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Hope for the future with Ian Lowe, Niromi De Soyza, Katherine Boo and Andrea Hirata

The world isn’t in such a great place right now. Over population and unsustainability plagues nations, and unsustainability breeds’ poverty, illiteracy, and many other issues stemming through lack of education. But there is hope, says our panel.

Australian environmentalist Ian Lowe, AO, joins the Righting the World discussion, along with author Niromi De Soyza, who ran away from her family home in Sri Lanka at 17 to join the Tamil Tigers and fight for her country’s freedom; Indonesian author Andrea Hirata; and American author Katherine Boo, who is known for her works on the disadvantaged and poverty stricken.

As they sit discussing where the world sits today, and where it needs to go, all four of the panelists shared stories of horror from all corners of the globe, and each turned them around into inspiring stories of hope.

For De Soyza, who faced the horrors of war as a teenage female soldier, her plight and drive came down to the quote from Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara: “Better to die standing than to live on your knees.”

“Maybe I couldn’t get freedom for my people, but at least we could try. We wanted to make a difference,” said De Soyza.

After migrating to Australia 22 years ago, studying at university, and now writing her book, Tamil Tigress, about her experiences, her hope is to bring understanding about the horrible situations others are facing across the globe.

“If my book could give a little bit of understanding to someone, mission achieved.”

And the same goes for Katherine Boo, who spent three years in the slums of Mumbai, observing first hand the poverty. While her journey in Mumbai was difficult, she was driven by the urge to publish these people’s stories. She said her mantra all the while was “Better than nothing, better than nothing.” She just wished to get the message out to the public.

That’s what these four people hope for with their writing, that their literary works will make a difference. And by the large turnout in the SCU marquee at 9am to hear these authors speak, it seems the message is being received. Maybe slowly, and maybe not by all, but the panelists hold hope in those who are learning, those who believe, and most of all, in those who try.

Once people understand, the panelists say, the learning has begun and a solution may already be in thought. Education is key, they all emphasize.

As Ian Lowe wisely said: “The future is not somewhere we’re going, it’s something we’re creating.”

Education, or lack of it, either helps or hinders this progress of creation, said the panelists.

Conveying ideas in writings, and helping to stimulate education is an important part of beginning debate, said Dr Lowe.

And that is crucial at the present time.

“We should at least be having a debate about what sort of future we want for Australia,” he said.

The big problem that was discussed here was this problem of the unsustainable population.

Pressure of the population, as Andrea Hirata points out, becomes very political when it comes to the flow down of resources for the people of the land on which the resources are taken from. Take the Indonesian island of Belitung, his homeland. It’s one of the richest islands due to the huge amount of tin found there, and yet illiteracy and poverty is rife.

Out of overpopulation-borne poverty can spring conflict, as De Soyza knows.

“When you have so many people in one place, there is a fight for everything, there’s a fight for survival,” she pointed out.

“[These issues] become a global problem, not just confined to one country.”

Lowe agreed that “we do have to recognize that we’re part of a broader community”.

This recognition is crucial, and then the subsequent work to create something better needs a mass of cooperation, but Boo believes it is possible with further education and compassion.

“There is no telling the kind of human potential we can untap,” she said.

And each of these panelists is doing their share to be a part of the solution for a better world, by discovering, writing, publishing and sharing these stories, and they all agree: Education in the key to hope, the key to a better future and to a sustainable solution.

So how do they believe we can get out of this bloody mess? Well Ian Lowe cites the old adage: “Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.”

The future starts today, and it’s what we do today that counts.

Marnie Johnston is a Southern Cross University media student.

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