Little did I know when I wrote last time about refugees that less than two weeks later we would be facing a new and unprecedented refugee situation of women and children fleeing the war in Ukraine. Watching the horrific devastation wrought by the Russian military invasion, the killing and maiming of civilians, brings up painful memories of the past. My town of Karmiel has a large population, almost 50 percent Russian-speakers, many of them from Ukraine, many who still have family there. Those from Russia also have families whose sons are amongst the fighters. There are also immigrant soldiers serving in the Israeli army whose families are trapped in the war zone. These soldiers are begging the government to help get their families out and bring them here.
My personal connection to Ukraine, strangely enough, is through Tonya, my long-time and best cleaning lady ever, who left to go back to Ukraine 5 years ago, when her son was in danger during the last round of fighting in the region. She immigrated to Israel with her Jewish husband and her youngest son, while her married son, who was a bank executive, stayed in Ukraine. She was a hard worker. Even though she was a construction engineer, she was unable to get work in her profession and was cleaning homes in order to make a living. After her husband’s death she continued to work in order to save money and go back home to build her own house in the village where her siblings live and farm. She treated other people’s homes as if they were her own, taking care to clean every nook and cranny. Our house sparkled and even smelled clean when she left. She may not have been the fastest, but she was definitely the most thorough cleaner I have ever seen. She reminded me of my own mother, who cleaned homes and offices when her pharmacist certification was not recognized in British-mandate Palestine. Tonya and I hugged and cried when she left. I have no way of finding out how she is doing now.
It is these small personal connections that make such a horrific situation closer and easier to connect with. It is hard to care deeply for anonymous people, even though you see the difficult and disturbing pictures of destruction. When you know someone for whom you care, the connection becomes personal and makes your caring deeper. You can truly feel the connection when you see the way the media is reporting on the war. We see people blocking the advancing tanks with their bodies, long lines of refugees advancing towards the border with Poland, the devastation in Kyiv, and the casualties. The personal connection is palpable in the tone of reporting and in the way all governments are reacting with efforts to send aid. Listening to the voice and the courage of the Ukrainian president and seeing the reaction and support of the European Union makes people even more determined to fight for democracy. Aid is pouring in from all over the world, and Israel is sending medical and humanitarian aid. I am sure a group of arts therapists which will volunteer to work with the traumatized population and with the caregivers. Sadly, we have a lot of practice in this field.
I just saw a statement of solidarity with the Ukrainian people from my Art Therapies Association. I wish I were a bit younger and could go there to lend a hand or a brush and some paint.
Why then do I call this post “Seeds of Hope”? Because this was the original article I intended to write. Precisely because of the despair and destruction, I feel that this story will germinate into flowers of hope in our souls. It is a story of abundance of food and ecological revival for the world, a story of one woman who is fighting to save the planet by saving seeds. Her name is Dr. Vandana Shiva. Some have called her the eco-activist rock star because of her eloquent and forceful presentations at conferences and even at the UN. I became a fan of hers through the documentary film “THE SEEDS OF VANDANA SHIVA” directed by Jim and Camilla Becket which was presented at the “Shift Your world” film festival.
The film focuses on the people, circumstances, and seminal events in Vandana’s life – i.e. what shaped her thinking and defined her purpose. Vandana Shiva brought her scientific expertise and Gandhian principles of non-violent resistance to the struggles of poor Indian villagers whose livelihoods were being crushed by corporate interests. It also shows how the battle against multinational agribusiness has become an international struggle between two visions for feeding the world: The first is a multinational corporate model of chemically dependent monoculture which rewards a capitalist imperative of profit and growth. The other, Earth Democracy, honors ecology, biodiversity, sustainability and community. Dr. Shiva demonstrates Earth Democracy as the only way forward for the future of food.
The ‘green revolution’ in India, with its promises of wealth and freedom and ‘feeding the world’ through patented and chemically-dependent GMO seeds is reducing traditional farmers and entire communities to inescapable servitude. Sadly, the fruits of the Green Revolution are an epidemic of rural suicide. Through Vandana’s evolution as an activist against the global Goliaths of food and farming, the film also shines a light on where we are today: industrial food accounts for up to 40% of carbon emissions, while pesticides destroy soils, water systems and biodiversity, and harm human health. Contrary to the spin that industrial food is essential to feeding the world, today more than two billion people face food insecurity across the globe. And with war sowing destruction on fertile agricultural soil there will be even more food shortages and starvation. Vandana speaks for an ecological vision for food and farming in which we can regenerate the environment and human democracies.
It seems fitting, on international women’s day, to celebrate this remarkable woman. A daughter of a Himalayan Forest conservator, she grew up trekking from highland cabin to cabin alongside her father, tended a garden alongside her mother, and passionately pursued an education that freed her from the caste and gender constraints of traditional Indian society that culminated in a degree in Nuclear Physics, and then a PhD in the Philosophy of Quantum Theory. Until I saw the film, I did not realize that we actually were both at the University of Western Ontario at the same time! What a pity that I did not know her then.
The following quote is from the Western Alumni website: “Vandana Shiva, PhD’79, LLD’02, is a revolutionary of the highest order – maligned by those she challenges, lionized by the millions she defends. A world-renowned scholar, philosopher, and unrelenting advocate for women and the environment, she proves local change can have global impact. And her resolve to change the world started at Western.” In 1991, Shiva created Navdanya (‘Nine seeds’), an Indian national movement to protect native seed, and to promote organic farming and fair trade. Since then, the group has worked with local communities and organizations, serving more than 500,000 farmers. These efforts have resulted in the conservation of more than 3,000 rice varieties from across India, and have brought about the establishment of 60 seed banks in 16 states across the country. In 2004, Shiva started Bija Vidyapeeth, an international college for sustainable living in Doon Valley in collaboration with Schumacher College, U.K. The seed banks are spreading to other parts of the world, and becoming an important resource for environmentally-conscious farmers.
Especially today I would like to celebrate Vandana Shiva’s contributions to gender issues nationally and internationally. Her book “Staying Alive” dramatically shifts popular perceptions of Third World women. She founded the gender unit at the International Centre for Mountain Development in Kathmandu, and was a founding Board Member of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization. Shiva has also initiated Diverse Women for Diversity, an international movement of women working for food and agriculture, launched in 1998 in Slovakia. For me her life has embodied the notion that “one person can make a difference.”