It's almost Christmas, time to take stock of 2020. A year like no other, in which a global pandemic drastically changed everyone's lives. We saw a lot less of our colleagues, friends and families. In other countries the consequences were even more negative as repression and aggression increased. And yet there appeared to be hope, which often grows in times of tribulation.
By Anna Timmerman, general director of PAX
One year ago, Christmas was different. In 2019, people left their homes, took to the streets, protested for their rights, for more democracy, for better care of the environment. Others were forced to leave their homes, fleeing from war, violence and oppression. Last year was fundamentally different.
In 2020, people were forced to stay at home. Protests were quashed, as in Iraq. Locked in their homes, Colombians became sitting ducks for paramilitaries and other armed groups settling scores with community leaders. The thugs did not have to look very far, they knew exactly where their victims were: at home. There were periods when every day a Colombian who had stood up for the rights of his or her community, who had fought for the return of stolen land, was murdered.
Not everyone had the luxury of staying at home. Many people saw no other option than to try to leave the suffering and persecution behind, corona or no corona, in search of a safer home. These refugees often confronted the heartless borders of Europe: closed. Syria is fleeing from Assad's armies, only to be sent back by the patrols guarding fortress European.
Last year was my first as general manager of PAX. Twelve months of leadership, tough decisions, and getting to know people. And so many inspiring conversations! Fortunately, I was able to speak to many partners using various modern tools of communication, which everyone here at PAX are now using on a daily basis. Our partners are very inspiring people. Activists who have found creative ways to carry on with their important work. It was wonderful to hear about the work they are doing for peace.
Still, meeting people via a screen is not the same as being there. I missed shaking hands to break the ice, hugging as we parted. I would have loved to travel to Jerusalem to talk to Lucy Nusseibeh about the situation in the Palestinian territories and how she is helping to strengthen the voice of Palestinian women. We spoke, via Skype: “Any kind of trust and support helps girls to get more out of themselves,” said Lucy. "To be less concerned about what tradition and society want from them."
I would have liked to speak face to face with the strong women PAX works with in Iraq and Sudan. To see with my own eyes how women have taken on an increasingly important, often decisive roles in social protests. Hala al Karib from Sudan told us that women should not be underestimated: “Women have shown time and again that they can bring about change. Gender is often seen merely as a box that must be ticked. But it's time to invest in women and see them as a driving force.”
I would have loved to go to South Sudan to visit the Kuron Peace Village, where sworn enemies learn to live together. The village that was unfortunately devastated by a flood this year. We called Lokii Lokwaar Eliah. He works in the village, was born into a shepherd family, had no chance for an education, but eventually managed to study in Germany. Now he is back in Kuron: "I want to support my people, I cannot be happy when my people suffer. You cannot count on miracles, but sometimes they happen."
Miracles sometimes happen, yes. But in the meantime, hard work is needed. And hard work led to one of the highlights of this year: the 50th country ratified the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. That means nuclear weapons will be officially illegal come January. A big, no, a huge step that PAX and many others have been fighting for for decades. After the protests of the 1980s, we have not stood still. The battle has been fought through political and legal channels, and with effect. How proud I am to be able to work at PAX at such a moment.
In January a colleague interviewed me. He asked if I had a life motto. "My motto is simple: make the best of it." In 2020, we had to, when so much of what we hold dear fell by the wayside. But more than that, what remained took on an even greater importance: the longing for a better world. Not just for posterity, but for the here and now. Because some rulers, who should be acting on behalf of the people, pursue interests that drive them far from what people care about: living together in peace, in solidarity. Many young activists, from abroad and from the Netherlands, spoke during the Peace Week about how, in their field and in their way, they fight for a fairer society. Wonderful to hear such a diverse group of people about their dreams and their approach.
At PAX, we sincerely hope that 2021 will be a year in which we restore what was damaged by the corona pandemic. In which US President Joe Biden begins to undo the errors made by his predecessor. So that the US government is once again concerned about the climate, and understands that treaties on nuclear and other destructive weapons are there to contain them, and that is good for humanity. And that people should be at the focus of policy, in every country.
In the meantime, many people understandably long to go back to the way things used to be, a year ago, when things were normal. We hope so, too, but we especially want to go back to the things that were good. There is talk of a reset of the economy. At PAX we want a reset in many other areas as well. But that will not happen automatically. It is a fight, to be fought by brave people we are honoured to work with. For me, for us at PAX, we need no more motivation than to see our partners standing up for a better society at the risk of their own lives.
Here at home, Christmas will not be normal. We can only be together with a few other people. We will support each other and seek a connection in other ways. The winter days here in the Netherlands are dark -- I am looking forward to passing the shortest day and then seeing the days get longer again. Especially at this time of the year, every ray of sun helps me to see the positive side of life. For me, Christmas is the feast of light, of renewal and of being together. At Christmas, billions of people around the world celebrate the Christian belief that the light came into the world when Jesus was born. 2020 was a year in which the people of PAX, our partners, the Embassies of Peace and the volunteers found new ways to connect, build bridges and support each other. That ingenuity can serve as an inspiration for us all, one we will take into the new year. We hope that 2021 will be easier, that everyone will get the vaccine and that we can resume our normal life. But as the South Sudanese Lokii says, “You may hope for a miracle, but you cannot assume it. We must work hard together to avoid suffering. ”
We will make a toast at the end of the year. This time with fewer people around us. But that only makes the wish we express when the glasses clink sound more powerful. May we see each other again, in a world that is recovering, in a world that people like you and me are helping to make better.