Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Friendship Day Aims to Improve Human Relations 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, July 22 / 13

Zack Gross

Coming up this July 30th is the third annual International Day of Friendship as declared by the United Nations.  The idea is to observe the day in order to promote peaceful relations from the microcosm of individual connections all the way up to the macrocosm of amity amongst nations.  If you've been checking the news lately, you will notice that humanity has a long way to go.

The George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin situation is a case in point.  One man was seemingly so caught up in fear that he shot a young black man who meant him no harm.  But this is not just an individual issue.  It is one result of a long history of injustice, frustration and division. 

Then, there is the Syrian civil war, where the governing group is laying waste to its main cities and killing, maiming and creating refugees of half its population.  Estimates are that over 100,000 people have died in this conflict, many of them non-combatant civilians and at least 5,000 of them children.  Refugee numbers stand at as much as one-third of the Syrian population of 21 million, internally displaced within their own borders, and millions more fled to neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon to live in camps.

Then, there are always those nagging sour points in our own lives – the neighbour whose dog or cat use our yard as a washroom, the co-worker or fellow student whom we can't get along with, or the bureaucrat who is making an easy process difficult by putting up hoops we have to jump through.  A major challenge in our cities today is harmony in a diverse world, where much more than ever, we interact with cultures from all around the globe in our daily activities.

Declaring a Friendship Day may seem like a pretty ineffectual thing to do, given the size of the problem.  In one of my all-time favourite movies, "Spaceballs," Darth Helmet says:  “Evil will always triumph because good is dumb!”  So far, he's not far off the truth, but I try to be a "glass-half-full, not half-empty” sort of guy.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's response has been that mutual respect and concern are the very fibre upon which the UN was founded – defending human rights, providing peacekeepers when needed, and feeding the hungry.  He maintains that the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UNESCO constitution all speak to solidarity amongst mankind.  The current Millennium Development Goals are the family of nations' collective effort toward peace and prosperity for all.

The UN has been acting since 1999 to bring about a “Culture of Peace,” particularly in connecting with the world's young people.  Our world has a younger population on average than ever before but also presents greater frustrations and challenges to its youth.  Joblessness leaves many young people in developing countries – and increasingly in wealthier countries – idle and poor.  Many organizations are working to create livelihoods for youth in order to combat crime and avoid violence.  The overthrow of governments in North Africa and the Middle East has been an expression of the frustration of youth who want more openness and opportunity.  This has also been evident in many poorer European countries and in election violence in some African countries.

The situation of children has been of concern as victims of conflict and poverty.  The instance of child labour and slavery, child soldiers and forced child sex workers is daunting.  UN estimates are 300,000 child soldiers in the world, 220 million child labourers and untold (often hidden) sexual exploitation of children, by the thousands per country.

 The UN is pushing for radically different educational priorities which focus on equality and social justice, cross-cultural dialogue and global partnerships, along with basic skills.  We need to protect children from being victimized but also inform and mobilize their peers around the world to push for transformative change.  In Manitoba, this is happening through the work of many globally-focused organizations, but also through a new provincial high school social studies curriculum that emphasizes citizenship and sustainability.  One sees that passion for a better world in how students work to clean up our environment or to shop for fair trade.

As July 30th falls within the summer break, it may be harder to organize something to mark International Day of Friendship.  Hopefully, summer camps, family gatherings and civic activities will catch the spirit and emphasize the need for people to not lose hope and not be complacent.  A more peaceful world is still possible.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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