You know it’s been a bad 12 months when a leading online dictionary declares “xenophobia” its word of the year.
Fear of “the other” became a mainstay in 2016, in our daily news and in our political debate.
At the same time, these “others” have never been in greater need of our compassion and support.
Conflict and persecution has forced an unprecedented 65 million people to flee their homes. Among them were 21 million refugees, more than half were children.
In the Syrian city of Aleppo, civilians have been massacred and across the country, 13.5 million men, women and children are now in urgent need of aid.
Half of them simply don’t have enough food to eat. That’s the population of Melbourne and Sydney put together — all going hungry.
In neighbouring Iraq, where 10 million people rely on humanitarian aid, the battle to retake the city of Mosul continues.
Many of the 100,000 people who have already fled the fighting will spend this winter in tents and temporary shelters battling subzero temperatures.
These are just two examples of humanitarian crises that have made news in Australia recently. Most go unreported or unnoticed.
Despite the growing need for us in Australia to open our arms, our compassion appears to have faded.
We seem exhausted and helpless in the face of ongoing crisis and atrocity.
As chief executive of an international aid organisation, I understand how people can feel overwhelmed and tempted to withdraw.
But it is precisely at this time that organisations such as CARE depend on Australians’ generosity to carry out our life saving work.
The United Nations’ annual appeal for humanitarian funding provides an accurate barometer for the level of need globally. This year’s appeal was its biggest, with the declaration that $US22 billion will be required to provide urgent help to 93 million people across 33 countries in 2017.
Right now, it is difficult to see how that goal will be achieved. In aid circles, we euphemistically call this a “funding gap”.
What it actually means is children will go hungry, families will be without shelter and people will die because of shortages of essential medical supplies.
It is at this critical time that the Australian Government is preparing a white paper on foreign affairs, which will spell out the nation’s long-term vision for its place in the world. This is an opportunity for Australia to declare what it stands for and most people, I think, would agree that’s generosity, equality and a fair go.
Australia can and should play a crucial global role in building peace, addressing poverty and helping ensure international laws and rules are followed.
And this must be reflected in the vision of the white paper alongside security, trade and economic goals.
Fighting poverty around the world and particularly in our region with Australian aid is the right thing to do — everyone deserves a fair chance in life and an equal opportunity.
CARE was born out of a public desire to help others in need — the first CARE packages were sent to the survivors of World War II in 1945. Thanks to the generosity of Australians, we continue to provide assistance to those in poverty regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.
There have been few times when the need for Australians’ generosity has been greater.
I want to leave the negativity of 2016 behind. Call me idealistic, but I want to make “generosity” the word of 2017.
Sally Moyle is chief executive of CARE Australia
This article was first published in The Herald Sun.