Saturday 11 September 2021

9/11 & Hope

So we all have a story of where we were. In my case sat agog inside my office reception in Farringdon, London. Crowds outside peering in at our large screen on the wall, broadcasting what we knew even then was history. The revolution was in the end televised. “Go home” said our manager “it’ll be us next”.

I was 25. Working out what I wanted to do with my life. For much of the next two decades I spent in the peacebuilding world. Peace, it seemed to me, was what we needed. The world at large had other ideas. Or did it?

Just as much of the world’s attention is understandably focused on Afghanistan, and the story of Iraq, Syria and terror attacks; I find optimism and hope in some of what I’ve had the privilege to see in the intervening years. Of individuals capable of finding it within themselves to forgive, to reach out and to build futures with those who had themselves often actively tried to kill them.

Like Grace, in Rwanda. She’d hidden in her family’s kitchen cupboard while her family were slaughtered by the Interahamwe militia in 1994. Fifteen years on she was establishing a new business with a man from the tribe and village who’d perpetrated that killing.

Like the old woman sitting under a tree in Western Nepal, at the end of her garden. Where she’d last seen her daughter kidnapped by armed Maoists during the civil war in 2004. Five years on she was still sitting under that tree. She knew she’d never see her daughter again. But she’d become a peacemaker to whom people would come to see, mediating disputes.

Teacher John's house

Like Teacher John in Turkana, NW Kenya. A harsh, arid place racked by armed violence carried out with impunity, particularly against girls. John spoke four languages and could have lived comfortably. Instead he lived in a mud hut and invested his money in a new school building so that girls could live while they studied, so they wouldn’t be at risk by journeying to school. He and his wife must have thought of what they were sacrificing as they used hot coals at the door by night to keep out the snakes.

Or like the young women from Herat, Afghanistan, who proudly presented plans for their villages as part of a governance programme designed to build stability and service delivery. Confidently describing the lack of trust anybody felt in the programme but determined to try to build a better future for the men, women, girls and boys of that beautiful part of Afghanistan.

These are people that represent the best of humanity. Their strengths and committment are beyond what most of us posess. And if we are to move collectively on from where our world finds itself now, then we need to find and support these individuals. Who quietly work in often remote places, overcoming psychological trauma and material hardship in the hope for a better future for us all. They, I hope, are the future now.