So it was poignant to read the story Planting Hope by Fairfax Media’s Paul McGeough about his kind quest to provide comfort to the family and friends of the victims of MH17, the flight shot down in the Ukraine during 2014.
Paul and his photographer colleague Kate Geraghty spent long days reporting on the missile strike and the Ukrainian separatist war. They were moved to bring back a keepsake for families and friends of the Australian victims who could not get to the crash site. They collected sunflower seeds, a cheerful flower that was growing in the zone surrounding the plane wreckage.
The story of the sunflower quest is inspirational. It reminds us that our often automatic reaction to see government bureaucracy (in this case Australian quarantine officials) as obstructionist or difficult to deal with can be terribly misguided.
Paul confessed that when first contacted by the Australian Department of Agriculture, “I did (Nicola) Hinder the great disservice of allowing my ingrained suspicions of all things Canberra to blind me to the reality that she was a good and genuine human being.”
Planting Hope evolved into months of dedication by Hinder’s team, working with Paul and Kate, to ensure the sunflower seeds given to the families were healthy specimens. Ultimately the seeds became a gift not only for the affected Australians but also for the global families who had lost loved ones. Dutch TV interviewed Thomas Schansman, whose son Quinn died on MH17. He explained that he treated his gift of seed and the flourishing plant “like a baby, our baby Quinn”.
The account of the sunflower quest is written in a visual and interactive style, reminiscent of The New York Times 2012 evocative story Snow Fall. Most of all this account reminds us that a simple gesture and the determination to give comfort to others is achievable. That a small kindness can make a big difference. And that nature, with its strength to grow and be nurtured, can create healing and hope.
Take a moment to read Planting Hope from start to finish. It will brighten your day.