By Audette Exel AO, Adara Group Founder and Chair
A paddle board maybe? The latest Booker Prize winner? World Peace?
It’s one of the rituals of our lives – answering that question once a year – what do you want for your birthday?
I have always loved the enchanted side of life. The idea that when I blow out the candles, I can magically have a wish granted, is just so incredibly enticing. If only it could be so.
Today, as I hit 59, I am playing the wish game. It is a glorious day in Mollymook, and I have been walking on the beach and mulling over the last year, what 2022 may bring, and my birthday wish as I relish a long slow cup of coffee.
There are so many good options this year.
Wish Number 1. I really, really, wish for Vaccine Equity. I am incredulous that two years into a global pandemic, less than 10% of people who live in low and middle-income countries (some 3 billion of our neighbours), only have had one dose. Meanwhile, we in the lucky countries now seek the booster – our 3rd or even 4th dose. How can that be?
That wish is just part of the bigger ask – Wish Number 2 – an end to COVID-19. That folds into Wish Number 3 – I wish people truly believed that we can end this pandemic. Until they do, and until we roll out a vaccine plus policy worldwide, the chances are it won’t happen. Come on everyone – say it out loud – we CAN end COVID-19!
And then there is Wish Number 4 – a wish that policy makers and politicians would finally realise that you can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy citizenry (not so hard to grasp, is it?) If they did that in Australia, a much-loved member of my family, David – aged 10 – who has Aicardi-Goutieres Syndrome, would be able to get his shot and go back to a well-ventilated safe school. David is full of energy, he is kind, he is funny. He is important. COVID-19 would deal him a massive health challenge which he does not need, on top of all else. We need that wish to happen.
I come back to the more self-focused list. Wish Number 5 – I want to learn to surf. That makes me think about Wish Number 6 – protecting our precious planet. That is a wish that the private and public sectors globally could double down on reaching net zero – and massively reduce carbon emissions by 2030. That 50 degree Celsius day in West Australia yesterday was a scary mark of what lies ahead if they don’t.
Hard to line that up against the next one. Wish Number 7 is that in 2022 we see many more people coming out of (rather than going into) extreme poverty. That would mean a chance at a happy life for the more than 10 million girls who were facing child marriage or trafficking in 2021. That ties to Wish 1 and Wish 6. And, of course, Wish Numbers 2, 3, and 4.
In fact – all these wishes are completely intertwined.
We were talking at our Adara Global Leadership Team meeting yesterday about trying to understand what people are thinking, and where people are coming from, when they have views so different to our own. We need to do that with kindness and non-judgement as we live through this time of polarity and division. With that principle in mind, I am wondering today why many of the people around me are not absolutely up in arms about the state of the world and the critical need to reach out to our neighbours both here and far away?
Is it because they are so deeply concerned (understandably) about their own lives and jobs and the people they love, they don’t have the bandwidth to think of the bigger picture? Is it because there is so little information available on what is happening right now to people in poverty that they don’t know? Or is it because, unlike me, they haven’t had the chance to meet, connect with and love people who are living in low and middle-income countries, and to see for themselves how magnificent they are? Maybe that is the key obstacle to global unity and action.
The last 24 years of my life have been filled with the joy of working with communities who often live many days walk from a road, and with colleagues around the world who are health workers, educators, social scientists, development specialists, midwives, AIDs counsellors, investment bankers… on and on the list goes. And on this subject, I don’t need the data – I know how wonderful people are. I know what they are capable of. I am uplifted every day by their heroism.
And I have come to know in a visceral way how much joy comes from giving, and what it feels like to be part of changing someone’s life.
Which brings me to Wish Number 8 – a very lucky number.
I wish that everyone could have the experience I have every single day of working with and connecting to their magnificent neighbours, and that they could experience the feeling I get through a life that encompasses giving.
As a result of that connection and giving, so many incredible people who now live in poverty would have the chance to lead the joyous, fulfilling lives they deserve.
If that wish came true, we would be unstoppable. We would stand together and face the challenges of our time, together – climate change, poverty, the health and economic crisis that is COVID-19, and more. We would know right now that we can create a fairer, greener and an even more wonderful world.
Forget the surfing lessons or the paddle board – I am going with Wish Number 8.
I came home from the beach satisfied with my choice for this year’s spin around the sun. My Mother is baking the cake (chocolate). My WhatsApp messages just lit up, with a message from Enoch Katwere, who has been a member of the Adara Family since 2006.
Enoch came to us from the streets of Kampala when he was 10, having lost his Mum and Dad. He was brave enough to go to school, to become part of a band of brothers (the Ebeneezer Boys) and to learn to build a great life off the streets.
This is his message to me today:
“Happy Birthday dearest Auntie. Am glad that on your 59th graduation I am also graduating with my Bachelor’s degree of science in community, psychology, and psychotherapy. I will always remember that on your birthday in 2022 I graduated. I dedicate my degree to you as a birthday present, because you have made my journey to be interesting.”
Which just goes to prove, wishes do come true after all.