Philip Hamlyn Williams: Hope amid the horrors of 2016

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I can’t remember the last time I wanted a year to end as much as I do this one.

It began for me in Lesvos, where I saw at first hand the plight of refugees fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. They ceased to be numbers and became people, just like you and me. We provided dry clothes to those desperate enough to make the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey.

Those refugees and those who arrived before and since journeyed on to the Greek mainland and many thousands, including an estimated 40% who are children, are stuck there in tented camps in temperatures that are now falling to 3 degrees at night

At the end of the year we saw a large digital counter at the harbour front in Barcelona. This counter records the number of refugees who have drowned crossing to what they hoped was safety. In November it stood at 4,655; it will have risen since.

That number is but a tiny fraction of those Syrians who have died at the hands of their government, their Russian allies or the so called Islamic State.

That should be more than enough for a bad year, but you can add those caught in the cross fire in the Yemen. This list just grows.

So, what else? A couple of exercises in democracy, here in June and in the USA in November. Their result is, as they say, the result. What concerns me is the wave of hate that they unleashed.

It seemed that suddenly the racism and xenophobia, that we thought was on its way out, re-emerged with a vengeance. It seemed that suddenly people had permission to say what ever came into their head. Like my mum when she had dementia, only they haven’t.

Politicians receive hate mail in the social media. Judges, whose job it is simply to say what the law is, are threatened in daily newspapers. Once upon a time, that would have been contempt of court. Language on programmes like Question Time beggars belief.

Sadly there is yet more. Food banks. In the 21st century in one of the richest countries in the world, surely we should be more civilised than forcing significant numbers of people to rely on food banks.

Rough sleeping. There are more people than for many years who have no home. It is said that each of us is only two steps away from the streets. Well far too many people are many fewer than that.

What sort of a society have we become? Is this the sort of a society we want to be?

I caught a glimpse of that, the sort of society I want to be, last weekend. All sorts of people were in a vacant unit in the Waterside centre wapping Christmas presents for families in need. What I say all sorts of people, I mean pensioners, teenagers, mums and dads with their children. The same is true of those running the food banks, of those helping those without homes. Those young people volunteering in the refugee camps in northern Greece. Those standing up against hate.

So, does this balance out the bad bits?