by Dr. Gordon L. Anderson
Secretary General, Professors World Peace Academy
Mr. Taj Hamad began the opening night of the conference by presenting a new understanding of the letter “H”. We heard that the world was hurting and that we were in Hungary when many all over the world go to bed hungry. But “H” also represents “Healing” and we were in Hotel Helia. Like Buda and Pest, joined by a bridge, the vertical columns of an “H” are joined by a horizontal bar. Healing is related to two parts coming together in wholeness, parts that separately hurt when isolated from their partner. The etymology of “H” was a good metaphor on which to begin our work. St. Margaret, noted for her healing powers, had her monastery on the island in the river near us.
The opening plenary session was a spectacular event in the former chamber of the Upper House in the Parliament building. We heard from four very enlightening speakers who charted our course.
The President of the Parliament, Dr. Katalin Szili, shared that the Hungarian government has a new interest in providing funds for NGOs. There is a real need for dialogue between NGOs and states. She specifically mentioned cooperation on issues related to globalization, terrorism, and environmental betterment.
Dr. Alfredo Sfeir-Younis, Senior Advisor to the World Bank’s Managing Director’s office, addressed the importance of a spiritual element in social and environmental issues. He spoke of an evolution from a world in which the reconciliation of science and religion was the major focus toward our current challenges in which the relation of the material to the non-material—economics and spirituality—has taken center stage. The world is hurting for spiritual and material reasons. People are dying of diseases for which there are cures; they are starving in the midst of surpluses of food. Large segments of the population—youth, elderly, and indigenous cultures—are being marginalized in a world of great possibility.
The world is hurting because of an ideology of individualism in which people push forward, grabbing what they can for themselves without much compassion for those left behind. We need a revolution in cultural values that emphasizes compassion—not as handouts—but as living for the other in a way that they can pursue a productive life. In an interdependent world, if one hurts all hurt.
The solution is in us. We cannot point our fingers and blame or demand from someone else. NGOs that do this will become a deterrent, rather than part of the solution. The world needs healing. The time is now. It starts with me.
Mr. Thomas Glaser of the European Commission explained the relationship between government and NGOs in terms of a democratic deficit. Governments are viewed as increasingly large, complex, remote, and elitist. This perception is not always the reality, but the gap between large state and trans-state governments and the people needs to be bridged with intermediary organizations that have their pulse on the needs of specific local needs. NGOs can serve as this bridge. However, the European Commission does not make a sharp distinction between NGOs and other intermediary interest groups. This leads to a host of questions about the motives of governments and NGOs, both good and bad, and how the best can be brought out in each and negative behaviors prevented.
Dr. Chung Hwan Kwak, Chairman of WANGO’s International Council, explained the role of WANGO and enjoined us to create an organization that transcends barriers that other organizations so often erect to protect and preserve themselves at the expense of others. Live for the sake of others should be our motto. Selfishness breaks human trust, betrays the hopes of people, and leads to a loss of institutional legitimacy. To be effective in healing a hurting world, we must look into our hearts and check our own motives before we act, or we become part of the problem. Peace begins with me. Healing begins with me.
In the afternoon breakout session, on Women, Families, and Youth, it became quickly apparent that there are a seemingly infinite amount of problems to be addressed, from gender disparity, domestic violence, internet pornography and violence in the media, to starvation, poverty and health, to problems of children trying to raise themselves without parents, or parents trying to get a worthwhile education for their children in unfunded schools. It seemed that for everything human beings require, there are too many examples of failure to which NGOs can be called to address.
What became immediately clear is that there is a need for civil society leadership and organization at a level that can match the development of the large social institutions that exist in the world today—from nation states, to multi-national corporations, to global media enterprises. Without such organization by NGOs, the human needs of individuals and families often become lost.
In discussing government, it was recommended that societies aim at 50% representation by women. Examples were cited about the positive influence of women in government on society. Conversely, it was recommended that men become 50% partners in traditional activities like Parent Teacher Associations. However, one person cautioned against legislating quotas because often the most qualified candidates do not emerge, so this percentages ought to be ideals we work for.
We also discussed how NGOs could get attention for their issues in the media, by cultivating relationships with journalists and forwarding them information for stories.
In other sessions and meetings many of these themes were repeated and reinforced. It was repeatedly stated that one must be at peace with oneself, or heal oneself, before engaging in NGO activities. Without peace it is hard to truly see the other, to open our soul. As St. Paul said in the New Testament, “Without love, we are a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.”
One recommendation that I heard is that WANGO should work to develop guidelines for fair distribution of international funds targeted for NGOs for healing, but too often diverted by government officials or NGO leaders for personal purposes. Avoiding conflicts of interest in the distribution process that would help prevent diversion of funds, transparency, and accountability are all important. Standards could be recommended to the UN for action, but they could also be disseminated by WANGO in training seminars.
We heard some stories about unholy alliances between NGOs and government leaders. We heard stories about NGOs that kept over 80% for their own operations and passed less than 20% on to the truly needy they were designed to serve. Such experiences cause donors to lose faith. However those NGOs and governments that can develop noble reputations will grow.
In the Plenary Session on the Future, we were presented with scenarios of change that boggle the mind, and were told that history has shown our projections for change to be conservative. NGOs must prepare for and face the future. What will they look like, and what will be their mission 10 years from now? Will we live in a world of trans-institutions, the next level of human social aggregation? Jerome Glenn listed 15 global challenges for all of us to consider. We heard both optimistic and pessimistic scenarios, and scenarios for the evolution of human spirituality to ponder in this mind-expanding session.
In the session on Healing in the Aftermath of War, we heard testimonies about life in Afghanistan and Iraq today that miss the headlines but point to great challenges and needs for NGO action. It was stressed that, security is the essential situation for NGO activity. NGOs have a difficult time to function in a state of war. It was stated that there is too little security in Afghanistan and that 95% of the people are hardly affected by the Karzai regime. Afghanistan produces the majority of the world’s heroin; it still mistreats women. State and economic interests have not corresponded to human needs. We have to watch the rhetoric. Too often war and occupation are justified with slogans like “lack of human rights,” but with a few exceptions, it does little to promote human rights.
Another point to keep in mind is the distinction between what domestic and international NGOs can do. International NGOs can often be associated with cultural imperialism.
One surprising presentation, “Healing the Land: Healing the People,” was on the draining of 5,000 year old marshes by Saddam Hussein and the desertification of land and the genocide of indigenous marsh dwellers. Satellite pictures show rebuilt canals and recent photos depicted the return of the marshes and this ancient way of life in the region. It was emphasized how people dare not publicize these civil society developments for fear they will be associated with the Western occupation forces and targeted by terrorists.
The participants made suggestions throughout the conference. One group proposed the preparation of an International NGO Day during Peace Week. Another recommended the development of WANGO international training teams.
This conference’s discussions on “Healing a Hurting World” can be summarized by healing on several levels. Heal root causes before violence erupts. Heal inequities. Heal one self. Heal families. Heal the land. Provide education so people can sustain themselves. Heal the legitimacy of political regimes, religions, the media, NGOs, and other social institutions.
I could go on with more detail about other sessions. But words are not enough. The best example is lifting up those NGOs who put their words into practice.
The awards ceremony, perhaps, summarized the WANGO vision best by highlighting NGOs who are actually doing a part to heal the hurting world. I had a thought when Yusef Islam, accepting the award presented to Small Kindness International, said he had one goal that he acted on during his life.
Perhaps we can all have one goal. “One goal” sounds like WANGO. Members of WANGO are encouraged to act on their goals.