Last week was the annual Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. I knew this meeting was going to be different because it was the first held in Geneva, the first to be only three days long and the first meeting after Textron announced it was ending production of cluster munitions, but I had no idea I would leave with such strong reminders of why I do this work. I would like to share with you three stories from last week.
First, I got to see the long-term impact of our youth programming. Senegalese landmine survivor Mamady Gassama and I first met in 2007 when we were both youth campaigners participating in MAC's Youth Leadership, Education and Action Program (Youth LEAP). Over the years, we've both grown into our roles and last week, Mamady delivered an eloquent and compelling call for support to victims of cluster munitions on behalf of the Cluster Munition Coalition. Seeing my friend move from youth campaigner to campaign leader showed me how important it is to support youth campaigners.
Second, while we were meeting in Geneva, US President Obama was visiting Laos for the first time. After years of advocacy by our colleagues at Legacies of War, President Obama acknowledged the humanitarian harm caused by the use of cluster munitions there during the Vietnam war, increased funding to clear land and visited COPE Laos. Another big win for campaigners which made news around the world. For us, we had the extra excitement of seeing another graduate of MAC's Youth LEAP take centre stage. Soksai Sengvongkham gave President Obama a tour of the COPE Centre. You can see Soksai with the President in all the media photos of that visit. We focus on youth programming because when young people get a little boost, they can achieve great things.
Third, I had the opportunity to sit down with Raed Al-Saleh, the founder of the Syrian Civil Defense (aka The White Helmets) after he addressed diplomats, to talk about how they help casualties of cluster munition strikes in Syria. As we talked about what the White Helmets and other civilians face on a daily basis in Syria, diplomats were in another room debating whether or not they should include language condemning all cluster munition use in a declaration. Later that afternoon two While Helmet volunteers were killed by a cluster munition strike in Syria. After that horrific news, campaigners redoubled their efforts to ensure that the declaration remained strong and after much debate, states adopted a declaration that said “We remain gravely concerned and strongly condemn the continued use of cluster munitions, most notably in Syria and Yemen in the past year.”
To be honest, the contrast between seeing our Youth LEAP graduates shine and hearing from Raed about the reality in Syria was hard to process. Despite all the success we’ve had in the past three weeks and how important I know our work is, I was feeling a little useless in the face of so much suffering and so little action by states until I remembered the small piece of blue paper I keep in my desk. That piece of paper says:
"The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins"
I don't have the skills to help Raed and his volunteers to dig survivors out of rubble and clear cluster submunitions or the authority to end the conflict there or in Yemen where cluster munitions are also being used, but I can speak out against the use of cluster munitions and all of us at MAC will continue to do so. It is crucial for us as civil society to press governments to take action and stop the use of cluster munitions even if it feels like we’re up against a brick wall.
As advocates, our job is to keep fighting even when things get hard because the someday when somebody wins is just around the corner. Maybe that somebody is me or maybe it will be one of the youth we’ve trained. Last week reminded me that I do this work because someday, somebody who believes as I do will win.