From Mary Poppins to “Good Soil” — making the world a better place

This week’s guest writer is Anna-Marie Janzen, Public Engagement Adviser for Good Soil, a special campaign officially launched by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank today, March 25, 2015, and supported by MCC. Originally from BC and now living in Winnipeg, Anna-Marie is a passionate social justice advocate who sometimes pines for the West Coast.

I had my political awakening when, as a child, I watched Mary Poppins and was introduced to my fore-mothers, the suffragettes. I have been fascinated with political process ever since. I clearly recall my disappointment in 2005 when some of my friends could vote in the BC provincial election, but I could not, as I was not yet 18. I was so excited to vote in subsequent elections that the Elections Canada volunteers always asked if it was my first time to vote.

Women's votes in CanadaParticipating in the democratic process is not something I have ever taken lightly. While I recognize that our political system is not perfect, I nonetheless consider it a privilege to participate. That I, as a woman, have a voice in the running of my country is a recent privilege, not enjoyed by all people in this world. It hasn’t even been 100 years since Canadian women (and then only European-Canadian women) could vote and were considered “persons” of this country. Canada’s indigenous peoples only got the vote in the 1960s. Therefore, I believe that it is my responsibility to use my voice to better my country and the world, in the names of my suffragette mothers and all those who have been denied this privilege.

Beyond casting a ballot, there are two important ways I like to participate. First, by encouraging my peers to also care about political processes (a very difficult task, trust me). And second, by communicating with elected representatives directly. Throughout my voting life, I have tried to be diligent in communicating with my Member of Parliament, the Prime Minister, and other applicable ministers on issues I care deeply about and areas I feel our government can improve. This has ranged from the crime omnibus bill to climate change mitigation, from the arms trade to increasing our international aid budget.

70 percent of people who do not get enough to eat are farmers.

70 percent of people who do not get enough to eat are farmers.

It is not surprising, then, that I find myself in a job working on exactly these points. I am currently the Public Engagement Adviser for Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s new advocacy campaign, Good Soil, which officially launches today, March 25, 2015. My task is to mobilize Canadians to exercise their political voice. Specifically, I am asking Canadians to communicate with their elected officials on increasing Canada’s aid support for small-scale farmers in developing countries.

Engaging our elected representatives is not only a privilege for us to honour as citizens, it is also a calling we have as Christians. Jesus spent his public ministry advocating for impoverished and marginalized people. He challenged the ruling forces, and called us to love our neighbours. What better way is there to show our love for our neighbours than by doing what we can to ensure that they get the opportunities to live their lives to the fullest extent, free of hunger, poverty and oppression? We can do this, in part, by influencing the policies and priorities set by our own government.

70 percent of people who do not get enough to eat are farmers.

70 percent of people who do not get enough to eat are farmers.

One of the key ways to help improve the lives of people who regularly experience hunger is by increasing Canada’s official development assistance for agricultural in the developing world.  When focused on small-scale farmers, investments in agriculture can have a huge impact. Such investments can reduce poverty and hunger, improve health and nutrition, empower women, benefit the environment, and build inclusive economies.

We have elected representatives making decisions for our country, and our voices matter to them. They cannot represent us if we do not express our values and opinions. As Canadian citizens, we have the ability to influence how Canada supports the world’s small-scale farmers. We can use our voices to let our government know that this is what we want for our country and our world.

Ours may not be a perfect political system, but it’s a system we can use to make our world a better place.

Please join the Good Soil campaign! Visit www.foodgrainsbank.ca/goodsoil for more information and tools to add your voice on this issue.

 

A spirituality of advocacy

Perhaps it is because we are in the season of Lent… Or perhaps it is because I was recently trying to explain how the work of our Ottawa Office differs from self-interested lobbying… Or perhaps it is the findings of a 2014 research project that challenged us as staff of the Ottawa Office to be more explicit about how our work is grounded in our faith…

Whatever the reasons, my thoughts have turned to articulating the spirituality that shapes the way we speak to government about issues of concern to MCC. What are the components of a spirituality of advocacy? How do we seek to faithfully express and embody this spirituality? I offer the following as preliminary thoughts.

Hannah and her 8 children are Syrian refugees who came to Jordan in January 2014. One of her children is disabled, unable to walk, speak or eat by himself. They are living day to day in an apartment in one of the poorest areas of Amman with no furniture, no income and no family support. Together with MCC partner Caritas Jordan, we were able to bring blankets and relief buckets prepared in Canada. (MCC Photo/Gordon Epp-Fransen) (Beneficiaries are from Syria which is an MCC Country of Sensitivity. Last names of beneficiaries are withheld for security reasons.)

Hannah and her 8 children are Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan in January 2014.  (MCC Photo/Gordon Epp-Fransen)

Solidarity.  MCC’s advocacy work arises out of program work – more specifically, from the call of partners that we work with in Canada and around the world. We seek to respond to the longing of real people for justice, for peace and for human dignity, and to call for government actions and policies which will fulfill those longings.  We are inspired by the biblical call to “speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9).  But more than speaking for, we seek to speak with those who demand justice.  In other words, we try to be about solidarity. In the words of Samantha Baker Evens, “We are not ‘a voice for the voiceless’; we lend our privilege as a megaphone.”

Integrity.   We know that words and deeds go together; deeds in fact give integrity to words (James 1:14-17). Thus, MCC has learned that the words we speak and write to government have weight when they are grounded in the practices of MCC’s supporting congregations and communities as they do God’s work in the world. We can urge our government to welcome refugees because the communities that support us are willing and ready to sponsor refugees. We can call on the government to implement restorative justice approaches within the Corrections system because ordinary MCC supporters are involved in programs like prison visitation, victim assistance, or Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA).  We depend on the practical service and witness of our supporting communities to give our work integrity.

Respect. In our advocacy work, we try to be respectful of all people in the political system – to treat them as we would wish to be treated (Matthew 7:12) — whether we agree with them or not. We try not to be drawn into partisan debates, though we admit this can be very difficult. Sometimes our commitment to truth-telling makes us want to loudly denounce particular people or policies (and perhaps there is a time for that). We remind ourselves that no one political party has a monopoly on the truth and that each person in “the system” is a child of God, worthy of our respect and consideration.

Humility.  We seek to be humble in our witness to government, remembering Paul’s words to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).  Although we try to listen carefully to our partners, do our research, and get our facts right, we recognize there are times when we don’t have all the information. Sometimes we simply don’t have ready alternatives to suggest. In October 2014 MCC sent a letter to the federal government urging it to reconsider its involvement in a military campaign against the group which calls itself ISIS. Our letter acknowledged that some of our partners in Syria and Iraq actually appreciated those airstrikes.  For MCC, as a pacifist organization, it was a difficult thing to do.  A commitment to humility meant we needed to do it.

drummingLament. Sometimes, when we as MCC workers listen well and are really honest with ourselves, we glimpse the insight that we – as individuals, as an organization, as a church – are part of the problem, rather than the solution.  Even though we as staff may consider ourselves advocates for social justice, at times our partners remind us otherwise.  Our Indigenous partners, for example, remind us of the ways that Mennonites have participated in and benefited from the colonial history of Turtle Island, and the ways that MCC continues to perpetuate unequal relationships with Indigenous people. In the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission they demand to know whether MCC is prepared for true reconciliation. At times, in the spirit of Psalm 51, we can only confess, weep and lament in response.

Hope.  Our advocacy is inspired by a big hope – an eschatological hope. There are many disappointments in advocacy work.  As much as we hope for the success of a change in policy, or an amendment to a bill, or some helpful new regulations, the results often fall short of our goals. And yet, if we depended on this kind of “success” to carry on, we probably would abandon the task. Indeed, a longtime civil servant once said to one of us, “The people who hang on a long time in government are either alcoholics or Christians.” As people of faith, we are assured that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. We remember the promise that God’s reign of justice and peace will surely come (Isaiah 2:1-5, Luke 4:18-19). And so we carry on, believing that God blesses our meager efforts and makes them bear fruit in ways we may not see.

 By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office. 

 

 

 

 

A new door opening

Each February, MCC’s Ottawa Office hosts a seminar for university students from across Canada. This year’s theme was “Citizen. Disciple. Advocate. Christian faith and political responsibility.”  The seminar included discussions with Members of Parliament and representatives of non-government organizations, a tour of the Parliament buildings, and a public witness walk, among other things. The reflection below is written by Kyle Tydeman, a student at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, BC, who attended the seminar.

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Twenty-seven students from New Brunswick to BC, as well as several international volunteers, attended the 2015 Ottawa Student Seminar.

It is difficult to describe my experience of the Ottawa Student Seminar. The best word to begin with would probably be the word challenging. Being among a Christian sub-culture of many like-minded people, I expected my previously held beliefs and practices to be affirmed and reinforced. Instead, they were incredibly challenged.

Going into the seminar, my peers and I had maintained glib political perspectives. We saw government and political figures as nothing more than a bunch of bantering individuals, greedily seeking taxpayers’ money. Attending the seminar and encountering people involved in the political process — people who held high hopes for change — forced me to recognize the faces of those relentlessly fighting for the benefit of the oppressed, minority, or forgotten groups. This experience radically shifted any negative preconceptions of mine and replaced them with a hopeful outlook on the world we live in.

MP Harold Albrecht addresses students.

MP Harold Albrecht addresses students.

Although I cannot say I have determined a response to all—or even some—of the world’s problems, I can confidently say I feel empowered to change because of the resources I received during the conference.Thus, the second word is encouraged. Aside from the cliche associations with such a word, the optimism demonstrated by Members of Parliament and representatives of various non-government organizations engaged in advocacy has greatly influenced my perspective on political involvement.

Throughout our discussion times, we heard that political advocacy can be described as “relentless incrementalism”— a statement supported by individuals who are committed and determined. For me, seeing political figures and advocates passionately affirm the need to lobby our leadership to produce change in our world was very encouraging.

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Intense discussion!

In addition, several practical principles, relating to the full scope of citizenship, discipleship and advocacy, became clear to me. The first and foremost point is to get involved locally—without this step, little change is possible. Secondly, when considering what kind of organizations or issues to be a part of, it is important to focus on one specific problem and stick with it, rather than taking on the bulk of the world’s issues. Third, It is important to remember that failure will happen, and that it can be a motivator as well as a form of evaluation.

Finally, through my experience at the Ottawa Student Seminar I met and developed relationships with other people who share my faith, goals and interest in social justice issues. It has been said that it is not what you know, but who you know—and in this context, networking is critical.

With these new relationships, knowledge and motivation, I can say that my desire for the well being of people has received new inspiration. A door is opening and a new way is emerging for me to help my community progress and develop. It is called advocacy.

Two people and a plant: What a begonia taught me about racism and pacifism

I’m from Winnipeg, which has a racism problem. It does. And, as much as I like to think that I’m some sort of exception to this racism, I’m not. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I have played a part in perpetuating that racism, and I’m not proud of it.

Since a Maclean’s article put this issue in the spotlight, I’ve taken some time to reflect on what role I play in this complex and messy problem, which has existed in Winnipeg since well before I was born, and sadly, will be an issue for the foreseeable future.

I moved to Winnipeg’s West End in 2010, which is known as a poorer area and has had a history of gang violence. As I moved from my family’s home in a cozy suburb in the north east of Winnipeg, I was well aware of the racism that exists in the city. However, I thought that somehow, as an “enlightened” individual, I was immune to perpetuating racism. I learned very soon that I was wrong.

Cory's begonia

Cory’s begonia

As a house warming gift, my beloved grandmother bought me a pot of begonias. Although I may not have the greenest thumb, I took good care of those begonias, putting them on the balcony so that they get enough sun, watering them regularly, and showcasing them on tours when family members came to see my new place.

One sunny afternoon, as I was out on the balcony watering my begonias, I saw a large aboriginal man walk by, stop in front of the house and look up at me. Immediately I put up my guard and froze. I immediately assumed that something negative was about to follow. Instead, he asked, “What kind of plant is that?”  Taken aback, I then responded in a very porky-piggish kind of way.

“A… bega…bego…bega…begonia.” I uttered. Like a fool.

“I like plants,” he said. “You keep watering that thing.” He then wished me well and continued on his way.

After this pleasant interaction I felt a mixture of emotions. While up-lifted by this positive, neighborly moment, I felt a profound sense of shame at how I had put up my guard and judged a fellow human being for looking a certain way. The instant he asked me about that begonia I realized that the “wall” that I had built up around myself came crumbling down, and I with it. For that moment in time I became vulnerable, which was beautiful. In that split second, we shared our humanity in a way that we would not have been able to otherwise.

From then on it was just two people and a plant.

The police are frequent visitors on Furby Street. Photo credit ctvnews.ca.

The police are frequent visitors on Furby Street. Photo credit ctvnews.ca.

It’s probably fair to say that most Winnipeggers, if not Canadians, have encountered someone on the street and reacted similarly. Sadly, not everyone was lucky enough to have a begonia there to make the encounter a positive one. These small moments of connection can be mutually transformative if we allow them to be. However, all too often, as we navigate through the public sphere we act guarded.

To me, pacifism can act as a begonia by reminding us to put down our guard, because at the very core of pacifism is the virtue of vulnerability. And it’s this virtue that strips us down to nothing more than our common humanity.

For me, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, pacifism requires a conscious effort to consistently keep one’s guard down while respecting the vulnerability of others, which is uncomfortable, but rewarding. Adopting this as a daily practice, I believe, is one important step in starting to address many of the problems that plague our urban spaces. Whether it be racism, mental-illness, poverty or fear, which are invariably intertwined, these problems often stem from a society building up barriers around itself.  If we collectively make ourselves vulnerable—in both big and little ways–those barriers between us may come crumbling down, because when we’re vulnerable we open ourselves to hear the voices of people who we would otherwise ignore and see more than just the “other”.

If we are going to tackle these problems, we need to change the way we interact on a daily basis, which is why Winnipeg … no … Canada needs a begonia. To me, that begonia is pacifism, because pacifism is so much more than a belief. It’s a daily practice.

By Cory Funk, Advocacy Research Intern for the Ottawa Office.

Migration, food and friendship

I’ve been thinking a lot about migration these days, especially forced migration: people having to leave home, mainly due to threats of violence and continuing conflict, but also due to environmental destruction caused by drought, floods, and mining and dam projects.

The sheer numbers of people who have been forced from their homes speaks to this global crisis. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), by the end of 2013 over 51.2 million people (and another 5.5 million by mid-2014) have been forcefully displaced, including 16.7 million refugees and 33.3 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

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House of Hope and Light is a education and social activities center for 120 refugee girls affected by the Syrian crisis. The center is located in Nabaa, a very poor neighborhood in the Beirut suburbs, where many Syrian and Iraqi refugees have settled. MCC supports this ministry of the Greek Orthodox Church, including its education programs for girls.

As a policy office, we constantly follow government announcements and debates around Canada’s response: commitments to open our doors to thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq; access to health care for refugees and refugee claimants; and Canada’s long history of private sponsorship.

As we attempt to address global migration trends, it is easy to get bogged down by statistics and constant policy debates. How can we keep from getting discouraged and overwhelmed or giving up?

For me, it comes down to the personal. In my own life I’ve been able to develop friendships with people from all over the world, many who have experienced terrible circumstances firsthand. We’ve shared struggles, stories and, yes, we’ve even shared our favourite recipes — all with a side of advocacy.

It sounds cliché to reduce cultural experiences and personal connections to food, as if trying new food is sufficient to understand others. However, food does have real power over our emotions and relationships. When we’re feeling homesick, we eat certain foods to feel more at home, or — just the opposite — we like to try new foods to get a taste (pun intended) of new places.

But it’s not the food itself that helps us make personal connections. Instead, it’s the moments of time spent with friends or meeting new people, where they have told me their stories, while teaching me how to make favourite dishes from home. Through cooking and eating together, friendships grow, and so has my own dedication to advocacy.

While in Colombia with MCC I developed friendships with several families that had been displaced by violent conflict in their home regions, some remaining under threat even in the capital city. In one particular friend’s story, a group of paramilitaries killed her brother in their home village on Colombia’s Atlantic Coast and, after reporting this crime, the group turned on her family, pursuing them all over the country. My friend and her family found refuge within the Mennonite Church in Bogota and were well supported there before eventually being resettled to Canada.

I became close to them through my church and we shared many moments, sometimes talking about politics and their story, other times about her home region and life in general. One afternoon, before leaving for Canada, my friend, her husband and three girls came over to my house to teach me how to make typical Coastal dishes: coconut rice, fried plantains, and lemonade made with raw sugar cane. This experience is one of my fondest memories of my sojourn in Colombia: hearing my friend talk about her life on the Coast and her proud Costeña identity. We grew closer in the process.

Maqlubah, the national dish of Palestine

Maqlubah, the national dish of Palestine

Another memory comes from Ottawa. While at a recent event on Israel/Palestine, I won a door prize: a free cooking lesson from a Palestinian Canadian. Sitting in her living room looking at maps and pictures, and later chopping onions and smelling the spices in what some have dubbed the national dish of Palestine — Maqlubah — we learned the story of her long journey from Palestine to Canada.

Adeba (not her real name) was only five at the time, but she still vividly remembers the sound of helicopters flying low to the ground as her family was forced from their home in Jaffa in 1948. The family moved from Jaffa to Gaza, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait and eventually Canada in 1997. Adeba clearly will never stop talking about and advocating on behalf of her homeland of Palestine. It was an honour for me and my companions to hear her story and get a small taste of her beloved homeland.

These stories, among others, offer messages of hope, but also challenge us to continue our work; whether that is addressing root causes of migration, supporting initiatives that allow people to remain in their homelands; or welcoming newcomers into our communities, and learning about their lives through sharing time, stories and, yes, food.

We encourage you to get involved with these and other issues within your own communities or through taking advantage of any MCC opportunities. For example, every May, MCC in Alberta and Saskatchewan offer a three-week learning tour opportunity for Canadian university students called Uprooted which examines the issue of migration while visiting partners and projects in Mexico (both the northern and southern borders). This learning tour allows young adult Canadians to meet with and discover first-hand the issue of migration within the Americas and how it impacts the lives of tens of thousands of people every year.

By Rebekah Sears, policy analyst for MCC’s Ottawa Office.

Advocacy and Ash Wednesday

A reflection based on Lectionary readings: Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, and 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10.

Today is Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of preparation leading to Easter. Growing up in the Mennonite church I didn’t hear a lot about Ash Wednesday or Lent. Most of my limited understanding came from a close friend who was an Anglican and who often talked about what she would give up for Lent. So my very basic understanding was that Lent was a time to give up something for a while. You could always go back to it later, but for those few weeks before Easter, you had to sacrifice something you liked or wanted.

crossAs a child I really had no interest in learning more and was just thankful Lent was an “Anglican thing” and not practiced by Mennonites. It wasn’t until high school or university that I started learning about the spiritual discipline of fasting and how that related to Lent which I came to understand as a time of preparation for the confusion of Maundy Thursday, the sorrow of Good Friday, the silence of the Saturday, and the joy of Easter Sunday. During this time we are called to recognize our weaknesses, repent and draw closer to God. Part of this preparation process can include giving up what keeps us from that close relationship with God or it can be a time of embracing a spiritual discipline that helps us better focus on nurturing that relationship.

Two of the lectionary readings for this year’s Ash Wednesday speak very clearly about the spiritual discipline of fasting. Isaiah 58 tells us it isn’t just about giving up food, or “bowing one’s head like a reed.” Fasting is meant to bring us closer to God, and not eating may remind us of our weakness and our dependence on God, But in this passage Isaiah also calls us to take action. We are to “loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke to set the oppressed free.” Lenten disciplines such as fasting and prayer can be about changing ourselves, but they can also be about changing the world.

CandleDuring Lent and this time of preparation as we seek a changed relationship and ultimately a changed world, what is the place for advocacy? Most advocacy tool kits will include practical advice on how to write a letter to someone in government, or prepare a petition, or how to organize a meeting to inform people about a particular issue, or lead a demonstration to get public attention. Rarely, however, do they suggest taking time to pray or fast. What if before major political or public engagement campaigns we took the time to prepare ourselves with prayer and fasting? Would it make our campaigns more “successful”? Perhaps not, but we might be reminded of why we undertake these endeavours. And we might be changed in the process.

Fasting as a tool for advocacy is not a new idea. Over the years people have fasted for an end to hunger, to raise awareness about climate change, for an end to various conflicts, or to show solidarity with those who suffer. While times of fasting and prayer can bring us closer together and help us focus on what we are seeking to change, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 that when we pray or fast we are not to draw attention to our actions. This time of preparation is not meant to be a public display, but an opportunity for strengthening our understanding and our relationship with God and each other.

Through the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, God changed the relationship with us and as a result we are called to be agents of change for the world. 2 Corinthians 6:4-5 warns us it will be difficult when it says, “…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger.” Change does not come easily or quickly. Lent is not necessarily meant to be an easy time and it leads to the dark day of Good Friday. But we know Easter Sunday is coming. In Isaiah’s words, “and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.” (Isaiah 58:10-11a)

As we enter Lent and this time of preparation, may we give up the temptation to stop working for change in ourselves and the world, and prepare our hearts and our minds to advocate for a better world for all.

By Monica Scheifele, MCC Ottawa Office Program Assistant.

Defining “liveable” — a glimpse at Gaza

This week’s guest writer is Anna Johnson, Connecting Peoples Coordinator for MCC Palestine. Originally from Iowa City, Iowa, she studied International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington DC.

During my visit to Gaza in January, the words of a 2012 UN report questioning whether Gaza will be ‘a liveable place’ by 2020 echoed in my mind. The report, which looked at current and projected economic circumstances, population levels, and access to water, education, and health, concluded that “there will be virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, standards of healthcare and education will have continued to decline, and the vision of affordable and reliable electricity for all will have become a distant memory.” Looking out the car window and seeing so many children and families, I wondered, “What does a place need in order to be ‘liveable’?”

Amna Abu Halima and her daughters, along with MCC Palestine worker Jessy Hampton. (Photo credit Anna Johnson)

Anam Abu Halima and her daughters, along with MCC Palestine worker Jessy Hampton. (Photo by Jesse Bergen)

One morning, we visited families who had received assistance from MCC’s partnership with the Al Najd Development Forum. These families had been displaced during the summer bombing and had not been able to return to their homes due to severe structural damage. The home of Anam and Mahmud Abu Halima lost an entire wall and their family lived in a UN school and then a small tent for seven months before being able to move back into their home after Al Najd’s volunteers replaced the wall, windows, and ceiling. Anam and Mahmud’s eight children crowded into the small room with a new wall and window to express their gratitude for being able to return home, when so many in Gaza continue to be displaced. “Now we feel we are human beings,” Anam told me.

Again I returned to my questions: What is ‘liveable’? Is Gaza ‘liveable’ now, for people like Anam and her family? Was it ‘liveable’ during the 50 days of bombardment last summer?

Based solely on statistics, one might be quick to declare an emphatic “NO” to these questions. We see on the news that hundreds of thousands of children continue to experience the side effects of trauma. We know that international donors have failed to come through on their pledged $5.4 billion for rebuilding Gaza and that thousands of people remain displaced. If anything, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is exponentially worse than it was when the UN report was published three years ago.

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Al Najd Development Forum director, Khaled Abu Sharekh, joins Ali, Mohammed, and Fadi (last name unavailable) under a blanket received in an MCC material resource shipment. The boys and their six other brothers were displaced during the 2014 summer bombardment of Gaza. Though they had not had electricity for three days when this picture was taken, they were grateful to be back in their home, thanks to Al Najd volunteers who rehabilitated it. (MCC photo by Anna Johnson)

Yet, during my two days visiting MCC’s partners in Gaza City and Khan Younis, I was struck again and again by the vivacity and tenacity of life in Gaza. Turns out, some of the funniest and most compassionate people I’ve met live in Gaza. They stubbornly refuse to give in to despair. They do with their three to six hours of electricity each day what many of us fail to do with our limitless supplies of power, water, and other resources. Through their resilience, they embody sumud – Arabic for “steadfastness.”

The question to ask ourselves is not whether Gaza will be ‘liveable’ in 2020; 1.8 million people live in Gaza today, and by 2020 it is expected that 2.13 million people will reside in Gaza’s tiny strip. We owe it to these people, then, to ask ourselves how we can make Gaza ‘liveable’ by 2020. International funds are needed to rebuild Gaza, but even more so, international pressure is needed to end the 7-year blockade on Gaza (which restricts the flow of people and trade, and prevents the delivery of needed medicines, fuel, and building materials, among other things). The UN report states that “herculean” efforts are needed to ensure that Gaza’s residents are able to “exercise and enjoy the full range of human rights to which they are entitled.”

Just as MCC’s partners in Gaza continue to serve their communities with grace and compassion, we must be steadfast in our resolve to see the people of Gaza freed from the devastating constrictions under which they are forced to live.