November 21, 2018

Little Details: Mending a broken world

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

It’s been a summer of difficult news stories. The tinderbox that is the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict erupted again in an explosive flame, spreading embers across the globe. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is shot down over eastern Ukraine where separatist forces are encamped, hindering investigators. Most of the 219 Nigerian school girls abducted from their boarding school on April 14 remain in the hands of the Boko Haram militant Islamic sect. Syrian citizens, driven from their homeland by civil war, merely “exist”—in suspended animation—in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi Christians are hunted down and persecuted by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in a bloody 21st century Islamist crusade. Desperate child migrants overrun our southern border, fleeing poverty and gang violence while overwhelming detention centers.
I recently telephoned an old friend, a classmate from college, who arrived in the United States as a refugee when he was 16. His parents sacrificed much so that he and his brother would have a chance at a better life. Both brothers became engineers and live very comfortable lives in America.
“Are you happy?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “my son isn’t forced to leave his home because of gang activity.  I’ve a job I enjoy, a nice place to live, a great family and enough money to live comfortably. I can say I’m pretty happy.”
My friend’s reply reminded me that basic human needs for safety, belonging, meaningful work and a sense of hope are universal. They transcend geographic boundaries. They transcend political ideologies. They transcend religious beliefs.
We can’t fix a broken world. Desperate, disenfranchised people, with little to lose, are often the most dangerous and destabilizing.
What can we do? I’ve pondered this question more than a little this summer as I’ve followed the news stories. I’ve a few humble suggestions that come to mind as I sit amid the relative peace of my Williston kitchen.
Strive to live an honorable life. How we treat our partners, our children, our neighbors, our co-workers and strangers in our midst ripples outwardly and often comes back to us in return. It’s not about how “successful” we appear to be. Our true worth, our legacy, is measured by the good we leave behind.
Pay attention to global events. America’s relative geographic isolation and stable political neighbors may lead some to falsely believe that we are immune to instability elsewhere. It’s our obligation as world citizens to learn about, study and follow international—not just local—events.
Speak up. When you witness an injustice, speak up if it is safe to do so or offer quiet validation to the victim of the injustice. We can’t fix all problems, but we can give strength to the afflicted by validating their plight.
Act on your beliefs via action, voice or checkbook. We can’t all fly to Africa to feed the hungry or volunteer in a clinic. We can, however, share our time, treasure and talents with charitable organizations meeting vital human needs, at home and abroad.
If you’re the praying type, pray for peace, safety and hope for the downtrodden.
Recognizing and acting upon those things over which we have some semblance of control can foster a sense of inner peace when the world around us starts to feel unstable and out of control.
As summer progresses, I remain hopeful for more positive news developments…a cease fire, a negotiated peace, comfort for the families of victims, new and positive beginnings for refugees, freedom and education for the abducted girls and realized dreams and aspirations for migrants. It’s a tall order and the summer is short, but this daughter of a refugee remains ever hopeful.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper, a Williston resident, was a 2013 finalist for the Coolidge Prize for Journalism.  Reader comments are welcome at or

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