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Almost exactly two months after our son died in 2004, some 250,000 people were killed by a series of tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. It was described at the time as the worst tsunami event the world had ever seen. I didn’t watch any of the footage. That kind of graphic imagery simply wasn’t needed to help me share a tiny fraction of the pain and loss countless families were experiencing around the world in that moment.

Death, especially unexpected death, doesn’t just leave us gutted. It leaves us helpless and angry. In the outpouring of grief and gifts following the Boxing Day Tsunami, as well as in the expressions of love we received after Hugh’s death, there was a common theme: if only we could have done something – anything – to prevent this cavernous loss.

Here’s the astonishing fact. Often we can. We just choose not to.

Massive-scale loss – of life, homes and livelihoods in natural disasters – is preventable. So are the deaths of individuals like Hughie, babies who die at the rate of 2000 a day from complications arising form dirty water. Each of these lives matter no less than Hugh’s.

Preventable.

We’ve heard a lot about how to prevent the deaths of children from disease, but natural disasters seem to fall into a different hand-wringing category altogether. They’re so random! So mercilessly destructive!

True, and an earthquake measuring 9.2 on the Richter Scale underneath the Indian ocean is always going to create havoc. But here’s the thing. The sheer number of lives lost and ruined by natural disasters can be dramatically reduced.

Here’s how:

  • Investing in early warning systems and planning for evacuation, especially in isolated regions and areas where poverty is widespread – co-incidentally often the places where natural disasters strike hardest
  • Training leaders in life saving responses before, during and after emergency, and giving them the resources they need to carry them out
  • Building housing and shelters in areas that are less likely to be hammered by storms, floods, quakes and the slow death march of changing climate
  • Planning for water and food supplies that can survive sudden shocks so that people don’t fall critically ill or lose their means of making a living after disaster

In the years following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, which killed almost 16,000 people, all these steps were put in place. It cost billions of dollars. But the result is that people live with a great deal more security – not certainty, but security – about their chances of surviving natural disasters, short and long term.

It’s simply not the case for others in the Asia/Pacific region, where 70% of the world’s worst natural disasters wreak their unholy havoc. These nations are too poor, too under-resourced, and too far from the media spotlight to thoroughly invest in the kind of changes that would increase survival rates. They only hit the headlines once their men, women and children are washed up on beaches or buried alive beneath the mud.

And that’s when the world suddenly digs deep to give, to grieve and to ask one another: “How can Mother Nature be so cruel?”

There’s actually a better question to ask, but few of us will confront it head on. It’s along the lines of “How can human beings be so short-sighted?”

Classrooms being ‘built back better’ in Fiji

If we know how to save lives today, why do we wait until it’s too late?

Of course, the answer to that question is as complex as humanity itself. Some of us are genuinely unaware of how effective Disaster Risk Reduction is, how to go about supporting it, or how it’s desperately needed in parts of the world where poverty already robs people of so much. Some of us are only moved by the plight of our neighbours once we see them clutching their children and wading through waist-deep water, or burying their loved ones. And all those reactions are human.

But here are the facts. Just $1 invested in preparation before a disaster saves $15 in recovery efforts later. That means the money you invest today is 15 times more effective than giving it after the disaster hits.  The economic kickbacks of preparing communities to plan, build and shock proof are astronomical. But the lives saved are even more impressive.

If only there was something we could have done? There is. Don’t let others die while we’re wondering.

“Rough day at work, hey?” says my fifteen year old with a grin when she comes home and notices the first draft for our upcoming UnitingWorld campaign.

We don’t believe in charity,” declares my scrawl on a large sheet of paper, folded in two.

It’s a tagline probably worthy of the raised eyebrow. For years when they were younger, whenever other kids asked our girls what their parents did, they tended to reply that we ‘worked for charities.’ It was easier than explaining the ins and outs of overseas aid or social entrepreneurship here in Sydney. Everyone gets the concept of charity: “Generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill or helpless”. Good stuff, right?

“Open it up,” I tell Jem. “You have to read the next bit.”

Inside: We don’t believe in charity. We believe in solidarity.

 Ah,” says Jem. “Nice.”

“We believe in solidarity.”

None of us want to be regarded as ‘charity cases.’ We’d much rather just be people – with strengths and weaknesses, sure – but always essentially just people. Charity is a beautiful word of course – it’s always meant love and brotherhood, generosity, kindness. But it sometimes feels like it also has overtones of pity, distance: “I’m giving because I feel sorry for you, and you’re so helpless, so here: please take this.” Even better than charity, I think, is solidarity – the idea that our equal and shared humanity is what matters most, even if the details of our experience are sometimes quite different.

Eduardo Galeano wrote: “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

Solidarity recognises that beneath the cards that life has dealt us, we’re equally human, with equal strengths and weaknesses, even if they’re vastly magnified by our circumstances. Making the quiet effort to redistribute our resources is a respectful (if inadequate) attempt to recognise this. You could argue it’s just semantics, but I think it’s actually important.

In West Timor I met Betcy, a mum probably around my age.

Betcy has four children, and although she’s functionally blind she used a low interest loan from the Church of West Timor to start a small business selling used clothes and saved enough money to build her own home. It has almost-reliable electricity, a shared bed for the three boys, and a brand new water tank to safeguard their often-dirty water supply. When she speaks about the dreams she has for her children (another small loan to send her eldest to university to study engineering, for example), and when she proudly shows me the wardrobe where her children hang their school uniforms, or shyly grins at the antics of her eight year old daughter chasing the family dog – we share one of those wordless ‘mum’ moments. That’s about all it takes.

Betcy and her daughter

I come home here to my house with the two bathrooms, the car that conveniently beeps as I mow down my recycling bin on the way to my children’s excellent schools, and Betcy stays with me. She’s with me in the knowledge that I have a huge amount of practical resources to share, simply because I was born in a different place, through no merit of my own. She’s here in the knowledge that resilience, courage, love and aspiration are universal, and that my children are not the only ones who deserve to have those dreams nurtured. She’s alongside me in the certainty that “poor people” are not helpless – they’re determined, creative and capable. And they may be in some cases geographically removed, but they share many of my life experiences.

Most especially, I realise that any one of us could be Betcy if the world tilted its axis just a fraction and the lottery of birth placed us somewhere where rains stubbornly refused to fall or life is shattered in a hail of bullets; if our parents had to choose between sending us to school or finding us work to do to help keep the family fed. All of this knowledge and the shared humanity it points to – that’s solidarity.

This knowledge changes how I live, what I think, how I use my money and my time. Before you offer me a sainthood, I’m a reluctant learner. Always.

Does this lead to generous acts and donations? Hopefully. But not just edge of my life, got-a-bit-left-over donations from pity. Ideally, this is using the resources I have in an attempt to express genuine respect for people who are fully human, fully deserving of the same opportunities as me and my family, and fully able to make use of them. Giving money this way might mean I go without something I’d kinda like. Because three quarters of the world go without things that kinda-keep-them-alive, and they have every much a right to that life as I do.

For me, solidarity will always be more meaningful than charity. So no, Jem, it wasn’t a rough day at work. It was another good one, and I’m grateful as always for everything I learn with UnitingWorld and with our partners in West Timor, Fiji, India, China, Vanuatu and South Sudan. Most especially, I’m grateful for the confronting and motivating fact of our equal, beautiful and shared humanity. I’ll continue to learn and be challenged by how to respond to it.

– Cath

Support determined, creative and capable people freeing themselves from poverty by making a tax-deductible donation to our End of Financial Year campaign before June 30:

To be totally honest, I didn’t think a beauty salon business was going to make the most compelling ‘poverty alleviation’ story I’d ever seen. Um – why are people in this highly disadvantaged part of the world popping off for a manicure? Surely they have better things to be doing with their money?

This, I confess, is the narrative running through my sweat-addled brain as we haul up in a hilly neighbourhood outside West Timor’s capital of Kupang, where motorbikes clog the winding streets and the air is thick with humidity. And then I meet Ana and Aron, clearly delighted but also a bundle of nerves to host us in the small home they share with their four year old son Ryder (…I know. I’m not sure where that came from, but Ryder is wearing Power Ranger shorts pulled up to his chin, and he’s entirely awesome).

It’s a beautiful house, tended with loving hands. Stones line the paths; there are handmade shell windchimes and mobiles; plants and colourful pots are carefully arranged around the door. Whatever else you think you know about ‘people living in poverty’, plant this one right here: creatives are creative no matter where you find them and how much money they have to “spare”.

Simple humanity is a complex thing to deal with. Taking in the scene of creative domesticity before me, a handmade wind-chime hits hard: you are like me. You value beauty and self expression. It’s life-giving. You’ll fight to preserve it no matter what.  And that makes you no longer ‘other’ – the poor West Timorese woman – but a mum like me, finding the hopeful and the happy, the quirky, in the midst of the mess.

Many of us are curiously reluctant to acknowledge simple humanity in people who have less – the right to leisure time, investment in beauty, choice.  Somewhere deep and un-named there’s a sense that surely every cent, every moment should be spent surviving. Yet here’s the truth: the same tiny fires of elation are lit in hearts everywhere by things we all share – the joy of making something perfect with your own hands; the first smile of a child; sunsets, stars and potted plants.

These are the vital reminders that we are all human, equally wonderful and worthwhile but not equally resourced. Why? A simple toss of the dice places some of us here and others there. And this is a deeper challenge to us than simply being able to hand out cash or charity to ‘the deserving poor’ – for whom we can feel sorry because they’re so unlike us. It serves up some bigger questions and unsettles us deeply.

Ana, it turns out, has a spinal birth defect that means she stands only 1.3metres tall – she’s tiny and has struggled all her life with pain. She walks a little unevenly but she’s tenacious. Her husband Aron and son Ryder both have eyesight problems – Aron is functionally blind and Ryder has recently had cataract operations. He turns his head like a little bird to follow the sound of our voices and gallantly attempts to see us using his unaffected peripheral vision. The three of them sit close on a bench outside their home and tell us about the business they run together.

Beauty and massage, they tell us, are the heart of their work – hair cuts and shampoos and sometimes nails; massages for tourists and people who need them for health reasons. Not everyone in West Timor lives on $2 a day. They came up with the idea because Aron is good with his hands and can work easily without sight. He has a mobile phone, fully voice equipped – while we’re talking he takes a message and lines up an appointment, shyly chuffed to be able to show his business in action. He has strong hands, Ana tells us, also proud of her husband. And her passion is for cutting and styling – people will always need haircuts.

The low-interest business loan the pair manage through TLM – the social services agency of the Protestant Church in West Timor – was a godsend. It meant the family could turn a small profit – afford Ryder’s cataract operation, restore the well that is their only water supply, invest in the equipment they both need for their businesses, and also to plan for the kind of schooling Ryder will need as a child with a disability.

Because make no mistake about it – life for people with disabilities in the developing world is beyond tough. No social security. No NDIS. No respite, counselling or advice from experts. Ana, Aron and Ryder are pretty much on their own in a city where eating means working – crooked spine, sightless eyes, whatever your challenge.

Here’s what’s impressive about this model of poverty prevention: microfinance loans give people the skills and confidence to run businesses in a vast range of areas, doing stuff that they know other people need. It allows them the dignity of real work – and in Ana and Aron’s case – creative work that gives them what’s clearly a certain amount of joy. And why should we, in the ‘let’s go to Uni, choose our careers and live happy, fulfilled lives’ be the only ones to experience that? Why shouldn’t Ryder, in his hand-me-down Power Ranger pants, have the same dreams as our own kids?

Here’s the confronting truth of the human condition – any one of us could be Ana or Aron. Opening our hearts and hands to this reality is freeing – helping us to live with solidarity, generosity and simplicity; assessing how much we really need to be happy; and where and how we find beauty. It’s in standing together to bring life to each other that we discover what it means to be fully human.

UnitingWorld is a valued partner of the Australian Government, receiving flexible funding under the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) each year to implement development and poverty alleviation programs overseas. Every donation you make to this project will be combined with funding from the Australian government to reach more people. We have committed to contribute $1 for every $5 we receive from the Australian government. Your donation will allow us to extend our programs.

That means your gift will go five times as far toward ending poverty and providing dignity for families like Ana and Aron’s in West Timor, Bali and Zimbabwe.  

How many times can you say that you were involved in a ‘life-or-death’ situation? A situation where your actions and decisions could make the difference between someone living or dying? Once? Twice? Never? What if I told you that as you read this, that’s exactly where you find yourself…

The word ‘famine’ is used relatively frequently in modern language, but it’s actually not something that happens often. On 20 February, the United Nations declared famine in two counties of South Sudan. It was the first time famine had been declared anywhere in more than six years. Some are saying that the current severity of food insecurity in South Sudan hasn’t been seen since a post-war Europe experienced famine in 1947. But what exactly is food insecurity?

A crash course in food insecurity

There are five official categories of food insecurity: 1) minimal, 2) stressed, 3) crisis, 4) emergency, and 5) catastrophe (i.e. ‘famine’). Currently in South Sudan, there are an estimated 4.9 million people in categories 3, 4 and 5. Of these 4.9 million people, it’s estimated that 100,000 people are in category 5: catastrophe (famine). People in categories 3 and 4 are at risk of severe malnutrition, which causes lasting impacts – entrenching people in poverty and disrupting education for generations.

People in category 5 are dying of starvation. Not tomorrow, not next week… now. And the reality is the majority of the people in category 5 are among the most vulnerable; typically pregnant women, children and lactating mothers.

I was speaking to a friend recently about how dire the situation is, and he asked what he thought might have been a silly question. He wanted to know why, when faced with the imminent starvation of 100,000 of South Sudan’s most vulnerable people, the international community couldn’t just “bring them food.” Not a silly question at all, but definitely not as simple as he thought.

And in the coming months it’s about to get more complicated.

$1 today is worth more than $1 in two months

South Sudan is facing more than one crisis. Set among the backdrop of a failing economy, collapsing infrastructure and the constant threat of conflict, famine response is not an easy task. In addition to all of this, May will see the start of the rainy season. Roads will become impassable, and the only option for delivering food and non-food essential items will be by air freight. Air freight is significantly more expensive than ground freight.

Right now aid workers are in a position to be able to ‘pre-place’ food and non-food items into the hardest hit areas, to be distributed now and as the lean season continues. Not only does immediate action mean that we can reduce the number of those 100,000 people who will die of starvation, but it also limits the number of additional people moving into category 5 during the lean season.

Acting at once means that more money can be spent on essential items as opposed to transport costs. More money on food and non-food necessities means more lives are saved.

That’s where you come in

You’re faced with a life-or-death situation, only it’s not your life at stake. Despite this famine happening to people thousands of miles away – people you’ll probably never meet – you can save a life by taking action today. Tomorrow could be too late for the 100,000 in South Sudan who will go to bed on the brink of starvation.

Lots of my friends and family tell me they plan to donate. I tell them: don’t wait.

– Megan

Megan Calcaterra
International Programs Manager, Asia/Africa

Donate now

One in every five people currently in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee.

Yes, you read that right.

Lebanon hosts the largest percentage of refugees in the world given its population, with over one million Syrian refugees registered in a country with just 4.5 million citizens. All these people living in an area less than a quarter of the size of Tasmania.

Over half of the refugees are children, and 48% of them aged 6-14 are out of school.

That’s 250,000 kids.

The influx of new arrivals fleeing the conflict and persecution by Daesh (or “ISIS”) militants has put an enormous strain on church and government services, particularly educational institutions. In response, the government of Lebanon has restricted Syrian children’s access to state schools, making the role of the church schools more important than ever.

UnitingWorld has launched a campaign to support Syrian refugee children get back to school.

Through our networks, UnitingWorld will support churches in Lebanon to provide education for more Syrian children and prevent them falling further behind in their education.

This exciting new campaign has grown out of the Uniting Church in Australia’s desire to help churches in Lebanon support new arrivals from Syria.

Recently, the UnitingWorld communications and fundraising team were privileged to sit with members of Bankstown Uniting Church and newcomers from Syria, to listen to their experiences of fleeing their home country into neighbouring Lebanon, before resettlement in Australia. They all spoke about wanting to do something to help their friends and families still in Syria and Lebanon.

We hope to raise $80,000 to get the project off the ground.

With your help, together we can make a big impact for the children of Syria.

How you can help

  1. Help us reach our goal by making a donation: https://chuffed.org/project/syriakids
  1. Share the page on social media
  1. Fundraise for us!We can create a team page for you on Chuffed so that you can fundraise at your church, community group or with your friends. Set your own group target and help the overall campaign to get Syrian kids back to school.You could also host a fundraising event or a group challenge that people can support you in.So get a team together and get in touch! marcusc@unitingworld.org.au or (02) 8267 4223

In 2016, the world received a harsh wake up call – we saw the rise to power of Donald Trump and growing support for nationalist and isolationist views from people such as Pauline Hanson, Rodrigo Duterte and Nigel Farage. We watched the heartbreaking situation in Aleppo, the horrific and inhumane treatment of people on Manus and Nauru and the Government’s lack of leadership on climate change. For most of us, 2016 was one big horror film that kept on dishing up the scares.

But we can’t afford to give up or give in because the stakes have never been higher and the importance of people power has never been more important.

That is one of the reasons we’re reshaping the Campaign for Australian Aid as “Up To Us”.  Up To Us is a community of people who lead the resistance to nationalism and isolationism and who support an internationalist approach to tackling global issues such as climate change, inequality, and poverty.  We are harnessing people power toward a vision for a fairer world.

Late last year, we spoke about an incredible opportunity for every Australian to have their voice heard. Right now, the Government is writing a long-term plan for Australia’s foreign policy – they’re calling it a “White Paper.” This White Paper will guide the way Australia engages with the rest of the world.

Make no mistake: we’re living in one of the most turbulent periods in history. It’s vital that the Government listens to all Australians and develops a plan that reflects our views. This means it is critical that people like you and your friends and family have your say on shaping the kind of world we want to live in and the role Australia should have in making your vision a reality. You can have your say today, just by taking the 60 second #UpToUs survey  to create a submission to the Government.

What kind of Australia do you envision in the years to come? If we want Australia to become a global leader on issues like climate change, people seeking asylum and ending poverty, it’s up to us to lead the way. Together, we are powerful – we can inspire thousands of globally minded Australians to make submissions and ask for a more sustainable, welcoming and compassionate country.

The need for the world to work together to address shared global challenges has never been more urgent – the world is facing multiple challenges of war, poverty, hunger, displaced people and climate change. Thousands of submissions from people who care like you , will make a powerful statement about the kind of world we want and the important contribution Australia can make in tackling these challenges.

While we’ve made it easy for everyday Australians to have their say about Australia’s place in the world, our work won’t end here. We’ve got plenty of creative ideas as to how you can amplify your impact with decision makers… stay tuned.

In the meantime, head down to one of the Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane  forums to have an open discussion and share some food (and your ideas!) with like-minded people. (For details on the forums, contact communications@unitingworld.org.au).

After the Government releases its White Paper, we’ll publish a people powered manifesto (The People’s White Paper) that captures the views of our supporters and the public.

Remember, it’s up to us to fight for the change we want to see. Time is ticking – submit your views in just 60 seconds right now and look for the it’s #UpToUs hashtag on social media so you can spread the message. Don’t forget: you can also share this blog post on Twitter and Facebook (look for the buttons at the top right hand side of this page).

Blog written by the Campaign for Aid, of which UnitingWorld is a member (representing the Uniting Church in Australia).

Live simply, reflect on your faith, help free people from poverty – that’s Lent Event!
Join the movement, sign up now to receive your Bread for the Road  daily devotions sent via email each day throughout Lent starting 1st March. Bread for the Road will replace the usual Bible Studies. We’re also preparing a new look Lent Event website! Please visit www.lentevent.com after 8th February to learn how congregations and individuals alike can participate in Lent Event this year. In the meantime, watch the video to learn about the communities and people that Lent Event support.

Since 2005, faithful people have raised more than three million dollars through Lent Event to provide clean water, schooling and health services around the globe. 

“You got me a what?”

Uncle Earl is squinting at your card, breath a little yeasty from the Christmas pudding, and frankly, he’s disappointed. It was socks he wanted. Seriously. Socks. Or a fishing magazine. He also had his eye on a new case for his iphone.

You got him a goat.

“Well, it’s for a family in Zimbabwe, see?” you tell him, a little flustered. “They’ll breed the goats and with the money they can get for them at the market, they’ll send their kids to school. It’s pretty cool, actually.”

Uncle Earl looks sceptical. He doesn’t actually say it, but what he’s thinking – you can see it on his face – is: “So you got me nothing. You got them goats, but you got me nothing.”

Let’s face it: not everyone loves goats, and not everyone gets the idea that you bought them something for someone else. (And actually, some people genuinely need socks).

So here you are, with your desire to do something to change the world this Christmas, and a cranky Uncle. What to do… what to do?

Look, buy Uncle Earl the socks. Buy your seven year old nephew that game he wanted, but maybe not the really flashy one. And tell him the true story of a gift that transforms lives.  Start it with the birth of a child.  But don’t end it there.

Tell him about Amos, who’ll spend the days before Christmas in his ute in South Sudan, bucketing along some of the worst roads you can imagine. He’s travelling to spend time in communities who’ve seen their neighbours literally torn apart by violence. This is Amos’ whole life’s work, devoted to helping people understand and listen to one another, learning to forgive and move on from decades of a war that doesn’t just live in army fatigues but stalks people’s homes and lives in people’s minds. This gift of reconciliation – a microcosm of something even grander – is the ongoing story that begins with the cradle.

If the people you know and love won’t appreciate the idea behind a goat, don’t give up. Simply make your donation directly to the work of someone who continues to live the Christmas story – every day, in some of the  most difficult parts of our globe.

Christmas isn’t just about making sure your nearest and dearest have everything they need. Christmas is about being swept up in a powerful gift of love and sharing that as far and wide as you can.  Every single one of us.

If goats are your thing and also Uncle Earl’s – check out our gifts here at www.everythingincommon.com

If you want to be generous because it’s Christmas and you believe in a world less hungry and more hopeful, please give here.  https://www.unitingworld.org.au/donate

Either way, know that you’ve honoured the Giver.  Thank you so much.

Coming soon:

Questions my hairdresser asks: how do you even know they get the money?

Do you ever have days, even while you’re still in the middle of them, that you know will always stick with you? My first visit to a village in West Bengal, India, was one of those days.

My colleague Steph and I had driven three hours from the church office with our brilliant partners from the Diocese of Durgapur, through bustling market streets full of people and cows and very fresh butchers, past fields of corn and rice and cauliflower, and eventually along a long and bumpy dirt road to our first village visit of the day.

Before we even got out of the car, the welcome drums began. The pathway to the village was lined with beaming kids and their parents, clapping along as men and boys beat huge drums while women dressed in bright red and orange saris danced ahead of us. Kids began throwing handfuls of marigold petals over us (sometimes with a fairly abrupt whack in the face and giggles from all) and older women played seashells as trumpets. It was one of those moments you just try and drink everything in as quickly as you possibly can – the colours and sounds and sun beating down – but really there’s no way to absorb it all. All we could do was slowly shuffle along in the middle of it all, catching petals, clapping along and grinning back.

Once we made it to the village itself, after squirming a little during the impossibly generous foot-washing ceremonial welcome, the real purpose of our visit began. We were there to hear from women, men and children about what the Community Development Project, run by the Diocese of Durgapur and supported by UnitingWorld, really means. What difference is this making to you, in your everyday life? What has this meant for your community? What is life like here?

Answers were honest and direct. Life is hard, but this project is making a difference. Our children at the study centre are working hard and their grades are improving – they’re no longer at risk of dropping out of school and we’re not scared for them. This woman here (she is pointed out to us) was supported to apply for and access the old age pension, so she doesn’t have to work all day long in the forest gathering leaves anymore. Our community worker, from our village (he stands up), helped us get government grants to build houses and toilets and access to water sources for irrigation. The government health worker is visiting and we know how to stay healthy, how to keep our children well. Our women’s self-help groups (they raise their hands) have saved money this year, and have plans to start their own business.

Of course, life is still hard. The village is far from government services, seasons can no longer be relied upon, water has not reached everyone. But what struck me more than anything, and what we shared together that day, was the fierce sense of community in this place and determination to find solutions together. Even this project itself is not something that is ‘done to’ people here; it’s what they’re doing for themselves and what they’re supported to keep doing, day after day.  It’s just part of who they are – and it’s this determination and dogged effort that will change their futures.

This project is doing good: real, tangible, important things – and can do more. We left the village after dancing and drumming back to the car and went on to the next. And of course it wasn’t the only day like this I’ve had. But this really was one that stuck with me.  How we spend our days is our we spend our lives, and these days are well spent.

For just two more days you can make your donation to these projects up to six times more effective.  We need to raise $1 in supporter donations for every $5 we have access to in Government Funding for our Community Development Projects.  To see your gift multiplied to make a significant difference, please give now at here.

Laura McGilvray, among other roles with UnitingWorld, supports our partner the Church of North India.  She loves her work and wishes everyone had the opportunity to experience days like this one, seeing first hand the impact of long term planning, training and funding.

30 years ago, Christmas 1984, a group of prominent musicians from the UK and USA got together for “Band Aid” and recorded the Christmas anthem “Feed the World”.

Their aim was to raise awareness of, and funds, for people in Africa who were experiencing severe drought and famine. Amidst the well-meaning sentiment and good intentions, many of us didn’t take the time to reflect so deeply on the words – or maybe that was just where we were at that time in the learning journey that comes from living history. But last Christmas, in 2015 this same song was re-released.

It’s hard not to sing along to the old, familiar tune. However have you ever stopped to listen to the words? Here’s just a few:

“But say a prayer, pray for the other ones”

“There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear”

And the Christmas bells that ring are the clanging chimes of doom

“Well, tonight thank God its them instead of you”!

“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas”

“Where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flows

“Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

“Give a little to help the helpless.

At its foundation, this song is based on the “us and them” paradigm with “the other ones” being the ones “we” are thankful that we are not. It portrays Africa as a place where water doesn’t flow, where plants don’t grow and where they won’t see snow, and then poses the question, “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all”?  Are you cringing just a little bit? Apart from a few glaring geographical clangers – Africa is home to some of the mightiest rivers in the world, including the Nile, the Congo and the Zambezi to name just a few- there’s the fact that in the Southern Hemisphere, like in Australia, Christmas falls in summertime so snow really isn’t likely any Christmas.

But on a deeper level, there’s a shallow assumption that African peoples are characterised by ignorance, limited capacity, fear and doom. These are people sitting waiting, looking to the “outside” to be the engineers of their survival. It sees all Africans as those hungry, helpless children promoted on our TV screens and appoints Western “developed” societies as the source and bringers of hope and rescue. Yet in essence, this tune reflects more honestly on the perspectives of the writers than any African reality.

Today I’m sitting in a plane on the tarmac in Zimbabwe, waiting for the last passengers to board before embarking on the 35 hour journey home. I have been meeting with MeDRA, our Development Partners of the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe. It is an exciting time for MeDRA, for the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe and this Partnership with the UCA through UnitingWorld. And in the light of the last few days, the words in this outdated Christmas anthem couldn’t be further from the truth.

During the Strategic Planning process we reflected on the Partnership between UnitingWorld and MeDRA, a partnership that spans nearly ten years.  The Uniting Church in Australia still remains their strongest partner. Just as I’ve reflected on the above anthem, words matter, and the word partnership is not used lightly. UnitingWorld isn’t just a “donor agency” or “funding partner” to MeDRA, but a genuine Partner. And as partners we share together, learn together and walk together in God’s global mission. Each of us has our role to play. UnitingWorld cannot do the work that MeDRA does – not successfully anyway. Working with MeDRA and our other Development Partners allows us, as the Uniting Church in Australia to participate effectively in this global mission. And partnering with UnitingWorld supports MeDRA by enabling professional capacity building, organisational strengthening as well as funding for their vital work on the ground. This work brings opportunity, hope, dignity and love to some of Zimbabwe’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.  It’s a true witness to God.

Let me share just a little about the people who make up this organisation. They are Zimbabweans and they know their country, their culture and the context. They are committed development professionals who know the need but choose to focus on the strengths and opportunities. They don’t do the life-changing work for the people in the communities they serve. Rather they support these communities to develop their own potential and empower them to be the agents of their own transformation. And above all things, they are committed to living out their faith and being a genuine witness to Christ in the communities they serve.

And then there are the people living in the communities themselves. The context in which they live is harsh. They are far away from city services, in places where the soil is dry and hard, the temperatures scorching and the impact of drought an everyday reality. It is a tough existence and yet they are resilient and they survive. Through MeDRA they are accessing training and as community groups, developing livelihoods strategies to increase their access to income. This enables them to send their children to school and look to a future for their children that has more opportunities than they themselves have experienced. And they are embracing this chance with both hands and thriving in it.

But if that wasn’t encouraging enough, here’s the kicker. From the profits that each group makes, some is set aside to reinvest into the business, yet before the remaining profits are shared among the group, some is allocated to support other vulnerable people in their communities – widows, orphans, single mothers, etc. They see this as their social responsibility. They were once the most vulnerable but now they have opportunity, they are building something together, they have discovered their God-given dignity and with that their responsibility to others in their community. It’s hard work, but they embrace it and they do it and they are succeeding in it. And they are paying it forward.

These people are not helpless. They just need a chance. Through the partnership between MeDRA and UnitingWorld, many are now able to embrace such a chance. I visited some of these communities last year, and I saw nothing of our Western Christmas anthem anywhere. Instead I saw potential, I saw hope, I saw dignity and I sat at their feet to learn.

This Lent, let us be the ones transformed, let us have God’s eyes to see hope and potential where others would tell us there is helplessness; give us ears to hear the invitation to participate effectively and give us humble hearts to learn what we need to learn and to give what we can.

And for the record, for those in Africa who share our faith, yes they do know when it’s Christmas time, even without the snow!

Watch the people of Zimbabwe at work here.