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Stephen Lewis on “The Power of Community”

October 25, 2012

Yesterday, I had the opportunity and immense pleasure of listening to Stephen Lewis speak on “The Power of Community” at New College at the University of Toronto. This event was one I had been looking forward to for a while, and Mr. Lewis did not disappoint.

Recently, I have been feeling a little disillusioned. This tends to happen when a number of occurrences and conversations that perpetuate notions of apathy towards health and human rights issues compound on one another. When these instances, which have minimal impact independently, happen to take place in rapid succession, they cause me to question whether anything can be done when such massive inequities and social injustices exist in the world.

Last Monday night, the presidential debate between Obama and Romney did little to give me a renewed sense of hope or reaffirmed direction. I shudder inwardly every time I hear about the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan and consciously try to block out graphic mental images. Every week, in a course I am taking titled, International Health, Human Rights and Peace-Building, I leave the class baffled at the sheer complexity of the world’s problems. I hear about trade agreements, international declarations, conventions and treaties,and more economic and political jargon that I think I will never fully comprehend. I am humbled by how little I know and daunted by the scale of the challenges the world faces. In conversations with people, I am struck by the sheer indifference that exists in this part of the world. I am amazed at the little to no thought people give to those living in horrendous and absolutely unacceptable conditions on the same planet as us. I could continue this tirade for a while.

Stephen Lewis echoed my sadness at the many innocent lives lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He acknowledged the complexity of the challenges before us. He conceded that he too does not understand how such monstrous human beings ever came to walk the earth. He inspired with accounts of the efforts he is involved in that seek justice for women and girls in Zimbabwe,  the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. He lauded community efforts to rally together to combat injustices and violations of human rights.

I was reminded that I need not apologise for the passion and emotion that I feel when it comes to issues of injustice, inequality, human rights, stigma and discrimination, war and more. I was reminded that each one of us can find that niche where we feel we have the potential to contribute most. I was reminded that any contribution, however small, is significant. Most importantly, while sitting in that room, speaker and audience feeding off each other’s energy, I was filled with renewed hope and a sense of purpose, and I was reminded that I am not alone.

 Stephen Lewis "The Power of Community"