Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What if?

Published April 13, 2010 - Muscat Daily
A few days ago people gathered in thousands of cities around the globe to celebrate World Health Day. In Salalah, and unlike most years, the event did not go by unnoticed. Omanis and expats gathered for a walkathon to participate in the global urban health initiative '1000 Cities, 1000 Lives'. Sadly, the event was not advertised very well, so very few people knew about it beforehand. The only reason I found out about it was because of a flyer I found under my car in a parking lot two days before the event. I spent those precious 48 hours harassing my friends to join the walk, but very few were enthusiastic enough about change to make time for such an initiative.

Furthermore, most of them were women, so they didn't think it was 'appropriate' to walk in public with so many men! I was disappointed, but I decided to go anyway, with a couple of willing colleagues. I applied sunscreen, put on my sneakers and sunglasses and prepared myself for an afternoon dedicated to a healthier Salalah.
On my way to the meeting point, I wasn't expecting to see more than a hundred people, but to my great surprise and delight, I think over a thousand people showed up! I was blown away by the energy and enthusiasm. It was one of those rare non-tribal occasions where men, women, and children gathered together informally, and for a good cause. If it had been advertised properly, I'm sure hundreds more people would have joined, if not thousands
When I got out of my car, I could literally feel the excitement in the air.Children and adults were throwing on the campaign t-shirts over whatever they were wearing (that included the black abayas and face veils! It was definitely a sight to remember). A man with a microphone lost in the crowd shouted out for everyone to line up behind the senior government and private sector dignitaries at the starting line. The sound of a gunshot marked the beginning of the walk. During the next couple of hours, I overheard several people saying they hadn't felt this excited and 'united' since Oman won the Gulf Cup in 2009!
Although walkathons and other such events are a relatively new concept to Omanis, I know they're creating positive change in our community. Through the '1000 Cities, 1000 Lives' initiative, people are encouraged to create debate among leaders and individuals to take action to improve local policies and attitudes in the face of some of the more negative aspects associated with urbanization. This includes everything from living and working conditions to pollution, physical health, and mental health. Programs like this help engage the community through volunteerism, providing people with the opportunity to give back to their own community.
There is a need in our day and time for people to become more environmentally aware. Our lifestyle determines our health and our environment. Instead of building a completely independent eco-friendly city like Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, why can't we in Oman re-design the way our towns operate to make them more energy efficient and eco-friendly?
Humor me for a moment… what if, during the next 20 to 50 years, Salalah were able to slowly turn itself into an eco-friendly 'green' city? What if someone today had the right vision and inspired others to work towards that goal? What if Dhofar were to host Oman's first proper recycling plant? What if all schoolbooks for public schools were printed on recycled paper? What if children were taught in school how to become ecologically and socially conscious individuals? What if we were to start a campaign to encourage citizens to eat a lot more local produce? What if we were to introduce Oman's first fuel efficient public transport system? Solar power, anyone?
What if college students had to complete 100 hours of community service in order to graduate? Imagine what they could accomplish if we had a youth centre to channel their energy. They could organize beach clean ups, help tutor kids with learning difficulties, plant trees, help children develop hobbies, practice more sports, work with people with special abilities and needs, start after-school programs for youngsters, etc. What if Dhofar were to introduce the concept of eco-tourism? We get hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. It just might work.
My ideas may seem a little far fetched but don't tell me they're impossible. We need to consider how all of us as citizens can work together to create positive change and to build a better world for ourselves and our children. Food for thought ….