An Emergency For Global Citizens
It has been on my heart and mind for some time that the single most important thing I can do for my daughter's future is to raise her to live harmoniously in more of a melting pot than this world has ever seen before. Today, this topic feels more urgent than ever.
As I waited to board my plane in Toronto last night, the televisions at every gate were ablaze with the story of the refugee boat that sunk on Greece’s shores yesterday, killing more than 30 people, mostly babies and children.
I stopped to listen, my own heart sinking at the news, wondering if this will be the spark needed to attract global attention and response to the mounting issue of refugees and displaced people due to conflict and climate change, or if it will just pass by as the tragedy du jour.
Whether we pay attention en masse or not, this boat was not an anomaly. There are 13+ million refugees across our planet, plus 5+ million more looked after in camps. There are 38 million internally displaced people (the difference is that a refugee has been forced to leave his or her country for fear of persecution, while a displaced person has been forced to leave their home as a result of conflict, violence or human rights violations, but has not crossed an international border). Add in asylum-seekers and stateless people and the number approaches 43 million.
Pause for a second. Almost HALF A BILLION humans on our whirling globe have no home to return to and live in fear for their lives.
And that number doesn’t account for Mother Nature’s reaction to the way we’ve heated up her earth with our consumption and waste. Natural disasters have doubled in the past two decades and in 2008, nearly 36 million people were displaced by natural disaster. 20 million of those by disaster related to climate. Yikes.
Water levels around the globe have already risen between four and eight inches in the past 100 years, and could rise as high as 36 inches in the next 100 to 150 years — our children and grandchildren’s lifetime — changing the shorelines of the world as we now know them. According to the Nature Conservancy,
“A 36-inch increase in sea levels would swamp every city on the East Coast of the United States, from Miami to Boston. Worldwide, approximately 100 million people live within three feet of sea level. Sea level rise associated with climate change could displace tens of millions of people in low-lying areas – especially in developing countries. Inhabitants of some small island countries that rest barely above the existing sea level are already abandoning their islands, some of the world’s first climate change refugees.”
The reality is that eventually, the world is going to have to rearrange. We must adjust because it is unthinkable that countries with space and resources would shut our borders and hearts to this amount of displaced human beings. We are going to have to start operating less as citizens of one nation, and start thinking and acting like citizens of one globe.
I helplessly don’t know what I, one person, can do that will affect measurable change toward this issue. Except one thing that I spend a lot of time thinking about: I can consciously raise my daughter into a global citizen who is prepared to handle the rearrangement of her world with grace, compassion, empathy, smarts and realism.
I can encourage her smart young mind to seek solutions and commonalities as she gets older, to celebrate differences and that which is “foreign” — thinking less in terms of ‘them’ and more in terms of ‘us.’ To approach the unfamiliar — whether it be a hijab, a passionate gesture between two men or simply a foreign language — with curiosity and an open mind, rather than tingling with fear or recoiling when confused. I can teach her that nothing is solved without love, and that hate is unacceptable and usually born of misunderstanding and inexperience.
I can show her how to inform herself about the world and its current issues without absorbing the drama fed to her by mainstream media. If I can raise a daughter who can understand business and government and yet view these issues through the lens of a compassionate and empathetic heart — and enough other parents raising a young child today can do the same — then we might have a chance.
If my generation works to raise global citizens who are prepared for their borders to blur, their languages to mingle and the colors of their faces to blend, then my daughter and her international generation, in their lifetime, might be able to make a difference.
If my daughter’s generation can build governments that recognize reality and seek solutions to current and forward-facing issues rather than operate automatically based on defunct systems of the past, then they will create a future we, and our grandchildren, will be proud of.
I may not be able to do much to salve my broken heart for the millions of human beings living a reality I cannot imagine and for the mothers of the children lost on the boat on the shores of Greece yesterday. But I will prepare my daughter as she grows for the world she will be living in, and leave in my wake a global citizen equipped to make the difference her mama dreamed of making.
NOTE: The other most obvious and more immediately helpful and important way to make a short-term impact is to donate now to the UN Refugee Agency's efforts toward the refugee crisis and humanitarian emergency currently unfolding in Europe. If you can skip a week of latte's, then you've got $30 to throw toward this cause (I know, the usual comparison, but think about it). If you've got more, think about that too, because UNHCR is on the ground helping our most vulnerable and desperate brothers and sisters, and I -- for one -- sit helpless but safe across the world thinking, "If my family was run out of our home, what would I do?" DONATE HERE.
Sources: UN, UN Refugee Agency, The Nature Conservancy, VICE. Statistics shared are as of mid-2014. Featured photo credit: AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC/Getty Images.