by Evarist Bartolo 

"Cut flowers. Uproot trees. Destroy fields to make room for more houses, villas and high towers. After all you have only wasted some earth. Let your boathouses devour more of our coast. Catch whatever moves in the sea even if few fish remain. Warm up the globe and make the ice caps melt and climb onto the high towers to escape from the rising sea. Swim in the pool as the sea is too polluted. You cannot stay in the sun. You cannot stay in the dark. Keep on doing what you are doing and then breathe your last and die."

This is my very poor translation of the strong poem recited in Maltese last Sunday by the poet himself – Immanuel Mifsud – at the Worldfest organized by Koperattiva Kummerc Gust (KKG) at the Upper Barakka. The organizers were rather ambitious to compete with the Spain – Italy match on the same evening and fewer people turned up. But I am sure those of us who attended enjoyed it even though perhaps the word ‘enjoyed’ is not the right word to use as the main themes of this year’s event were “Fair Trade and the Environment” and "Climate Change and Global Justice."  

Upper Barakka with the magnificent view of our Grand Harbour is a wonderful venue for such activities. On show and for sale in different stalls there were hundreds of Fair Trade handmade crafts and jewellery from disadvantaged communities in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean. There was also a wide range of foodstuffs, drinks, cds of world music, musical instruments, clothes, ornaments, and local agricultural products from Koperattiva Rurali Manikata.

During the evening people ate African food and listened to local poets reciting their own poetry and to the vibrant music of Renzo Spiteri’s band TRANIA, local funk band Zizza Ensemble and French singer-songwriter Rouage. Earlier on there was a public forum on ‘Climate Change and Social Justice’. One of the guest speakers was Eric van Monckhoven focuses mainly on culture, grass roots organisations, community empowerment and networking. He has worked in many different countries, mainly in Scandinavia, Italy, and West Africa. He says he is interested “in the normal citizen, in social and environmental issues. I try to find the connections between being a human being, our environment and where we come from. Somehow whole cultures have lost the memory of their past. So I'm interested in the most ancient cultures in the world where people have kept alive their traditions: indigenous people, aboriginals.”

KKG is trying to raise awareness about how climate change is affecting our lives: “It will affect both north and south, but on different levels. In southern countries over 1.1 billion people are living in absolute poverty. Already, they are living and working under harsh climatic conditions: natural disasters such as storms, droughts and floods threaten lives directly. As a result of climate change such events will happen more often and with greater intensity. It is lives in the South that will be most at risk.”

KKĠ defines itself as “a force for protecting the environment while promoting sustainable development. Fair Trade favours the sustainable use of natural resources and production methods that are not capital and oil intensive, favouring hand production and organic agriculture – to reduce the carbon footprint. Because Fair Trade is committed to paying a living wage and works in long-term partnerships, it enables producer partners to invest in environmentally friendly production. In turn, these initiatives promote environmental awareness locally and internationally.”

Last Sunday’s event reinforced my belief that non-government organizations (NGOs) play a precious role in our society and we must do all we can to enable them to strengthen their role. I believe we need a stronger civil society if we want an open democratic society where citizenship means much more than voting every five years and passively supporting or opposing what the political parties say and do.

I believe that the active role of civil society should be recognized in a new Constitution that we should create together for our country in the 21st century. Our civil society is still weak and underdeveloped and we must do our utmost to 
strengthen existing support structures for NGOs and create new ones to make it possible for them to have an effective say in the public debates and decisions that affect all of us. Members of NGOs should also be appointed on public boards. We should encourage and cultivate active citizenship from a young age so that our society will become more open, democratic and able to embrace and celebrate diversity.

Malta Today 29 June 2008