Tuesday, 28 July 2015

In Lincoln's Shadow

The red line Metrorail thundered overhead as I walked along the narrow footpath, ahead, through the grey shadows created by the overhead railway line I could see my way blocked by a pile of rubbish built up and around an abandoned shopping trolley. It was annoying, you know, there was not much room around the obstruction, a person ahead sidestepped around and past, another tried to push the debris back with his foot as he pushed past the obstacle.

It was only when it was my turn and, getting a closer look at the pile of rubbish, I realised that the hub around which the bags and boxes where arranged was a man - fast asleep and with a snore that competed with the train passing overhead.

I have been in Washington DC only a few days. It is a beautiful city. I have walked the National Mall along Constitution Avenue past the Capitol, the Monuments and the Museums – I am in, perhaps, one of the most influential cities of the world, home to some of the most brilliant and powerful people: “Bones” in the Smithsonian, “Olivia” amongst the skeletons of DC’s rich and famous and “Jack Ryan” saving the President. Not forgetting President Obama, (and “Cyrus Beene”), in the big House.

Yet with all this power, smarts and influence – there is a man sleeping rough under a bridge. “Any change sir”, says another man holding out a used Starbucks Grande mug. Men and women stake claims and pitch brightly coloured nylon tents under alongside a highway and under a vehicle overpass. And the world, including me, pass by. (I did offload some coins onto one woman, but I hate coins in my pocket – so was I doing me, or her, a favour?)

I know that Washington DC is not unique and that in my home city of Melbourne there are many seeping rough in similar locations. But this week, in DC, I am struck by the contrast. Coming here from a Country that is defined as “less developed”, where I saw no people sleeping rough, (not saying there aren’t any, but I saw none) to this “developed” city I am caused to wonder: who in are the developed?

(I am not suggesting that there are no people homeless and begging on the streets of Asia or Latin America – I’ve seen plenty.) I am thinking aloud, this is not researched analysis, (or America, or DC bashing), it is merely an observation – because it initially shocked me, don’t know why it should, that here in this city, seat of so much enlightenment and power, in the shadow of Lincoln (“…all men are created equal”), Washington and Luther King, there are still people pushing their world in a trolley on the streets; people who have no place.

As I passed by another “Starbucks Grande”, checking my increasingly trashed tourist map for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that this guy probably knew as much if not more of the city and her monuments than most of the official tourist guides that I saw advertised along the Mall. (Probably knew some places they didn’t in fact.) What if, instead of paying for a well-researched ‘uniform’ I paid the same amount to this ‘homeless’ guy to show me around? It was just a thought and by the time it had formed in my mind I had moved on into China Town on my back up H Street.

(To my American friends: I am seriously not having a go at America or Washington DC, it is just that I came to DC from Quito, and these were my initial impressions.)

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

God is Revealed in the Cloud

Yesterday, as we disappeared into the damp, dense clouds above Ecuador, I thought of Moses going up Mt. Sinai. Is it sacrilegious or perhaps arrogant to equate myself with Moses? Yes probably, and yet I do - but I am not suggesting that I am a leader like Moses - but rather only that both of us met God in the clouds.

Moses met God face to face, (well almost), but I met God in the people that many have forgotten. About 3,100 meters above sea level, in a small farming community I met with gracious and hospitable indigenous Ecuadorians. This forgotten community, (like so many in this region) is home to families that have been here for generations, but have received little support or resources.

As we pulled up I was greeted by a couple of young men in red ponchos, sheep skin chaps and cowboy hats, next to them little children in red and white ponchos, a variety of hats and dirty faces greeted me by shaking hands, my buenos dias greeting, with an Australian accent was smile worthy even for these shy little kids. (I think one or two even laughed at me.)

We had come to "monitor", but the community had other ideas - we were here to worship and party. So the morning started with singing to a guitar and pan pipe, followed by a sermon from Isaiah and then it was on to every project team showcasing what they had learnt and what they were doing as a result of the interventions in their community.

As a 'monitor' it was rewarding to see that funds invested in this community were ticking the boxes. Women were learning how to care for the hygiene and basic medical needs of their families. They knew how to make a basic re-hydration fluid that has reduced incidences of diarrhoea in children significantly. Children were being educated at local schools that are being resourced. Youth are being taught vocational skills such as photography, media, communications, radio production (all things they chose and being used in their community). Men and women are learning how to make soap. All very basic things, but skills and behaviours that have turned around their community.

But beyond the monitoring and the logframe indicators are the attitudes, the values and the character - elements of humanity that cannot be taught or programmed, but implicit reflections of God, images of divinity that are impossible to hide. As is often the case, people who have the least are often the most generous. And in this community, in these gracious people - it was no different.

Despite the fight to survive and thrive the people of the community greeted me with generosity. (I wish they had reserved some of the hospitality - the compulsory tasting of the traditional tea made especially for women in labour and the home made re-hydration drink were special moments.

I was thanked with the presentation of a traditional red wool poncho (apparently symbolising strength, bravery and passion) and then the elders gathered around and prayed over me before they served a lunch of black beans, green broad beans, potatoes (special ones grown only here) and a warm brew made from maize.

The people of the Cocan community have little, but thanks to the generosity of many people, the women and children are healthier, the community is better educated, more empowered (some of the youth are scarily passionate, powerful advocates for change) and on a path to a sustainable future. In the clouds, out of sight of the rest of the world I met God revealed in the people of the Cocan community.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Children trapped in Gaza’s shadow of fear

One year after the devastating loss of life in the “50-day war” in Gaza, tens of thousands of people remain homeless and Palestinian and Israeli children continue to live in the shadow of violence and fear, according to World Vision’s most senior representative in the Middle East.

Australian Conny Lenneberg, World Vision’s regional leader for the Middle East and Eastern Europe, said she was horrified by the civilian toll of last year’s war – and in particular the deaths of about 500 children and the thousands more who suffered severe injuries.

Ms Lenneberg said she had vivid and horrifying memories of returning to Gaza after the seven-week bombardment.

“Nothing can justify the conduct of this war which saw children and civilians trapped, with nowhere to seek shelter from relentless bombardments that destroyed homes, apartment blocks, schools and hospitals,” she said.
According to UN figures, between 7 July and 26 August last year, at least 2104 Palestinians were killed, including 1462 civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women. In addition, 66 Israeli soldiers and five Israeli civilians were killed, including one child.
Nine of the children who were killed in Gaza were sponsored through World Vision, including one young girl, Amena, who was killed after her family decided to go home for one day after 44 days of moving between UN shelters.

Ms Lenneberg said a recent United Nations Human Rights Council report on last year’s war starkly illustrated that “in the absence of a just and lasting peace, Palestinian and Israeli children continue to grow up in the shadow of violence, conflict and fear”.

World Vision, which has worked in Gaza since 1988, established dozens of Child Friendly Spaces for severely distressed children across Gaza in the aftermath of the war. But Israel’s blockade of Gaza has prevented any rebuilding and about 100,000 people - more than half of them children - remain displaced.

Thousands of families are living in the rubble of their homes. “I was heartbroken by the deaths of infants over the winter whose families had no proper shelter - just some blankets in the ruins trying to keep out the bitter cold,” Ms Lenneberg said.

World Vision has called for Israel’s seven-year blockade of Gaza to be lifted to allow rapid, unimpeded passage of all humanitarian workers and items needed to run vital services.

“Conditions in Gaza, particularly for children, are deplorable,” she said. “Because of the blockade, they are not able to leave these conditions behind, and they are not able to bring in what they need to rebuild their lives. World Vision believes the ongoing occupation and conflict has robbed generations of Palestinian and Israeli children of peace, justice, and hope for a future where fullness of life is possible. What children on both sides of this conflict need most is peace.”

(Stuart Rintoul)