Friendship, in the name of humanity

friendship day

From enemy soldiers of World War II who bond over Christmas dinner to school boys in Minnesota who take the first step against bullying, here are a few stories of tolerance and love

The recent spike of events across the world has compelled us to take stock of what is happening around us. Why so much hate and animosity? People seem to despise each other based on opinions they make by stereotyping and ‘boxing’ people into categories. The prejudice, the apathy and the discrimination is appalling! While in the past it was seen in small pockets in certain parts of the world, today there is no one country that can say that it is devoid of danger.

In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 30 July to be observed as the International Day of Friendship. It was done with the idea of promoting and propagating “friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals” in order to inspire peace efforts to build bridges between communities. The main aim was to involve the youth and the future leaders in community activities that would foster inclusion of different cultures for international understanding and respect for diversity. To mark this day governments, international organisations and civil society groups are advised to hold events, activities and initiatives that would persuade the international community to stimulate a dialogue to encourage solidarity, mutual understanding and reconciliation.

In today’s digital world the word friendship has a whole new connotation. Gone are the days when you had a few good friends and these friends got together. Today people boast of having hundreds of friends on Facebook from different parts of the world. If these friends decide they can make a change in their own community. Instead of propagating hate and violence, these friends can connect together to propagate love and harmony. The International Day of Friendship should be a day not just of friendship but harmony too. This day should be more than just exchanging friendship bands. After incidents like those in Paris, Nice, Boston, Germany… the need of the hour is not isolation in the name of religion but bonding together in the name of humanity. Lack of communication, hasty conclusions, exclusions and finger-pointing is only aggravating the situation and shunning people away, thus pushing them to fringes of no-return.

In Sydney a step has been taken in the right direction. The recent spike in racism has led to the production of a new documentary which captures quirky friendships between people from very different cultural backgrounds. The documentary will showcase Australia as it really is—successfully multicultural and one of the most socially cohesive countries in the world.

Why Documentaries, in partnership with Auburn City Council and the Multicultural Communities Council Illawarra, is searching for the quirkiest, most fun, beautiful friendships to be made into a series and website titled ‘You and Me’. Filmmaker Sandra Pires from Why Documentaries considers this to be a wonderful project to be a part of. “I can imagine a regional farmer who has had a friend who has migrated from Italy or India and they’ve been mates for 40 years, or a young Indigenous girl who is best friends with a little Jewish girl. Those are the types of stories that will move us,” she says. Terrie Leoleos from Multicultural Communities Council Illawarra says, “There is a rich history of wonderful and genuine friendships in the Illawarra between people who have come from all over the world.”

Brooke Endycott, Auburn City Council’s Manager of Community Development, believes that Auburn City Council is one of the most diverse areas in Australia and friendships between people of different cultures is part of everyday life. “Much of Council’s work aims to promote social cohesion and community harmony between all members of the community by creating intercultural dialogue and interactions. This is often a starting point leading to many long lasting friendships,” says Brooke.

In a world that is at the moment riddled with despair, doubt and lack of trust it is important that people involve themselves in activities that see past the “us and them” attitude. The divisive forces have to be obliterated and the focus has to shift from the noisy, harmful minority to people who harbour congeniality and peace. Variety is the spice of life and it is our differences that make us interesting. Australia is a successful multicultural nation as we embrace our differences with pride—it provides us with more options and there is so much to learn and share. And though we come from different parts of the world, together we make a connected whole.

The first World Friendship Day was proposed for 30 July in 1958, by the World Friendship Crusade. Out of an unassuming meeting of friends, the World Friendship Crusade was born. This a foundation came into being to promote “friendship and fellowship among all human beings, regardless of race, colour or religion”. There are many true stories of friendship that can be cited and some amongst strange adversaries. One such story unfolded amidst World War II (Battle of the Bulge) when the Nazi and American soldiers enjoyed a quiet Christmas dinner together. A mother and her son who were all set to savour Christmas dinner together were taken aback when armed, wounded and disgruntled American soldiers knocked at their door. Harbouring enemy troops was the most dangerous thing that the German citizens could do during wartime. But the mother in the spirit of Christmas not only let the soldiers in but treated their wounds as well. Things got a little tense when later that night some German soldiers turned up at her doorstep. Putting on a brave front and focussing on the right thing to do, she demanded that the soldiers hand over their weapons to her as there was going to be no killing that night. Surprisingly, the soldiers agreed and two warring parties partook in a peaceful Christmas dinner. But strangely enough the story of this rare friendship did not end there. In the morning, it is believed that when the American soldiers recovered from their injuries, the Nazi soldiers showed them the directions back to their quarters giving them tips that would help them avoid the Nazi captured areas.

Another rare story of friendship rose out of Minnesota. Unfortunately bullying and discrimination can be seen in classrooms and on the playground. James Willmert, a Year-5 student at the Franklin Elementary school had a learning disability and was the object of bullying and ridicule. But five of his schoolmates decided to change things around and provide James with a place to belong.Jack Pemble, Jake Burgess, Gus Gartzke, Tyler Jones and Landon Kopischke banded together to help protect James by inviting him to their lunch table and including him in their games at recess. The five boys gave him a gift of something that was completely missing from his life, the gift of real friendship. When James became a regular part of their fun get-together sessions, they came to know that he too shared their love for sports. They decided to pool in some money to buy him a PlayStation 3. This is act of true friendship and kindness garnered media attention, and James in appreciation of his awesome friends said, “All these guys are the best friends anybody could ask for”.

Another beautiful story of friendship emerges out of the Sydney. Jomakhan Jafari and Danny Kennedy met in an English Conversation Class at the Auburn Library where Danny was a volunteer tutor. Their unique friendship was born out their common love for art. Jafari, who is from Afghanistan did not know much about Australia and his knowledge was limited to certain pockets of Sydney. So it was decided that the two friends take a road trip to Broken Hill. Danny had a keen ear for language soon became fluent in Persian. The friends held a joint art exhibition “A Familiar Place I’ve Never Seen”. They asked local residents and visitors to the Auburn Arts Studio about their dreams which they then interpreted through collaborative works using both photography and calligraphy. These art works were exhibited at the Peacock Gallery and was later shown at the Mosman Art Gallery in 2013.

These stories of humanity, tolerance and friendship displayed by enemy soldiers, by a group of 10-year-olds and Jonathan and Danny only reiterates that we have a choice as to what emotions should govern our actions. Hate always begets hate and there is no stopping if everyone joins in this crusade of compartmentalisation, discrimination and distrust. Friendship is powerful. It is our connection to each other that gives meaning to our lives. Our caring for each other is often what motivates us to make the change. And establishing connections with people from diverse backgrounds can be key in making significant changes in our communities. As individuals, and in groups, we can change what is happening around us. We can set up neighbourhoods by committing to working towards forming strong relationships and alliances with people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. Establishment of networks and coalitions in which people are knowledgeable about each other’s struggles, and are willing to lend a hand can go a long way.

Together, we can do it.

“On this International Day of Friendship, let us strengthen bonds among individuals and generate greater respect and understanding in our world” — Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General
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