This past weekend was the date of our annual Sudan concert, where numerous school choirs come together with some pretty special soloists and musicians to help raise funds for our ongoing projects in Sudan. It was the 10th year for the concert and, upon reflection, I learned some wonderful lessons while listening to the music.
A decade ago, the first concert was about slavery – its habitual practice in Sudan and the brutal realities of people owning other people, often to their denigration and tragedy. We had been to Sudan on so many occasions during that time that the realities of modern-day slavery had begun to affect our joint disposition. In so many ways our visits to the region during the costly civil war had given us a new resolve that we would never let local issues or our domestic lives cloud from the realities of greater human injustices and the need for citizens to weigh in with their best efforts. The barbarism of what we witnessed had slowly convinced us that we would never see the end of slavery there in our lifetimes – hatred and enmity of the two sides of the war ran that deep. But we were wrong, happily mistaken, as within a few years peace was signed despite impossible conditions. We were there, saw it with our own eyes, and marvelled at the outcomes. Slavery had been overcome – not just within our lifetimes, but actually with the help of so many great Canadians like those in attendance at the concert.
And then there was the awful condition of the women of south Sudan. We had travelled extensively to war zones in times previous but nothing had prepared us for what we witnessed. Yet despite the depravity and the sheer indignities those women faced, they kept their resolve and their communities together. Jane and I made a pact that we would work with them, regardless of the costs to ourselves. It all seemed so hopeless at the time – the rapes, the loneliness, the butchery, the poverty and the conflict. But now the same women are leaders within the government of south Sudan. They have become the primary change and development agents of their respective communities because they had remained in such places during the war when others had abandoned them. To the great credit of all of them, they had prevailed – no, not prevailed, they had overcome decades of male domination and rank prejudice and racism to reconstruct their land more in the image of peace. They will forever remain in my mind and memory as the strongest human beings I have ever met.
And then there has been the change in Jane and me. We looked at the world a little differently a decade ago. Through the lens of Sudan things appeared dark, foreboding, limiting, and, at times, beyond despair. Our meagre efforts at rescuing slaves and building schools during a particularly costly civil war were simply overpowered by the sheer determination of the Sudanese themselves that they would not go quietly into the history books as a suppressed people or a vanquished one. In those years when we believed we were assisting them, it was their resolve, their remarkable grace in the face of manic oppression, that in fact rescued us from our gloom. Today we look out over our troubled world through the ideals of our youth that have endured despite all we have seen, experienced, and lived through. We are young again in the belief that wars and slavery can end, women can rebuild their countries in much more equitable ways than any time previous, and that Canadians, for all their complaining, can still influence the world in the ways of peace. So, yes, in a word, Jane and I have overcome. By being involved in the big issues, our hearts grew in equal measure, as has our optimism.
You’ll see a video below of the last song of the concert. And you’ll notice I’m singing in it. It has been decades since I used to sing in various venues, but on this particular night I performed just one more time because I wanted people to know that I have grown and to a certain degree have made a difference. The song I sing is Bob Dylan’s Blowin In the Wind – the old protest song that reminded a generation that change was in the air. I sang it because I believe it – though I’ve grown impatient in the waiting for it. It was time to bring out the old rusty vocal chords once more and join with some remarkable Canadians in singing the song of freedom. It’s time we picked up the refrain once more, fighting for it overseas and within or own borders. Change is comin’.