How Not To Be Ignorant About The World

A garden with only one type of flower or flowers of only one colour is no good.  This is a reminder that our strength, growth, survival and very existence lies in diversity.  It is however, a message of courage as well.  For a flower does not ask for anyone’s permission to bloom, it was born to offer itself to the world.  Fearless love is it’s nature.

Attributed to Chheng Phon

Last year Professor Hans Rosling, a Professor of International Health at Karolinska University in Sweden, passed away from pancreatic cancer following a long fight with Hepatitis C infection.  He had dedicated his life to public health and was described in this Guardian article as “a kind and constantly curious genius. He was truly committed to the poorest people in this world, passionate about statistics and dedicated to communicating a fact-based worldview. His knowledge, virtuosity and humour infused his unique data visualisations with a life of their own, encouraging people around the world to engage with facts about population, global health and inequality that might otherwise have passed them by.”  His work took him from Sweden to India, Africa and Asia.  Had Professor Rosling been born in a war-torn or impoverished nation, his potential would never have been realised, to the detriment of all of us, whether we have heard of him or not.

A toddler at the time, I don’t remember the first time I traveled overseas (from Australia to New Zealand).  I also have no clue how many times I’ve traveled overseas since that time.  Whilst always aware that the ability to travel is a privilege, due to my own personal enjoyment of the experience, I have never considered what it means to hold a “powerful” passport.

Passport Index is an interactive website ranking individual country passports according to their power.  This is determined by how many countries will accept entry using a specific country’s passport.  The Passport Index includes a total of 199 countries, states or territories who issue independent passports.  The Australian passport has a high visa-free score with a power rank of 8th in the world, alongside Malta and Czech Republic.  Australians can travel to 157 countries either visa-free or by purchasing a visa upon entry to the country being visited.  Singapore are ranked 1st in the world with 164 nations accepting their passport easily.  In contrast, Cambodia ranks 79th with only 52 countries offering visa-free entry to Cambodian citizens.  Perhaps not surprisingly given the ravages of war in the region, but adding to the disempowerment of their people, the four bottom ranking countries are Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

This power of passports is a very human construct, based purely on perceptions and decisions of people in powerful positions.  It makes me wonder how much the world misses out on due to our deliberate limiting of human potential.  By “our” I mean all of us – including governments involved in oppression of their own citizens.  Despite two world wars and untold other conflicts including mass genocides, as well as natural disasters, last century saw colossal global progress in improved health outcomes, medical breakthroughs and scientific discoveries.  Noone has captured this information better than Professor Hans Rosling in his various presentations at conferences and TED talks.  I wonder at the loss of potential directly resulting from the need humans seemingly have to discriminate against each other?  How many potential scientists, researchers, artists, leaders and peacemakers have been unable to realise their potential because of the power others have held over them?  How many today are instead pushing trash carts through impoverished city streets or surviving by other menial and demeaning pursuits of mere subsistence?  What have we all lost because of this individual loss of realised potential?

Obviously laws are needed and countries need to have borders.  But I wonder if our attitudes and laws were based on the need to promote human potential, rather than on anxiety and fear of things that are considered foreign, how much we could all benefit?  In Australia we have some very fear mongering politics and I often wonder, for a country with so much unlimited opportunity to shine, where our visionaries are?

Today’s national news featured an item about one young visionary, Molly Steer from Cairns in North Queensland.  At just 10 years old, Molly was deeply affected by a documentary she saw highlighting the damage done to oceans and marine life by plastic straws.  She began a campaign, Straw No More and has managed to convince 90 schools in Australia and overseas to abandon plastic drinking straws.  Earlier this month she won Cairns’ Young Woman of the Year Award.  During her acceptance speech she called on Cairns City Mayor to join the campaign.  Almost immediately, Cairns Regional Council unanimously agreed to eliminate plastic straws from all town council operations (which includes office buildings, markets, events and venues that the council are responsible for).  Cairns is on the doorstep of Australia’s infamous and beautiful but threatened Great Barrier Reef.

As I watched Molly on this morning’s news, my 10yo amputee friend Dara entered my thoughts.  Out in his dusty remote village where the damage of single use plastic is likely not something anyone has an awareness of, let alone power to do anything about.  In places like this, sellers drive sugar cane juicers attached to archaic motorbikes, serving their iced fresh juice in plastic bags with plastic straws along the roadside.  There are no waste disposal services.  Ocean pollution begins on land and flows to the coast via river systems.  This is a tiny example of the fact that for global benefit, we must fight for global equality of opportunity across populations.  Not only does Dara deserve a safe and healthy childhood, a basic education and the opportunity to shine, but we all deserve for his life to hold such value.

This week I received a call for help from a friend in Phnom Penh.  The family of a 2yo who drowned in the Mekong in March (mentioned in my blog of 15 March), needed a boat repair.  The boy’s grieving father was unable to feed his family without the ability to fish.  They were asking for someone to make a micro-loan to them of US$150 so that they could repair the boat.  I put a message on Facebook and within two minutes a friend contacted me to say it was not a loan, the money was en route.  This morning my friend visited the family to inform them of the good news and organise the boat repair.  “What a difference” was her message attached to the photographs of a smiling couple with their surviving baby.

We all have our own inherent biases, related to our personal experiences, attitudes and beliefs, which limit our perception of reality.  This is discussed well by Hans Rosling and his son Ola, at their 20 minute TED Talk in 2014, How Not To Be Ignorant About The World, where they discuss perceptions of poverty and how wrong we can be based on our preconceptions.  It is so common to hear that there is no point helping the poor because nothing gets better.  If the smile on that father’s face is not enough, listen to Hans and Ola for twenty minutes and learn how wrong this idea is.

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Back in Australia I am enrolled in university studies and short courses, working in a small remote Australian town with not a lot of news and not a lot of spare time.  This blog will take a back seat for the next six months or so, but I will share some of my essays as I write them, and a few other tid-bits as possible.

In our current global political climate, with so much promotion of blame, hate and punishment of anyone deemed “undeserving”, this message represents my feelings on what is right in this world that we all share together.

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