Month: January 2011

George Clooney: Life At Risk From Disease

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George Clooney 66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra) 2
Clooney has malaria. OK, enough about that- the real question is: will he ever get married!

 

Display inside UN NY: Malaria kills 700,000 children every year. Child mortality is complex with many causes

The actor George Clooney contracted malaria while visiting Sudan earlier this month. Ladies, please don’t fret as he has already beaten the disease! Phew! That was close. Global news agencies around the world can now relax…the crisis has passed. “I guess the mosquito in Juba looked at me and thought I was the bar,” Clooney said.

 

The crisis has passed for George. Not so for the 700,000 children who will die from malaria every year. While prevention is achievable to reduce this disease considerably, its high prevalence continues.

In a statement, Clooney said his recovery “illustrates how with proper medication, the most lethal condition in Africa, can be reduced to bad ten days instead of a death sentence.” So easy to say…so difficult to achieve.

All the more tragic that the world really cares when George Clooney contracts an illness. “With proper medication” it is resolved. Let me ask you: do we stop caring once George is back on his feet and joking around about this disease?

What is the real tragedy here?

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The Kindness of Strangers

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Brisbane Floods - Gailes Queensland

Last week the disaster of the Queensland floods became evident, and slowly into next week stories will emerge. Stories of courage, of despair, of hopelessness, of survival. The stories which have a universal truth to them will be of the kindness of strangers.

Parts of Queensland have been badly devastated. Not only Brisbane. More than Toowoomba and Ipswich. Small towns, small suburbs, ordinary lives. My sister lives in Brisbane, and she and her family and friends are all safe. My mother is staying with them at the moment. Not everyone is underwater, but many people’s lives have been gutted by the flood.

Disruption to business activity will be significant in some areas. The business district, the mining communities, farmers and livestock. Seeing the speed at which people rally when help is required is wonderful. Measuring the dislocation and loss should not only be measured in economic terms. There is a human dimension which is not as easily measured. Philanthropy is often equated to money, but it’s true definition of ‘caring for humankind’ extends far beyond this. Social capital always trumps financial capital in the long run.

I rang Volunteering Queensland earlier today (Saturday 14 January) to see if I might be useful helping out given my past experience in disaster relief in many different areas and situations through my Army service. They have been overwhelmed by more than 60,000 people stepping forward to volunteer. That is good news. People looking after their neighbours, especially those who are complete strangers.

Creative solutions to problems are important. Money helps, but it is a tool to be used. It needs to be effectively deployed. There are some parallels with the question of aid and extreme poverty. The parallels sort of end there- there is no comparison to 24,000 children dying daily.

Even so, people are in need. How can we help? Will we help?

I am hatching a plan for a lunch to be held on Thursday in Sydney. If you want to get involved to help out, please shoot me a response or ping me on facebook. My friend Jikky the other day came to me to ask where she might donate a big box of dolls she wanted to give to someone before she left Australia and flew home. That was before the floods. But maybe it is the seed of a constructive way forward.

Villages of Life

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Map of Burundi
Where is Burundi?

My mate Ted posted this video recently of work he and his friends are involved with called Homes of Hope. “Villages of Life” invites doctors to come from Australia and America do start treating the kids at “homes of hope” Burundi. In addition to diagnosing, treating, general check overs, Villages of Life has begun to keep medical records of the children and their mothers living on the compound.

Inspiring video- take a look.

John 10:10

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"Mr and Mrs Sydney Australia would prefer...
Is this life to the full?

I’m asking people to take photos of ‘human bridges‘ while I am out running during the 10 City Bridge Run during March. The intention is to present 24,000 photos of ‘human bridges’ as a pictorial petition to appeal to the leadership at the Paris G20 Summit in June 2011. Together along with the G20 leadership, can we create a ‘life bridge’ that “focuses on concrete measures…to make a tangible and significant difference in people’s lives“ by making specific mention of child mortality in the G20 Final Declaration when mentioning extreme poverty?

My personal belief as a Christian brings another dimension to the metaphor of ‘life bridge’. Jesus is recorded saying at John 10:10 something which might sound far-fetched in the light of suffering that exists from child mortality:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Can this be true for all people especially those living in the worst of poverty? We ought to look to the needs of those living in poverty, and at the same time recognise that there is a deeper spiritual poverty underlying this issue which ultimately needs to be addressed. The Bible calls Christians to act: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:17)”.

Few people would argue against reducing child mortality, and it is certainly not a concern exclusive to Christians. There is nothing new about the idea that we have a strong moral obligation to help those in need- it is common across all cultures. Muhammad Yunus is widely recognised for his work in microfinance and well deserved his awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The Chinese philosopher Mencius (second only to Confucius in influencing Chinese thought and regarded as the most authoritative interpreter of the Confusian tradition) and ‘King Hui of Liang’ who lived around 300 BC had this exchange about helping the poor as Mencius arrived in the king’s court:

There are people dying from famine on the roads, and you do not issue the stores of your granaries for them. When people die, you say: “Is it not owing to me; it is owing to the year.” In what does this differ from stabbing a man and killing him, and then saying: “It was not I, it was the weapon?

The distinction I would make is that Christians have a particular responsibility to take action. Regardless of what you believe, I hope you will join me in building human bridges to form a ‘life bridge’ with the potential to transform the lives of many.

Be the difference that makes the difference

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Every 3 seconds, a child dies from extreme poverty
Don't wait for Bono to tell you this is cool- act now!

I am asking for your help. Please join me on this challenge – the 10 City Bridge Run – only by working together can we build a bridge to close the gap on poverty. Child mortality is not a new problem; sadly, neither is extreme poverty.

There are four distinct areas I need your help. I think it would be awesome if you could help me even if only in one of these areas:

  1. Build a human bridge and send a photo for inclusion in the petition.
  2. Join our ‘design community’ to help unpack this design challenge.
  3. Step up as a ‘Local Connector’ to help communicate, coordinate, organise, and manage this process
  4. Help fund the journey through sponsorship: purchase a copy of the book “Life Bridge”.

This is not a charity. This is charity! The sale of this book funds the 10 City Bridge Run. Sponsorship starts at $24.

The book “Life Bridge” will reflect the the “life bridge” presented as a pictorial petition to the G20 Summit in Paris. The intention is to gather 24,000 copies of ‘human bridges’ photographs as a pictorial petition to appeal to the leadership at the Paris G20 Summit in June 2011. Together we can create a ‘life bridge’ that “focuses on concrete measures…to make a tangible and significant difference in people’s lives“ by making specific mention of child mortality in the Final Declaration when mentioning extreme poverty.

Please be the difference that makes a difference. Unlike fund raising campaigns, this is not about raising hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. The 10 City Bridge Run will operate on the scent of an oily rag. What we need is for many like-minded individuals to step up, and together we can be the difference that makes a difference. The Butterfly Effect in action.

10 Reasons to Care

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mother and children
We are hard-wired to care.

Franklin D. Roosevelt argued “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough to those who have too little“.

Bill Shore in his book The Cathedral Within writes: “The paradox of our time is that while wealth is being created at unprecedented levels, it is not reaching those in greatest need. If anything, it has created a complacency, a comfort with the status quo, an assumption that a rising tide will lift all boats.” The tragedy is that prosperity masks extreme poverty. This is why bridges are necessary – as much as for us to see what needs exist as much as for those who need help.

Is it worth asking whether we have have gone too far in the commodifying ‘doing good’ such that we see charity as a noun (an organisation) and not as it should be regarded which is a verb (the action of helping others in preference to our own needs)?

Citizen engagement is the new philanthropy. Philanthropy is not necessarily only in the giving of money. Civil society is the difference that makes a difference. We should return to philanthropy’s original meaning as ‘love of humankind’. We have a lot more we can each contribute through our time and talents.

There are no shortage of problems in our lives and in the world. Caring about one problem does not need to occur at the exclusion of others as well. Consider that building a bridge to improve the lives of millions can enrich our own lives through serving the needs of others far outweighing any cost to ourselves.

The need to address child mortality ought to be self-evident to us all. Caring for those people on the planet who have no voice, choice or influence on where and when they are born into extreme disadvantage. Just in case you need further argument, here are 10 reasons why we should care:

  1. Decent thing to do. Caring for other humans on the planet who are in need.
  2. Humanitarian intervention. It is wrong to allow suffering when it is within our ability to prevent it occurring at no disadvantage to ourselves.
  3. Avoids population crisis. All evidence shows that a reduction of child mortality also reduces birth rate, which also reduces the potential of an unsustainable population size in the coming decades.
  4. Improved environment. Many deaths are caused from simple reasons such as poor water supply and sanitation. To reduce child mortality requires an improvement to disgraceful environmental conditions.
  5. Preventing disease epidemics. Malaria remains one of the largest killers of children across the world. Improved prevention of disease leads to reduced child mortality. Vigilance against epidemics far worse than malaria is important for everyone.
  6. Maternal health. 350,000 women will die in labor each year, with most of these deaths occurring in the region defined as sub-Saharan Africa. Reducing child mortality leads to a reduction in birth rate, which lessens pressure on already inadequate medical services and leads to an improvement in maternal health.
  7. Female education. There is a direct relationship between birth rate, child mortality and female education. Improving female education, which remains at outrageously unacceptable low levels in many countries, results in the reduction of birth rate and child mortality through better care of babies.
  8. Extremist views. We can only imagine the impact a high child mortality must have in creating a sense of injustice, creating a ripe potential to be exploited by extremist and radical militant groups. This is a time bomb we must diffuse more out of compassion than through a pursuit of our own security.
  9. Moral responsibility through mining and trade. Many mining interests take place in some of the resource rich countries that ironically experience among the highest rates of poverty. Mining companies are businesses, not charities, but it could be argued that it is in their shareholders direct interests to ensure the best conditions exist for business operations through sound civil order.
  10. Partnerships. Reducing child mortality requires closer partnerships, which generate other benefits for us all.

Let the dataset change your mindset. This is a question of urgency. We can influence child mortality, but it will require action and not just talk.

Defeat into Victory

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Portrait of Sir William Slim standing on the E...
Field Marshall Sir William Slim

When was the last time you were kicked in the teeth by life? It’s painful, isn’t it. Expectations and dreams are ripped apart and broken. Failure is rarely a fun experience, but what is important is to learn for it, and to move forwards. “Fall down six time, get up seven.”

I could reel out here a long list of failure that I have experienced at different times, but won’t- there is no need for it, except to say that being unable to continue with the 10 City Bridge Run last year due to injury from overtraining and lacking sufficient financial support was among the more recent failed endeavours. But now I am back running, and focused on starting the running of 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries all inside of one month on 1 March. Lessons have been learnt.

What is worse for many million people is the lack of choice in their situation. I’m thinking about those children and families who suffer as a result of child mortality. It is a cruel and bitter experience- I remember the toll it took on my brother and his wife. I can hardly begin to imagine what it must be like where there is a 1 in 4 chance of death occurring before the fifth birthday.

What will we say at the end of 2015 when all countries give an account of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals? The window of opportunity for change remains open. With a past career in the military, I draw inspiration from the words of Field Marshall Sir William Slim:

The only test of generalship is success, and I had succeeded in nothing that I had attempted…Defeat is bitter. Bitter to the common soldier, but trebly bitter to his general. The soldier may comfort himself with the thought that, whatever the result, he has done his duty faithfully and steadfastly, but the commander has failed in his duty if he has not won victory–for that is his duty. He has no other comparable to it. He will go over in his mind the events of the campaign. ‘Here,’ he will think, ‘I went wrong; here I took counsel of my fears when I should have been bold; there I should have waited to gather strength, not struck piecemeal; at such a moment I failed to grasp opportunity when it was presented to me.’ He will remember the soldiers whom he sent into the attack that failed and who did not come back. he will recall the look in the eyes of men who trusted him. ‘I have failed them,’ he will say to himself, ‘and failed my country!’ He will see himself for what he is – a defeated general. In a dark hour he will turn on himself and question the very foundations of his leadership and his manhood.

And then he must stop! For, if he is ever to command in battle again, he must shake off these regrets and stamp on them, as they claw at his will and his self-confidence. He must beat off these atacks he delivers against himself, and cast out the doubts born of failure. Forget them, and remember only the lessons to be learnt from defeat–they are more than from victory.