by everybody else in the neighbourhood but is a monster at home. You have to admire the man’s choice of words when he speaks at international fora. His sleekness. His precision. His supposed wisdom. You almost fall in love with him. You want to proudly claim him as your President. But when he staggers back home, he throws up on his children with his drunkenness. He’s basically telling us we’re worth nothing.
Don’t think he is unaware of the nation’s current pressing concerns. That’s what narcissistic people do. They know what you’re complaining about but they’ll buy time by deflecting from the central issues and pretend not to know what’s hurting you.
And he knows religion has us on a chokehold. He’ll go to church and donate some wicked amount in a kikapu, spew a few bible verses, victimise himself and go back to drink top tier Kenyan tea at State House with his equally religiously excited wife. They’ve been in this business longer than we think, not just selling chicken. This is a game to them and the rest of the ruling class. For you and me our lives are stake, but those pigs are simply playing cards.
Back in 2005 after the Memorandum of Understanding between Raila and Kibaki went south, the latter began spearheading for a new constitution that Kenyan voters overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum. This is what led to the formation of ODM as we know it. The “Orange” in ODM was the symbol of “Voting NO” for the proposed new constitution that Kibaki’s government had put forward. The “YES Vote” was symbolised by “Banana”.
Kibaki panicked. He quickly reshuffled his cabinet to protect his political power leading to a further fall out with Raila who was gathering a strong opposition to face the government of the day in the next General Election that eventually led to the clashes.
Kofi Annan had to jet in to speak to two adults to get their act together. Two adults who you’d imagine had the heart for their burning country. As we hacked each other mercilessly on the roads and in our homes, these two lunatics were having high tea in enclosed boring leather infested rooms discussing how they’ll divide power. None of them willed to relent for the sake of the people in pain outside.
And even after all that bedlam, reports by the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission set up to look into PEV fell on deaf ears. Why? Because the people implicated were still in power, and they knew they could block justice from happening. The same precedence Ruto and Uhuru followed vying for the top office while still on ICC trial.
They shit on our faces all the time. But we’re so deeply traumatised and on complex levels to realise that we can no longer continue living in this house with this dispensation of governance. This vehement abuse has been rubbing our buttocks since the British decided to hand over the country to some guy they had coached to be Prime Minister in 1963, while our people celebrated all night that we had finally achieved independence.
These are the same people who claim to protect family values by rejecting LGBTQ+ rights without addressing the callous violence and indignity children undergo in the hands of people who ought to protect them. The same people purporting Kenya is a country of peace but issue conniving threats to citizen’s expression of their oppression; who turn State House, a public entity, into a cathedral for their religious masturbation, because their God is so important than everybody else’s. Afterall, that Man God helped them win the election.
I hate to use this example especially in this time; but the French Revolution that went on for a decade from 1789 aimed to create a sense of collective identity amongst the French people. Its main causes being social inequality, tax burdens, the rise of Bourgeoisie, the rise in cost of bread, inadequate leadership of Louis XV and Louis XVI, parliaments’ opposition to reforms, the extravagant lifestyle of the French Monarchy, growing economic and political crisis, among others.
I don’t know how our revolution will look like. Dr. Wandia Njoya screams to us everyday about the killing of our imagination and innovation by our education system. And must I add, our religious systems too.
As Adrienne Maree Brown wrote in her book Pleasure Activism: “Our radical imagination is a tool for decolonization, for reclaiming our right to shape our lived reality.”
I want to add these profound words by activist Julius Kamau that: “The only way out of the current Kenyan crises of poverty and hunger, is a revolution. A revolution of the mind, a revolution of ideas, a revolution of values.”
This is what me and other LGBTQ advocates, allies and friends the many abused, forsaken Kenyan children have been trying to communicate.
A revolution of the mind, a revolution of ideas, a revolution of values. You and I must deeply confront ourselves; to ponder how that looks like personally and communally. What old ideas must we let go of? What harmful cultures must we do away with? What systems of governance must we abandon? What violent ways of relating must we separate from? We must go to the roots. And I also know we are accustomed to violence to astronomical levels from birth to the point of lacking the cognitive tools to acknowledge it when it’s happening.
But then again I understand how difficult this is to do on an empty stomach and a robbed mind.