By Audette Exel, Founder and Chair
“It’s all gone,” my old friend Gail – a bushie and an artist – wept down the line. “Everything taken. Nothing left.” I cry too. It took her years to build that house. So much irreplaceable. So much lost.
And so, in Australia, we say farewell to 2019 – with much of the country waking to the smell of smoke, the sound of helicopters, and the tears and the grief of our friends and family.
I needed a walk to clear my head. In my life, I have been addicted to a few things: to coffee – to romance – to adrenaline – to fabulous food – to work – to endless episodes of 24 – but never did I think I could become addicted to an app called “Fires Near Me.” It has become the strangest companion to the strangest end of a decade that I can recall. It feels like the whole of Australia is on fire.
Down to the beach in the beautiful wee town of Mollymook, on the south coast, where my wonderful Mum lives. Fire to all sides of us – right now. Where even at the beachfront the air is more toxic than it is in Delhi.
I want to write something for all Adara’s amazing teams around the world – to thank them and to celebrate their incredible achievements over the last decade helping some hundreds of thousands of the world’s most remote and most vulnerable people. Always optimistic. Always helping others. Never complaining. It has been the privilege of my life to lead these people who do this incredible work. What can I say?
I am looking for inspiration – and I know that there is much to celebrate as a world. Children are less likely to die now, more people than ever can read, only 10% of the population live in extreme poverty – down from more than 40% just 40 years ago.
But how on earth can I think about the decade, about the world, about anything other than what is unfolding all around us? How can I think about others in the middle of this frightening madness?
What, in the midst of this, can I say about this decade?
Flat white in hand, plonked at a beach table beside strangers- a fretting young couple with young kids who have been caught up in it all down here on holidays. His tattoos make me think he might have been in the military. “Never thought it would be like this,” the man said out loud. “Thought it would be a good holiday.” And so, we began to chat. About the fires, about the world.
He mows lawns and does odd jobs for a living, she looks after the kids, and they live in the west of Sydney, in Penrith. Over 45 degrees there this week. We agree that it’s terrible, and scary. We agree our politicians and leaders are failing us. They tell me they didn’t realise it would happen to them. They say that everyone might need to get out on the street to protest. I think it might be the first time they have ever contemplated that. They don’t seem to be accustomed to talking protest and rising up for change. Yet they are.
They talk about how wrong it is to buy and sell water in a time of drought. And he tells me – “we need to come together to fix the world. We need to unite.”
And there are the answers I was looking for, gifted to me by strangers on a beach bench.
What can I say about the decade? That it was the decade where we went from being observers, to being participants.
What a huge and important shift. For if we are to make change, if we are to make a fairer, kinder, safer world – if we are to survive and thrive – we must participate. And we must unite.
This was the decade where almost everyone was touched in some way by something– by our disgust at the abasement of the office of President of the United States, by our fear of hate crimes, by our anger at the failures of our leaders to understand our fears and needs. By awe at the courage of a 16 year-old girl to lead millions onto the streets to raise awareness of climate change. Many were touched by a story of a refugee child who drowned, who looked like our child. By students on the streets protesting for democracy and fairness, whose dreams and voices were being met with brutality. By climate change moving from an abstract, angry debate, to what seems like the centre of our lives.
And in that shift – from observer to participant – there is hope. Massive hope.
So for me, that is the story of the last and the next decade – may the twenties be a decade of hope, where we all become changemakers. And as the man at the beach told me – where we all unite, no matter where we live, or what colour, race, religion, gender, or sexual identity we have.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells us – “to choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”
May this storm pass, with gratitude for the courage of those who stand up to help others. Like so many are – just up the road – in our country, right now.
Farewell to the decade where we went from being observers to being participants.
Welcome to the decade of hope, where every one of us becomes a changemaker.