On World Refugee Day, 20 June, with nearly 80 million people worldwide currently homeless, Professor Rajmohan Gandhi addressed a Zoom audience, which included Brisbane community leaders, on the theme Transformational Resilience in Times of Crisis. Nigel Heywood, community development and research manager at IofCA, moderated the event, which brought together over 100 participants.
Given the growing distress due to Covid-19 amongst vulnerable communities, Amiel Nubaha invited Prof Gandhi to start a conversation, based on his significant experience in trustbuilding and peacebuilding. Amiel, who graduated last year from Griffith University with a double degree in law and criminology and criminal Justice, was born in a Tanzanian refugee camp in the year of the Rwandan genocide. His formative years and education took place in Zimbabwe. He was accepted to Australia as a refugee with his family in 2009. Amiel is an alumni of the Caux Scholars Program 2019.
In introducing the conversation, Amiel, who now works in a First Nations community, shared some of his experience, the struggle of his family and his people, and the conclusions he has drawn that truth-telling, healing and forgiveness is needed towards a bright future. He invited Prof Gandhi to speak on the following topics.
- how to find a purpose for one’s life
- how to keep one’s identity in a new place, how to belong yet maintain one’s own culture
- the healing of historical wounds
- addressing inter-generational conflict
- building trust and a collective store of knowledge and experience
- how to identify opportunities, aiming high at all times
Prof Gandhi started his speech describing the term 'home' within the context of the worldwide displacement of people due to conflict, and the recent effects of the Covid-19 lockdowns on job losses and migration.
'The word “home” has a profound meaning,' he noted. 'For many, the word brings on pain. Those like Amiel whose families have been in refugee camps for 14 years know the pain connected to the word “home” in a way the rest of us will never be able to imagine. Large, too, are the blessings earned by countries willing to enable those deprived of home to find a new home. Countries like Australia. We also know that for Australia’s First Nations, some of whom are with us today, the word “home” invites thoughts both proud and painful.'
Prof Gandhi spoke of his own home life and how he came to the realisation at the age of 21, far from home, that he was here in this world for a reason and a purpose. This was followed by another realization that he could 'see every person I encountered as a potential force for making our world a better place. Also, whether or not I encountered them, all persons on earth possessed a divine spark, even if they did terrible things at times.'
The Indo-Pakistan relationship and its history has been a source of much learning for Prof Gandhi. He spoke of discoveries he has made, through the stories of families who experienced Partition in 1947 and who had lost many members; '...denied life, these hundreds of thousands were denied remembrance too. Especially the vast majority who were poor. After being killed, they were dissolved into numbers and forgotten.' Relating this to the recent killing of George Floyd and others in the USA, he emphasised the importance of having the freedom to fearlessly name and honour the killed, a freedom which exists in few countries. 'To make the killed immortal is a wonderful retort to injustice,' he said.
Talking about his interactions as a journalist, a biographer and as a student of history and in his own personal journey to understand himself, he said,
'Some of my discoveries are these. Where relations between groups are concerned, we often possess opinions about the other group, not knowledge. When I am in conflict with someone else, reflection is likely to show that I am not as totally right as I thought, the other person not as completely wrong as I thought. When I understand the other person, the other race, the other nation, I make half a journey towards forgiveness and reconciliation.'
Prof Gandhi also stated that though he has over the years taken steps in hope, faith and prayer, and been often rewarded, he has not discovered a formula for success and has no guarantees. What he has learnt is that 'a lot of listening helps – listening to the other side, to the inner voice forgotten or ignored by me, to God, if I allow God to reach me… This is the resilience, the transformation.'
Listen to Prof Rajmohan Gandhi’s speech in full and the Q & A session that followed to learn more.
- Barbara Lawler