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Published: March 24th 2014
I’m about to be a Dad!
As if that wasn’t enough of a seismic shift in anyone’s life, 2014 has brought on its fair share of movement so far! While I certainly sensed that the year would be filled with excitement, as I sipped potent margaritas with close friends in Guadalajara, Mexico while counting down to a “Nuevo Ano” over three months ago, I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of what it would entail! Now, barely a quarter of the way through the year, as I sip equally potent (though far less alcoholic) coffee, mystified by this temperamental New York City weather, which reminds me of a confused prepubescent teenager, with one foot anchored in its childhood of winter and the other propelled by an eager desire to “spring” into adolescence, I wonder… What type of father will I be? Sure, I want to give and show my daughter the world, but how?
To do justice to this predicament, while seeking wisdom and inspiration, I’ve turned to Charles Dickens and decided to re-read a Tale of Two Cities
. Now, admittedly, the plight of the demoralized French peasantry in the years leading up to the French revolution, so finely depicted
by Mr. Dickens in this beautiful novel, is a bit of a comparative stretch, but I figured a little perspective on the resurrection of social order might just be…well, “in order!” And, as Chucky D himself reminds us, “every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering…”
So I wander and I wonder… With barely one month left until the birth of my daughter, I find myself grounded in this crazy city for a while, in anticipation of and preparation for our little creation. As I appreciate this rare sedentary occurrence, I think about the last three months and everything that’s happened: the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, the conversations I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned.
I just came back from Haiti – a country which will continue to play a massive part in my life ever since I set foot on the island, more than 4 years ago, just hours after the devastating Earthquake claimed the lives of a quarter million people in mere minutes. My role, this time around, was far different. I came down for a week, with two of my colleagues,
to teach a workshop on “Communications for Development” for Oxfam’s Program staff in Port au Prince and Cap Haitien. This experience serves as a deeper microcosm of the amorphous power of “communications.” Let me explain… While the context on the ground in January 2010 called for a “responsive” form of communication – to inform the public through various available mediums, on the gravity of the situation: what was the latest damage? Who was doing what, where and how? Communicating with the media was my responsibility then and I loved the opportunity to see and learn first-hand how to leverage this powerful tool for indispensable information sharing. Yet, as I’ve often remarked, the appetite for this form of communication exponentially decreases as time rolls on and camera crews start rolling out. Our seemingly insatiable thirst for information in times of crisis seems so quickly quenched as time goes on and our attention span diminishes, only to be reactivated by the next news scandal… and so it goes.
I had an epiphany then, which has been reinforced over the years, as I’ve had the opportunity to travel to speak with various communities around the world… In the context of international development,
communications should not only be used as a reactive
tool to disseminate information during and shortly after a disaster, the outbreak of a disease or the eruption of a conflict, but should be leveraged for its ability to educate, inspire and motivate people to proactively
seek social change.
And speaking of social change… On my way to the airport, I asked the gregarious Oxfam driver to stop by Delmas 33, where, more than four years ago, as part of Merlin’s emergency response team, I helped to build a field hospital on an abandoned tennis court. I was curious to see what had become of our beloved “Wimbledon” where, thanks to the tireless work of our staff and volunteers, we carried out close to 400 life-saving operations. I don’t think there’s a single day that’s gone by since my time in Delmas 33 in which I haven’t thought of my time there. Most remarkably, I have never erased out of my memory the unyielding resilience of the people I met. Whether it was the patients who came FOR help or the volunteers who came TO help, each person that walked on that tennis court, during those horrific hours of post-apocalyptic
chaos, carried with them an indiscernible strength which collectively helped to rebuild the dilapidated city. So what’s happened to that fateful tennis court, I hear you ask? Well, you’ll be happy to know (I know I was) that “Wimbledon” has been transformed into a beautiful primary school, home to 150 bright Haitian children. Indeed... talk about social change!
I’ve always maintained that the only way forward is to thoughtfully invest in health care and education. It may seem like common sense, but in the context of my experience working in Haiti, it is a testament to the will, the tenacity and the vision of a strong society, eager to turn the page and to go from reactive relief to proactive development. I look forward to the day when I can return to “Wimbledon” with my daughter and to tell her all about it. In the meantime, and thereafter, I hope to pass on the values which I have learned from my formative time in this beautiful country – values which Charles Dickens sums up best – to “have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires and a touch that never hurts.” That’s a good start…
Spending the week with Oxfam’s program staff, guiding them through their communications initiatives, has been an amazing experience. It is truly rewarding to witness a rising level of receptiveness from various groups from all over the world, large and small, public and private, who not only embrace the concept of “communications for development” but who also increasingly find ways to embed it in their programmatic activities. Over the last few months, I’ve had the privilege of leading such communications workshops across the world. It started out in Poland at the UN Convention on Climate Change with a select group of community members being recognized for their innovative work in this field, to Ethiopia with the First Ladies Initiative
(a coalition of African First Ladies working on diverse social issues), and finally to Thailand with Rotary Peace Fellows, a vibrant group of professionals working in the field of conflict resolution.
Like Haiti, my time in Bangkok was particularly meaningful as I was coming back to familiar grounds. This time last year, I too was a “Rotary Peace Fellow” in Bangkok, being exposed to a cornucopia of conflict resolution theory and practical peace building tools. It was an honor to come
back, this time as a lecturer, for the week. While I hope to have done justice to the rich curriculum, I certainly came out with a deeper, “full circle” understanding of the pervasive power of communication for social change.
Indeed, a lot has happened between those margaritas in Mexico and that coffee in Manhattan. While there may be less passport stamps involved and most certainly more sleep-deprived nights, something tells me that the next few months will be just as eventful! Bring it on…
It seems fitting to close with a rather poignant passage from A Tale of Two Cities in which Dickens insists, as I do to my unborn daughter (certainly not as eloquently but just as profoundly and genuinely) that “for you, I would do anything…Try to hold me in your mind, at some quiet times, as ardent and sincere in this one thing. The time will come when new ties will be formed about you – ties that will bind you yet more tenderly and strongly to the home you so adorn--the dearest ties that will ever grace and gladden you… When the little picture of a happy father's face looks up in
yours, when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!”
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