This year has proved a huge test to the human spirit in many nations and in many ways. While Japanese search and rescue crews were responding to the devastating earthquakes that ravaged the sleepy town of Christchurch in New Zealand, an earthquake, Tsunami and nuclear catastrophe unfolded in their own country. Meanwhile, civil unrest, mass protest and strife spread across the Middle East, the financial crisis deepened in Europe and a seemingly recession-proof Canada recorded higher household debt levels than the U.S. and the U.K for the first time. By all accounts, 2011 was a turbulent year for most. But with turbulence come winds of change; Change in the way we approach old problems, in our response to disaster, in our understanding and habits.
Young men and women across the globe cried out for better wages, more employment and equitable treatment. In nations across the Middle East the heavy hands of old reacted predictably and violence begat violence. But the world has witnessed the willpower of the majority whose voices, long dormant, now loudly proclaim a strong desire for a better way. These are indeed tumultuous times but amidst the atrocities and barbarism we stand witness to a more globally aware, technologically savvy and forward thinking generation of young people who are far less inclined to accept inequity on the rhetoric of oppressive regimes. Time will tell what alternative this movement shall accept but for now (and despite the suffering and daily tragedies) the mere existence of these movements in the Middle East hints at the possibility of a new approach in a region whose systems of governance have persisted for thousands of years. Furthermore, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the NATO transition from combat into a training and mentorship role in Afghanistan will see these countries accept a level of autonomy not seen in a decade.
On the Western front, the financial crisis in Europe that threatens the very core of the European Union has been a test of the resolve of its member nations. Finding a solution before its member countries default will be an arduous task—but find a solution we must. The EU has been and continues to be a model for inter-governmental cooperation and its member states form a pillar of scientific and technological development. The European Space Agency looks set to become an agency of the EU in 2014 formalising the importance of space exploration even amidst U.S. funding cuts to NASA and the privatisation of space travel. Huge advances in sub-atomic physics have rewarded scientists and physicists at CERN. Monumental data is being processed at this very moment that will have far-reaching effects on our understanding of our universe.
Returning again to the South Pacific where New Zealand, still reeling from the Christchurch earthquakes that killed 181 played host to the 2011 Rugby World Cup. The event, a huge success by all accounts, seems an appropriate allegory for the struggles faced and overcome by our common humanity this year, that is; the physicality of the tournament and the close support that rewarded all competing nations drew people from all walks of life together in celebration of the pursuit of human excellence. A poem by New Zealander Gary McCormick, written in the wake of the earthquake, exemplifies the kind of resilience our collective human spirit must maintain as we overcome global and local trauma and move into a new year ready to embrace change with energy and optimism:
We don’t know who, or where you are…
But if you think you can get rid of us
By simply flicking the mat,
Sweeping us away
With your yard broom
You’ve got another think coming.
Every building which falls, boulder which rolls,
Child who cries
In his or her sleep,
Strengthens our resolve.
Be you a ‘force of nature’
Or malevolent spirit,
The legacy of broken roads, cracked pavements,
Dust and mud pumping
From the veins
Are as charms on a bracelet
Where we are concerned.
With every shake, we add another
—a door, a window, a church steeple.
An empty home, a street full of people.
Those taken from us.
There will be no spring-cleaning here.
We will gather up these charms, recent memories
Wear them, jingling, jangling on our arms.
The din we make will exceed yours.
For you are not the custodian.
We still hold the key; it is ours!
The devil himself has not the strength
To wrestle it from our grasp.
As we welcome home Canadian Forces personnel from the turmoil in Libya and simultaneously deploy others into mentorship positions in Afghanistan, may we all be reminded of how lucky we are to live in a stable, peaceful and egalitarian Canada and demonstrate our appreciation of this fact by continued support to those peoples afflicted by woes far greater than our own. As the year comes to a close may you all in Victoria enjoy your holiday season and approach 2012 with a resilient stewardship of Canadian global citizenry.
Theon Te Koeti
President, Victoria Branch
United Nations Assoc. in Canada