Bowens - The Builders Choice

Lives of Others

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions. Great discipline if one does and carries out. But with 2023 being my 80th year, I need to appreciate the life I have had and consider the lives of others. We are not born equal in the sense of where we are born, nor the type of parents we are born to. I feel very lucky being born in Australia and into a happy family environment. Having a ‘well founded’ family business in my blood has certainly helped too!

As Australians it’s about time we all learnt to appreciate all that is around us. I’m being told by my family that I’m becoming too critical of ‘others’ and stubborn in my views about society circa 2023. Maybe true, but while my generation has been accused of creating some of today’s ills, each generation needs to look in that mirror and move away from the blame game. We all need to take ownership of our actions, be honest with ourselves and understanding of others.

I need to stop reading ‘local’ newspapers and watching the 6:00pm news – house fires, or shootings, car accidents or another cat stuck in a stormwater drain, that’s Melbourne’s daily news. Sure, there are serious tragedies too that effect whole families and communities. But we are not in a war zone.

My elder daughter Anna is based in Hungary and is Regional Humanitarian Diplomacy Coordinator, IFRC Europe (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). She recently wrote me the following:

I have just returned to Budapest from Ukraine. It’s winter now, which means the days are noticeably short and the cold has well and truly settled in. We’re seeing a resurgence of people on the move; those who have stuck it out in Ukraine since the war started, but simply cannot survive the freezing temperatures without adequate food, water or electricity. They join more than 7.5 million refugees now scattered across Europe, while more than 5.5 million remain displaced inside Ukraine. Millions more live in active conflict zones, not prepared or able to leave, and face regular power outages, limited access to drinking water and severe shortages of medicines and available medical assistance.

My Ukrainian colleagues are working around the clock to provide critical support to people in areas hit by missile strikes, including the capital, Kyiv, where I’ve just spent the last two weeks. I’m not quite sure what I expected to see there, but against all odds life goes on. Is there any choice? Bars and cafes are pumping, albeit until curfew together with constant power cuts. Air raid sirens are frequent. And everyone knows the drill when the explosions sound. One day last week I joined the mass movement of people towards the underground metro stations and hidden speakeasies to wait things out until the alerts were lifted. Within an hour or two we were back on the streets, doing a quick head count and watching as emergency service people made speedy headway with repairs to damaged infrastructure.

Despite this apparent ‘normalisation’ of (or adaptation to) war, there has been overwhelming suffering, death and destruction in Ukraine, and the human cost continues to mount. People have had to leave everything behind to escape with their lives, thousands of civilians have been killed and injured, and many are experiencing traumatic events and need urgent protection. Schools, health-care facilities, homes and other infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed. Many people who are displaced are women, children and older people. They are stuck in limbo between starting over in a new place or going back to uncertainty and potential danger.

We’re also seeing the residual effects of the conflict – mental health and psychosocial challenges, wage losses, and family separation, which impact both those who have fled and those who remain. Even if the conflict were to end tomorrow, it will take years to recover from its impact on people, communities, cities and the environment (it is the same for all refugees the world over).

But amid all this suffering, we have also witnessed the true power of humanity. The swift mobilisation of resources to support the Ukrainian people and the level of solidarity among countries across Europe (and globally) give me hope. Sadly, migrants and refugees are not often welcomed with such open arms. This response provides a very clear example of what is possible when and where political will exists.

In the meantime, my Ukrainian colleagues get on with their day, as I return to safety and count my blessings along the way.

I’ve no doubt that the thousands of Australians badly affected by flood and fire over the last few years ‘feel’ they were in a war zone – no-one wants to experience the loss of property (and, God forbid, lives), but to live every day with the threat of bombardment and complete annihilation is beyond any other experience.

So, please let’s say ‘Thank you Australia’, look beyond our political, religious, race and colour differences and embrace what our country offers.

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