Beating a quiet drum: Celebrating community voices

“We are gathered together to salute a giant among women and men,” said South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to a rally of hundreds of supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned defender of democracy in Myanmar, formerly Burma. The rally took place in Oslo, Norway, on December 8.

Fifty-six year old Ms. Suu Kyi was educated in Oxford, England and in 1991 won the Nobel Peace Prize. She is following in her father’s footsteps: she is the daughter of Aung San, who also championed the cause of democracy in Myanmar.

However, winning the prestigious, internationally coveted Nobel prize has not saved Ms. Suu Kyi from being held under house arrest since 1988. In his article in the December 9 issue of The Ottawa Citizen, journalist David Holley’s notes she has possibly been “protected from bodily harm” because her father was a hero in the Burmese struggle for independence from Britain.

She may be under house arrest, but Aung San Suu Kyi is hardly forgotten. Ten peace prize winners were among those who attended this Oslo rally, during which another petition was signed demanding her release from house arrest. Archbishop Tutu was one of several world leaders — including President George W. Bush — who continues to call for her freedom.

Archbishop Tutu said, “In physical stature, she is petite, elegant and gorgeous. But in moral stature, she is a giant, so the big men are scared of her and are armed to the teeth, and they still run scared — because they know that this is a moral universe and that injustice and oppression will never have the last word.”

President Bush is quoted as remarking that her life and actions “demonstrate how a life of quiet dignity can serve as a powerful force for good.” He added that she, “inspires countless people around the world who strive for peace, justice and freedom.”

To learn more of Ms. Suu Kyi, check out the website at

Also in December 8’s Citizen were two pictures depicting New Zealand’s two-time America’s Cup winner and adventurer Sir Peter Blake. He was murdered on Wednesday December 5 on his sailing ship, the Seamaster. Pirates shot him in the back as he tried to defend his boat, crew and life.

Sir Peter might have been “just another knighted fellow” who lived a life of luxury.

But the point is: he didn’t. He was a crusader. He most recently turned his yacht into a scientific lab while on a expedition to monitor global warming throughout the world. To read more about this environmentalist who challenged the world — and its leaders — to recognize the importance of understanding and protecting Earth’s ecosystems, go to his website at

Here, you’ll find his mission statement: “Earth is a water planet on which quality of water defines quality of life. Good water, good life. Poor water, poor life. No water, no life.

“The objective of blakexpeditions is to help protect the waters of the world and, so, life in, on and around those waters. To help achieve this, blakexpeditions will undertake voyages to the areas of the world which are key to the planet’s ecosystem, including the Antarctic, the Arctic and the great rivers.

“Using all the latest communications technologies, we will convey our experiences, and what we find, through inspirational television, an exciting web site, stimulating educational programmes and informative media and publishing agendas.

“We are passionate and committed to delivering the message that earth is a unique and beautiful place and that we must take better care of it, starting now, otherwise it will soon become a totally different place — one which, we are sure, we won’t like.”

And there you have it: two outstanding international advocates for democracy and positive change whose voices are suppressed. While Aung San Suu Kyi’s voice has been muffled for political reasons, Sir Blake’s has been silenced forever by a bullet in the back.

Why bother documenting these actions, here in the Pontiac’s Environment Forum? Because such voices must be heard. Because such lives must not be lived in vain.

If we don’t listen to such voices as theirs, we don’t gain the encouragement we need, ourselves, to speak for change in our own communities.


Do you know people here in Pontiac whose voices deserve recognition?

Who do you know who beats a drum quietly, perhaps volunteering for environmental awareness or change within our community in their church, school, or other organization?

Here are a few names, just as a “for instance:” Gretchen Schwartz works for change within our community at a political level: she ran for office in the last federal election, being our Pontiac representative for the Green Party. Jo-Ellen Cushing operates a Bird of Prey centre at Cushing Nature Retreat is dedicated to the preservation of species at risk.. Ann Taylor and other mothers volunteer their time to the Bristol Girl Guides, to encourage curiosity in and understanding of our world.

These are good people, fostering understanding within our community. Let us take the time to celebrate such individual’s energy and vision.

As 2001 draws to a close, let us celebrate those voices within our midst who too often go unsung. Do you know of someone? Just drop me a line or call me.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from her home office north of Quyon. Contact her at 458-2090 or via e-mail at