“All Mongolians are criminals, they’re drug dealers, and they’re rapists!” proclaimed Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, China’s first Emperor as he rose to power, promising to build a wall to keep out all those pesky Mongolians. Which is exactly what he did, and so the Great Wall of China was built. Yet he failed to even appreciate the extensiveness his own greatness, for not only did it keep out all the Mongolians, it also kept out all the Mexicans.
“China built a wall, and guess how many Mexicans they have.” tweeted Donald J Trump on September 24th, 2015.
And he was very right. China does indeed have very few Mexicans. So in that aspect, could you call building a wall to stop an entire race of people from entering your country a worthwhile and effective strategy at a very complicated issue?
Lets have a look at two very different strategies.
Trump’s wall vs TribeLAB’s playground
First up, Donald J Trump.
Donald Trump’s strategy for tackling the immigration issue, by his own website’s admission, involves:
- Building a wall across the southern border, which Mexico should pay for.
- Eviction of all convicted foreigners for even the slightest misdemeanor
- Legalised discrimination based on ethnicity for jobs
- Cutting aid to refugee programs
Now let’s just have a look at one of these issues, because frankly I have better things to do. But let’s see what effect that building a wall between the USA and Mexico would have.
No matter how patriotic or what level of national pride you may have – and there’s nothing wrong with that per-se – you have to consider the idea that every single country is simply a made up thing. It isn’t real, it doesn’t actually exist. It is a human construct divided by imaginary lines drawn on pieces of paper that separate what we all collectively have accepted as being “different countries”, but in reality, it is all just different bits of this rock, this planet we all live on. These lines, these borders, move all the time. They are imaginary. They aren’t real. Some countries are separated by water, they are islands, and that has more credibility. There is physically a large body of water separating it from other parts of land. But other than that, a country is simply a made up, imaginary geo-political construct which we all sort of believe and accept.
The truth is that we are all human beings, and we are all living on this planet called earth, and very few of us actually originate and owe our ancestry to the place we now find ourselves in. Borders, countries, nations, whatever – all of these are artificial constructs distracting us from the truth that we are all human beings, we all feel, we all suffer, we all love, and we all deserve every opportunity to do whatever we can to make our lives as happy and joy-filled as possible and contribute as much as we can to our society’s advancement.
As someone who spent 2015 travelling all through Central America and crossing many of these borders, it is abundantly clear that those opportunities for personal and collective advancement are very different, depending on which side of one of those imaginary lines you are born.
As Russel Brand famously pointed out, “An immigrant is just someone who used to be somewhere else…” The desire to improve your own life, and that of your family, should be celebrated, not condemned or criminalised. In fact, doesn’t that very idea lie at the heart of the American dream?
Building a wall, a real, physical wall, would only serve to further entrench the separation and segregation which one could argue is the defining crisis of our generation. It strengthens the “us vs them” mentality, when in reality, there is really only “us”. We are all in this together, on this planet, trying to make things work. It would be a step backwards, reminiscent of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, which history celebrated the world over when humanity finally gathered the strength to realise that what we have in common is far more powerful than any of the superficial things which separate us.
Every victory in every civil movement has involved the removal and breaking down of segregation, not building it up.
Ok so that’s Trump’s wall, now let’s have a look at TribeLAB…
If you don’t know who TribeLAB are, that’s ok. While they may not share the same budget that the Worldvisions or UNICEFs of the world may have, the work they are doing is making waves across a wide range of developmental and indigenous issues, and even though they are small, many of the big players in the not-for-profit world are starting to pay attention to this small design collective, and for good reason.
Originally started to tackle indigenous sustainable housing in Guatemala, TribeLAB are now tackling abandonment, anger and youth mental health issues in refugee camps in Western Europe by building… Playgrounds! Being able to jump from designing and building homes for indigenous communities in Central America to designing and creating playgrounds for children in refugee camps is quite a leap, but that’s the advantage of being a smaller, more dynamic not-for-profit; their size gives TribeLAB the flexibility and agility that the bigger players in the scene simply do not have.
These children are often fleeing war, conflict, the destruction of their homes and neighbourhoods, and many of them have had to go through more in their short little lives than most of us in the Western World could even imagine. This is simply because we were born on a different part of this rock, on a different side of those imaginary lines. Fear, uncertainty, tragedy and loss are not words that should ever be used to describe or define a childhood.
If you are thinking that building a playground isn’t going to fix the refugee issue, then you are missing the point.
“Nobody can fix everything, but everyone can do something to make things a little bit better.”
TribeLAB aren’t trying to fix the refugee crisis. They’re just trying to build some playgrounds so kids can laugh and play and have some fun.
Play is fundamentally important to every child’s health and wellbeing. The UN even recognised play as one of a child’s basic human rights. Fun, laughter, joy, friendships, these are the words that should be used to describe a childhood.
Maybe if more people stopped trying to fix the big issues of the world, and instead tried just making things a little bit better, then slowly, but surely, we might just save the world.
Make children happy. Let children laugh. Help those in need. Make things a little bit better. These are all values and virtues which every human can grasp.
Build a wall. Be afraid. Blame those foreigners. Us vs Them. These are also ideas which every human has the capacity to choose, if they so wish.
Whichever side we choose says not only a lot about us as individuals, but also our collective humanity.
Here’s a video about TribeLAB’s most recent project, a playground in the refugee camp in Dunkirk.
(if the video doesn’t appear, you can watch it here.)
Or to support Trump’s wall, you can donate to the Trump campaign here.