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Project Update: Kiribati Safe Families, Healthy Communities

The Kiribati Safe Families, Healthy Communities project has gone through two phases.

In the first phase of the project, we worked with RAK (Reitan Aine ki Kamatu – Women’s Fellowship of the Kiribati Uniting Church) to support the establishment of raised vegetable garden beds through resources and training.

Kiribati women identified this as important for three main reasons:

1. Food security
With the increasing effects of climate change on their tiny islands growing food had become more and more difficult. With the rising sea levels, the fresh water table has become contaminated with salt water and is too brackish to grow most crops. Also, this sea-level rise has seen king tides and tropical depressions cause widespread regular flooding, damaging low level food crops.

Kiribati

2. Improved health
As a result of the limited availability of fresh foods, people turn to the imported foods. These include a large diet of 2-minute noodles, excessively fatty cuts of meat (often deemed unsuitable for human consumption in Australia) and preserved sugary foods (as they last the long sea journeys to Kiribati). All this is resulting in national poor health and increased incidents of diabetes.

3. Increased usable income
If the families and communities can grow more of their own food, they will need to spend less on the expensive, poorly nutritious imported food, thus releasing more income into the family budget for school and medical fees.

During the training activities on gardening, composting and healthy cooking (developed and conducted locally), conversations about healthy family and marriage relationships and the protection of women, girls and children were facilitated. The learning from these conversations highlighted specific community needs for families in Kiribati and our partners have been sharing their insights with us.

Gender-based violence is a huge issue in Kiribati and young girls are particularly vulnerable. With Kiribati being so isolated, there is a steady flow of foreign ships into the port bringing supplies. Among communities with little income and high unemployment, young girls are vulnerable to trafficking.

We are currently in the early stages of the second phase of this project with RAK and Kiribati Uniting Church (KUC), which currently consists of 2 main aspects:

1. Theological training and resourcing of Pacific Gender Equality Theology for leaders across the church, women’s fellowship and youth groups. The aim is to shift the patriarchal paradigm and equip the church and its leaders to be able to engage effectively in conversations about gender, domestic violence, child abuse and exploitation with families within their communities. Our partners have identified this as an important part of building safe families in Kiribati.


Gender Equality Theology workshop in Kiribati Feb 2019

2. Evaluation of the ‘healthy communities’ aspect of the project. We are working with our partners to identify the aspects of the garden phase that worked well and the reasons why it was less successful in some locations. We anticipate that after developing a better understanding of the factors that affect project impact, we can move to build on the foundations of food security and increasing people’s incomes, while recognising that it is both spiritual and physical needs.

Gender Equality Theology workshop in Kiribati Feb 2019

As the theological training component of the project is the most active right now, the Kiribati Safe Families, Healthy Communities project is now part of the Pacific Partnering Women for Change project. We will post updates on both aspects of the project as we gather information and take the learning forward with our partners in Kiribati.

RAK Project Coordinator Bairenga wanted to say thank you for the prayers and donations of UnitingWorld supporters for enabling the work of our partners.

She recorded the below in April 2019.

Thank you from Kiribati! from UnitingWorld on Vimeo.

Thank you to everyone who has supported this project!

All photos by Natasha Holland, International Program Manager, UnitingWorld

Six months have passed since the deadly earthquake and tsunami that devastated the coastal city of Palu on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. 4,340 people were killed and more than 200,000 were displaced from their homes. Our Indonesian staff and church partners lost friends and loved ones.

Thank you to everyone who supported our emergency appeal.

Your donations allowed our partners in Indonesia to provide necessities for people struggling through the crisis: food and clean water, milk for infants, sanitary supplies for women, shelters, mattresses, mosquito nets and cooking equipment for 86 families.

One of the many families displaced from their homes

Your gifts also helped our partners be able to provide health care and psychosocial support to people traumatised by destruction and loss. Using local church buildings, our partners ran training for Sunday school teachers to help them understand post-traumatic reactions and be better able to offer care for children.


Our staff and partners provided health checks for 123 people in an affected community

Our partners also provided handicraft activities for refugees who couldn’t return to their destroyed homes or jobs right away, giving them a small source of income and something else to focus on besides the destruction.


Resources used by Sunday school teachers to provide care to children after the disaster

Our local church partners also helped restore clean water and sanitation to affected communities in the remote Kulawi Regency, an area largely overlooked by the government response.


Our church partners (MBM and GPID) praying together before going into the field

The disaster response was church partnership in action, with churches from Bali and Sulawesi working together to help vulnerable people who’d lost everything – made possible by the support of people and churches in Australia and Indonesia.

Thank you so much for being part of this transformative partnership!


You can help vulnerable communities be disaster ready

We’ve launched an appeal to help our partners be better prepared to respond to disasters like Sulawesi. The key to saving lives in a disaster is preparedness, and we want to help vulnerable communities be disaster ready. Find out more.

Your donation will go a long way. Every $1 invested into disaster preparation saves up to $15 in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Donate now

Your gift can help vulnerable communities build resilience to disasters, equip and train disaster response staff and volunteers, prepare shelters and evacuation plans and increase the capacity of our partners to provide emergency support and pastoral care.

A year has passed since a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, killing at least 100 people and displacing 18,000 from their homes. The impacts were massive, with over half a million people in the affected area and more than 270,000 people needing emergency assistance.

Immediately following the earthquake, UnitingWorld supported our partners the United Church of Papua New Guinea (UCPNG) to conduct rapid impact assessments. Our partners had been trained prior to the earthquake so were among the first to assess the needs of many affected communities. Thanks to supporter donations, we were able to help UCPNG distribute emergency supplies, including water containers, hygiene supplies and temporary shelter kits to over 1,200 vulnerable households in 12 communities across Yaken and Lai Valley in the Southern Highlands.

Recording household names to map relief distributions

Our partners completed a second round of assessments and collated it with information from other churches. They found that the primary needs had shifted to recovery and rebuilding. UnitingWorld supported UCPNG to develop a joint recovery and rebuilding plan with other churches, for which we were able to help them access funds – including private donations and grants from the Australian and New Zealand governments.

UCPNG water tank installation using recycled car chassis for elevation!

UCPNG has since been distributing and installing 91 water tanks and 28 latrines, as well as fixing water catchments and roofs across communities in the Southern Highlands. Together with other churches, they are installing a total of 329 tanks and 175 latrines throughout the Southern Highlands and Hela Province. They are designed to service whole communities in order to reach the greatest number of people.

Community members test out a new water tank installed by our partners

The earthquake has had a significant psychological impact on many people and exacerbated local conflicts, particularly in Hela province. We have been working with UCPNG to run counselling and conflict resolution workshops in the affected area. Our latest Update newsletter shared an inspiring story from one of the workshops and Stephen Robinson recently blogged about his time in the Highlands training ministers in disaster chaplaincy.

Church leaders participating in counselling and conflict resolution workshops

Responding to this disaster has been especially complicated, given the scale and remoteness of impacted communities. Our Disaster Disaster Relief Coordinator David Brice was in Mendi and Hela provinces last month visiting some of the affected areas. He says many people are still feeling the effects of it even now.

We are continuing to work with our partners in helping communities recover from the disaster and will post updates on our website here.

Thank you for supporting the people of Papua New Guinea after the earthquake. Funds raised were crucial in the early emergency response and enabled our partners to leverage their rapid assessment work to access further government funding.

Want to make your support go even further?

We have launched an appeal to help our partners be better prepared to respond to disasters.

The key to saving lives in a disaster is preparedness, and we want to help vulnerable communities be disaster ready. Find out more.


Every $1 invested into disaster preparation can save as much as $15 in the aftermath of a tragedy

Donate now

Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer and national church leaders respond to the 2019 Budget

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Dr Deidre Palmer has encouraged Australians to put the urgent needs of others ahead of short-term self-interest, after the Federal Government delivered its 2019 Budget.

The Budget has promised, all going to plan, $158 billion in income tax cuts over a decade on the back of projected Budget surpluses.

Despite the positive projections though, the foreign aid budget has again been cut, and there is no improvement for Australians relying on welfare payments, particularly the Newstart allowance.

“As the contest for hearts and minds begins ahead of this year’s Federal Election, I urge Australians to give priority to justice, compassion and inclusion,” said Dr Palmer.

“The Budget, if passed by a future government, may offer some welcome tax relief. But at what cost?”

“The bottom line in this Budget is there is less support for the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable nations, and less support for the most vulnerable at home.”

Aid agencies noted that foreign aid would drop to 0:19% of Gross National Income in 2021-22 – well below the short-term target of 0.3% supported by the Uniting Church and other advocates.

National Director of UnitingWorld Dr Sureka Goringe said the Budget failed both generous open-hearted Australian people and the vision of genuine regional partnership.

“We need to build trust and solidarity with our regional neighbours, working together to address inequality and injustice, not just pursue a narrow self-serving agenda,” said Dr Goringe.

Dr Palmer strongly criticised a $1.6 billion underspend on the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the coming financial year.

The Uniting Church President did however welcome a number of measures confirmed in the Budget.

“I applaud the boost for mental health and suicide prevention. This is important and timely. As is the confirmation of $328 million in funding to reduce violence against women and children.”

“I also welcome the funding set aside for a Royal Commission into the abuse and neglect of people with disability,” said Dr Palmer.

President of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Rev. Garry Dronfield welcomed the allocation of $5 million for prevention of youth suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“Unfortunately, it’s not enough to address the scale of crisis that we know exists,” said Rev. Dronfield.

“There needs to be funding for diversionary programs to keep our vulnerable young people from the dangers of incarceration.”

Rev. Dronfield also was concerned about the lack of self-determination in the extension to other Northern Territory and Queensland communities of the cashless debit card. “Choice should always be given to First Peoples,” he said.

Funding for co-design of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament was welcomed by Rev. Dronfield. However he noted: “If the Government had accepted the Statement from the Heart this would have been unnecessary.

Frontier Services’ National Director, Jannine Jackson welcomed extra funding of $5.5m over four years for mental health services for people in Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland who have been affected by natural disasters.

“Given our recent and ongoing experience with drought, fire and floods we’re continuing to express our concern for the growing disparity between metro and remote Australia.”

“We hope that some of this funding and the overall increase on mental health spending will be accessible to those living and working in remote Australia,” said Ms Jackson.

UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little has queried the Government’s priorities.

In a media statement issued on Budget night, Ms Little said: 

“A ‘surplus’ gained at the cost of allowing children to live in poverty, people with disabilities to go without the basic support they need, older Australians to die waiting for home care packages, and homelessness to reach record levels, does not measure up.”

Political commentators expect a Federal Election to be called as early as this weekend.

Last month, the Uniting Church in Australia published its 2019 Federal Election resource titled “Our Vision for a Just Australia.”

The Vision Statement outlines seven broad policy areas covering First Peoples, the environment, social inclusion, wellbeing, human rights, healthy communities and peacemaking. 

“Our vision, grounded in the life and mission of Jesus, is for Australia to be a just and compassionate nation in a world, where all can flourish.” said Dr Palmer.

“I urge all Australians to examine closely the policies on offer at the coming election, and hold those asking for their vote to account in building a just. compassionate and inclusive Australia.”

This statement has been republished from the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly article, ‘Shaping a Just, Compassionate and Inclusive Australia: UCA 2019 Budget response’

Notes from the National Director

Recently I started reading ‘Dare to Lead’ by Brene Brown. In the very first chapter, there was discussion of the brave and courageous organisational culture that is required to succeed in complex, rapidly changing environments full of seemingly intractable challenges and insatiable demands for innovation. They identified the #1 roadblock to creating such a culture: “Avoiding tough conversations, including giving honest,
productive feedback.”

Here at UnitingWorld, we’ve just done some professional development to help us tackle honest conversations together, learning to listen with curiosity, taking into account different personality styles and working to support each other with integrity during times of stress. From the boardroom to the kitchen, these are techniques that can help us to work in harmony to be more together than we are separately. However, it requires all of us to be brave – to step up in the belief that the risk is worth it.

Our partners constantly engage not just in tough conversations with each other in the workplace, but with their culture in general – challenging understandings of the roles of men and women; influencing attitudes toward the treatment of children; overcoming corruption and working toward peace. There is no way to avoid these tough conversations. They, too, require listening skills, the ability to know when and how to speak to avoid stress, and how to judge ‘personality’ differences.

And as author Maya Angelou writes:
“Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous or honest.”

As we focus on courage throughout Lent, please pray for us as we learn to lead and listen to one another, and please pray for our brothers and sisters around the globe. Join us on the Lenten journey as we walk toward Easter, the ultimate revelation of a life courageously lived and given for others. Stories for your inspiration, both from Timor Leste and here in Australia, are available at www.lentevent.com

In hope and gratitude,

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director

Read the latest UnitingWorld Update here:

UW_Update_Newsletter_Issue1_2019_Web_ART

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We were thrilled to receive a handwritten letter from a student who has been part of our Informal settlement school subsidy program in Fiji. Mira* just graduated and wanted to say a big thank you to the Uniting Church for supporting her education.

Many of you gave a ‘Set for School’ gift card last Christmas, supporting students like Mira to get through school on an equal footing with her peers. It’s great to see the joy and impact it can make.

*Name changed. We have reproduced parts of Mira’s letter below to remove references to names and specific locations to protect her privacy.

Full letter:

Suva, Fiji / 7 Feb, 2019
The heads/members. Uniting Church, Australia

I am glad to write this letter of appreciation for the support of the Uniting Church towards my education life.

It was indeed a proud moment for my parents to see their daughter graduate out of high school with having much burden on their shoulders to educate me. Furthermore, this attainment of education also moulded me to contribute towards the works of the church by becoming a Sunday school teacher.

The Uniting Church did not step back from helping us and provided support through means of buying uniforms, bags and shoes for us which was a need of school life.

All in all, I would like to thank the Uniting Church from the bottom of my heart for their endless support in helping the parents nuture their children.

A big bula vinaka vakalevu, dhanyarad and thank you from the children.

Yours faithfully,
– Mira

Kina Somare* is wanted throughout the Highlands of Papua New Guinea on numerous counts of violence. Leader of a well-known gang that frequently clashes with others in the region, his face is both known and feared. So when he walks into a peace workshop one still afternoon in October, amidst the rubble of Hela Province’s worst earthquake since 1922, everyone in the church stands very still. 

Somare walks out a changed man. He speaks with local police. He wants to become an ambassador for peace personally and to influence other young people to bring healing to the community. His transformation is staggering.

“The Bishop of the United Church in PNG (UCPNG), who was taking part that day, found Somare’s presence particularly unnerving,” says UCPNG Disaster Office Project Manager Stella Vika. 

“He’d been held up by this man at knife point not so long ago. They met, reconciled and Somare gave his life to Christ. Our partners up in Hela Province are really blown away by this story. To have someone of such notoriety undergo such a change is incredibly encouraging.

UCPNG leaders at the Mendi Counselling and Peacebuilding workshop

The United Church of Papua New Guinea, in partnership with UnitingWorld, has been running peace workshops and counselling for people impacted by the recent earthquake. Like other aid agencies, UnitingWorld was on hand with sanitation kits and practical items, but the long-term work of helping people recover emotionally and psychologically is incredibly important.

“Disasters frequently damage infrastructure and livelihoods but they can also increase vulnerability and conflict,” says David Brice, Disaster Relief Coordinator with UnitingWorld.

“Giving people access to counselling and the tools to navigate conflict has a significant impact on how quickly these communities can heal and recover.”

It’s one of the unique ways your donations go further with UnitingWorld. Your support doesn’t just address the practical problems of clean water and repaired roofing – it builds people’s resilience to tackle issues that accelerate after disaster. And men like Somare are changed in the process. Given the skills not just to rebuild their homes but their lives, they embrace the opportunity to bring change. 

HELP US BE DISASTER READY.

Every dollar donated before disaster strikes doesn’t just save countless lives – it saves significant amounts of money. Every $1 invested into building better homes, preparing evacuation plans and protecting communities can save as much as $15 in the aftermath of a tragedy. Please, if you’re able, add to our disaster-ready fund.

Click here to donate now.

*Name changed to protect identity

Gender Equality Theology changing hearts and minds in Papua New Guinea

Salote and Jone have been married 11 years, members of a Christian church, and have two beautiful children. They love one another, but throughout their marriage they’ve had times of conflict and Jone has become angry, abusive and resorted to violence. Each time he pleads for forgiveness, vows to change and for a time makes good on his promise. Each time, violence returns. Salote wants to believe that everyone, with the love of God, can change, but she fears for her life and for the welfare of her children. She asks the advice of her Pastor.

This is the scenario a group of men and women are grappling with in a frostily air-conditioned room in the offices of the United Church of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, on a typically hot February day. They’ve come from all over the country – the Highlands, New Britain, Goroka – and they represent different denominations, universities and groups united by a common desire to see an end to violence against women. This week, their unexpected secret weapon is better theology.

“Almost everyone in Papua New Guinea is a Christian, which completely underpins the culture,” explains University lecturer Theresa, who has come to be part of the Community of Practice meeting, seeking inspiration for her gender and social studies lectures.

“But most have only a shallow understanding of what the Bible really says about men and women. It’s enough for many men to believe their marriages are ordained by God, or that they are superior to women. In reality, there’s so much more to what the Scriptures say about the equality of men and women. Understanding this properly changes everything.”

Watching the group grapple with what advice a Pastor should give to the couple is an interesting experience.  Earlier, a Bible study by Rev Dr Seforosa Carroll has unpacked a passage from Matthew about turning the other cheek – a concept that for decades has been part of the powerful brew holding faithful women captive in abusive marriages. Rev Dr Carroll, however, explains that in the culture of Jesus’ day, rather than passively accepting or inviting further violence, ‘turning the other cheek’ could quite literally have created a radically different dynamic between two people and restored a sense of equality and dignity.

The interpretation opens new possibilities in the room and creates a buzz that spills over into discussion and controversy around the case study. For some, the issue hits close to the heart. Women here have left abusive marriages of their own and are raising children while helping other women find safety from violence. This is no idle hypothetical. What’s certain is that for everyone in the room, this teaching of Jesus – fully explained, beautifully illustrated  – has real authority and currency to change lives.

UnitingWorld is continuing to support the development of resources to teach Gender Equality Theology throughout the Pacific. If you’re interested in seeing a copy of the Bible studies or helping provide invaluable financial support for the project, please get in touch. We’d love you to join us on this exciting journey with our partners!

Gender Equality Theology Community of Practice activities are supported by the Australian Government through the Papua New Guinea–Australia Partnership.

Rev John Yor Nyker, the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) was recently asked the question, “what does transformative partnership mean to you?” His response gave us some insight into the value that he and his church place on their international partnerships.

“Transformative partnership means many things for me. It means learning new things and new culture from others, which is part of strengthening relationship and friendship between partners and our church. It’s caring for others; sharing each other’s happiness and unhappiness, sadness and joy. When the war broke out in South Sudan, our brothers and sisters in Christ’s service were shedding tears for us.

It is not resources that make partnership. Partnership is the ministry, the Kingdom of God through prayers for each other. Partnership is learning, making friendships and sharing of ideas and opinions. It is learning about the global world … learning how to pass [on] the information about your culture and your way of life. It is important to establish partnership as a part of human life.”

Photo: Rev John Yor eating a melting Tim Tam brought to South Sudan from Australia

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. UnitingWorld supports our partners, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), to train ministers and lay leaders and equip them with the tools they will need to teach reconciliation and peacebuilding skills in families and between tribal groups throughout South Sudan. Read more | Meet the peacemakers of South Sudan (video)

 

UnitingWorld hosted its annual five-day workshop on Gender Equality Theology in early November.

Led by Pacific theologians Rev Dr Cliff Bird and Siera Bird, ministers from partner churches across the Pacific met in Nadi, Fiji, to wrestle with biblical themes of equality and anti-violence. They discussed how principles from the Bible can be powerful forces for positive change in their communities, where violence against women continues to be a significant problem.

Participants expressed their appreciation for what they learned throughout the week and committed to taking the knowledge back to their home churches.

“The teaching tools have given me more clarification for deeper biblical analysis and identifying the root-causes of social issues,”  said Rev Tomasi Tarabe, New Testament lecturer at the Davuilevu Theological College in Suva.

“I hope UnitingWorld continues to work with Pacific theologians on developing a methodology of reading and interpreting the Bible through our cultural lens.”

Participant Victoria Kavafolau, a theology student and newly appointed head of the Women’s Desk for the Tonga National Council of Churches, spoke about how her expectations for the event were turned around.

“Before I participated in the Gender Equality Theology workshop, I thought ‘oh, this is just another program advocating women’s rights.’ To be proven wrong was an understatement… Not only did it raise awareness about violence against women and children, but the workshop provided tools and resources for theologically interpreting and identifying gender equality within Scripture and how we can apply that to our relevant contexts,” said Victoria.

“This is an important area within our respective Oceania communities to be addressed and enriched. We are in a different era now with different worldviews and contexts. Our cultural values and customs often deter us from developing further perspectives on gender equality.

This program has impacted me at a personal level and has encouraged me to address this growing issue within my Tongan community. With the aid of UnitingWorld and the tools and resources they have provided me, hopefully change can be implemented according to the will of God. Praise be to God.”

 

The Partnering Women for Change project is supported by the Australian Government through the Pacific Women Program. 

 

Photo: Victoria Kavafolau (right) with UnitingWorld Program Manager Megan Calcaterra and Rev Lima Tura, a previous UnitingWorld scholarship recipient who is now a lecturer at Seghe Theological Seminary in the Solomon Islands. Photo credit: Megan Calcaterra.