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World citizens

Only 1000 years ago most people lived in small isolated communities bounded by hills or rivers, or on islands.  They had little contact with anyone but near neighbours. Developments in communications changed all that: bigger and better sailing ships, then steam ships, the telegraph, railways, motor-cars, telephones, aeroplanes, radio and TV.

In the best sense of the word we have become globalised.  Some 500 years ago the Spaniards reached America, but did not immediately venture into the Pacific, much of it then a Polynesian world where expert navigators were making long voyages in big double-hulled canoes.

The Dutch and the English arrived later, once they had acquired better ships and better maps. When eventually Tupia accompanied Cook from Tahiti to New Zealand the Maori could understand him, and he them.

Gradually in the following years people began to understand the value of cooperation and collaboration.  Since World War two the United Nations has been providing food for millions, managing a world-wide medical service, caring for millions of refugees, and arranging for peacekeepers where required. There are 192 members.

Regional interconnections: In 1971, after Fiji had become independent the leaders of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands met in New Zealand to talk over some of their problems. Thereafter the South Pacific Forum met annually, set up a Secretariat in Suva, and grew into today’s Pacific Islands Forum, members of which are members also of APEC, which brings them into contact with the leaders such as those of the US, China, Indonesia and Russia – all to focus on peace, development and trade.

These days we are all networkers. No one country can manage oceanic fisheries, for example, or mineral resources, or fight international crime: money-laundering, drug or people-smuggling, piracy. And together we must face the challenges of climate change.

Though it is governments who have to devote considerable resources to consultation and negotiations, and to representation at meetings where joint decisions are taken, their citizens too have a responsibility to follow progress on major issues – on issues which particularly affect their own country – and express opinions.

A government participating in a vote on some question needs the support of most of its citizens (and if people disapprove of the line their government is taking they should be quick to speak up).

Freedom of movement: In this world where communication and travel are so easy – tourism is a thriving business – people can have a pretty clear idea of what life is like in other countries, and many more than in the past are moving from their country of origin and settling elsewhere.  Mostly they reckon to better themselves by doing so: higher wage levels, better education for their children, expected business opportunities – or just the climate!

After a few years some may return home again, but others become permanent. After a while some may lose contact with their “home”, but others will keep in touch and cherish the relationship, and indeed may be in a position to send money to family members in need.  In some cases these “remittances” can make a significant contribution to the economy of a poor country.

Either way people’s knowledge of another part of the world is increased, their sympathies are extended, and they are better prepared to play a role in what is often called the family of nations or, more succinctly, One World. Families can certainly disagree, often with dire results, but for the most part they see the value of working together. So do we.

By Roger Peren, Board member, Centre for Citizenship Education

Updated May 2010