My week began with the horrible image of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, laying face down in the Rio Grande. I was immediately reminded of little Aylan Kurdi from Syria, who was found dead on a beach in Turkey in 2015, after drowning when his family attempted to escape the war.
Aylan’s family simply needed to get out of Syria, to enable themselves to eat, live in peace, and not die from chemical weapons, or worse, starvation. Oscar, escaping the horrid conditions in his home country, El Salvador, was unable to request asylum on US soil, and instead, died while trying to save his daughter.
It is said in wider circles that one of the many issues in Syria that started the war, was a lack of potable water. This one aspect has helped lend a hand to one of the most horrific wars raging on our planet today. If you are also paying attention to Latin America, the lack of food and water in places such as Venezuela and Honduras, are not only pushing thousands to leave, but, the violence related to these issues, is so bad, that this is also driving people to seek asylum here in the U.S.
For perspective, speaking with a friend this week from Venezuela, she told me that her employees at the university where she works, make approximately 50,000 Bolivars a month. Laundry soap, if they can find it, now costs 48,000 Bolivars. Next time someone says that Latinos just want to come over to “mooch off of the U.S.,” just drop that bit of knowledge.
And, for some more perspective, it is estimated that by 2020, India will experience a major water shortage, where 21 major cities will have no groundwater. The remaining statistics projected into 2030 and 2040, are all but terrifying, creating massive amounts of “water refugees,” not just in India, but, worldwide.
It seems Aylan, Oscar, and Valeria, are only the beginning.
I would say that the human race has arrived at a point where our decisions and our cognizant choices need urgent consideration and action. If indeed we are going to continue existing. The state of our world right this very moment, is in crisis. Staying grounded, I find, is incredibly challenging and yet, I have this silly sense of hope that we will get it together and fix this. But, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
There are going to me more mass migrations, more deaths, less water, less food, environmental destruction and yes, more violence. It seems we are all staring in the blockbuster movie we love lining up to see – you know, that apocalyptic one, where there are fires, floods, wars, famines, genocides, and people fleeing. All we need now are aliens, zombies, or Godzilla.
Yet, in all of this, there’s a glimpse of hope. This week I attended the United Religions Initiative (URI) conference, Accelerate Peace, at Stanford University. I’m an Affiliated Scholar with URI, doing my Doctor of Ministry project for the organization. This 2-day conference brought peace-builders and activists from all over the world together, to share what they are doing to help create more ideas and opportunities for peaceful coexistence. Young leaders from Bosnia, Guatemala, and India (to name only a few), former Secretaries of State for the United States, environmental activists, women’s rights advocates, and figures such as Adama Dieng, UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide – all gathered to share their work, their ideas, and their understanding.
I left the conference yesterday with a sense of urgency. What can I do? How can I do it? Where will I go? Who can I listen to? How can we do this together? There’s a lot of good people out there. Thank, God. If not, we’d really be in trouble. There really are people who care, who get it, who want to make change, who even endanger their lives, to make other’s lives possible. They are the hope. They are selfless and tireless. More, women are on the cusp of doing some of the most remarkable work in theological coexistence I have ever witnessed. Educated, diverse, and driven, these women work tirelessly at the grassroots level, enabling so many more women and children to thrive.
In reality, there’s no time to really think about what needs to be done. We just need to do it. Because, quite frankly, the rest of humanity rests on every one of our decisions – personal, professional, what you buy, what you eat, what you wear, the phone you use, the diamond ring you consider, the amount of water you use, the electricity you waste, the car you drive, and probably most important, who you vote for.
In essence, the title of the conference is timely – we must Accelerate Peace and sustainability around the world. Now.
I know my friend in Venezuela will face more turmoil. I know Syria is nowhere near a cease-fire. I know India, a country I have lived in and traveled to, is about to face something unprecedented. I know more migrants will try to cross over to the United States. And I know both the Rio Grande and the Mediterranean, will swallow more souls.
Little Aylan and Valeria are the two main reasons I am writing this. Their holy lives were violently and terrifyingly cut short because of our collective decisions. So, join me. Go do something. Anything. Be peace. Think peace. Emulate peace.
And, please – make different choices. Please care. Please think. If not for Aylan and Valeria, then, for anyone other than yourself.
Karen Leslie Hernandez is a Theologian and interfaith activist. With a focus in Christian-Muslim Understanding, as well as religious fundamentalism and extremism, Karen is the only theologian who is a Latina and a United Methodist, doing this type of theological work in the US. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, the Interfaith Observer, and she is the only Christian to publish an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. She loves to teach and last year designed and taught an Interfaith Dialogue workshop with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. Karen currently lives in San Francisco, is consulting with the United Religions Initiative, is an Ambassador with Parliament of the World’s Religions, and she also does Domestic Violence Faith Advocacy work across the US.