I always believe that life has something to teach us. We just need to listen.
Experts in many fields have been warning about a global pandemic for years.
Prof. Frank Chalk, the director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, for example, has pointed out that when we help the most vulnerable people on the other side of the world, we’re actually helping ourselves. Similarly, the harm we do may come back to haunt us.
Refugee camps are breeding grounds for infectious diseases. In 1994, the world not only turned its back on Rwanda, there’s evidence that Western powers, perhaps inadvertently, provided weapons that fuelled the genocide. This resulted in nearly one million deaths – or more if you consider the aftermath of the violence.
The Rwandan genocide also resulted in the mass movement of refugees. Disease was a major cause of death in refugee camps at that time, but fortunately none of that disease spread beyond the immediate area.
Disease, however, will always be a major risk when there’s this kind of mass movement of people.
Until now, COVID-19 has not decimated any refugee camps, though there are valid concerns in many trouble spots in the world.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for a global ceasefire as we proceed through the pandemic. Many leaders of these conflicts have fortunately agreed to stop fighting. We can only hope this will be enough to limit the spread of the virus and that it will have a lasting impact.
We need to remember that this isn’t the first global pandemic, nor will it be the last.
It has become very clear that viruses like COVID-19 don’t distinguish by nationality, ethnicity, income level or religion. For some, the impact is more devastating, but we can all get the virus, carry it and spread it, regardless of whether we become symptomatic.
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COVID-19 has made clear that we share a common humanity – with an exclamation point!
Many countries have responded effectively to this outbreak. We’ve been led by medical professionals who clearly hold the well-being of individuals as their highest priority. And many political leaders have recognized the significance of the common working person as their country’s most valuable resource.
We each have a part to play; we’re going to get through this crisis and we’re going to do it together.
After things settle and we look back on COVID-19, we need to recognize the lesson it taught us about looking after one another. We can’t go on selling weapons to one another and funding senseless overt and covert conflicts. We have to come together as a common humanity.
It’s also becoming clear that medical care is a human right. It’s not only immoral to deny someone the care they need, it can be deadly to all of us. Diseases develop and spread rapidly where people live without proper medical care. Societies that neglect to recognize this human right do so at their own peril.
We also need to take care of our world. Global warming is real and left unabated, it will make parts of the world uninhabitable. This too will cause mass movements of people, which will cause humanitarian crises and the potential development of further pandemics.
COVID-19 has provided us with a wake-up call. Most people have responded by showing care and concern for others. Most have shown a willingness to do their part to help the world through this crisis.
Now we need to change our practices. Cherish our planet. End armed conflict. Provide medical care for all citizens of the world. And, for goodness sake, let’s just be good to one another. We really are all in this together.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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