In this issue: Experiencing India | Politicians put poverty first; UN says hunger target within reach | A life-saving opportunity | Bali church partners remember | West Timor- volunteers serving with love | Everything In Common- Get in your canoe this year
“Simply amazing! Life changing!! One of the best experiences of my life.”
When Hugo Joubert from The Gap Uniting Church in Queensland left Australia for a trip to India in September, he suspected it would be an experience he would remember for years to come.
He didn’t realise quite how rewarding and challenging the experience would be.
Hugo was one of ten Australians who traveled to India to meet and spend time with UnitingWorld’s partner the Church of North India in Amritsar.
“Never before have I met someone who reminds me so much of Jesus,” says Hugo of Church of North India Bishop Samantaroy, who spent time with the group over several days. “Although I’m sure if I got to know the Bishop better I would realise he has flaws like us all, within only two days he left a deep impression upon me.”
Bishop Samantaroy heads up the Amritsar Diocese which works with Dalit and other disadvantaged communities promoting education and health care.
Although Punjab is known as the rice bowl of India, this fertile area is also home to some of India’s poorest people. Education and health care are technically available to everyone in India, but high levels of illiteracy, prejudice and poverty block the path to education for many Dalit children.
While the group was in Amritsar they were privileged to spend time with local families who have benefited from the program. The group heard of children who dropped out of school due to pressure from their families to help work and earn an income. Others fall behind because of language barriers. They heard of mothers who lost children due to the lack of simple medication. But they also heard stories of change and hope.
For Hugo, witnessing the work of the Diocese was both confronting and encouraging.
“Even though I don’t fully understand the underlying reasons and mechanisms at work, it is clear that these Dalit labourers, the poorest of the poor, are locked in a vicious cycle,” he says.
“And this is where the Diocese aims to make a difference… by getting people out of this cycle and giving them opportunities for the future.”
Following time with UnitingWorld’s partner in Amritsar, the group traveled north to spend five days trekking in the beautiful foot-hills of the Himalayas around Dharamshala, famed home of the Dalai Lama.
For some, the physical aspect of the trek was the most challenging. Over the five days the group covered over 50km of rough terrain, drank hundreds of litres of water and walked through rain, hail and shine. For others, sharing life with a group of strangers was more daunting.
Hugo’s reflections on the trip are insightful.
“What we experienced and saw here reminds us of what Christianity is all about, or should be all about,” he says. “This work and the issues discussed here are so much more relevant and, I believe, important to Jesus than any lengthy discussion on who may do what in church or how we can maintain our already magnificent church buildings. It’s as if all those things suddenly look bland and irrelevant.”
The $40,000 raised by the group will sustain the entire Amritsar project for 6 months.
On Tuesday the UN published figures suggesting the global progress on reducing hunger is better than previously thought with the percentage of hungry people falling from 23% in 1990-92 to less than 15% in 2012.
The good news is that there hasn’t been a reported increase in hunger due to recent global economic crises and rises in food prices. However, the UN report notes that since 2007 there has been a ‘significant slowdown in progress bringing hunger reduction essentially to a halt for the developing countries as a whole’. This will need to be reversed if the Millennium Development Goal is to be met by 2015.
In line with calls to keep up the pressure to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, last month Voices for Justice lobbyists gathered to remind politicians of our commitment to targets ranging from improved access to sanitation to universal education. They were encouraged by the response.
“When you’re here talking to us, walking the corridors, rattling the chains, it really does put pressure on politicians to do the right thing,” Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon told supporters. The ALP’s Peter Garrett was equally enthusiastic, reminding ‘Voices for Justice’ participants of all that has been achieved since campaigning began 10 years ago.
More than 2 billion people have been lifted out of absolute poverty and 90% of primary school aged children are now enrolled in school. 89% of people have access to an improved water source, up from 76% only three years ago.
However sanitation goals lag far behind and were the focus of lobbying in Canberra last month. The issue of tax evasion in developing countries was also raised with politicians. More money is lost through corporate tax dodging in developing countries than is given in aid.
UnitingWorld staff were on hand to hear addresses given by the LNP’s Lousie Markus and Green’s Sarah Hanson-Young. “We need more people driven by these morals and values in this place, making decisions,” Mrs Markus said.
In a brief meeting with UnitingWorld Staff, former Primer Minister Kevin Rudd told Development Officer Bronwyn Fraser: “I know UnitingWorld – you do good work. For 5 years I pushed hard to keep the Aid budget on track. Now it’s up to you… Work hard and don’t accept compromise!”
Last month the governments of Sudan and South Sudan entered into agreements relating to the trade of oil and the demilitarization of border regions.
Both countries are reliant on their oil revenues and there was hope that the recent decision would lead to peace. But according to recent reports, other key areas of dispute between the two countries remain unresolved.
South Sudan, which was declared independent from Sudan in July last year, has faced substantial hurdles in its first year of nationhood. Conflict has raged between the two countries, especially along border areas, since the beginning of this year.
And the country still faces significant challenges.
It’s estimated that 10,000 mothers die during pregnancy or childbirth every year. A lack of health infrastructure and trained health workers only exacerbates this crisis.
UnitingWorld, along with the South Sudanese communities within the Uniting Church in Australia, is committed to responding to this need. We are now supporting the health care work of a long active partner church agency, the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency (PRDA).
PRDA runs a Midwifery School where young women from throughout South Sudan can be trained in basic maternal health care before returning to their home communities where their presence will save lives.
This amazing work will feature in this year’s Everything in Common Gift Catalogue. Gifts include a medical kit for a trainee midwife and the provision of training to ensure midwives are skilled up to be present at births. As we get ready to celebrate the most significant birth of all, consider giving a gift to a country in need of new hope.
This Christmas consider giving a gift that really will save a life.
To donate to this life-saving work today, click here. (At step 3. choose Save Lives in South Sudan (TD))
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the first Bali bombings. On the 12th October, 2002 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians and a further 76 people of other nationalities were killed in Kuta, Bali, when two large bombs were triggered by religious extremists on a popular tourist strip.
Rev I Nengah Suama, the General Secretary of the GKPB (Bali Protestant Church), recalls the incident vividly and reflects on the effect the bombing had on Bali.
“There have been many negative impacts caused by the Bali bombing physically, emotionally and economically… especially economically due to the decline of the tourism industry in Bali. Decreased levels of income, and even layoffs, have become common for people during the last 10 years.”
For many victims and their families life has never returned to normal.
“Families of the victims still feel the devastating impact of the Bali bombing. On top of the loss of family or job, some victims still have to take the medication due to severe burns.”
But out of this tragedy seeds of a new unity have taken root.
In the past week the Balinese community has held several events to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Bali bombings. One of these activities was a prayer meeting attended by leaders from different religions from across Bali.
“Despite so many negative impacts arising from the explosion 10 years ago, which claimed many victims, one of the positive impacts that has since occurred is the establishment of unity among
interfaith communities in Bali,” says Rev I Nengah Suama.
In a recent blog, John Barr also reflected on the relationship between Australia and Indonesia in light of the anniversary.
“A strong sense of solidarity has developed between Australians and the Balinese,” John writes. “Many people, both in Australia and in Indonesia, suffered the consequences of this horrific event. It has brought Australians and Indonesians closer together.”
Join us in remembering all those who have suffered and died in Indonesia as a result of religious extremism. And, importantly, rejoice and celebrate the fact that churches and other religious institutions are working together to ensure a peaceful future.
TLM translates as ‘serving with love’ and David and Tricia Mileham are fully committed to the mission. They’re already up to their eyeballs in the work of our partners as they provide business loans for families to help them overcome poverty. The couple are from New Lambton Uniting Church in Newcastle and will spend 3 months in West Timor helping refine TLM’s Community Development and Micro-finance programs.
“David and I had our first report-back meeting with the managers, with an interpreter, and it went very well (we think!)” writes Tricia from Kupang. “Both our presentations caused discussions and actions. It did alert us though to how carefully everything needs to be worded and how much impact what we say may have, both negative and positive. Wisdom and discernment need to be applied at all levels.”
Determined to fit in, David has just received his motorbike license and after a few close calls is now confident enough to take to the streets with Tricia as passenger. Together the pair are enjoying the cultural exchanges, relationships and stimulation of their temporary home while adding much to the capacity of our partners.
TLM by numbers
17 years old
TLM are Improving the lives of some of Indonesia’s poorest people, providing low-interest loans so that small businesses can be seeded for a hopeful future. Bakeries, handicrafts and carpentry businesses are just some of the enterprises that help provide the funds for children to attend school and decent homes to be set up so that families can live more securely. If you’re looking for a great Christmas gift idea, keep an eye out for our Everything In Common catalogue, coming soon! It features gifts from the project that will go on giving long after the season finishes.
Yes, we know there are many gift catalogues to choose from – every year, more and more choices hit the market. So why go with Everything In Common – the Uniting Church’s very own gift catalogue? Well, we work with Uniting Church partners on creative projects that save lives, it’s true. Your gift of medication for tuberculosis victims in North Korea, for example, is just one way we’re helping stem the tide of needless deaths worldwide.
But we don’t just leave it there. We’re committed to seeing people living dignified lives that genuinely have meaning and are well prepared for the future.
In Tonga, children with disabilities are either excluded from education or find themselves unable to make the most of their abilities within inadequate school systems. That’s why we’re supporting inclusive training for kindergarten teachers.
In Zimbabwe, more than 7 out of 10 people are unemployed and 1.6 million children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. That’s why we’re supporting training initiatives for young people, preparing the leaders of the future for the challenges they’ll face.
And in South Sudan, maternal mortality is amongst the highest in the world. There’s a chronic shortage of trained midwives. Again, the Uniting Church is there, supporting training initiatives for young women eager to serve.
Everything in Common is our vision for a world where we share what we have, not just today but for the future. That’s smart thinking. Call Steph on 02 8267 4232 or email email@example.com to get your copy and share our dream.