Optimistically Cautious

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cynicism in Check

I finally took the time to read the latest edition of New Trail, the magazine for University of Alberta alumni. Featured were several graduates now working in Africa, for causes such as the rehabilitation of child soldiers, education, and HIV/AIDS treatment. Their stories are powerful, and it does amaze me that at one time, these leaders were students at the U of A.

One alumnus in particular, Robert Opp of the United Nation's World Food Program (WFP), struck me as being exceptionally honest. In Race Against Time, Stephen Lewis scorned the devastating inefficiencies of the United Nations, something that I know would leave me feeling frustrated and jaded if I ever decided to embark on such a mission in a developing country. Opp revealed his experience with this, and his shield from pessimism:

"With such a mammoth operation and working in such difficult circumstances, there is the possibility of feeling overwhelmed, cynical, or even inadequate. Part of working effectively at the UN, says Robert, 'is being able to see how working within a bureaucracy can lead to good results.' He tries to stay focused on the people who need help, remembering the times he worked in the field, or taking the opportunity during visits to WFP operations to meet the people who are receiving aid. 'If you can simply talk to the people who are getting help or who need it, and witness their struggles, you come back and work twice as hard. Overcoming cynicism and the feeling of being overwhelmed is a constant struggle,' he admits, 'but I believe — I know — how important that food is.'"

Speaking of Stephen Lewis, there was an article in the Edmonton Journal's "Sunday Reader" section this week that talked about a local Grandmothers to Grandmothers Chapter of the Stephen Lewis Foundation campaign. Its objective is to assist matriarchs in Africa forced to take care of their children and grandchildren due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The GANG (Grandmothers of Alberta for a New Generation) will be meeting on January 23 at 7:30pm at St. Paul's United Church (11526-76 Ave).

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