No ignorance, no fear, just love

“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, 
and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they 
lack understanding” – Albert Camus

Ignorance is truly evil. It allows people to believe in myths and legends. It leads to the construction of narratives that serve to divide, to fear and disrespect all that is unknown. It makes us dehumanize those that we perceive as too different, or too distant. It turns lies into “common knowledge”.

Ignorance makes for bad and dangerous decisions, and helps to perpetuate oppression and justify power politics that serve to exclude and divide societies and families. Ignorance feeds fear, and fear feeds ignorance.

This is why we must take action to protect our civil rights. These rights, won on the back of great suffering, protect us from ignorance. These rights encourage us to love others as they are, to put aside socially constructed barriers, and to be kind to those we might perceive as different to us. These rights also place upon us all the responsibility to fight ignorance and seek understanding. Without these rights we are all poorer, weaker, more isolated, divided. The right to life, the right to equality, the right to non-discrimination, the right to health and the right to protection. Freedom of speech, religion and political affiliation. The right to vote and the right to be heard. The right to protest and the right to hold our leaders accountable. Everywhere we look, from the US to Europe to Australia, ignorance has been taking over, feeding fear, giving way to an erosion of our civil rights.

We live in a time in which we need inspiration, to keep going, not to give up, to reach out to others and not take things for granted, to be more tolerant, to fight for a better future for ourselves and those that will follow. We have become perhaps complacent and comfortable, believing our rights can never be taken from us, and desensitised to the suffering of others, thinking we don’t have to fight for others to have the rights others fought for us to have. And who can blame us, with all the crises going on in the world? How easy is it to change the channel in the face of constant bad news? But we can’t change channels now. The future is in our hands. We tend to excuse our complacency by telling ourselves that “we are just one person, what can we do?” And we forget how effective and powerful we can become when we unite, when we work together, when we try to understand each other. We have to push forward, keep going. We have to. Why?

Because I don’t want to live in fear because of my ideas, or my gender. I don’t want anybody to live in fear because of his or her sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or the colour of their skin. I don’t want people to have to risk their life when pursing their dreams, whatever that may be. I want to be happy and, I want you to be happy, to reach your full potential, to enjoy your life to the fullest and be able to overcome your difficulties. Because when you don’t, we are all worse off. We are all in this together.

Don’t let ignorance, your own or others’, spread evil, promote misunderstanding and divide us. And let’s not teach our kids that when things get tough, we give up and wait it out, until things change on their own. We can’t afford to do that.

Let’s act.

♥      Let’s speak up, and reach out.

♥      Let’s be mindful of what we put out into the world, making sure that any news we share, or bring up in discussions, are valid. It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you are on, ignorance is evil regardless.

♥       Let’s report any news that we see and perceive as untrue. This can easily be done on most social media outlets, and those reports are being seen and actions are taken, so this is an easy way for you to make a big difference.

♥       Let’s allow ourselves to hear things that might make us a little uncomfortable but open our eyes and our hearts. Let’s talk to people who don’t agree with us.

♥       Let’s educate ourselves, allow ourselves to learn from others, to embrace diversity, to allow differences to enrich our existence.

♥       Let’s put ourselves in others’ shoes, and respect their experiences of life.

♥       Let’s agree to disagree, be humble and learn that when we work together, and hold each other up, nobody falls. This means someone will have your back when you need it, too.

♥       Let’s not sit and wait for better news. It doesn’t matter how big or small your actions might feel, how insignificant or irrelevant. Everything counts, you count.

Let’s stand up to the evil that is ignorance, and fight for love, truth and justice for all. What you do, matters.

No ignorance, no fear, just love ♥

 

 

Our human spirit

If there is one thing I have learnt in my years working in the humanitarian sector it is the amazingness of the human spirit: our ability to get back up when knocked down, our determination to improve on ourselves and the world around us, our resilience, our desire to help each other, our will to resist and our ability to dream.

I have seen it over and over again in my work. Amazing stories of survival, of determination, of solidarity, of companionship, of struggle. When we decide to come together for one another there is nothing that we cannot do. We are creative, innovative, resourceful. We feed off each other and prop each other up. We can be a force to be reckoned with.

Refugees and asylum seekers have taught me not to take anything for granted. Nothing. Things can change quickly, beyond your control, dramatically, dangerously. And you have to run. It is a basic human instinct, to survive, to connect and to re-build. Any of us could find ourselves in their shoes. And we, of course, would try everything possible to get ourselves, and our families, to safety, we would try to ensure that we can access opportunities so that we can continue contributing to the societies we live in, to live with dignity. It’s in our nature.

To those of you out there feeling helpless, frustrated, angry, paralysed, depressed: we’ve got this. We are going to come together and we will do what we do best: survive, connect and re-build. In the last 24 hours we have seen an enormous outpouring of love and resolve, and it keeps growing. There are many initiatives around the world being put together, and they are going to be awesome. Because that is one thing we as humans do remarkably well: when times get rough, we don’t give up. The most beautiful and powerful stories, the ones that we love to watch at the movies, read in books, the ones that serve to inspire, are those of strength in the face of adversity, of love, of unity, of humanity above all else. The ones where we celebrate our human spirit.

To help you out, we will work to provide you with insights into different ways that we can all help spread love and fight hatred and injustice. Opportunities to learn from each other and to come together. Ways to channel our anger and feelings of hopelessness, and to advocate for our common human spirit.

 For now, here are some examples and we would love to hear of any other that you may have come across:

  • Together Rising – an initiative to support families with nowhere else to go

There will be a lot of refugees that will be stuck in their transit countries (countries where they have first arrived and where they register with UNHCR or where they are detained) unable to be resettled. It will be hard to improve their conditions as they are often not allowed to work legally or attend schools. To protect them from poverty, there are important initiatives focusing especially on community-based organisations:

The Refugee Learning Centre (Indonesia)

The Refugee Learning Nest (Indonesia)

Urban Refugees have Incubation projects that support refugee community-based organizations in transition countries. Disclaimer: they are currently running Incubations in Malaysia and I work for them, which of course means that I am biased, but it also means I have insight into their work and know it to be worthy of supporting.

The Pollination Project, provides seed funding to worthwhile initiatives and are based in the US.

The Fabric Social is a very worthwhile social enterprise in Australia. Social enterprises are generally a very good way to help communities as they offer opportunities for income generating activities that fall within legal frameworks. They promote dignity, independence and sustainability.

The Refugee Council of Australia are helping to set up a Refugee Youth Network in Malaysia, and APRRN are this year starting to support other refugee-led youth networks in the Asia Pacific Region. Your support and contribution would be very much appreciated. Connecting youth of refugee background that are disempowered, in limbo, unable to access counseling services, higher education, traineeships, is incredibly important if we want to see future generations rebuilding their countries and to avoid the risk of radicalization. There are thousands, and thousands of youth cut off from services in transition and destination countries, disconnected and feeling hopeless about their future. They are the future, and we need to invest our efforts in them. There are refugee youth networks in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Pakistan, the UK, Denmark, etc. Given the opportunity, many youth welcome being part of initiatives that foster unity, understanding and love. They need your help, to navigate this complex world that we live in, and we must listen to them.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement also have a history of setting up community initiatives that support refugees and asylum-seekers in almost all countries in the world. Look up your national society and find out what needs they have and opportunities they might offer. Check out their work and see if it fits with what you might be interested in.

Are you aware of any initiatives or opportunities that you want to promote? Do you have any new ideas? Are you feeling a bit down and wanting to connect? Contact us and we will help making connections where we can. We are in this together.

Meet the Neighbors: Fern Lee

Welcome to planet Earth, a most wonderful neighborhood! Yes, it’s kind of small, compared to the Universe at large, but it boasts perfectly balanced air to breath, you can grow a vegetable garden like NOWHERE else, and there is even fresh water!

Another lovely feature is that the neighborhood is fairly diverse. I say fairly, because even though there are a great variety of races within the animal kingdom at large, the dominant species – humanity – only consists of one race, which has very little internal variation. Appearances do differ somewhat, but that’s it. Underneath their layers of culture and religious beliefs, human beings all function the same, and at the most basic level, they all strive for the same thing – a world where their children can be safe, fed and free (even though they regrettably fight terribly about how to work towards a future where that ideal can materialize).

My suggesting for you, as a member of this flourishing, albeit somewhat unstable, community, is to make sure you get to know your neighbors. This is a good idea for a multitude of reasons: First, it’s fun. Second, since your neighbors might not look like you, possibly will cook things that smell weird to you, or talk in a language you don’t understand, they might make you feel insecure, or uncomfortable, or worse. This HAS to be remedied, and the cure is, of course, to get to know them, so that instead of having someone unknown and scary next door, you have a friend. Third, I have no other ideas on how to bring about world peace. And I really, really want world peace.

With this in mind, please allow us to introduce you to your neighbors from around the world, a whole bunch of people who are pretty much exactly like you. We’ll start with Fern Lee, a Singaporean Lawyer, married to a British man, raising her family in California. She kindly offered to share her family traditions for Chinese New Year with us. It looks a lot like Christmas, the main family celebration where I come from. Families coming together, eating, caring for each other, remembering those we lost. Yup, we’re all the same.

 

Heralding in a New Year with food (and love)!

by Fern Lee

This year, Chinese New Year comes early, on 28th January. This year, we celebrate Chinese New Year in a different country. New culture, new people, new life.

But Chinese New Year isn’t the main event for me. I always enjoyed Reunion Dinner best, the night before Chinese New Year where the whole family come together to sit down for one last meal before the new year starts, to remember the year that has gone by. The house will have been swept clean, decorated with brightly coloured items for good luck, and flowers, red packets (ang pows) and oranges filling up every corner, ready for guests. Foods that signify luck and unity will be eaten that night, and cooked lovingly.

This year, I am cooking up a storm. I message my parents pestering them for recipes that are too hard to cook, too soon forgotten. Mine is a Peranakan family, from the Straits of Malacca, or Straits-born Chinese as we are called. The recipes are complicated, dishes often taking days to make, but the food is delicious. I feel very privileged to have these recipes. I have tried these dishes in the rare restaurant I’ve managed to find them in, in Malaysia and Singapore, and my mother’s, aunt’s and grandmother’s recipes are still the best, improved and tweaked with each generation. They are the ties that bind because the love that goes into cooking these dishes is unbelievable. You have to love the ones you cook for to cook these dishes! They link me to family and friends – living and dead. They, for me, hold the key to life and memories. And love.

This year, I am a jumble of emotions. I have lived away from my family now for 12 years but have always returned to Singapore to visit during this time. Having recently moved to the Bay Area, I do not have the flexibility to return easily. So this year, I will be away from them.

2016 has also been filled with a number of deaths – we’ve lost many close relatives and friends. It seems a good time to remember them, as Chinese New Year (and the Reunion Dinner) draws close. This year, we remember Third Uncle, First Eldest Cousin, Po Po, and George our beloved dog. In a way, Reunion Dinner is, for me, a time of mourning too, as we remember those who have passed and the absence they leave in our lives.

So Reunion Dinner this year is poignant – lots of changes, lots of lessons to be learnt. A time of reflection for the year that will be gone, and further planning for the year ahead.

This year I am cooking up a storm because I remember the ones who have died, how much I miss them and what foods they loved to eat. I am cooking up a storm because I too remember the living, what foods they like to eat, what they will be doing in preparation for the coming year. My link to my loved ones is through their stomachs and taste buds and preferences. The daily search for the best foods, best meals, best restaurants is for me a never-ending quest of love and camaraderie amongst loved ones, near and far.

I am privileged and very, very blessed to have so many people in my life, people whom I love and who love me. This year, I have new friends coming for Reunion Dinner and I am cooking up a storm.

Happy Year of the Rooster! Wishing everyone good health for the coming year.

Fern Lee

Fern is a writer, speaker, legal consultant, mother, wife, traveller, supporter of animal and human rights and observer of cultures. She writes about her observations of the different cultures she has lived in and the quirks she notices. Originally from Singapore, Fern has lived in Britain and now California. She has written a number of blogs about her travels, her most recent being From London to Californiahttp://fromlondontocalifornialive.blogspot.com/. She hopes to return to legal consultancy work soon.

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Brainstorming

I think you are reading this blog because you have concerns about where the world is heading. I also think there is a voice inside you saying that you need to take action, that you are needed for something, but perhaps you are not sure what to do next?

To help you get going, may I suggest a brainstorm? To be honest, I think your mind is probably storming a bit already, so why not make use of it? Harness the energy of the storm, if you will?

The idea of brainstorming is to let your mind speak its piece with as little interference from the outside world as possible, and without judgment. You do this by writing a keyword in a circle in the middle of a paper, and then you let your mind wander free, and write whatever associations to the key word that you come up with in smaller circles, branching out from the big one. After a while, you have a mindmap – an idea of what your own thoughts on a certain subject are. You then clean this map up into clearer areas of interest, or questions, and you make a plan.

Your center circle might be Love, Our future, What can I do?, or whatever you want, really. Then try to let go, and just let your pen follow your mind. You might be surprised. You might have expected to write about women’s rights, but end up focusing on the environment, or vice versa. You might end up with ideas that are on a smaller scale, or a larger scale, than you thought you would, or it might even turn out exactly as you expected. But the point is, if you try to relax and go with the flow, you might find out what your true calling is, and that is immensely important.

Why? Because for you to be passionate, and brave, and persistent, this needs to be about YOUR questions, YOUR answers, and a path that YOU truly believe in, and while you always need to be on love’s side, you can’t fight ALL the battles. You need to feel focused, empowered and energized, not shattered and desperate, because we have a long way to go.

Focusing your energy and talent will not only help save the world, it can also save your sanity. When frustration, fear or even desperation set in, instead of being overwhelmed by the struggle to solve all the issues at hand simultaneously, you need to have your mission clear, so that you can focus that energy and get to work.

So get pen and paper, sit down, and decide what will be your battleground.

Love will win, but she needs you in her army.

To love, and to build

I had no idea. I thought there were important, proper adults who had this down. I thought we were doing ok. Things were getting better, for most people, and even though environmental news was alarming, and there were horrific conflicts ongoing, and heartbreaking conditions for refugees in many parts of the world, there also seemed to be steps taken to address those emergencies, and others. I figured I could just worry about my own little life, and the world would take care of itself. Many of us thought so.

Well… We were wrong. Apparently, we are not going in the direction we thought, and there is no reliable driver getting us home safely. So whether we like it or not, we have to get off the beaten track, the one were our lives were about us, and us alone. Sadly, getting off the familiar road, when there is no other visible way to go, sucks. It is scary, unscripted, and lonely. But still, we have to. We entered an era were we can’t afford to be on the sidelines anymore. We have to get out of our comfort zones, reach higher and further, and build whatever future we want to see.

To get over the abyss that seems to have opened underneath us, we will have to start by building bridges. They need to be long enough to reach the bridges and roads of all the other people out there trying to do the same, and it will take a lot of work. But there are millions and millions of builders, and I know that eventually we will have enough bridges to form a network; a beautiful, global web of hope and support. These bridges and roads will lead anyone who wants to work for a bright future upwards, and onwards, and through connecting us, they will provide a framework that can withstand whatever fear or divisive rhetoric tries to throw at us, and help us remember that we are all in this together.

So how do we create these amazing bridges? How do we soar? It’s so hard, and so easy. We just love.

We love fiercely, uncompromisingly, in big ways and small. We love those who agree with us, and we learn to love those who don’t. We love for the common humanity in us all, and we love our shared home. We love by always saying no to hate, to greed, to division and to fear, and we love by acting for what we believe in. We love, we connect, and we stand together.

So much of what we hear every day tells us to creep back into our shell, that there is no hope, no use even trying, that we are small and insignificant. We need to tell each other another story, the true story, which is that the future is not written yet, and that history has proven again and again that “small and insignificant” people can indeed change the destiny of millions by fighting for their beliefs. Some people know this truth on their own, but many of us need brave communities around us to support and inspire us, to counteract the constant narrative of fear, telling us that there is nothing we can do, when actually, there is nothing we can not do.

This is such a community, and we would love to have you be a part of us.

Community

We are currently expanding our group aiming to allow members to easily and safely reach out to each other, and form supportive networks. Through subscribing to our blog, you will receive updates on this work, and be a part of our group as it is taking shape. If you are interested in contributing texts or other volunteer efforts, head over to the contact page and let us know!