CF Source: Foundation

Tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, lived a life of steadfast and devoted service to the People of the Commonwealth.

Her Majesty was a fervent believer in the unifying power of her beloved Commonwealth:

Such a blend of traditions serves to make us stronger, individually and collectively, by providing the ingredients needed for social, political and economic resilience.’

Her Majesty’s image, her voice and her deeds have permeated and influenced all our lives profoundly and distinctly. She will be remembered in different ways: ensuring that a greater, and more complete depiction of her legacy to her country, the Commonwealth, and the world, will endure.

At the Commonwealth Foundation, we remind ourselves of the values and principles that Her Majesty cemented so firmly within the identity and mission of this organisation. We honour her life by reaffirming our steadfast commitment to a Commonwealth that is unswerving in its commitment to human rights, to equality, to justice and the rule of law; a Commonwealth that helps shape global policy on issues that matter most to its people; a Commonwealth that is united in solidarity, most especially with its smallest and most vulnerable Member States.

Our sincere condolences to The Royal Family and to the People of the Commonwealth on the passing of Her Majesty.

Ambassador Sudha Devi K. R. Vasudevan, Chair of the Commonwealth Foundation

Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO, Director-General

Power to the People: the Commonwealth Foundation at CHOGM 2022

After two years of delay and postponement, of anticipation and frustration, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings (CHOGM) finally took place in Kigali in late June.

For the Foundation, this was the culmination of years of preparation and planning, most especially for the People’s Forum—the largest gathering of civil society in the Commonwealth system that has been a fixture of the CHOGM calendar for almost two decades.

The Foundation also took the lead in convening a half-day of roundtable discussions between Foreign Ministers and members of Commonwealth civil society. An outcome video of the Forum, which was broadcast at the official CHOGM Foreign Ministers Meeting, and also played at the Roundtable itself, can be accessed here.

‘What role could—or should—the Commonwealth of Nations play in these vital steps towards a better world for all its people?’

The People’s Forum 2022: Our Health, Our Planet, Our Future

The People’s Forum 2022 set itself the ambitious task of asking—and trying to answer—the biggest and most important questions of our age: how do we harness the best of humanity—the forces of love, compassion, equality and justice­—to advance our common future and protect our planet? How do we work together to build or re-fashion our institutions so that they support a world that leaves no one behind? And what role could—or should—the Commonwealth of Nations play in these vital steps towards a better world for all its people?

Along with our partners at the Rwanda Governance Board, the Foundation took advantage of the two-year delay to shape a strong and streamlined programme that focused on what is front and centre for so many people of the Commonwealth: health, climate and freedom of expression. The Critical Conversations online event series, launched by the Foundation in 2020 after the first CHOGM postponement, proved to be a gamechanger: giving us experience and confidence in new formats and approaches and expanding our network of activists and leaders across all Commonwealth regions.

‘In a time of growing debt burdens, especially across low and middle-income countries, who should be paying for better primary health care and the other elements of UHC?’

In relation to developing the Forum sessions on climate for example, the Foundation was able to draw on several different events  organised as part of the Critical Conversations series, including one on small states and climate justice held in September 2021 just before COP26, and another on the difficult issue of reparations for climate damage, held in February of this year. Our main climate session at the People’s Forum was explicitly practical: looking ahead to COP27 in November and to what the Commonwealth could and should be doing to advance the interests of those most affected.  Leaders and advocates from the Commonwealth’s small island developing states left the Forum in no doubt about the urgency of the challenge and the moral duty of the Commonwealth, its member countries and its institutions, to demonstrate genuine solidarity through concrete commitments.

The Forum’s sessions on health also benefited from multiple Critical Conversations events the Foundation has convened since early 2020 which shed a bright light on the parlous state of so many national health systems and the apparent incapacity of international systems and institutions (including, disappointingly, the Commonwealth itself) to deliver practical support. At the Forum, the issue of universal health coverage (UHC)—the guarantee that people can access quality health services without facing financial hardship—was front and centre, with panellists interrogating the role that civil society might play in pushing for UHC and the strong, resilient, and equitable health systems that must be at its heart.

Any useful discussion around health and climate must address the thorny question of finance: how do we get the money needed to fund desperately overdue measures aimed at protecting countries and communities from the worst effects of climate change? In a time of growing debt burdens, especially across low and middle-income countries, who should be paying for better primary health care and the other elements of UHC? In the case of climate, Forum participants strongly took up the cause of the Commonwealth’s smaller and more vulnerable Member States, for whom the loss and damage caused by climate change is presenting unique—and in some cases existential—challenges. Across both issues participants were united in their conviction that the Commonwealth has a unique role to play in bringing together those who hold the power to deliver support, relieve debt burdens, and provide restitution. A failure to take up that role with determination would be, in the eyes of Commonwealth civil society, a clear rejection of the very ideas that the Commonwealth stands for.

‘a vibrant and principled Commonwealth is critical to the future of its citizens’

The Commonwealth Charter affirms that freedom of expression—including media freedom—is essential to the flourishing of democratic societies and a basic condition for development. Sadly, this is an area where too many Commonwealth countries are slipping behind. Building on a previous Critical Conversations event, the Forum engaged in a vigorous, at times tense discussion of freedom of expression: why does it matter and how can it be protected? What can the Commonwealth, its member states and institutions, do to support and advance free and responsible media? There was clear agreement that no country can afford to be complacent: direct threats to journalists and freedom of expression are real and growing. Civil society has an important role to play in championing the proposed Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression that could help shore up freedom of expression and break the culture of silence that provides cover for its steady erosion.

The final session of the Forum, A Commonwealth for All’, set itself the ambitious goal of provoking deep discussion and personal reflection about where we are now, and how the Commonwealth—its Member States, its institutions, and its people—can help inspire real and meaningful change. It was aimed at all those who care about the Commonwealth; those who have a perspective on its past; and those who have a stake in its future. The Forum Chair participated in the event alongside the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Both were asked to comment on a provocative video of highlights from the Foundation’s three-part mini-series on the future of the Commonwealth. The passion and conviction of speakers at this final event—and of the many participants who contributed to the discussion—left no doubt that a vibrant and principled Commonwealth is critical to the future of its citizens. The ten-year anniversary of the Charter, which will be commemorated next year, was singled out by many as an opportunity to galvanise action for a reinvigorated Commonwealth.

Weaving together all Forum sessions was the idea of participatory governance: the idea that the involvement of people in their governance is critical to democracy and democratic legitimacy; the idea that citizens have a central role to play in helping to shape policies and decisions that affect their lives. Forum participants acknowledged that participatory governance is a work in progress right across the Commonwealth. We can learn from examples of innovation that have delivered tangible results. But we must be brave in pushing for more meaningful involvement of citizens across every area of public life.

‘How can we measure progress? And how can we push for meaningful action as global economic headwinds turn against us?’

Civil Society and the Foreign Ministers’ Roundtable

The roundtable between participants of the People’s Forum and Foreign Ministers is now an established fixture on the CHOGM calendar: a powerful embodiment of the Commonwealth identity as an organisation of people—and not just of states. For the Foundation, it is an unambiguous exercise in participatory governance—the unifying thread of the People’s Forum.

The 2022 Roundtable was widely proclaimed to be a huge success with the largest-ever number of Ministers in attendance, including a substantial contingent of Foreign Ministers and excellent representation from Commonwealth civil society and accredited organisations. The event was Chaired by the Rwanda Foreign Minister and moderated by me. The seating arrangement, large round tables where government and civil society sat together, and the moderator’s insistence that each take turns in contributing, guaranteed a lively and at times passionate debate. Among the wide range of matters discussed, gender equality and freedom of expression stood out as issues that everyone in the room—government and civil society alike—cared deeply about.

Towards the Future

On the current schedule, we now have less than two years to go until CHOGM 2024. While our future is uncertain, we must brace ourselves for the likelihood that many of the challenges discussed in Kigali will be unresolved. How can we measure progress? And how can we push for meaningful action as global economic headwinds turn against us?

The CHOGM communique—which sets out a bold and ambitious plan of action—should be front and centre. However, many participants in the Forum pointed out the danger of the Communique becoming irrelevant unless Member States commit to measuring their actions against the goals they have set before reporting to CHOGM 2024. Our analysis of the sentiment coming out from the Forum indicates that progress on climate could be usefully measured by the practical steps that Commonwealth countries and institutions take to protect small island developing countries. Progress on freedom of expression is even easier to measure: the Commonwealth must take the final step to adopt a robust set of principles on media freedom that comply with current international human rights standards and put in place mechanisms to monitor implementation. Progress on health requires concerted action to break the debt deadlock that is strangling efforts to deliver universal health care in so many of the Commonwealth’s low and middle-income countries.

So much more could and should be done. But we must start somewhere if the Commonwealth is to hold its head high. Let us decide to hold ourselves—and each other—to account. The people of the Commonwealth deserve no less.

Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Patently necessary: taking health into our own hands

At long last, the World Trade Organization is slated to open formal discussions on intellectual property waivers to help developing countries in the fight against Covid-19.

This pragmatic and humane idea was first proposed 18 months ago at the height of the pandemic. The proposals have since been woefully diluted: indeed—in their current form—it would seem the WTO has finally achieved the consensus it was looking for, since, apparently, everyone hates them. Hidden in the folds of this fiasco, however, is an important lesson for the developing world.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, monopolies on the production of tests and medicines were a part of the problem of surviving it. We went from a situation in 2020 during which tests and treatments were in short supply to a situation in 2021 in which vaccines were being made in far smaller quantities than was possible. This led to shamefully unequal access to these essential tools of survival. While vaccine access generally improved towards the end of 2021, there are still glaring disparities. To date, 93% of all contracted mRNA vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and BioNtech have gone to rich countries, according to data from Airfinity, a health analytics company. Promising new treatments such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid which are now standard treatments in rich countries are almost completely unavailable in poor countries.

‘Promising new treatments such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid which are now standard treatments in rich countries are almost completely unavailable in poor countries.’

The TRIPs waiver—named after an obscure but powerful rule that obligates WTO member countries to uphold pharmaceutical monopolies—was meant to solve this problem. As the initial proposal was deflected, objected to, or just outright blocked by rich countries over a period of 18 months, people around the world suffered and died. The international community should be ashamed of this failure. Nevertheless, we find ourselves where we are, on the eve of discussions regarding proposals that have been dramatically watered down. What are we to make of this moment?

The first thing to understand is that critics of the current proposals are right: the ideas first put forward 18 months ago were more comprehensive and would have enabled us to turn the tide on the pandemic far sooner. The original proposals asked for intellectual property rights on all crucial aspects of our survival—namely tests, treatments and vaccines—to be waived for the whole course of the pandemic. These demands would have covered our immediate need to ramp up testing and would have delivered far greater quantities of treatments to those in need much faster. Consider the case of Bangladesh, where Pfizer’s patent on Paxlovid does not extend. Beximco—a pharmaceutical company based there—was able to manufacture and deliver the drug a mere ten days after the US Food and Drug Administration approved it, saving thousands of lives.

‘By limiting the waiving of patents to vaccines, rich countries have ensured the WTO plan will have a limited effect on the availability of treatments and tests that are so desperately needed.’

But, alas, the revised waiver proposal now under discussion at the WTO covers vaccines alone. This is perverse. By limiting the waiving of patents to vaccines, rich countries have ensured the WTO plan will have a limited effect on the availability of treatments and tests that are so desperately needed.

No matter how flawed the revised TRIPS wavier proposal is, the potential it holds to prompt a wider discussion among WTO member countries is probably a good thing. For the first time in eighteen long months, there has been a measure of agreement, however inadequate, between key WTO players to move forward: an essential prerequisite for the WTO to move the proposal into formal multilateral discussions. So far, discussions on potential waivers have been bilateral, or between groups of similarly-inclined countries, which is to say they have been unproductive and unaccountable to the international community.

The outcome at the WTO next week is almost certain to disappoint public health activists. Some rich countries are intent on further watering down the proposals and perhaps suppressing them altogether. A wide section of international civil society believes the proposal at the WTO has no value, even as a starting point. They argue that the WTO is in effect supporting a global protection racket: formal permission from the world’s richest countries to the rest of the world to allow them—without fear of reprisals—to do what they are in fact legally entitled to in order to survive an emergency.

‘But it’s also vital that we—those living in developing countries, the majority—begin to understand and use our own sovereignty to arrive at solutions.’

So, what if a decision could be taken at the level of the nation-state to simply roll back or even temporarily suspend patents, regardless of what’s decided at the international level? This would bring the immediate relief that developing countries need and arguably increase their bargaining power at the WTO. In September 2021, one country did exactly that: Brazil passed a law that went beyond even what the original TRIPs waiver proposal had asked for, and it did so with an overwhelming domestic majority and cross-party support. Even though the law was ultimately diluted by a Presidential veto, it remains in effect today and is perfectly permissible under the WTO’s own rules. This option, to create a legislative framework that supports increased supplies of tests, treatments and vaccines, and moreover, encourages their manufacture everywhere, is one that is open to all developing countries today.

Through this pandemic, we have heard much of the unfair way a majority of the world is being treated by a much smaller and wealthier minority. This situation deserves our outrage and attention. But it’s also vital that we—those living in developing countries, the majority—begin to understand and use our own sovereignty to arrive at solutions. The mRNA vaccine technology of today will define the future of global health. Many in the developing world understand that suspending pharmaceutical monopolies is an integral part of securing our present and future wellbeing. But what is less widely understood is that developing countries can do a lot to fix these problems on their own—or better still in concert with others—without having to wait endlessly for permission to do so.

Achal Prabhala is the coordinator of the AccessIBSA project which campaigns for access to medicines in India, Brazil and South Africa.

Photography Open Call: Climate Change

To coincide with the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Rwanda and the run-up to COP27 in Egypt, the Commonwealth Foundation is bringing together photographs from the African Commonwealth countries to show the direct effects of climate change on their communities.

We are looking for original photographs that depict the impact of climate change on your communities. We are especially seeking personal perspectives that illustrate how daily life is affected by climate change.

The call is open to all, amateur and professional, African photographers who live and work in one of the Commonwealth countries in Africa. We are thankful to all who have submitted photography so far. We are particularly interested to receive submissions from the following countries:

  • Botswana
  • Cameroon
  • e-Swatini
  • Lesotho
  • Mauritius
  • Namibia
  • Rwanda
  • Seychelles
  • The Gambia
  • Zambia

One photographer from each of the African Commonwealth countries will be selected to have their work displayed at the People’s Forum and on our social media platforms. Each selected photographer will receive a £50 fee for featuring their work.

Complete this form to submit your photos to the call. The deadline for submissions is midnight (BST, London) on Monday 16 May.

Threats to democracy are all around us

So many of us are feeling powerless in the face of heartbreaking images and stories of human suffering emerging from Ukraine. And the sense of impotence is not just individual. While our global community of nations has come together in a way that is unprecedented in my lifetime, most of us understand that even this remarkable demonstration of solidarity with the people of Ukraine is unlikely to stop the upending of their nation.

‘The evidence that we are in the middle of a deep democratic recession is bleak and abundant’

We are not Russia. But perhaps we can use this moment to take stock of the state of democracy in our own countries and across the world. Perhaps this is the time to be asking some difficult questions of ourselves and our leaders. Why does a free press matter? How do dishonesty and cronyism work to corrode democracy and is it in our power to stop it? Why is an independent judiciary so critical to the rule of law? What happens to democratic principles when monied interests capture politicians? Why is it that the most effective defence against the enemies of democracy is a free and flourishing civil society, one capable of standing up to state and corporate abuses of power?

We are not Russia yet most of our own countries, if not all of them, have been complicit in a steady, devastating erosion of the central ideals of liberal democracy.

The evidence that we are in the middle of a deep democratic recession is bleak and abundant. The 2021 Freedom in the World report and the Economist’s annual index both confirm that the number of countries moving in an authoritarian direction is outnumbering those going the other way. And while authoritarianism is worsening in non-democratic regimes, established democracies are backsliding, often with substantial popular support.

‘Putin and his fellow autocrats have been emboldened by our collective failure to uphold the international rules-based order.’

Unhappily, the Commonwealth marches in lockstep with this trend. Over 80% of the Commonwealth’s 2.4 billion citizens are living in what Civicus classifies as ‘repressed’ societies: countries where public protest is banned or severely curtailed; where human rights defenders and journalists are intimidated and detained; where laws censor vital information and restrict media freedom; where the institutions of governance protect those who abuse their power and fail to defend those who challenge such abuses. The Covid-19 pandemic has been disastrous for civil liberties across the Commonwealth, with governments using the cover of the pandemic to entrench state power and restrict freedoms, most commonly by criminalising protest and enacting ‘disinformation’ laws that criminalise speech.

We are not Russia. But we would do well to acknowledge that what is happening today in Ukraine is part of a broader and deeper geopolitical shift: one that is normalising state capture; creeping authoritarianism; and widespread disrespect for fundamental rights and freedoms at home and abroad. Putin and his fellow autocrats have been emboldened by our collective failure to uphold the international rules-based order. They have been enriched and enabled by our craven deference to economic interests at the expense of basic principles of justice. They have observed our uneven attachment to democratic ideals and the moral inconsistency of our outrage—the ruthless, carefully calculated expediency that determines whose sins will be punished and whose will be ignored.

We are not Russia and should take heart that change is in the air. Across the world, not just in Ukraine, ordinary people are taking to the streets to fight for their freedoms. Ordinary people are speaking out against corruption, misrule and abuse of power. Press freedom might be curtailed in many countries, but journalists and media outlets are continuing to expose injustices, even in the face of intimidation and harassment. Across the world, and across the Commonwealth, questions are being asked about why the institutions of government in our democratic states are failing to keep state power in check; why they are failing, often miserably, to deliver on everything from health and climate goals to physical security and education.

Now is the time to demand more of our governments and leaders who are the custodians of our democracies. Now is the time for civil society to stand up for the principles and ideals the Commonwealth was founded on. The people of the Commonwealth deserve nothing less.

Anne T. Gallagher AO is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Remembering the indentured

In 1886 a young man of 20 named Kalidin left his family in Bihar in east India never to return. He died almost four decades later in British Guiana (Guyana), a country 9,000 miles away from his home.

His departure from India likely took place at the prompting of an arkati, one of an army of local recruiters employed by the British since indenture’s inception in 1834. These men initially sourced labourers for Caribbean and Indian Ocean plantations, as owners sought to replace the labour of enslaved Africans. The same system of temporary contracts later brought Indians to labour on plantations in Fiji and South Africa.

Initially, Kalidin was contractually bound to work for five years, but details on his indenture certificate reveal that he re-indentured to a neighbouring sugar estate. Family oral history suggests Kalidin accepted a portion of land in lieu of a return passage to India. He and his wife had ten children and my grandfather, Beharry, was one of the youngest. Beharry’s older siblings concentrated their efforts on protecting him from the carceral life of the colonial sugar plantation. They ensured he received sufficient schooling to train as a tailor and operate his own business in the colony’s capital, Georgetown.

‘I went through the English education system without learning anything about [indentured labour]. This is despite the fact it was designed, executed and implemented by British planters, civil servants, magistrates and judges’

Beharry went on to have five children who all eventually migrated with him to Canada in the late 60s, all except my father who, in 1961, became part of Britain’s Windrush generation, the term used to describe Caribbean migrants who came to the UK between 1948-1971.

If my life has been defined by any one thing, it would be my father’s silence about his roots. Having experienced a British colonial education he was fully immersed in the idea that the history and culture of his grandparents had little value. It was a desire to know and understand where he came from that propelled my academic study into indenture.

Picture shows black and white image of Kalidin’s son Beharry with his eldest son Harry and his wife Ameena.
From right to left, Kalidin’s son Beharry (my Grandfather) with his eldest son Harry (my Uncle) and his wife Ameena (my Grandmother). Circa 1960, the year before my father’s departure for England. This photo of Harry with his parents was taken on his wedding day. 

Like many descendants of indenture in Britain, I went through the English education system without learning anything about it. This is despite the fact it was designed, executed and implemented by British planters, civil servants, magistrates and judges, and affected the lives of over 1.5 million Indians between 1834-1917. Though some Britons campaigned for indenture’s abolition, I believe this silence pervades because of the challenge the documented injustices of indenture pose, particularly to those who trumpet the British role in the Abolition of Slavery and the notion of a benevolent Empire.

Two leading historians of indenture, Clem Seecharan (Guyana) and Brij Lal (Fiji), have reflected on how this external silence could be compounded by silences within families. Seecharan referred to the ‘collective amnesia’ of my great-grandfather’s generation, suggesting that the perceived shame of humble origins and the brutal conditions of indentured servitude combined to create an environment in which the past became a taboo subject, as the indentured conspired in unvoiced agreement to accept a painful present in the hope that their hard work may offer better opportunities to the next generation.

‘The perceived shame of humble origins and the brutal conditions of indentured servitude combined to create an environment in which the past became a taboo subject.’

In the footsteps of a pioneering group of scholars and writers like Lal and Seecharan, I am one of many academics working to engage others with the history of indentured labour. Exciting work by poets like Rajiv Mohabir and Kama La Mackerel, and artists such as Shivanjani Lal and Sacintya Mohini Simpson, are part of a powerful cross-genre effort to share our histories and stories across the indentured labour diaspora.

Recently I chaired an event with the Guyanese poet Elly Niland, the Mauritian theatre practitioner Poonam Seetohul and the South African writer and barrister Anirood Singh. In collaboration with actors and using historical sources and fiction, all three produced powerful monologues that honoured the resilience and resistance of indentured labourers in Guyana, Mauritius and South Africa.

For my part the more I collaborate with others from the indentured labour diaspora, the more assured I am of our ability to productively disrupt the silences of our past. Long gone is the lonely sense that I once had as a child in the eighties, of being part of a history that was unworthy of being explored.

Dr María del Pilar Kaladeen is an Associate Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.

Tuvalu, Tuvalu

Tuvalu, Tuvalu
by Sir Iftikhar Ayaz KBE

Tuvalu, Tuvalu –
Our home and friend
Our birth place – And end
We love you

There comes a time when we need to call
When the world must come together one and all.
To save people dying
It’s time to lend a hand
And everyone should take a stand

We can’t go on pretending day by day
That all the problems will just go away
We are all a part of God’s creation
So we need the hand of love from every nation

We are the world and we are all one
So lets start doing what needs to be done
There’s a choice we need to make
To protect our beloved Tuvalu at stake
It’s true we’ll make the best choice
To help Tuvalu and listen to their Voice

Send them the resources so they know that you care
So their lives will be saved and free from despair
It is a Mayday call to COP26
Tuvalu cannot be ignored
And the climate devastation must be fixed

We must take heed before it is too late
And all our hearts will be filled with grief
If Tuvalu sinks to the bottom of the coral reef.

Tuvalu, Tuvalu –
Our home and friend
Our birth place – and end
We love you.

Sir Iftikar A. Ayaz KBE is the Honorary Consul of Tuvalu. He recited this poem at the Commonwealth Foundation’s Festive Poetry Event.

Read two other poems from the event:
I don’t want a dead hero’ by H.E. Dr Farah Faizal
‘Time travel’ by H.E. Dr Kevin M. Isaac

Festive Poetry Event

Every society, every community, has its poets. They are the first storytellers, the ones who weave words into images, capture and interpret feelings and ideas that would otherwise never find expression. Poets are the truth-tellers, the transmitters of knowledge and values and meaning. Poetry is also central to protest and rebellion, cutting through the abuse of language that so often goes with abuse of power: signalling eternal truths that all of us can recognise.

With these words, the Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation and the High Commissioner of St Kitts and Nevis welcomed High Commissioners for a unique celebration of Commonwealth culture.

Throughout the evening, distinguished attendees took to the stage to recite a favourite piece of poetry from their country. Chosen texts included the works of national laureates and lesser-known personal favourites and the themes of climate change; the experiences of colonialism; the beauty of the natural world; love of country and love of people shone through.

Sir Iftikhar Ayaz KBE reciting his poem, ‘Tuvalu, Tuvalu’.

Several participants wrote poems especially for the occasion and we are thrilled that they have agreed to share those for this story.

H.E. Dr Farah Faizal’s performance of I don’t want a dead herowas one of many highlights. Her original work was a personal reflection on the time her husband spent working as a frontline healthcare worker during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sir Iftikar A. Ayaz KBE, Honorary Consul of Tuvalu (pictured), penned: Tuvalu, Tuvalu: a stirring lament of the damage wrought on this tiny island nation by global warming.

And Dr Kevin Isaac, our co-host of the event and a widely published poet in his own right, closed the evening with his own poem ‘Time travel, a fitting reflection on the impermanence and uncertainty that marks all our lives—perhaps now more than ever.

While the creation of poetry is a solitary endeavour, the results of each creation are meant to be shared. That sharing serves as a powerful reminder of our common humanity and of the ties that bind us together—a reminder of what truly matters about being alive, about our common human experiences. Our thanks go to all High Commissioners and representatives who participated in this memorable evening.

Read three selected poems from the event:

I don’t want a dead hero’ by H.E. Dr Farah Faizal

Tuvalu, Tuvalu’ by Sir Iftikar A. Ayaz KBE

Time travel‘ by H.E. Dr Kevin M. Isaac

Time travel

Time travel
by H.E. Dr Kevin M. Isaac

Has time ever tempted you
to run away,
as far as your feet would go;
to grab hold of the soft hand of a dream and follow wherever it leads.

Has life ever tried to seduce you,
urged you to pack light,
and hit that open road to anywhere;
where brisk, soft winds gently kiss your face and affection powers your mind’s sails;
as tomorrow pulls you forward.

Was there ever a time
you craved that hushed tranquillity off the beaten track,
alone with your thoughts
letting you look deep into
the dreamy eyes of a cherished dream
and fall madly in love with the impossible until boundaries expire?

When was the last time
your heart grazed wild in open fields skipped rope with whistling birds;
flirted with precocious flowers,
danced with nosy trees in damp grass
and dodged fireflies
on the eyelids of love.

Was there ever a moment
when you wanted to sit very still…
Perhaps on a parked bench
along the river’s edge,
tease your thoughts
and disappear into a world
that made you feel safe, fulfilled,
as life’s rewards bowed at your feet
letting you drift away briefly

Or maybe,
you remember a time
when you longed to partner
with your soul’s partner;
share thoughts by symbiosis,
exchange raw emotions
and feel full –
knowing you were understood fully.

H.E. Dr Kevin M. Isaac is St. Kitts and Nevis’ High Commissioner to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He recited this poem at the Commonwealth Foundation’s Festive Poetry Event.

Read two other poems from the event:
I don’t want a dead hero’ by H.E. Dr Farah Faizal
Tuvalu, Tuvalu’ by Sir Iftikar A. Ayaz KBE

I don’t want a dead hero

I don’t want a dead hero
~Farah~

I don’t want a dead hero
However noble it may sound
Yes, you can write stories about him
and tell it to your grandchildren,
I don’t care,
I want him safe and not
Buried. Out. there.

I don’t want a dead hero
with his name on headlines news
Yes, you can clap all night, then what?
Tweet RIPs the next day?
I don’t care
I want him doing his work
In. Protective. Wear.

I don’t want a dead hero
and be a COVID widow to read
poetry by a modern-day Owen
of the horrors on the frontline.
I won’t wear
some flower on my breast
years from now. I want him
Safe. And. Alive.

I don’t want a dead hero
I want him home from work everyday
having saved others to save me,
I want to see tomorrow.
walk together on the sandy shores
of our island home,
I want to grow old with
My. Own. Hero.

H.E. Dr Farah Faizal High Commissioner of Maldives to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. She recited this poem at the Commonwealth Foundation’s Festive Poetry Event.

Read two other poems from the event:
Time travel‘ by H.E. Dr Kevin M. Isaac
Tuvalu, Tuvalu’ by Sir Iftikar A. Ayaz KBE