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Number 161 - February 2016
On 20 February we mark World Day of Social Justice. A 1971 document by the Synod of Bishops stated: ‘Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church's mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation’ (Justice in the World, No. 6).
Our MMM Constitutions encourage our Sisters and Associates to own that statement when they say: ‘Work with all people of good will. Join resources with them, especially in the field of health, so as to bring about a world of justice and peace where true human development is fostered, and human dignity and rights are respected.’
A further development of Church teaching on justice, says: ‘Anyone wishing to renounce the difficult yet noble task of improving the lot of [humankind] in [its] totality, with the excuse that the struggle is difficult and that constant effort is required, or simply because of the experience of defeat and the need to begin again, that person would be betraying the will of God the Creator’ (Social Concern of the Church, No. 30).
‘It is a question of interdependence, sensed as a system determining relationships in the contemporary world, in its economic, cultural, political and religious elements, and accepted as a moral category. When interdependence becomes recognized in this way, the correlative response as a moral and social attitude...is solidarity. This is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all. This determination is based on the solid conviction that what is hindering full development is that desire for profit and thirst for power already mentioned. These attitudes and "structures of sin" are only conquered - presupposing the help of divine grace - by a diametrically opposed attitude: a commitment to the good of one's neighbor with the readiness, in the gospel sense, to "lose oneself" for the sake of [others] instead of exploiting [them], and to "serve [them]" instead of oppressing [them] for one's own advantage’ (Social Concern of the Church, No. 38).
In this newsletter you can read how MMMs and MMM Associates are part of the struggle for justice for the common good. Sister Mary O’Malley works for justice for the victims of human trafficking in Nairobi and raises awareness to prevent exploitation of others. Sister Cecily Bourdillon wrote about the activities of Kasina Health Centre to improve the quality of health care in one area of Malawi. Albert Llussa, an MMM Associate, told us about his recent firsthand experience of the plight of refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos.
An article by James Somper in The Telegraph on 18 Jun 2015 stated: ‘More than $14 trillion (£8.9 trillion) was spent on international conflicts in the past year, according to a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace, which found that Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were responsible for a surge in war deaths. The spending represents 13% of global GDP and is roughly the combined value of the economies of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Spain and Brazil.’
Surely justice demands that we change our spending priorities. Thank you for joining with us in the struggle to bring about a world of justice and peace.
Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM
‘Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.’ Mark Twain, writer and humorist
Health and social justice
‘Our children have dramatically different life chances depending on where they were born. In Japan or Sweden they can expect to live more than 80 years; in Brazil, 72 years; India, 63 years; and in one of several African countries, fewer than 50 years....The poorest of the poor have high levels of illness and premature mortality...In countries at all levels of income, health and illness follow a social gradient: the lower the socio-economic position, the worse the health.
‘It does not have to be this way and it is not right that it should be like this. Where systematic differences in health are judged to be avoidable by reasonable action they are, quite simply, unfair....Putting right these inequities – the huge and remediable differences in health between and within countries – is a matter of social justice....Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale’ (CSDH (2008) Final Report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Geneva, World Health Organization: Executive Summary).
Sister Cecily Bourdillon is based in Kasina, Malawi. She told us how MMMs and staff are working with local people to reduce inequalities in health care.
'The year 2015 was a difficult one for Malawi, with flooding in some parts of the country, a short rainy season, and poor harvests in other areas. Inflation, soaring prices and austerity measures necessitated by the financial crisis left students stranded in the middle of their professional studies and newly-trained nurses without work because the government could not pay them.
'We are grateful to our eight nurses and forty support staff at Kasina Health Centre (KHC) who kept the health centre running smoothly. Two nurses completed the diploma in nursing management and one nurse trained in palliative care. This was the Initiator’s Course, conducted in Malawi for the first time.' A variety of services 'In 2015 there were 16,497 outpatient clinic visits, up from 15,666 in 2014. The number of admissions fell slightly, from 2,837 to 2,784. Also during the year, new national guidelines were introduced for the treatment of malaria, still the greatest cause of morbidity and mortality in Malawi.
'The Nutrition Rehabilitation Unit admitted 74 children and 83 others were supplied with chiponde (peanut butter mixture) in the outpatient treatment programme. Mothers or guardians of these children attended workshops to improve their childcare skills, especially in nutrition.'
HIV is still with us 'New guidelines introduced in 2014 for the National Anti-retroviral Therapy (ART) programme broadened the criteria for initiation of treatment for those with HIV infection. Now all pregnant women, children under five years of age, people with tuberculosis, and those with a CD4 count (immunity indicator) of fewer than 500 cells/ml are included. This has dramatically reduced opportunistic infections and other ailments of those with HIV. It means that those attending the clinics are strong and healthy.
'Since the initiation of ART in Kasina in 2011, we have registered 540 patients. Of these, 417 are alive and attend the clinics one, two or three-monthly. Some transferred out or defaulted and thirty-five have died.
'All children of school age with HIV attend a monthly Saturday gathering, “Teens Club”, at which they receive input about HIV/AIDS, play together, have a good meal and receive their treatment without missing school. Their understanding of their situation has helped them to be more committed to taking treatment.
'The National Programme of Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) is bearing fruit. Of the twenty-six infants exposed to HIV through their mothers, only two tested positive at two years of age, after weaning.'
It is crucial to involve men in health care. 'Increasing numbers of women are attending the antenatal clinics: 1,187 at present. An important change is that their husbands now attend with them. They have HIV testing and counselling with their wives and play a more responsible role in the care of mother and child. Nevertheless, in spite of all that the government, local authorities and our own KHC Advisory Committee are doing to promote safe motherhood and delivery in a health facility, only 72% of those who attend antenatal care deliver at our health centre. The rest rely on traditional birth attendants.'
Education and health screening 'We were concerned about the number of people fainting or having an epileptic fit during church services. We raised awareness in the community about epilepsy and hypertension and now hold monthly clinics for these conditions. Patients receive regular treatment and find support in coming together. At the last clinic 106 patients were given treatment for epilepsy and 87 were treated for hypertension.
'We provided a weekly clinic for screening for cervical cancer and treatment for those with early changes. In 2015, 1,785 women were screened: 114 women showed precancerous changes and were treated and 14 were suspected of having cancer and were referred to Nkhoma Hospital for further management.
'Our Primary Health Care and Development Programme provided training for chiefs, mothers with malnourished children, volunteers, HIV/AIDS support group members, and youth. Topics included leadership, human rights, internet technology, and marriage preparation.'
Care in the community 'Health surveillance assistants held child welfare clinics twice weekly in the villages.
'Supported by the services of 48 volunteers, the home-based palliative care programme provided care and treatment in the homes of 276 patients. These included people who are bedridden, suffering from cancer or the complications of AIDS, and the frail elderly with chronic or severe complaints.
'As we came to the end of 2015 we wanted to thank all our friends and benefactors who supported us here in Kasina with their prayers, their encouragement, their gifts and donations, enabling us to continue to maintain and run KHC and provide health services with this rural population.'
Anna's story: Hearing the cry for justice
Despite the fact that the theme of World Day of Social Justice in 2015 was ‘Ending Human Trafficking and Forced Labour’, these evils continue unabated.
‘It is very difficult to assess the real size of human trafficking because the crime takes place underground, and is often not identified or misidentified. However, a conservative estimate of the crime puts the number of victims [worldwide] at any one time at 2.5 million’ (APT Ireland).
Sister Mary O’Malley, based in Nairobi, Kenya, told us about some of the people she has encountered in her work of awareness-raising and assisting victims of trafficking.
'I have met four widows who badly needed to get out of the slums and be repatriated to their home areas. Not only will they have a better life at home but it will take the next generation out of the poverty cycle. One of these women was Anna (not her real name). Originally from the countryside, when she was widowed, her late husband’s brothers chased her away and she found herself in the slums of Nairobi.
'Shortly after she moved here, three of her children were trafficked. They were seven, nine and eleven years old. A pastor told her he would take them to a boarding school. Instead he gave them to other people to work and he was paid. Ruth, the nine-year-old, escaped and found her way back home. David, who was seven, was finally found in a government remand. One, Jacob, remained missing. Then Anna was raped. She had a little boy in December 2014. Incredibly to me, she believed he was God’s gift for the missing one.'
Helping to build a dream 'At some point we had talked with Anna about moving back to her rural home. While this still seemed to be a dream, she gathered hope and made bricks, perhaps in anticipation of building a house or because she knew she could always sell them. In any event, this determined woman made four thousand bricks. Once when I visited her unannounced, I found her out with the children gathering plastic bags. They planned to sell them to buy enough food for the night.
'After Anna left her village some members of her family suffered calamities such as crop failure, death of cattle, etc., and they believed they had been cursed because of what they did to her. They felt that a way out of this situation was to make peace with Anna and to give her and her children their rightful home.
'The bricks that Anna had made gave a new two-roomed house a great start. Once the building began she put all her energy into it and carried endless buckets of water for mixing concrete. The house was completed, along with a water tank and pit latrine. When it was time to move the family back to the village, miraculously Jacob, now age thirteen, was carried back by the "street boys" to his mother in Nairobi. He had suffered a broken leg. It seemed to be the right moment to move him into a more normal environment, albeit with a leg in plaster!'
Restoring dignity and hope 'In discussing with Anna how to get all the children and their possessions ferried to the new house, I thought I might need a pick-up to transport everything, including their beds. I discovered there had never been a bed in her life. Everything - sleeping, eating, etc. – had been done on the floor.'
'I feel that Anna will manage all right in the future and generally build a better life for herself and her children. Their environment is a clean, rural setting and the village will play a major hand in the children's upbringing. Jacob’s "street boy" friends largely survive by petty crime, so breaking his leg at the time the house was ready was really a blessing.'
'Anna will get back to selling secondhand clothes to support her family. The children resumed school in early January. We are grateful to all those who made this possible.'
‘When did we see you a stranger and welcome you?’ Mt 25: 38 (ESV)
Albert Llussa is an MMM Associate, living out the MMM charism in his day-to-day work as a solicitor. He recently wrote about his experiences during Christmas 2015, witnessing the plight of refugees fleeing armed conflict and seeking shelter in the European Union. This is a very complex issue, for which there are no easy solutions. There are risks and challenges involved in assisting these people. At the same time, most are women and children, victims of situations in which they have no say.
'I want to give you an update on my trip to Lesvos. I was there from the 24 December 2015 until the 2 January 2016. It was a very moving and exciting experience. To give you some background, in 2015:
- Over 1 million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by sea. - Of these, 750,000 arrived via Greece through the Aegean Sea, with 500,000 coming via the island of Lesvos. - The average daily number of arrivals in Lesvos in December 2015 was 1,900; in November 2015 it was 3,400. - Over 85% of all arrivals in Lesvos were from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan: three countries in which there is armed conflict. - 46% were men, 34% were women and 20% were children.1
'Lesvos is the main entry point for refugees into the European Union. They first go to Turkey and make contact with smugglers in Istanbul who will arrange their sea crossing to Lesvos (or other smaller islands such as Chios, Kos, or Samos). After spending a few days on the island, they are transported by ferry to Athens. From there, Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans travel northwards towards Germany, Sweden, etc.'
A treacherous journey 'Boats arrive on the Lesvos coast mostly at night and in the early morning. Refugees travel at night, not because they want to, but because the smugglers tell them to. They travel in inflatable dinghies, packed to the brim. Ordinarily the crossing should not take more than 2 1/2 to 3 hours, but refugees in one boat told me they’d been in the sea for 6 to 7 hours. Over 800 drowned trying to cross the Aegean Sea last year.
'Groups of volunteers and NGOs cover the whole length of the coast. They assist in receiving the boats safely onto the shore. United Nations Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) staff, buses and a mobile unit of Doctors Without Borders are on 24-hour shifts. A UNHCR bus takes most refugees to Moria Refugee Camp to be registered. Syrian and Iraqi families are accommodated at Kara Tepé Camp. The camps are less than five km from the capital, Mitilini.2
'The conditions at the refugee camps are not ideal, and in the case of Moria are plainly appalling. There were sufficient refugee housing units in Kara Tepé, but not enough in Moria, where many slept in tents bought by volunteers and NGOs or rough, with only a sleeping bag. The housing units did not have mattresses, electricity or heating.'
Many others also help 'Pikpa is a self-organised refugee camp near the airport, which looks after the most vulnerable refugees. Pikpa has no access to any state or European funds but has hosted more than 6,000 refugees, some for few days and others up to a year. They include asylum and family unification applicants and/or vulnerable groups of newly-arrived refugees, e.g. people with disabilities, sick, pregnant, etc.
'Pikpa offers food, clothes, medicines, hygiene, legal counselling, and medical help. Occasionally, it assists refugees with their transport and medical/social expenses. I met a Syrian family made up of a widow whose husband had been killed two years previously, her two children under seven, and her mother who had a heart condition.
'I stayed in Panagiouda, located between Moria and Kara Tepé, and spent the first night on duty at Kara Tepé Camp with two other volunteers. We welcomed a group of 40 to 50 refugees who had just landed, gave them a bite to eat, blankets, shoes, etc., and showed them to the housing units. They were exhausted and happy to get something warm and a place to sleep after a treacherous journey.'
Keeping watch 'I spent the remainder of the nights keeping watch for boats at the Katia Lookout point on the southernmost part of the Mitilini coast. Other volunteers covered the area from the airport to Saint George’s Chapel. The atmosphere between the volunteers and the NGOs was very positive. Everybody worked with one goal, to help in receiving the refugees.
'When the boats enter Greek waters the refugees start flashing their mobile phones to indicate their location, or to ask for help. Volunteers on the Greek coast flash back, pointing to a safe landing area. The volunteers communicate via Whatsapp any incoming arrivals or landings, need for medical assistance, etc. They get into the water and pull the boats onto the shore. The boats are packed to the brim with persons of all ages, from newborns to elderly, men, women and children.
'Some arrive happy and excited about completing the journey safely. Many are traumatised and in shock. Some cry; some faint; some cannot utter a word. They all arrive cold and wet. Often they have thrown all their bags into the sea and have nothing. A book could be written about the anecdotes: some very emotional, others just surreal, all life-enhancing.
'I visited Moria and Kara Tepé Camps every day and spoke with 15 different refugees and families - from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Guinea and Morocco. They told me their stories of flight and their hopes for the future. They shared the same desires to flee war and violence, to find refuge and peace, to ensure an education for their children.'
A complex picture 'I interviewed the head of the Volunteer Coordination Agency of Kara Tepé Camp and representatives of various NGOs. I think I got an overall understanding of how Lesvos is trying to cope with the refugee crisis. It is not easy but the goodwill of virtually everyone is extraordinary.
'Before I went to Greece, I contacted some local NGOs for advice on what I could bring. Supporters helped me to purchase six powerful LED lenses that Team Humanity can use for their work receiving refugee/migrant boats on Lesvos. A group from Limerick asked me to deliver twenty-three baby snow-suits, which were given to Samaritans Purse, an American NGO that distributes non-food items (clothes, shoes, blankets, sleeping bags, etc.) at Moria Camp.
'The most rewarding aspect of my trip was to have the privilege of welcoming the refugees to Europe; to witness their resilience, their fears, and their hopes; to hear their stories; and to feel valued for it. Meeting and working with volunteers from all over the world was an extremely enriching and fulfilling experience, particularly getting to know many European Muslims who had a special affinity and interest in helping their brothers and sisters in faith. They sincerely appreciated the help from other non-Muslim volunteers. We were brought together by our human desire to help our brothers and sisters.'
The future 'I would like to return to Lesvos because it looks like the refugees will continue to arrive throughout 2016. There are still an estimated 4 million Syrian refugees alone living in neighbouring countries. Armed conflicts continue to destroy the civil society and social fabric of Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the serious human rights and security problems in countries, such as Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, which force thousands to flee every year.
'The EU has approved an EU Relocation Scheme that aims to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy over the next two years, to reduce the burden on these countries. Ireland has undertaken to take up to 4,000 refugees under this scheme. I hope people will not be scared by some disturbing events concerning refugees and immigrants, but will accept that 99.9% of them are peace-loving, law-abiding persons who only desire to live in peace and security and to provide a better future for their families.
'Thank you for your generous support and encouragement.'
1 See UNHCR: Over one million sea arrivals reach Europe in 2015 (30 December 2015).
2See UNHCR: Lesvos Daily Snapshop Statistics and EU Emergency Response Coordination Centre Daily Map as of 8 December 2015, made up of data from ECHO, ESRI, UNHCR, OCHA.
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