Daring to dream of an AIDS-free world

December 1 is World AIDS Day.  This week’s guest blog is written by Beth Good, Health Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee.

Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation

This is the theme for World AIDS Day put out by UNAIDS — but what does that really mean?  “Shared responsibility” sounds great!  My understanding of this phrase means we are all sharing the load, so that no one has to carry the responsibility alone.  Yet, when we look at the statistics, the burden of HIV & AIDS continues to be borne within communities that are already carrying the burden of poverty as well.  While those of us from wealthier countries may be growing weary of hearing about the AIDS pandemic, over 35 million people are growing weary of living with the disease.

World AIDS Day logoThe good news is that there is a 33 percent decrease of new infections since 2001.  More good news is that access to antiretroviral therapy (a drug regime that reduces symptoms and rates of infection) has increased dramatically.  On a more sobering note, globally,  less than half of those needing treatment are able to access this therapy.  Moreover, the one in three women who experience intimate partner violence are 50 percent more likely to acquire HIV.

As I reflect on where we are globally in addressing HIV & AIDS, I relate it to the position of a person who has been able to swim nearly half the distance of a large lake (or more like an ocean in this case). This individual is so very tired and there is still such a great distance to travel…should she turn around and head back?  Most of us would say that it would be crazy to return once you have come so far!  There has been a 52 percent drop in new infections in children, a 40 percent increase in the number of people accessing antiretroviral therapy, a 29 percent decrease in AIDS related deaths of adults and children.

Dinah John and Angel Mathew (left to right) are part of an intergenerational team of women learning and sharing information about HIV and AIDS in Arusha, Tanzania. MCC photo by Nina Linton

Dinah John and Angel Mathew (left to right) are part of an intergenerational team of women learning and sharing information about HIV and AIDS in Arusha, Tanzania. MCC photo by Nina Linton

MCC partners with organizations in 27 countries who are continuing to share the responsibility of ending HIV & AIDS. They work in areas of prevention of new infections, treatment for those living with HIV, and supporting orphaned and vulnerable children.  On a recent trip to Nigeria, I was able to meet an amazing young woman who was assisted through our partner Faith Alive Clinic, in the city of Jos. Beatrice Odekhia attended a sewing course at Faith Alive to assist with the family’s income. Despite the lack of encouragement from her friends and family, she successfully completed the training and I met her at her shop where she sews custom-made clothing.  Beatrice now has a successful business and is teaching others to sew and manage a tailoring business as a way to express her gratitude to God.

So, let’s do this!  It is still difficult and we are weary — especially those who are living with HIV. But, like Beatrice, we need to continue to press on. This can be the legacy of this generation: that we were able to see the end of a disease that has ravaged millions around the world.

Two requests from Syrian partners

By Sarah Adams, former MCC Representative for Lebanon and Syria.  Sarah recently completed a speaking tour through parts of Canada.

I have just finished four and half years as the MCC Representative for Lebanon and Syria. The change I witnessed in the region during the last few years has been nothing short of remarkable. The pain and suffering of the millions of displaced and traumatized people has often left me without words. Yet, in the face of such tragedy, I have seen hope and thanksgiving and selflessness beyond measure.

Zakaa Mohamad Khalid, a Syrian refugee arrived in Lebanon about three months ago after fleeing from her burning home in Homs with nothing, not even documentation. MCC provides material resources to many refugees like Khalid, helping them to retain some dignity as they adjust to living in refugee settlements. (MCC Photo/Sarah Adams)

Zakaa Mohamad Khalid, a Syrian refugee, arrived in Lebanon from her burning home in Homs with nothing, not even documentation. MCC provides material resources to many refugees like Khalid, helping them to retain some dignity as they adjust to living in refugee settlements. (MCC Photo by Sarah Adams)

I had the privilege to walk alongside individuals and communities responding to the on-going emergency. They chose non-violence in the face of a raging civil conflict, working together instead of being driven apart, faith instead of anger, hope instead of despair.

As I said my farewells, I was regularly met with two requests:

The first request was a simple one: “Remember to pray for us.”

There is trust that God’s mercy and love can prevail, even in the face of destruction and dehumanizing violence. Even when warring sides and foreign influences make the conflict feel inescapable, God offers the hope of peace.

The second request was more complicated: “We need the world’s help to end this conflict. Do what you can to let people know what’s happening in Syria, and ask those in power to help us find a way forward.”

The Syrian conflict has grown beyond the Syrian borders and the Syrian people. External influences are at play in many ways—some directly through the provision of weapons, fighters, and other equipment on the ground. The United Nations seems to be paralyzed in its ability to help mediate an end to the conflict.

Earlier this month, I was able to join our partners’ requests for advocacy along with my daily prayers for Syria. During a visit to the MCC office in Ottawa, I shared some of the experiences of our partners in Syria with leaders in the Canadian government.

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Sarah Adams (right), with Jennifer Wiebe and Paul Heidebrecht of MCC Canada’s Ottawa Office before meeting with officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. (MCC photo by Mark Tymm)

In a series of meetings with both elected officials and civil servants, I was able to answer questions about MCC’s response to the conflict, and to highlight the important humanitarian and peace building efforts happening both within Syria and among refugee communities in the surrounding countries.

I sensed a real compassion for the suffering of Syrians and a sincere desire among those we met to see this conflict come to an end. Indeed, the humanitarian assistance provided thus far by Canada and other countries has been significant, even as that assistance needs to accelerate in order to match the urgent and growing needs in the region.

The conflict in Syria will require prayers and efforts from people around the world to find a lasting resolution. On behalf of MCC’s partners in Syria, I ask you to add your prayers to the chorus of calls for peace. I also invite you to reflect on the role of the global community and to call on your elected officials to seek new channels of dialogue and international cooperation to end the conflict in Syria.

Climate change: who pays?

This week’s  blog is written by Bruce Guenther, Disaster Response Director for MCC.

This week, governments, international institutions, and local civil society actors are participating in the 19th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw Poland.

The meetings come on the cusp of Super Typhoon Haiyan which struck the Philippines last week — the worst recorded storm in the country’s history. Is climate change the cause of the extreme weather events we have seen in recent years? MCC’s partners continue to tell us that the changing climate is having a concrete impact on their communities. Those who have contributed the least to causing climate change bear the brunt of the harm.

In general, the research tells us that climate change will cause increased drought, flooding and extreme weather events. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the science of climate change indicates that it is “very likely” there will be more frequent and extreme precipitation events, particularly in tropical areas. It is also “very likely” that there will be more frequent heat waves and an increase in mean temperature. A further detailed report on climate change impacts and adaptation is due from the IPCC in March 2014.

HaiyanTo summarize: wet is wetter, dry is drier, and there will continue to be greater weather uncertainty and extreme events. We can already see many of those impacts. Protracted drought in the Horn of Africa (reaching a crisis in 2011), the Sahel region and in parts of southern Africa are consistent with climate change projections. Increased flooding events are also being observed in part of South Asia, most recently again in Pakistan. The recent Super Typhoon in the Philippines and Super Storm Sandy, which struck the Caribbean and the U.S. east coast, make one wonder if “super storms” are the new normal.

In Canada, we can also testify to an increase in extreme climatic events. In Manitoba, spring flooding risk has increased in frequency over the last decade, and the recent devastating flooding in southern Alberta is unprecedented.  The number of flooding events globally has been increasing over the last 20 years along with the cost of the damage.

But those who bear the greatest costs of increased climate risks are those that have contributed the least to climate change through carbon emissions. It is a global injustice.

MCC, as part of the Canadian Coalition for Climate Change and Development (C4D) is asking the Canadian government to commit additional funds to developing countries to help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.

A recent C4D report shows that the government’s commitment to “Fast Start Climate Finance” (the 2009 Copenhagen Accord) was primarily given to developing countries as loans and toward mitigating climate change, not helping countries adapt. While mitigation is an important objective, developing countries need immediate support now to adapt to minimize the impact they are already seeing from more extreme weather events. This includes greater disaster preparedness, increased support to small-scale farmers, and ensuring public infrastructure and shelter will protect communities from the next “super storm.”

Husbandandwife_EthiopiaMCC is helping communities adapt to a changing climate. A recent case study, from the Amhara region of Ethiopia, shows that climate change is increasing the frequency, intensity and unpredictability of climate-related hazards. MCC with the, Migibare Senay Children and Family Support Organization, has worked to increase soil and water conservation, restore biodiversity and increase food security in this watershed. As a result, local farmers are less vulnerable to climate-related shocks and stresses and have improved their food security.

MCC, in cooperation with Canadian Foodgrains Bank, is urging churches and individuals to write to their Member of Parliament asking the Canadian government to do more, including: 1) allocating new and additional funding to help developing countries address climate change, and 2) ensuring that more of these funds are spent on adaptation activities in order meet the immediate needs of vulnerable countries and communities.

The most vulnerable are paying the price for a changing climate. We need to pay our fair share.

Dilemmas and discomforts on Remembrance Day

By Mark Tymm, MCC Ottawa Office Advocacy Research Intern. Mark is an Anabaptist of Northern Irish/Canadian descent, a musician, and a graduate of Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, BC.

It’s hard to believe my time here in Ottawa has almost reached the half-way point. As part of my learning experience, I am often given opportunities to attend events around town, such as public lectures  organized by the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies, or the Ottawa Peace Festival, and Question Period at the House of Commons. One such event was a conference entitled Peacebuilding: Negotiate, Organize, Intervene at the Canadian War Museum.

???????????????????????????????The Canadian War Museum was opened in its current location in May 2005. It is a unique building and was designed by Raymond Moriyama who, as a child, was confined to an internment camp during WWII. I pass the museum every day on my way to the MCC Ottawa Office. It’s a modern building, and echoes the terrible realities of war. The textured concrete walls and roof look a bit like a bunker, but the roof is partially-covered in grass, supposedly representing regeneration. The small windows on the most prominent peak spell “Lest we forget” and “N’oublions jamais” in Morse code. The building certainly reminds viewers of many aspects of Canada’s involvement in armed conflicts.

The museum is currently hosting Peace: The Exhibition, which prompted (and provided the organizational structure for) this one-day conference. The event featured three panel discussions by some of the biggest names in Canadian peace operations and analysis, such as Paul Heinbecker, Peggy Mason, Douglas Roche, and General John de Chastelain. The panel discussed a wide variety of topics: civilian involvement in a particular conflict, personal reflections on a historical event, and even the personal letters of Lester B. Pearson and his son during the Suez Crisis of 1956.

Perhaps the most significant understanding I walked away with was the sense that non-violent approaches to conflict resolution are not popular. No matter the background of the panelist (military, academic, political, diplomatic), all affirmed the use of military force in some form or other. Clearly, the traditional pacifist convictions held by many Anabaptists are shared by only a minority of Canadians.

IMG1026With this recent personal history I got onto the bus today, stepping past a familiar yellow ribbon beside the door with the words, “Support our Troops.” The phrase has been echoing in my head throughout the day. As we approach Remembrance Day, I have been faced with this struggle. “Support our Troops.” Does that mean supporting a war? Does that mean supporting violence?

Yes of course I support our troops; that’s why I want them to come home and stop fighting.

When it comes to Remembrance Day, it’s hard to know what to say. Our government would like us to remember veterans as heroes. It calls Canadians “people of peace,” but then it commits us to a lengthy and costly war in Afghanistan, touts Canada’s military heritage and history, and orders $2 billion worth of Close Combat Vehicles.

War is a sensitive topic; many of us have lost friends and relatives to armed conflict. Many of us have friends or family who have served or are serving in the Canadian Forces. It is important on Remembrance Day to mourn with those who mourn. At the same time, it’s important to remember that we are calling for an end to violence and offering other solutions.

Peace PacketIn past years, as a pacifist I have been incredibly uncomfortable with Remembrance Day. This year though I am reminded that although I do not embrace violence, I have been called to offer comfort to victims of violence, to offer to be a beacon of peace. After all, as we are reminded in MCC’s recent Peace Sunday resource,we have been given a ministry of reconciliation.

Can we remember those that have died fighting and appreciate their sacrifice while disagreeing with their means? What about remembering the One who faced violence and death and yet asked for forgiveness for his killers?