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Helping Your Life Work
December 1, 2007
Volume 3, Issue 12

Let’s Hope So

Last month, I attended a symposium dedicated to the subject of ‘hope.’ I listened to an extraordinary panel of speakers who had seen the worst in life and yet managed to hold out hope for our future. Speakers included Marilyn McHarg, General Director of Medécins Sans Frontières (MSF)/ Doctors without Borders; Dr. James Orbinski, past international president of MSF; Stephanie Nolen, Africa Bureau Chief for The Globe and Mail; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of “Half a Yellow Sun,” a story of the Nigeria-Biafran civil war; Stephen Lewis, former United Nations’ Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa and Lieutenant-General and Senator Roméo Dallaire, former Force Commander of the UN mission to Rwanda and author of “Shake Hands With the Devil.” Together, they had traveled the globe and seen the worst that humankind can do.

During the course of the day, I listened with sadness and shock to the statistics about our ‘New World Disorder.’

  • 80% of humanity is in turmoil.
  • 30 conflicts are being fought worldwide.
  • 250,000-300,000 child soldiers are fighting those battles; 40% of them are girls.
  • 45 million displaced persons and refugees are struggling to survive.
  • 100 million children do not attend school because they cannot afford the fees.
  • 2000 children die from malaria each day in Africa alone.
  • 42 million people live with HIV-AIDS around the world. (This figure was challenged earlier this month. A more accurate estimate was said to be closer to 33 million.)

By the end of the day, I felt exhausted and sadly, not very hopeful. While there were glimmers of hope and examples of some progress being made, the problems at the end of the day seemed insurmountable. In particular, the eight Millennium Development Goals (to reduce poverty, disease, illiteracy, promote gender equality, ensure environmental sustainability, etc.) set out by the UN in the year 2000, seem to be light years away (rather than the proposed 8 years away) from being realized. Without these basic changes, it would appear that there is little hope for bringing order to the current world disorder.

There were only two things that left me feeling somewhat optimistic. Knowing that much of our North American youth have become disillusioned with our political system and are more actively involved in political rallies and protests rather than voting, I was still surprised to learn that only 15% of those aged 18-35, actually vote. Imagine the power this group might wield one day if they decided to protest with their votes. Imagine the influence they might have on our leaders to follow through on their commitments.

The other ray of hope concerns my faith in the resilience of the human mind. As many of you know, LGen. Dallaire returned from Rwanda a broken man. He was haunted with the horrors of what he had witnessed and riddled with guilt for his powerlessness in preventing the genocide. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for many years. He attempted suicide twice. Many of us had witnessed his fragile state during interviews on the CBC many years ago. Seeing him speak at this conference with such force, passion, and even humour was wonderful. It was also a great testament to the power of the psychotherapy that helped heal him. This brilliant military strategist, diplomat, politician, writer and humanitarian left me with the greatest sense of hope – that with help, healing and humanity, we may emerge stronger than ever. 


Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
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