Thomas Sadoski
6 min readJan 18, 2024

“It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien

2024 is set to be a banner year for hyperbole.

Already the results of the Iowa caucuses have unleashed a flood of “the end of democracy” panic pieces, reports ensure us that environmental armageddon is already upon us and, depending from whose algorithmic trough you’re being fed, there are either multiple genocides being perpetrated across the globe…or none at all. Tribalism is as fierce and unrelenting in the western world as at anytime, we are breathlessly assured, since the latter days of the German 1930’s. Social media has balkanized families and with cold remorselessness put objective journalism in the noose. Hysterics gleefully ascribe fascism and naziism to anyone caught outside of their demanded orthodoxy. Mass murder events are occurring near daily and they are weaponized with mind-negating speed; heroes are cobbled, villains are hunted, any complex truth of good and evil and the enraptured dance they do, is lost in the scrambling need for safety inside of the imagined pure-land of moral certitude.

Globally, humanitarian organizations mold numbers and tales of incomprehensible suffering into flares and litter the sky with them. Words and their meanings are stripped of context, shaped to purpose, and pushed out to an overwhelmed and exhausted community of desperately well-intentioned donors and potential comrades. The effect is obvious to anyone paying attention: mass-market organizations use the media to sweep up the bulk of governmental, foundational and corporate giving and ploddingly dole out partnerships to smaller, locally-focused organizations with a strangling web of conditions and red tape. Individual or prospective donors are often disheartened by the scope of need and the reality of what they can offer. Many give anyway, because one cannot underestimate the strength of innate decency, but they do so with little hope.

Meanwhile, the suffering languish. Children are disproportionately victimized by conflicts and aftermaths they never had a role in birthing. Women are impulsively targeted for repression and violence and have their suffering objectified as a tool of retribution. The poor become destitute and the destitute die. Displacement and flight shred societal fabric and familial bonds. Life as an event becomes a constant, grinding negotiation of desperate need and unsustainable choices. Those outside of the pain watch it all from varying distances and with fading belief.

And yet I write this as an offering that there is hope.

In the past near decade and a half I have given much of my time to finding and working with organizations that act as disruptive forces to this overwhelming juggernaut of chaos and woe. They exist. They are dextrous organizations operating on shoestrings, but operating nonetheless. The people who populate them are beautifully, maddeningly Quixotic and fierce. They are considered, and yet near-zealots. They are true revolutionaries, relentlessly working to cut the interwoven Gordian Knot of the military and nonprofit industrial complexes and doing it without a sword. They are in parts inspired, inspiring, sometimes vexing and unyielding. And they are making real impact against impossible odds.

The prime driver is an unbending belief that local communities can be and ought to be the sole authors of their own next chapter. War and conflict — which concede no space for any other reality when present — cannot be allowed to consume a history or define a future. Donated resources cannot be so laden with conditions that monochromaticity ensues. We have seen the results of this (at best) misguided thinking. And far too often we have seen the intentional proffering of aid as a geopolitical crowbar between a people and their politics. It has never created a sustainable or vibrant rebirth, only some culturally unrecognizable monstrosity violently limping towards another disunion. However, when communities rebuild with their own hands, for their own betterment and towards their own cultural evolution the results are profound.

Turning over the tools of rebuilding to those most disempowered and victimized is obviously going to create a seismic shift. But societies not in need of these shifts rarely devolve into violent chaos. Centering the education of women and children, rejecting the feminization of poverty and allowing women unfettered access to the yields of their labors can, by itself, be an enduring catharsis. Getting children back into nonpartisan education immediately begins to change the monosyllabic growls of war into actual language, and along with it the beautiful freedom of childhood. I have seen in. Both in Houthi-controlled northern Yemen and the oppositional south, War Child Canada/ USA has functioning schools. The contrast between the world outside the walls of the schools and the place of peace inside is unbelievably stark. And the children know it. Even at incredibly young ages they speak of hope and a future apart from violence, they see education as the means to a future peace. War makes for precocious wisdom. And a future is growing. It is happening not just in Yemen, but in War Child Canada/ USA’s programming in Afghanistan, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Providing safety and a place to learn is vital. Instigating access to justice is incredible. Rebuilding national economies by healing and expanding women’s access to local markets, land ownership and employment education is not immediate but it is life-changing. Doing all of it with a staff that is 99% local to the conflict region in which they are operating is absolutely revolutionary. It is a hard world, swirling with uncertainty, and yet individuals want to help. They want to give. And understandably they want their offering to count. The difficulty organizations like War Child have is in pointing to one specific place where your dollar has gone. The truth is, it has gone so many places. I’ll try to paint the picture:

Through War Child Canada/USA, your generosity was delivered into a community where it will be used by War Child partners — who are community members — to begin the process of healing that community by: providing safe spaces, catch-up education, legal aid for women and children, tools for education, rights protection, food and farming support, mental health support, training and access to the workforce and marketplace for the community’s women.

The effect is simultaneously immediate and long term, though not easily commodified. And that is the point, I think. Real change begins with a kind of courage and humility. Charity is not pity. It is a active wish for a better tomorrow for someone in need, knowing that you may never see the final fruition of that better day.

When communities are healed, in their own image and with their own hands, our world is a safer and more vibrant place. That corrective and sustainable healing cannot be delivered from pristine, institutional offices worlds away. It can only be done in the midst of the heartbreak and by the heartbroken. A community torn apart cannot be demanded back together. It can only be saved by facing itself and evolving. And from a distance you will hear of the healing, you will see images of the slow but strong reconciliation and someday you — or maybe your children — will meet someone from that community on equal footing at the shared table of humanity.

There is hope. It is not immediate and it is not easy, but it is available. It exists in a revolutionary movement that says to the suffering “you are not your tragedy, you are my neighbor.”.

Thomas Sadoski

INARA—board of directors; Fortify Rights— advisory council; Refugees International— board member emeritus. Actor. Human Rights Activist.