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Steven Lewis: My Ethical Compass

Yup that's right even a seemingly cynical guy like me can have heroes. I admit they are few and far between because I have pretty high standards as far as public figures go(there are tons of heroes in this world: single moms and dads who raise their kids up well, people who work 15 hour shifts in emergency rooms etc) For the most part I assume that they have an agenda of their own that they follow and their endeavors are simply a means to an end. But that only makes the exceptions that much more exceptional.

Steven Lewis is currently the United Nations special envoy to Africa. He has the utterly thankless and heartrending job of trying to convince the rest of the world to do something about the plight of people living in that colonial hung over continent. The obstacles to overcome include: distinct cultural groups forced into artificial boundaries thus inflaming old tribal hatreds, famine, overpopulation, extreme poverty(brought about by debt ridden governments, corrupt governments, exploitation of natural resources by foreign nationals with little or no money staying in the countries of origin), complete lack of infrastructure that we take for granted(sewers, schools and roads), poor agricultural practices, decease(about 1 in 4 people in Africa will be or are H.I.V. positive), and, the most difficult of all, the complete indifference of the rest of the world.

Mr. Lewis has a history of being the social conscience for society. His father was leader of the social democratic New Democrat Party of Canada (N.D.P.) who fought long and hard for the rights of the downtrodden in Canada(His book "Corporate Welfare Bums" was the first real expose of how major corporations were able to increase profits at our expense through tax breaks which were theoretically supposed to ensure the development of new jobs, but in reality ended up lining the pockets of the owners) Picking up the political mantle from his father Steven became leader of the provincial N.D.P. in Ontario, Canada's largest most heavily populated and industrialized province.

Although neither man ever held power they both managed to effect meaningful changes in government policy, especially Steven during his time in Ontario politics. Through his efforts we in Ontario had one of the more comprehensive tenant protection acts visa vi universal rent control. Until these laws were gutted by a subsequent radical conservative ruler they kept a lid on drastic increases in rent thus guaranteeing affordable housing with dignity and choice.

As a young man Steven fought against injustice by joining Martin Luther King Jr.'s freedom riders in the deep south. In the late sixties he traveled to Africa for the first time, when he worked as a volunteer during the first horrific famine of this era in Biafra. Civil war caused by the dissolving of colonial rule without safeguards caused massive population displacement and the first contemporary images, that have become all too familiar, of mothers holding babes starving to death in their arms, fly covered and stomachs bloated, were broadcast into our homes. Instead of waking the rest of the world to the potential of the horror that could be unleashed, the warning of Biafra was ignored, as it seems is each subsequent disaster.

All we need do is witness the forlorn efforts of General Daliard of Canada to interest the world powers in preventing genocide in Rwanda to realise that the message still hadn't sunk in ten years ago. With Sudan now a powder keg we can only hope that more then just token admonishments are being considered(The Bush government's declarations of "genocide" months ago when describing the situation ring cynical when considered in the light of their inaction in doing anything concrete and the rich oil deposits in the Sudanese deserts.)

We are left with a single man as our conscience, fighting to keep Africa in the headlines of the papers, making a nuisance of himself by telling anyone who will listen how truly horrific the situation has become. Mr Lewis doesn't just sit at a desk in the U.N.'s offices in New York city. He's out in the villages meeting the aid workers and the people struggling to live with the death sentence of AIDs. Fighting to get condoms distributed, sex education classes implemented, and to just get people to openly talk about the deadly swath that AIDS is cutting through the population against the wishes of the American government, Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, and deep rooted tribal taboos about discussing such subjects.

As Canada's Ambassador to the U.N. in the eighties Mr. Lewis was aggressive in pursuing an agenda of opening the world to the plight of the Africans. The reward for his efforts has been to become a one man spokesperson and fulcrum for anything positive to get done on that continent. He has set up a charitable foundation to fight AIDS through education and medical assistance(I believe it is simply called The Stephen Lewis AIDS foundation) So even if his official ties through the U.N. are ever dissolved, he will always be involved in the fight to put right the wrongs of our past.

If he just simply did this, he would deserve our respect. The fact that he can do this with hope, and without anger and cynicism, with compassion and strength, and still maintain his enthusiasms for life, well that just makes him all the more deserving of our thanks.

Thank You Steven Lewis.

cheers
gypsyman


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