One year ago, on what was a milestone day, I received the most incredible gift from someone who is a central part of my heart and who understands my heart – Al Merschen. The shock was immense. I understood what it was, but I couldn’t quite absorb its enormity: its immense purpose, its huge potential impact. I needed to get my head around it. I needed to get my heart around it – I needed to fully honour it.
Over the past year I, we, have been figuring out where in the world to bring this gift to life, and where in the world it can start to touch lives. The process of defining the WHAT, WHY and WHEN has been a long, important one. But now we know!
And so here, now, I am delighted to share that Al’s gift – creation of THE ANITA MENDIRATTA FOUNDATION, is being officially registered as a globally-focused Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) with the UK Charity Commission. For this, I thank Al with all of my heart, and with this, I hope to be able to make all the difference. x
Not one to feel comfortable using the word “I” in writing, on this occasion I will absorb the discomfort and make an exception. Reason being, in this sharing the ‘I’ extends far beyond me.
In brief, on May 16th, 2019. the United Nations’ International Day of Living Together in Peace which is defined and designed to be one for “mobilising those in the international community to promote peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding and solidarity”, the title of Ambassador For Peace At Large For Global Relations was bestowed upon me by the IIPT, the International Institute For Peace Through Tourism. https://peacetourism.org/anita-mendiratta-iipt/
I was deeply touched by the honour, and the reaction of colleagues, clients, friends and family, near and far. And I was quite silenced thinking ‘what does it actually mean? What does it mean to get this title at this time in my career? What does this mean for my future focus in working to develop peace through tourism.
The IIPT as an organisation has been around for decades. Its mission is to promote peace through tourism’s ability to connect people, places, and possibilities. It hasn’t changed since 1986, even as the world around it, and peace itself, has taken on new challenges and meaning. Its reason for being has endured, actually strengthened.
Suddenly it was clear: the appointment was not a recognition of my work in the past. It was, in fact, a clear statement of expectation of my work in the future.
And here is why: because now more than ever our world needs travel and tourism, to not only promote all that our shared world has to offer – socially, culturally, economically and environmentally – but to protect it.
Today we are blessed to live in a world without borders. Nowhere is out of bounds either in our imagination or infrastructure. We have the ability to get from A to B, right through to the end of the alphabet, as often, as frequently, and quite honestly, as indulgently as we wish. If we have the means – the time, the funds, the motivation, the inspiration, the facilitation, we have the ability to move anywhere.
As I say repeatedly from whichever stage I am blessed to speak, there is no industry in the world that demonstrates the desire of the people of the world to come together to understand and appreciate one another like travel and tourism. It is travel and tourism that inspires people to invest their time, money and energy to cross the street or cross the world to discover the other – exploring differences in people and places to understand, appreciate, and respect.
That is how tourism has become a vehicle for peace. And right now we need this proactive, empowering, and uniting vehicle for bridge-building, a force for good that works every day to unlock people’s ability to venture out into the world to feed their curiosity, find their compassion, to give, not just take.
For years, the linear premise of tourism being a vehicle for peace would yield questioning, often incredulous looks. The leap was too far. And then the early two thousands happened. Where tourism was one seen as peripheral, as recreational, a non-essential, in the last 15 years it has become an essential part of life for both travellers and locals alike. Business Development requires tourism. Understanding of the global community around us requires tourism. Economic opportunity requires tourism. Social stability and unity requires tourism. Local identity required tourism. The potential of the world to really see the value in which it holds together as well as independently requires tourism.
Importantly, without travel and tourism, we lose the opportunity for economic expansion that raises the baseline for billions, the opportunity for social understanding and inclusivity, the opportunity for environmental protection and preservation, the vital ways in which we can ensure that, for generations to come, proudly and purposefully protecting and preserving what Mother Nature gave us, and ultimately allowing us to see, feel, that it is our differences that unite us.
It is through our differences that we learn compassion, we learn understanding, we learn respect. This applies to not only how we see and accept responsibility for our engagement with other people. It is also about how we engage with the environment around us, living harmoniously with Mother Nature.
Powerfully, to travel is to also learn about oneself.
It is through tourism that all of these prisms of life are brought to life, creating connection. That connection creates harmony, which in turn, at scale, creates peace.
This truism has always been central to the IIPT, champions of the message that we as travellers around the world have a responsibility to vocalise the invaluable impact of tourism beyond the tourists. It is our responsibility to vocalise just how blessed we are to be able to reach out into the world, and in doing so, to actively work to knock down walls where differences are being used as a way of separating people, politics, policies, philosophies, and ultimately hearts.
The need for all of us to stand up and work for peace has become ever more personal. Now, right here and right now, travellers of the world need to embrace it is not someone else’s responsibility, it is all of ours. It is mine.
As we look at the UN SDGs and the 17 ways in which the goals develop a framework not just at government and corporate level, but at a citizen level, to examine how we can play our part to shape a truly sustainable world, there is an overt need to, through tourism, directly strengthen the fabric of our shared global community and home, for all people and places, all creatures great and small, all of Mother Nature’s creation. http://tourism4sdgs.org/
I will forever be grateful to the IIPT for this moment, this mandate. I am committed to serving the sector, now in a way that brings greater credibility, exposure, and inclusiveness of the IIPT into the global community as a part of the DNA of our sector truly being a force for good.
Now is the time, the perfect time, to get to work. x
And so arrived the moment so many had been waiting for, betting on, planning towards, wondering when……and at the same time, worrying about. The day when British Prime Minister the Right Honourable Theresa May, stepped out of one of the most recognised and iconic doors in the world – 10 Downing Street – to make it real:
24.05.2019, 10:00am London time, her words were spoken…
“it is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that (Brexit deal approval) effort. So I am today announcing that I will resign as the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party on Friday 7 June so that a successor can be chosen.”
In the days leading up to the moment all knew were coming, local media put forward their most desperate images and clever headlines in an effort to capture the essence of the angst of the moment. Focus was on failure: what had Her Excellency Prime Minister May NOT achieved? Where had she proven unable to lead? Why is this now the moment to admit defeat?
Sadly, and so reflective of the times in which we live, the macro is eclipsed by the micro. Those who should be celebrated for stepping forward and trying, with all of their faith, might, acumen, credibility and prayer, are faced with a chorus of watchers-on waiting for them to step out, demanding that they step out.
How does this happen?
How do people who enter an intensely competitive, challenging, aggressive, often damning space for the good of the people go, so rapidly, from being trusted and respected political sources and certainties representing the will of the people to someone the people will willingly celebrate seeing their demise? How has civilisation become so painfully uncivilised?
And how is this take-down acceptable?
24 hours on since resignation, an endless flow of endless commentary is flooding in. Analysis continues,….accusations endure. For all of her words reflecting on tenure, the defining moment of Prime Minister May’s time in office will be her announcement of resignation – especially her tears – the last 10 seconds of her entire address in which she choked up in unedited expression of her enduring love for, and commitment to, the country she loves.
As the UK now enters into ‘who next?’ territory, much will be made of Prime Minister May’s term in office, and how, sadly, it close with her conceding:
“I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so.”
Not now, but one day, one day, history will judge, and honour, the fact that entering into the role of the Right Honourable Prime Minister on the back of a ‘leave‘ EU referendum, Prime Minister May did the best she could for the people of the UK, her people of the UK. Did her leadership yield the desired result? Clearly not. And so she now hands over the challenge of securing consensus to her successor.
And yet as she exits the stage, is it important to recognise and salute that, without question, she did her best, put it all out on the field?
No question about it.
Respect and decency where due. Thank you, Right Honourable Prime Minister May. Thank you, Ma’am. x
Paris. 15 04 2019. 18:50 local time. Flames. And suddenly the world shifted its gaze. Hearts and minds moved, swiftly, from local headlines to the lines of firefighters forming at the doors of Notre Dame to extinguish flames which evacuating priceless pieces of history.
Days on, as holy week unfolds and embers still exude small puffs of smoke and steam, crowds continue to gather in prayer outside the aching both of the grande dame. Shock and horror has evolved to relief and gratitude. From around Paris and around the world, expressions of strength in the rebuilding of the grande dame rose above the ashes. Immediately donations, huge donations, began. Leading French families stood forward, quickly, pledging amounts which, when combined with others received over the past 5 days, are now nearing USD$1 Billion.
The response to the sight of Notre Dame on fire, and the remains that now still stand, have revealed that something bigger, stronger, more penetrating and purposeful can and does connect people across the global community, pulling people together more powerfully than the local, often biting issues that are defining the political and social headlines of our times.
Donald Tusk, President of the European Council of the EU, said it perfectly the day after flames lit up Paris night skies, he opened his report to the European Parliament on April 10th’s Special European Council (Art. 50) meeting by stating:
“From this place I would like to say words of comfort and solidarity with the whole French nation in the face of the Paris tragedy. I say these words not only as the president of the European Council, but also as a citizen of Gdańsk, 90 percent destroyed and burnt, and later rebuilt. You will also rebuild your cathedral. From Strasbourg, the French capital of the European Union, I call on all the 28 Member States to take part in this task. I know that France could do it alone, but at stake here is something more than just material help. The burning of the Notre Dame cathedral has again made us aware that we are bound by something more important and more profound than Treaties. Today we understand better the essence of that, which is common, we know how much we can lose. And that we want to defend it – together.“
The great efforts and good intentions of givers has made clear that across cultures, communities, societies and boundaries, connecting us is a desire to protect and preserve the signatures of generations past for the sake of generations to come. Within us, as much as there are so many small things that divide us, the desire to be part of something bigger, something better, unites us. No man, no nation, is an island.
And yet, at the same time, criticism has become audible. The voice of France’s Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest movement) returning to their protests across Paris, is joined by many across the globe questioning both the direction and motivation of these massive donations.
And but what about _____?
And what about _____?”
Judgement is being applied to people just wanting to do the right thing, right now. The questions are valid. The reasons to act to do something, somewhere, for someone, are vast.
However, to simply stand back and judge the givers is to jeopardise the receivers.
It should never be an either-or. Whatever the cause, whatever the crisis, wherever tragedy may occur, whatever one can do to help, one must. Now, and again and again and again, whenever moved to act.
Which is why, if the open wounds of Notre Dame have resulted in the opening of hearts and wallets of people across Paris and other parts of the world, than God’s hand is wisely at work. The outpouring of affection and funds for Notre Dame cannot not also be unlocking recognition of the power of one, by the millions, to make a difference for billions.
One can only hope and pray that the rising once more of Notre Dame has sparked a wider spirit and system for giving – however, wherever, whenever and to whomever – that spreads across the global community and calendar, the spirit of holy week rising once more.
And that keeps our hearts ever-aware of our ability to turn prayers into action. x
It is said that one’s true colours are most vividly exposed when faced by challenge – colours reflecting:
Darkness vs. light.
Cowardice vs. courage.
Hopelessness vs. hope.
Separation vs. unity.
Them vs. us.
In the midday hours of March 15th, a time when many of New Zealand’s Muslim community paused for prayer at their local mosques, time seemed to stand still as all of the day’s colours turned to black, and then red. The details are now well known. By the end of it all, 50 lives of local Christchurch residents had ended, each and every one of them far, far too soon.
Looking terror directly in the eye as soon as first hearing word of the people of her nation hearing shots, and while still processing what the madness meant, somehow, somehow, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was able to find words to light a small candle in the terrifying, eclipsing darkness:
“They are us.“
While many across NZ, and the world, felt a sickening feeling in their spirits that seemed to release a whisper of ‘not again!’ in their minds, it was the lone voice, the white, pure light, of Prime Minister Ardern’s words that broke through with a strong, clear, determined message to the people of New Zealand – especially the Muslim community – and the people of the world: ‘‘never again!’
As each hour and day passed, her example was inspiring. Inspiring much, sadly, because it was so unique in its unscripted, unfiltered, unwavering compassion, conviction, and action. Her inner compass seemed to pierce through all of the underlying noise, all of the tragic headlines, all of the bubbling plot lines. In so doing it guided her, without hesitation, without delay, without need for permission, in the absolutely right direction: towards her people, all people, with the Muslim community first. Where she went, what she wore, with whom she spoke, how she helped heal, day after day she made headlines. By standing with, she was standing out.
Her strength was undeniable. Her example unquestionable. But what was it that, days after, continues to have has unique, style of leadership spotlighted, celebrated and desperately sought after.
Her position was clear, her prayers clearly directed. Dressed in black headscarf the Prime Minister stood with mourners at Friday prayers just one week later, national television and radio stations carrying the deep, soothing, unifying sound of the azaan carrying across the nation.
Her words that day did, and will always, reflect a level of unity increasingly unheard in these days of people, communities and nations pushing apart. “According to the Prophet Muhammad … the believers in their mutual kindness, compassion, and sympathy are just like one body. When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain. New Zealand mourns with you; we are one.”
And the coverage changed. Her genuine words, actions, spirit of unity and image dominated international media platforms and city icons. National symbols from the silver fern to the haka were reworked to honour the victims and show support of the wider Muslim community. Never, never before, has the western world seen such a standing up for the Muslim community.
Insha’Allah, it is not the first and last.
What is it about the power of what happened in Christchurch? How did the Muslim community, through it’s unbearable loss, find itself in a position of unbelievable unification of the global community?
How could it be that one single act has caused such magnification of a willingness to understand, a desire to help heal, across one global community?
It all comes down to three little words – NZ’s translation of “I love you’: “They are us'”
Three little words suddenly set in motion, a spirit of change that has gone across New Zealand, and has rippled across the world. Three little words and it could have stopped there. In today’s day of soundbites, quick hashtag activism, it could have stopped there. But it didn’t.
Seeing the Prime Minister Ardern immediately expressing her condolences was expected. What was unexpected was the way in which she bowed down to lay flowers – she did it with her head covered, her leadership taking on the colours and textures of tradition headscarves worn in times of mourning. And in covering her head, she showed an honouring and the respect of the people who were suffering – what they stood for, what they believed in, what held them together, their faith that ultimately came under attack.
Those actions have rippled across the world in a most profound echo.
The question is, for how long will the echo be heard?
Almost two weeks on since that horrific day, as daily reports from NZ are replaced by dramatic daily event unfolding in ie. the UK as the Brexit clock ticks louder and louder, and other new global challenges emerge, how will this time, this turn of sentiment, be embedded?
How will this new way of society looking at itself, looking out for its collective, no longer accepting the divides, endure?
How, when the azaan – the Muslim call to prayer – is heard on the streets of Christchurch, of Auckland, of Sydney, of so many places across the world , will people respond. Will they pause and look up….or will they look away?
Much has been written about Prime Minister Ardern – ‘Jacindamania’ as many now call it. And hopefully, much more will. Why hopefully? Not because it is about her. Nor because it is about her tiny country that is a mere fraction of the size of many global nations shaping the globe in the future.
It is because her tiny nation is showing how one small moment, one small place, three little words, can shift, in a more compassionate and connecting direction, the minds and hearts of the world.