Looking forward with hope

The start of any new year heralds hope that personal circumstances will be better than in the year just past.

Perhaps, for those celebrating in the middle of winter, things may look grimmer than they should. But New Zealanders have the luxury of bringing in each new year near the height of summer (albeit perhaps with the threat of rain and stormy weather to accompany the festivities).

This coming year, we all have to hope that not only our own personal circumstances, and those of our friends and family, improve, but also that the circumstances of those around us, in New Zealand and around the world, also progress. What happens globally can and does affect us, as can be seen by just some of the events of 2012.

In Syria, thousands upon thousands of citizens were killed as fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's embattled regime continues against rebel forces. The world continues to watch aghast as every diplomatic effort to resolve the crisis fails. Hope appears to lie with Russian intervention, but Russia has been a staunch supporter of al-Assad during the conflict and hope is fading on that front. In Egypt, President Mohammed Morsie enacted a newly-passed divisive constitution even as he attempted to reach out to opponents in his most conciliatory remarks since voters began considering the document. Opponents rejected his call for talks, and said he could not be trusted.

Egypt was one of the shining stars of the Arab Spring when the Middle East erupted with protests as citizens rose to rid themselves of tyrants and dictators. The spring in many of those countries turned to winter, by-passing a summer of content.

Back in the United States, the death of 20 school children and some of their teachers caused a renewed and growing swell of anger against those people who feel the Second Amendment gives them the right to own automatic weapons. The National Rifle Association continued to chant cliches such as ''the only thing that stops a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun'' and even called for armed guards at every school. This coming year will be a watershed year for gun laws in the US. If President Obama does not make progress in clamping down on gun ownership in 2013, no-one is ever likely to complete that task.

Africa remained a trouble spot, with the United Nations ordering non-essential staff and families of its other workers to leave the Central African Republic because of fears of unrest triggered by a rebel advance.

North Korea upset its immediate neighbours - South Korea, Japan and China - with the launch of a satellite into space. The move was seen as an aggressive sign that North Korea was planning to increase its nuclear arms programme. Any thoughts that leader Kim Jong-un would become more conciliatory towards the West, and particularly South Korea, have started to disappear.

There were some encouraging signs in Burma, or Myanmar, as pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament, met global leaders at home and spoke to parliamentarians in Westminster Hall. There are still reports of persecution of the Christian minority in the north of the country, but the eyes of the Western world are now in place in the secretive country.

At home, disturbing figures on child poverty, homelessness and despair came to light late in the year. Many find it hard to believe there are poor in a country such as New Zealand. This coming year will give politicians and the wider community a chance to address those issues.

New Zealand escaped the worst of the world's financial crises and has much to be thankful for. But there is much to be done. All New Zealanders must first take care of themselves and their family, then aim to grow that achievement into the community. Volunteers have become an integral part of our community. Thankfully, we do not have the problems experienced by many other countries around the globe - and we do have plenty to hope for as the new year starts.

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