Let me begin by taking a moment to thank everyone who supported Humanity Rises in 2017. I’m profoundly grateful for the financial generosity, social media sharing, words of encouragement and countless expressions of humanity that so many of you radiated upon our organization during our first year of operation. Thanks to the support of so many empathetic hearts, we were able to bring our mission to life by restoring dignity and igniting hope in the lives of refugees stuck in camps in Greece through the installation of our outdoor gym parks in LM Village, Katsikas, Lesvos Solidarity and Oinofyta. Our fundamental belief that through physical exercise, refugees can rebuild the emotional strength they desperately need to survive is working thanks to the outdoor gym parks we installed.
As 2018 gains momentum, I find myself presented with an energy and clarity I believe will help Humanity Rises positively impact even more refugees, and more importantly, those in exponentially more dire situations. And, it is with this clarity, that we will shift Humanity Rises’ focus to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh. Due to a government-driven campaign of widespread and systematic murder, rape and torture of the Rohingya people, there are over one million innocent souls who have been forced to flee Myanmar and seek asylum in an attempt to survive this appalling ethnic cleansing. Many have no access to clean water and more than half are in desperate need of medical care.
Before you read any more of this post, please take a few minutes to click through the New York Times photo-based story that amplifies the horror the Rohingyas are dealing with every second of every day. The photos alone are enough to stop you from breathing.
And, if you would like more background and on the Rohingya crisis, please read the Sky News story which does an exceptional job succinctly explaining it.
Since Humanity Rises’ inception a year ago, I have spoken privately to my Board of Directors, family, and close friends about wanting to focus our efforts in Bangladesh on the Rohingya refugee crisis. If living hell has multiple levels, the Rohingya are in the basement. Whereas most refugees who have made it to Europe are having most of their basic human needs (water, food, clothing, shelter, medical, etc.) met by humanitarian orgs, the Rohingya refugees are not and their situation gets more extreme by the day. You will note that I say “most” and not “all” when referencing the refugees in Europe. Refugees stuck on islands like Lesvos and Chios continue to suffer horrific atrocities, but I believe there are humanitarian warriors there now fighting that battle and I have faith they will prevail in getting inhumane situations resolved. There is a desperate need in Bangladesh, and Rohingya humanitarian support is in its infancy and needs to amp up now. I have unequivocal clarity in every fiber of my being that Humanity Rises needs to be part of that support.
The honest, vulnerable truth is that I have been haunted daily by the thought of the unending suffering of the Rohingya refugees. I’ve been trying to compartmentalize those thoughts, but I no longer believe we can delay providing humanitarian aid. I believe that the Universe sends us messages and if we go through life with an open heart and mind, we will see those signs. Two weeks ago after I spoke to my Board about wanting to shift our focus to Bangladesh, I had to take an Uber from NYC to Boston to get home during a terrible winter storm after all flights and trains were canceled. It turned out my driver was from Bangladesh and I had four incredible hours to speak to him about the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh, the history of that region and the role we all must play to end the refugee crisis and bring peace on earth. And because the Universe knows I sometimes need a second message, my Lyft driver this past Sunday was also from Bangladesh and we shared a similar impassioned conversation. I have used on-demand car services since they launched many years ago and my drivers have been from all over the world. Never once have I had one from Bangladesh. I know these two drivers were messages to me that what I feel in my heart is the path Humanity Rises needs to pursue.
It’s important to understand, I’m not talking about putting outdoor gym parks in Bangladesh refugee settlements. Our goal will be to find a path to reduce suffering which is very different from focusing on dignity and hope. I honestly have no idea what we will do in Bangladesh, but will know once I travel there and speak to refugees and humanitarians on the ground. I had no idea what Humanity Rises would initially focus on in Greece until I spoke to refugees in camps there and was told by them that they needed to exercise for emotional strength. I know once I travel to Bangladesh, it will become clear how we can best help alleviate suffering in the lives of these innocent souls who had to flee Myanmar because of the violent, unimaginable ethnic cleansing. We won’t be able to help all 1,000,000+ Rohingya people, but we will find a path to alleviating suffering for many of them.
Unfortunately, traveling into the refugee settlement areas in Bangladesh is not as simple as it is to travel to refugee camps in Greece. There are vaccinations, visas, approvals and safety concerns that all need to be addressed before I go. All that planning is well under way now. If everything falls into place as planned, I hope to travel to Bangladesh in early spring which thankfully is not that far off. Having said that, I will find out this Thursday if post-vaccination wait time requirements will delay the trip; fingers crossed it won’t. Once I have clarity on exactly what we plan to do in Bangladesh, I will update everyone via a blog post and then get the website and social media channels aligned with our plans. If anyone has any interest or ideas around the Rohingya crisis, please feel free to email me via firstname.lastname@example.org.
I believe more of humanity will rise in 2018 to help refugees and I believe Humanity Rises will be a beacon for many. Thank you to everyone who helped to provide light and energy for that beacon so far. I love you all.