Reflections on returning from the Eastern tour

Naty and Isaiah with Stephen Lewis.

We have just arrived back from the Eastern tour. It has been such a privilege to accompany Naty and Isaiah over last few days. They are both powerful and inspirational speakers, able to convey the devastating impacts of climate change and the urgency to act at the same time as the hope that can be found in the work of local communities. It has also been wonderful to meet all the people on KAIROS committees and in communities in St. John’s, Halifax and Fredericton who stand with KAIROS. Over the last few months I have seen many of their emails and letters of support, but it was great to meet some of them in person and to thank them.

I was struck by how similar Naty and Isaiah’s messages were when they were speaking about their experiences and work at the community level. “Although I have never been to Kenya, I feel like I have,” Naty said after hearing Isaiah’s account of the impact of heavy rains on a community that has suffered five years of drought. For communities in Guatemala and Kenya the message about climate change is urgent and clear. The impacts of drought, heavy rains, hail, extreme weather and disruption in weather patterns are threatening their lives and livelihoods. “Communities get impatient with us because they feel we are needlessly complicating the issues,” Isaiah commented. Responding to climate change is not an option.

Communities are responding with alternative proposals. Again, the similarities between communities in Guatemala and Kenya were unmistakable. Some of these proposals include diversification of crops, local production for food sovereignty, seed conservation, reforestation, and harvesting water. “When we look at alternatives, sometimes we have to “unlearn” what we have learned and the assumptions we make,” Naty said today when we were talking about alternatives. “We need to discern whether they are really alternatives or if they are based on the same principles and development model that got us in this mess in the first place.” Naty gave the example of the electric car. Is it really an alternative if it doesn’t question our dependence on the car and requires electricity to run? It’s not easy, but if we don’t shift our thinking we will end up with more false solutions to climate change, like agro-fuels and hydroelectric energy.

I think on this Eastern tour we left a clear message that there is an urgent need and responsibility to respond to climate change from wherever you are — from the four directions. This response needs to be both at the level of lifestyle and policy change. Isaiah encouraged people to take action together: “Collective action can lead to change — it won’t happen on its own.” Naty ended her presentations with a beautiful photo of children in a community in Guatemala. “We need to defend the territory for future generations.” She went on to say, “By territory I mean the space in which we interact, the air, the soil, the subsoil, the elements, the animals — Mother Earth”.

On the way back to Toronto, we had the good fortune to be on the same plane as Stephen Lewis. We had attended his talk in Fredericton the night before. I was incredibly moved and awe-struck by the depth, eloquence and humanity of his message, so when he sat down a few seats ahead of me I was pretty excited. After the flight, I introduced myself and the delegation. He immediately asked about KAIROS and expressed his solidarity and support. When I asked if he would stand with KAIROS and our partners he said he would be happy to. So we took this picture of Stephen Lewis with Naty and Isaiah.

Filed in: Africa, Latin America

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