At the official launch of our new graphic novel series AFRICA IN IMAGES, I had a chance to meet face to face with all the people who worked together to create the first book on the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Roza, or the Courage to Choose Life.
During the launch event I made notes in the empty space around the intense and powerful images on my very first copy of the graphic novel as I listened to our riveting guests. Sister Marie-Bernard Alima, from the Justice and Peace Episcopal Commission of the DRC and Most Rev. Nicolas Djomo, President of the Conference of Bishops of the DRC, spoke powerfully about their work bringing peace to their country.
One of the key moments that stimulated this whole comic project began with a meeting between Soeur Marie Bernard and young people at the College de l’Ascension, where the students wanted to develop something to mobilize people around what was going on. It all came from a desire to empower people, to encourage each other and collaborate on a project of solidarity, with a focus on respecting the initiatives of the people of the DRC and the work of the Commission. Hence the graphic novel-style education campaigns began, highlighting the impact of the violence, but more importantly, the initiatives and empowerment of the Congolese people.
With 60 million Catholics in the Congo, the Church is working full-time to restore human dignity – to renew a respect for the dignity of each person, and to live out this mutual respect. They shared with us their communitarian approach to reconciliation, touching on the physical, moral and spiritual needs of the people. Sister Marie Bernard told us about how the programs allow people who have suffered, and are so discouraged, to be able to stand up again and take up life and have courage.
The Justice and Peace Commission wants all of us to join them in their work of evangelization – to preach the gospel of human dignity. The Commission believes strongly that those who have suffered can and will reflect upon their situation and read their context: where we are, what happened, what can we do. This analysis and reflection work is critical to rebuilding confidence and bringing forth new leadership = confidence gives courage. The graphic novels speaks to the courage of women to rebuild, to lead their families when their men are knocked down. The Congolese women are saying “Get up, Come on, We can do this, Together we are strong”!
For Sister Marie Bernard the most inspiring thing she has experienced is this link between confidence and courage. How? Again and again Sister Marie Bernard has met a woman who doesn’t know how to read, and through learning this important skill she finds her voice and gains confidence. This woman then takes her new capacity to the next level and leads her community to humanize their society during and after the dehumanizing experiences of war. From hell and back – this is the power of believing in the dignity of the person.
Join us in supporting the Justice and Peace Commission of the Congo with Development and Peace. Stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have the Courage to Choose Life!
by Genevieve Gallant
Read the comic: http://youth.devp.org/2011/10/urgent-action-the-congo/
As I walked in the hall of St. Luke’s Catholic Church, the buzzing and the moving of the people was a blessing as I looked around. So many guests were there and sat. On the microphone was one of the most energetic emcee I’ve encountered so far. She introduced Development and Peace with the simplicity of someone who desires to get the message across to a child.
I was in for a surprise as the evening slowly unfolded; I thought I knew what Development and Peace is about, but I got dunked as the educational videos began to play throughout the evening in between the performances.
Then I wondered and pondered: “Seriously Fanny, up to now what did you know?” It took that evening to radically get me back on track and appreciate another wealthy area of the church. Up to this point, I knew about the donations we make to support, the presence of that ministry at some point in parish, the Lenten campaign but I faced the sad but true reality; I did not start going deeper until this semester when I was driven to interview Ms. Jana Drapal, who then informed me about the time for the Gala. Our beloved Lord has ways to show us the ultimate Way to His work among his flock. Education wise that night, I must congratulate the whole team for bringing back on a regular basis on why we were there. Today in my words, I may say that Development and Peace is the Catholic Organization that is truly showing the Love of Christ in actions through the partners the Lord has blessed her to work, and all her members within all the lands it has established itself. That is the Gospel in motion.
Yet the evening, the gala night, did not resume only itself to the educational videos, it represented talents from all continents where Development and Peace is involved; it ranged from Asia to Africa and from the Oceania to America not forgetting we had a European touch with the presence of the Polish Dance. Performances were outstanding, the DJ was outstanding, all those who volunteered and brought a dish, the organization was second to none. Our good Lord could not have made this evening any better as it ended with free salsa lessons. What about the restaurants that donated dishes. The night even featured a little auction dance time. Our beloved emcee offered to volunteer her dancing skill to a Salsa tune if we could raise altogether $100 in donation. It was instantly offered by a gentleman, the stakes were then raised to $300. Target was reached, and the promise fulfilled; she danced to a wonderful salsa song with the DJ, who happened to be an expert when it comes to latin dance. As a matter of fact, he performed that evening thus promoting his dance school.
My blessed friends, what to say, if not to confirm that as people joined from all walks to be together that night, the Holy Trinity acted to show the beauty of the Catholic Church in action through Development & Peace. For me personally, it was a night of fellowship, education, testimony, simplicity, the making of new friends in Christ from other Christian families; I met a wonderful lady from the Coptic Church who had come to support us, and what development & peace does that night. This for me definitely falls under the new evangelization.
At last but not least, from performing on stage I joyfully accepted to no longer be a distant member, but to truly embrace as a Catholic Christian Artist, the call to be an ambassador of Development & Peace. For those who’ve been praying for God to raise more labourers for the harvest, carry on. I entrust myself to your prayers and all the members of Development & Peace that the Holy Trinity may move many of us to never get tired to work in spreading the Good News through our thoughts, words and deeds. As Pope Benedict XVI emphasizes more and more the missionary call of every Catholic, let us rise in supporting Development and Peace by showing every day in our life, in our workplace, in our neighbourhood the grace and uniqueness of being a Catholic in Action. Let us more than ever be a voice for the voiceless, the hands of Christ in the world, His yes. Let us be willing to go wherever He sends us. More and more are needed lay people who are willing to take the Good News to others just like our heavenly mother Mary has taken Christ to Elizabeth. As Catholic Christians, it is our duty more than ever to grow more and more curious about our faith in order to share with our brothers and sisters in Christ from the other Christian families. We are called to be the Trinitarian missionaries of the 21st Century.
I kindly thank the Development and Peace team for giving me the opportunity to share what I’ve been blessed with at the Gala night.
Yesterday, Caritas MONA took us to see a few of the local on-the-ground projects that are meeting the needs of local people in Beirut and Lebanon. Firstly, we met with “The Voice of Lebanese Women”, founded after the war by women volunteers who sought to rebuild their community and to support the many newly-widowed women.
The centre currently provides daycare for more than 55 children at just $50 per month, with free services for those without the means to pay. Women are able to get English lessons, vocational training, and can access start up materials for small enterprises. Teenagers have programs to teach them life skills and are able to explore personal themes through theatre. A recent initiative supported by the US embassy and Caritas U.S. (Catholic Relief Services) provides one month of training on citizenship, teamwork, tolerance, and conflict resolution. This is followed up by the creation of a mock cabinet through which youth simulate the political process in Lebanon.
In the afternoon, we were taken to the large industrial headquarters of “Arcenciel” (arc en ceil means rainbow in french), an organization that attends to the needs of people with disabilities. The facilities contain a number of large workshops, which produce many mobility tools (wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and more), to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Arcenciel employs people with disabilities in order to help them gain skills and become more independent – all the wheelchairs in Lebanon come from this workshop. The facilities also provide free dental care, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, and job placement services.
The final project that we witnessed on our tour of Beirut was a drop-in centre that provides support to people living with HIV/AIDS and/or drug addiction. The Centre trains Peer Outreach Workers to provide information and harm-reduction materials to at-risk people, for example gay men and sex workers. The Outreach Workers are also trained to be able to provide on-the-spot testing for HIV and Hepatitis. The increasing demand for drug rehabilitation led the Centre to provide a safe haven for drug-users 2 nights a week, and follow-up with patients on the other 3 nights a week while the Centre is open. Beyond medical assistance, the Centre also provides a social community, legal services, and counseling. New programs are using psychodrama and theatre to help clients deal with their addictions.
In one day we had a chance to see 3 very innovative centres that have developped locally to respond to the needs of the vulnerable and excluded in Lebanon. An excellent snapshot of what grassroots development looks like!
On June 21st, the Lebanon Solidarity trip team was fortunate to spend a second day with Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre. The Centre was established in 1994, in response to the large number of refugees from Sudan arriving in Lebanon. CLCM aims to serve migrant workers, asylum seekers, and refugees by offering a variety of social services to migrants, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or political persuasion.
However, the issue of migrant workers within the country, and their need for protection, was not an issue that the group had imagined prior to traveling to Lebanon…
BUT according to statistics, there are more than 157,000 migrant workers legally entitled to work in Lebanon. Additionally, there are more than 100,000 Syrian workers in the country, with rules around travel and work in Lebanon are somewhat more lax. There are also a large number of illegal workers whose status in Lebanon is even more precarious.
In our meetings with CLCM staff members, we learned about the plight of migrant workers. Many women from countries including Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Madagascar and many others, arrive in Lebanon every year as domestic workers.
Agencies recruit the women, and connect them with households in Lebanon. We learned that there are over 600 recruitment agencies working in Lebanon. The agency holds the worker’s passport. Women have to sign on for 3 year minimum contracts, and collect around $150 – $250 dollars per month.
At times, these domestic workers are physically or sexually abused and/or harassed in the homes where they live and work.
Tragically, we learned that there has been an increase in the numbers of murders and suicides of migrant domestic workers, and it is believed that some deaths go unreported.
The Centre for Migrants offers support to domestic workers in need of assistance. The Solidarity Trip team was able to visit a shelter for vulnerable women and their children.
The women are from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and come from a range of very difficult experiences. Some are newly-arrived Iraqi women and children, with the father in prison for entering “illegally”, while others have had awful experiences of being mistreated by their employers. We spent the day with the women, sharing in each other’s cultures, dancing, playing soccer with the kids and eating traditional food that the women had made. We really enjoyed their company!
CLCM offers key services to migrant workers, refugees, and asylum seekers, including providing basic needs, social and psychological support, providing for medical needs, educational support and payment of school fees and supplies, and legal support.
And, importantly, the organization is also working with the government to develop a special law relating to domestic workers. This law would better protect the rights of both Lebanese and foreign-born domestic workers. With the frequent changes to governmental leadership in Lebanon, it has been difficult to get the law ratified.
It is positive to know that Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre is doing everything they can to assist the large number of migrants and refugees, both by advocating for changes in law, and by providing vital services.
Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre: an experience of displacement
On June 20th, 2011, the Lebanon Solidarity Trip team had the opportunity to meet with Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre, and learn about the essential work that they do with refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.
One of the important groups of people the organization works with is refugees from Iraq. Lebanon has been receiving a flood of Iraqi refugees for a number of years now. Previously, more Muslim refugees were fleeing to Lebanon, but lately, there has been an increase in Christian Iraqis arriving in the country.
Our presenter from Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre shared with us that overall, Lebanon offers more individual freedom in comparison to other Middle Eastern nations, such as Syria and Jordan, and so that’s why many Iraqis have fled to Lebanon. She told us about the routes where one can enter Lebanon illegally from Syria. The CLCM staff members strive to work with the over 1,000 Iraqi families living in and around Beirut.
Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre supplies immediate basic needs to newly arrived and desperate Iraqi refugees, as well as medical assistance in the form of helping to pay for medications, and paying for emergency medical bills.
Additionally, CLCM offers legal information and acts as an intermediary with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to help them access basic resources. Many of the Iraqi families are hoping to move on to receiving nations like Canada, the United States, Australia and Europe. A big source of stress that the families experience is waiting to move on to one of these nations/regions. I can imagine it would certainly be difficult to live with so much uncertainty!
The organization also helps to pay for school fees and supplies for young students. One challenge that the staff member we met with explained to us was that a number of youth are dropping out of school in order to work. Rental accommodations in Beirut are quite expensive, and so it is a struggle for many Iraqi families to live in the city.
We were also told that Iraqi refugees do face some discrimination in Lebanon, mostly due to their accent. These pressures weigh heavily on many people and so alcoholism and domestic violence does occur among the people. CLCM employs social workers to work with the Iraqi families, and conducts follow up visits with them over their time here.
In really bad situations, there is a shelter for women and children in need of protection. We learned that Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre also runs a 24 hour hotline.
Another positive program for many youth is a summer camp for Iraqi, Palestinian and Lebanese youth ages 6 to 14. The youth are brought together and live at a summer camp for a month. Many activities take place, including peace-building and social and recreational opportunities. There are also post-camp sessions to reunite the youth who have become friends but live in divided worlds.
Our team also had the opportunity to visit a CLCM Community Centre, which opened in March 2011. The Centre assists the Iraqi population in various ways. There are daycare/drop-in times for children aged 6 to 16. Sessions for women take place as well, where they can share their experiences and concerns, and make some crafts to sell. Some of the sessions are conducted with a psychiatrist. There is also an equivalent men’s group. Once a week, families get together to share a hot meal, and this allows newly arrived refugees to meet and learn from Iraqis who have been in Lebanon for some time.
It was certainly an eye-opening experience for the Solidarity Trip team to learn about Iraqis in Lebanon, the issues they face, and the work being done by Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre to serve them.
More than 250,000 Palestinians are currently living in 12 camps within Lebanon. The Palestinian people have been displaced, and have been living as refugees for over 60 years. Nevertheless, the Palestinians continue to live in the daily hope of returning to their homeland.
This was most evident in May, when 100,000 Palestinians returned to the Israeli border to demonstrate their right to return to their homeland. Six were killed. Today there is little evidence that displaced Palestinians will become citizens of their own land in the foreseeable future.
One Palestinian camp in Lebanon, named Shatila, is situated within Beirut. The 1km2 of land is home to over 17,000 people. 5,000 people are Palestinians, and the rest are a mix of Syrians, Lebanese, Sudanese, and Iraqi refugees. Non-Palestinians use the camp as a safe haven, the one place they can avoid prison terms for being an “illegal” person.
As refugees, Palestinians are denied the right to work or own property, despite their will and abilities – 50% are university graduates. Opinions over the Palestinians’ right to work are divided; there are fears that allowing them to work will encourage them to remain in Lebanon, though they will tell you clearly – they want to be in Palestine, not Lebanon.
During the Israeli war on Lebanon in the early 1980’s, Shatila was the scene of a catastrophic massacre in 1982, where 1,500 people were slaughtered at the hands of the militia of the Lebanese Forces, supported by the Israeli army. Immediately after, in Lebanon and internationally, news, information, or press about what happened were suppressed and the destroyed camp was declared a military zone. With the assistance of the UN, the Israeli’s withdrew, and control was handed over to the Syrian army. Conditions remained desperate within the camp. In 1984 the “war of the camps” broke out. Shatila remained under siege for 3 years, where the camp was denied food, resulting in starvation and deaths.
The Syrian army began to withdraw in 2003. With greater freedom, many people left the camp, while others began to improve conditions by bringing in materials and looking for informal work. Despite this, Shatila remains without a play area, a proper school, or adequate housing.
Community is strong within the camp, and it is not as dangerous a place as is commonly perceived. Palestinians have expressed their wish for their efforts to be recognized, respected, and supported. There is a hope that an awareness of the situation for Palestinians within the camp will generate sincere progress towards a peaceful, just resolution to their displacement.
The Permanent Peace Movement (PPM) is an independent Lebanese Non-Governmental Organization founded in 1986 at the height of the Lebanese civil war by a group of young university students unified by their common vision for the future and their aversion to war.
They considered that peaceful means for conflict resolution are the most useful of all, and that when these are exhausted, one should resort to non-violent means and never to violence.
Such a commitment to peace building within Lebanon is an incredible challenge – this is a country brimming with domestic tension as members of 18 various sects, within a population of less than 4 million people, have repeatedly entered into violent conflict.
Sectarianism within Lebanon means that political office, government positions, and senior military and security appointments are divided based on the principle of religious balance.
Thus, it appears that for many Lebanese, political, economic or cultural survival is dependent upon occupying positions of power in order to protect the rights and values of their own group. Moreover, divisions within the country are not simply predicated on religion, but on various political ideologies, which further fragment groups.
It is apparent that there are no easy solutions to ending violence and preventing further conflict. Indeed coming from a generation of Canadians which have little experience with war, the situation appears absolutely overwhelming.
The stimulating, challenging and inspiring experiences we are living out during our Solidarity Trip in Lebanon are being added to the blog throughout the summer. But before you continue to see what we did, who we met, and what we learned about peace-building and development, here is more information about Development and Peace’s programming in the Middle East region.
Ever since it’s founding, Development and Peace has been coming to the aid of people in the Arab world who find themselves in difficulty. Here are a few programs you might remember supporting, from a snapshot of our presence and support in the last ten years:
- during the ”war on terrorism”: emergency relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan and in Iraq
- during the huge earthquakes: emergency relief and reconstruction in Iran and in Pakistan
- during and after the Israeli wars: emergency relief and reconstruction in the Palestinian Territories and in Lebanon
Development and Peace is continuing to build and strengthen action for peace and development in the Middle East – that is our goal and you and I are involved in helping to realize this goal through our support of partners in Lebanon.
When individuals from across the nation meet, the label “Canadian” reveals its colorful, multifaceted, and sometimes controversial subtext. Arriving in Our Lady of Fatima camp on the edge of Montreal, the participants of the Development and Peace Solidarity Trip to Lebanon converged to begin with three days of orientation.
There was also training related to inter-cultural communication, group dynamics, and public-awareness raising (sensibilisation in french). We soon became aware of our innate differences and the potential for mistranslation, which gave us the opportunity to explore this wonderful mélange we know as Canada:
Melodie and Steve are from Montreal at UQAM
Amelie and Genevieve are from Ottawa/Gatineau region and help us with translation
Alex and Amanda are from Ontario and Manitoba, and are social workers
Jacques is from Victoria and Angelique is from Montreal, both doing their masters at university
Marie-Helene and Genevieve are our trusty and intrepid organizers
In a few hours we will head to the airport to begin the exciting journey to our long awaited destination of Beirut. Various methods to remediate the anguish of jet lag are being employed, but anticipation will likely keep energy levels high while we shuffle our way out of thrombosis.
Amanda and Jacques
Our aim is to share some of what we learn throughout our journey with you. We expect new and stimulating experiences from the people, the land, and the culture.