As we celebrate Christmas and tick off the days left to the start of the new year, few may stop to think of all our blessings. True, there are people who may find it difficult this year to share in the joy of Christmas. Among them are those who have found themselves out of a job over the past weeks and about whom the country showed so much concern. There are also those who have no one to share the joy with and others still who may simply have no sufficient means to celebrate Christmas in the way they would wish to.

To all these, and more, the hand of solidarity is unlikely to be found wanting, for with all our faults and shortcomings, our society is still heart-warming and generous enough to give a helping hand to those in need. There is hardly any need here to refer to the money collected by charities and on special occasions for these people. The sharp political differences that the country lives from day to day for most of the year often make us look inwardly far too much, forgetting the hardships and calamities that hit so many other people in countries throughout the world.

Not that we are not generous when calls are made for donations to those hit by tragedies abroad. We are, often exceeding our own expectations, but far too often awareness of such hardship is then short-lived. Again, preoccupied as we all are with the constant urge to improve our own living standard, we hardly ever count our blessings in the midst of so much adversity in so many countries around the world.

For example, what does Darfur in Sudan mean to us this Christmas? How many of us have followed the hardship which the thousands dislocated from their villages have been going through for so long? It is as if even the word urgency has lost its meaning when it is applied to what needs to be done to relieve the suffering of so many finding themselves battling the hardships of calamities or who are caught up in webs of political revenge.

The earthquake in Pakistan in October brought to our television screens the horror of the devastation caused to the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir, as did the tsunami in Thailand on December 26 last year. Over 80,000 were killed and 65,000 injured in Pakistan. Four million were left homeless. If the figures alone give an indication of the mammoth problem involved in rescue operations, how does one begin to assess the personal hardship so many people endured, and are still enduring today, as they come to grips with the disaster? Whole towns and villages were wiped out, and extreme mountainous terrain and bad weather made many areas unreachable for weeks.

There have been at least 10 other major earthquakes this year. But besides the earthquakes, there have been no fewer than 14 hurricanes in the Atlantic, with one leaving thousands homeless in New Orleans. We have had many deaths in suicide bombings (88 were killed in Sharm el-Sheikh alone in July), flooding in so many places, including Afghanistan, landslides and avalanches. And mentioning Darfur earlier on, what about the famine in Niger, caused by drought and locusts?

All these disasters - some natural, others man-made - have presented harrowing scenes. At times, the international community acts swiftly in relief work, at others, painfully slow, too slow in fact. Sparing a thought to all the people in these areas as we make merry this Christmas will help us count our blessings.

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