“The world is over armed and peace is underfunded”

Posted on Posted in by Juan E. Chebly

These wise words by outgoing United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are one of his best quotes. Having contributed to many of his reports, albeit via briefing notes, or even data reports, these words truly resonate with my very soul, more than any other and definitely highlight the positives of his tenure.

I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. South America, you may have heard, is unfortunately the region with the highest income inequality in the world. I have personally witnessed this growing up in a middle class family, attending one of the most expensive schools in Caracas and but at the same time playing for the youth National Soccer Team. Having shared with athletes from lower-income families, and travelling to Europe with them was a life changing experience. I remember being 19 years old and checking in at the Caracas airport and our families saying goodbye, wishing us good luck, and giving us some cash to endure seldom expenses we might encounter (for some reason we seemed to all leave this to the last minute). Some of us had enough for any emergency (only myself and two other players), while most of the players had no more than 10 Euros to last them for our two weeks travel. Fortunately our trip expenses were covered by the soccer federation and the ministry of sports. Upon arriving at the Madrid Barajas Int. airport, I was naturally hungry after a transatlantic flight. I went to buy pizza. Suddenly I noticed that I alone was having a bite. I then remembered my father had told me before departing: “make sure you are generous with your team mates, specially when it comes to expenses”. It dawned on me that my team mates were not abstaining from lunch because of lack of appetite, but because of lack of funds. I remember buying a couple of large pizzas and sharing happily with them. There have been very few times in my life where I remember having felt happier or more realized. That moment started a different dynamic for me within the team which helped me as an athlete, but overall and most importantly taught me a life lesson:

We might be different, come from different places, have different situations, suffer different challenges, but we all have feelings and we can all help one an other to overcome the difficulties of life.

Interestingly, and perhaps counter-intuitively (our society teaches that the more money to spend, the happier one is supposed to be) the outcome of doing the right thing, was also the smart thing to do in the long-run. It was like a little and insignificant gesture…but it was the first of many shared experiences that led us to be a winning team. Having a good tournament was my first priority. What I did not know was that above all of our training, preparation, skills, it would be the human connection within team mates which would end up being the key to our success. The human connection was key not only to our team’s success (in soccer, individual success is highly tied to the success of the team), but for mine own personal success as well, not to mention that was the first time a Venezuelan Team won a championship in Europe. In retrospective, I can say that my success as an athlete, and in particular in that tournament, opened many doors in my life, one of them being a scholarship to attend college in NY. I hope that my humble experience might inspire you as you read this, even a little. Or perhaps give you the confidence to do the right thing (even the little things on our day-to-day) and know that it is also the smart thing to do… even when it might not seem like it.

As a global society, we can choose to give priority to the human connection, altruism, and peace above personal interests. We can over arm the world with love and compassion, and defund war. It is up to us, to each and one of us to always strive to be rightous, for to be righteous is to be smart, and viceversa. We only get one shot at this journey we call life, and we only have one planet to call home. So…

Happy International Day of Peace! 🙂