Voices of the Peacebuilders Part 2: Hope amidst the rubble

This is the second of a two-part series called Voices of the Peacebuilders, focusing on the importance of magnifying the voices of individuals and organizations working for peace at the grassroots. Very often these voices are overlooked or excluded from high-level policy tables when it comes to resolving conflict and building peace around the world.

In October, I was in my hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick where I gave two public lectures at the University of New Brunswick. This two-part blog series outlines points from each lecture and provide a video link. The second lecture, held on October 17 and hosted by the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society, was entitled: The Role of the Peacebuilders: Iraq, Syria and Beyond.”

Years of protracted conflict in Iraq and Syria have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and disappearances, and millions of forcibly displaced peoples.

Just under the surface are deeply rooted grievances based on: ethnic, national and religious divisions; multiple and overlapping conflicts and quests for political power and control of rich natural resources, such as oil; alliances and interests of the global superpowers; and even climate change.

In these circumstances, how do we even begin to think about solutions or possibilities for peace?

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Destroyed buildings line a street in an area of Homs, Syria, that was devastated by mortar shelling. (MCC photo/Doug Enns, March 2017)

Perspectives that are often missing in the reporting on Iraq and Syria are those from the grassroots. These include voices caught in the crossfire and even deliberate targets of violence. But they also include voices and movements of local leaders from the grassroots – individuals, communities and organizations – who are seeking to address the complex roots of conflict and build peace from the ground up.

These are people that have been dedicated to building peace long before the world took notice of escalating conflict. They are standing firm at the height of violence and they are committed to continue long after the world’s attention has faded. Their voices and their work bring a renewed sense of hope amidst the rubble.

MCC has been working alongside local partners in the Middle East for about 70 years, and in Syria and Iraq specifically for over 25 years. I want to introduce you to some of these peacebuilders and their projects, who at great personal risk to themselves and their families, exemplify the dedication, courage and commitment necessary for long-lasting peace.

Aleppo, Syria

At the end of 2016, the world watched as the Syrian government and its allies doubled down on its siege on Aleppo. The images flashing on the TV screens was one of destruction and civilians trapped in the crossfire. And, while these images ring true at a certain level, they do not tell the whole story – that of non-violent peacebuilders, like MCC’s partner Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD). As much of the international community fled Aleppo, and Syria in general, FDCD remained.

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Participants from MCC partner’s FDCD interactive theatre production in Aleppo, Syria promoting reconciliation and peacebuilding. In December 2015, amidst airstrikes, suicide bombs and fighting making headlines – not to mention restrictions on public gatherings – some 1,200 people attended the three shows. (Photo courtesy of FDCD)

FDCD, working in multiple urban areas across Syria, focusses on peacebuilding through ethnic and inter-faith bridgebuilding, tackling deep-seated divisions. From 2015-2016, as fighting intensified in Aleppo, FDCD organized and ran a theatre and education program for the public, promoting inter-faith dialogue between Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and others.

The theatre production, funded in part by the Canadian government, attracted over 1200 people in Aleppo, much more than anticipated. As one representative of FDCD told the National Post in 2016: “Now [Aleppo is] the most dangerous city on earth. You can hide and cry, or you can fight, or you can try to make a positive change.”

Bashiqa, Northern Iraq

The Yezidi people, an ethnic and religious minority from Northern Iraq, have suffered unspeakable acts of violence and torture throughout the conflict in Iraq, especially at the hands of ISIS.  Bashiqa, in northern Iraq, has a significant Yezidi population and was under the brutal control of ISIS for three years. But despite great suffering, MCC partner Yezidi/Azidi Solidarity and Fraternity League (ASFL) is seeking not only to provide material and psycho-social relief to survivors, but empower local Yezidis to be agents of change and reconciliation.

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Pictured from left to right are Yazidi youth volunteers Sadolla, Jilan, Barakat, Khairie, Rivan, Omeid, Sardel, Saif, and Sarmed (last names withheld for security reasons), participants in ASFL’s “Forward Together”* campaign, in Bashiqa Iraq; restoring public spaces, including painting murals that include messages of peace, inclusivity and hope. (Photo courtesy of ASFL)

As part of a campaign, “Forward Together,” ASFL in sending out teams of volunteers to help in the reconstruction and beautification of Bashiqa. These reconstruction teams specifically reach out to neighbourhoods with people of different religions and ethnicities – Muslims, Christians, Arabs and Kurds – to promote reconciliation and a portrayal of Yezidis as not only victims of conflict but agents of change.

One participant reflected: “We felt very relieved to help people from other religions. Working in this campaign broke the boundaries that were created by the events on Sinjar Mountain [notorious massacre and torture site of Yezidis by ISIS] and in other areas. It felt amazing.”

Southern Lebanon

Finally, in southern Lebanon, MCC partner Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD) is supporting both Palestinians in Lebanon and Syrian refugees (including Palestinians from Syria), with food baskets, vouchers and other provisions, while also bringing these groups of people together, to share and find healing together.

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Faten Faour (Right), an animator for psychosocial activities run by MCC partner Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD) in southern Lebanon for Syrian and Palestinian refugees (MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky).

The influx of over 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon has no doubt had significant economic, social and political impacts. To meet physical needs while promoting reconciliation, PARD supports refugees and their host communities struggling with economic needs. Bringing together these groups in formal and informal settings, PARD hopes to foster positive relationships between communities, providing necessities, easing tensions and building peace from the ground up.

Looking Forward

As Syrian peace talks stumble and drag on in Geneva, as government forces clash with Kurdish forces in Iraq, and millions of people remain displaced throughout the region, the situation remains grim. But there is hope amidst the rubble in the persistence, courage and dedication of those who work for peace from the ground up.

See a full link to the lecture here.

Rebekah Sears is the MCC Ottawa Office Policy Analyst

Peace for the long run in Syria

“We’re all fed up with these muscle-flexing exercises… [We need to try] to solve our problems with the mind or the heart, not the muscles”- Rev. Nadim Nassar, Syrian priest of the Church of England

For the past six years the Syrian people have been at the epicentre of multiple complex conflicts, which have drawn in powerful regional and international players.

While the western media focuses on the conflict between the Assad government and groups such as ISIS, the situation is far more complex, with intra-rebel fighting, battles between ISIS and the many other armed groups, regional Sunni-Shia divisions, the Kurdish struggle for a homeland, and so on.

The result: hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed since 2011, and millions of people – 65 percent of Syria’s population – have been forcefully displaced from their homes. This includes over 6 million internally displaced peoples and 5.5 million refugees.

In light of these tragic circumstances, how does one even start to think about the possibilities for long-term peace?

A dominant narrative among political decision makers, including in Canada, is that military intervention (or the threat of it) is essential to ending the Syrian crisis. This narrative is echoed by much of the Western media and the general public.

Canada, as part of the Global Coalition against [ISIS], has at certain points called for the removal of President Assad and promoted Canada’s commitment to the defeat of ISIS through the military component of its approach in Syria and Iraq. Like MCC partners,  Rev. Nadim Nassar, a Syrian priest in the Church of England, claims that when it comes to Western-led military interventions in the Middle East, there is often little understanding of the complex context, the ripple effects of such actions on the ground, and what approaches might truly be needed to create long-term peace. Yet, as he laments in a radio interview with CBC’s The Sunday Edition in April 2017, the dominant narrative often takes precedence, drowning out the voices that promote other approaches to building peace.

MCC has been supporting and walking alongside local partners in Syria for over 25 years. These local partners include churches and other organizations with strong roots in their communities and a deep understanding of the complexities of the ever-changing context. Despite the exodus of international NGOs and diplomats, these partners have chosen to remain in Syrai in the midst of conflict, deeply dedicated to long-term peace in their country.

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In Damascus, Syria, former MCC representatives Doug and Naomi Enns stand on Straight Street (the street we read about in Acts where the Apostle Paul was staying after being blinded on the road to Damascus). Photo courtesy of Syrian Orthodox Church

In April 2017, former MCC representatives for Lebanon and Syria, Doug and Naomi Enns, entered Syria for the first time in five years, spending five days with partners in their home communities. They saw loss and destruction, but they also saw the work for peace and the rebuilding of hope.

They witnessed that life persists: “We saw acts of solidarity between people of various faiths and backgrounds. We saw hope, we saw resilience. We saw hardship and terrible loss. And we saw people really wanting to live.”

MCC and its partners in Syria and the surrounding region believe that the key to long-lasting peace lies in addressing the deep rooted political and socio-economic grievances.

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During their visit, Doug and Naomi Enns were thanked by many partners, including this group at the Damascus office of Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD). Photo courtesy of FDCD

Such work involves things like building bridges between different faiths and ethnic groups; supporting those struggling with both physical and mental trauma so they aren’t drawn into cycles of violence; trying to create a sense of belonging for children and promote hope for the future generations; and providing emergency support while investing in long-term development.

MCC’s partners engage in these acts of peacebuilding and resistance even amidst the violence.

As part of their trip, Doug and Naomi visited the city of old Homs – a shell of the old city all but reduced to rubble in a brutal siege in 2012. Despite the destruction all around, they saw hope at a Syrian Orthodox Church – a church that can trace its roots back to 59 AD. Though sustaining significant damage in the conflict, somehow the church continues to thrive. Weekly services continue and the community programs persist, allowing the congregation to reach out and walk alongside the most vulnerable within the community.

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Flowers bloom amid the destruction in Homs, Syria, a site where MCC partners with the Syrian Orthodox Church in supporting orphans and providing monthly allowances. MCC photo/Doug Enns

MCC welcomes and supports some of the Government of Canada’s work in the region, including its long-term development and humanitarian relief, and its stated commitment to diplomacy. But the military mission against ISIS, which was recently renewed until spring 2019, is a great concern to MCC. Our faith commitments and our experience around the world over decades have taught us that war does not bring true and lasting peace.

Additionally, along with many Canadians, we note that there is little-to-no transparent direction or specific goals for Canada’s extended military mission. More importantly, MCC’s partners and staff in and around Syria see the military response as counterproductive, failing to address the roots of the conflict and leaving destruction in its wake.

MCC’s partners in the region know that working for long-term peace in Syria is neither easy, nor quick. Syrian peacebuilders do not pretend to know all of the answers. Yet they long to stay and to see the day when their children can live in peace.

Like the slow but steady rebuilding of the ancient church in Homs, peace comes slowly, one brick at a time.

 

By Rebekah Sears, Policy Analyst for the Ottawa Office

Savings groups “leave no one behind”

This week’s guest writer is Allison Enns, Food Security and Livelihood Coordinator for MCC Canada. She visited Kenya, Ethiopia and Cambodia in fall 2016 as part of a Canadian Foodgrains Bank tour to learn about savings groups.

Makueni County, Kenya – One by one, women come to the front of the circle and call out the amount of money they will be saving. In unison the group calls back the amount— “500 shillings!” —as bills and coins are dropped into a communal pot. Each woman does the same until all members of the group have announced how much they are saving this week. The total is counted and stored in a cooking pot, while amounts are meticulously recorded by the secretary.

This is a typical scene for over 12 million members of savings groups around the world. Savings groups are community groups that meet together regularly to save money, provide small loans to one another, and support each other financially when an unexpected cost such as illness occurs. Members create the rules and regulations for how the group functions, and manage the accounting entirely on their own.

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The weekly meeting of an all-women savings group in Kenya. Photo courtesy Joanna Beach.

One of the most profound impacts of savings groups is that they provide an ability to save and obtain loans for communities who lack access to banking services. Membership is targeted to those who are the most vulnerable and marginalised—those who aren’t eligible for loans from Micro Finance Institutes and those to whom local moneylenders are reluctant to loan money. Instead of relying on these outside resources that charge high interest rates and cause deep debt, savings group members are able to use their own resources to save and access loans that can help them start small businesses, buy livestock or seeds, support their families with food during hungry seasons, and send their children to school.

Savings groups not only provide financial support; they can also contribute to changes in attitude and perspective. Group members are most often women, and many express how when they first joined the groups they did not think it was possible to earn their own money, and had no say within their homes regarding household spending and other important decisions. In fact, most of their husbands were not supportive of them joining the groups.

One woman in Ethiopia tells her experience of joining a savings group and explains how, when she first joined, her husband teased her and thought nothing could come of such a group. Despite this, she persisted and continued to save, eventually being able to take out a significant loan to buy livestock and earn an income. When there was a particularly difficult time of year, she took out a loan to buy food for her family. Her husband was shocked at the strength of his wife during such a difficult time, and speaks emotionally about how, as a result of his wife’s involvement in the group, he didn’t need to ask for a loan from a moneylender. “Going to a moneylender is like telling them your secrets,” he shares, “my wife saved me from this shame.”  He is now supportive of his wife’s involvement in the savings group and has even joined one himself. Unlike before, they now make important household decisions about spending together.

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A savings groups in Ethiopia. Photo courtesy Joanna Beach

Last week was International Development Week, a time when there is a spotlight on the challenges and opportunities of working to support development in Canada and abroad. The theme of this year’s International Development Week—“leave no one behind”—expresses the global goals laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What does this call to “leave no one behind” really mean?

When I hear this phrase I am encouraged to think about how the most vulnerable and marginalised within communities can have opportunities to support themselves and their families. Sometimes new initiatives or technologies that are meant to help the poor aren’t actually accessible for the most vulnerable; they can’t necessarily afford to take the risks associated with something new and unknown.

The community-driven approach of savings groups, on the other hand, targets the most vulnerable and offers a low risk way to access capital. Those who face extreme poverty don’t need to be “left behind” in access to banking, and women don’t need to be “left behind” in earning an income and making decisions about household spending.

World Food Day, climate change and supporting small-holder farmers

This week’s writer is Stefan Epp-Koop, chair of the board of MCC Manitoba. He participated in the Canadian Foodgrains Bank Good Soil learning tour to Kenya in July 2016.

When Hiram Thuo’s crops failed in 2009 due to irregular rainfall, he had little choice but to seek food aid. He did so reluctantly, sad that he was no longer able to feed his family. So Hiram, who farms near Naivasha, Kenya, began attending trainings on vegetable production, irrigation, and drought resistant crops.

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Hiram Thuo, posing with his wife (name unavailable), was excited to share about the changes he has made on his farm. Photo courtesy Andrew Richardson.

Hiram’s farm has been transformed over the past seven years. He now plants crops like watermelon, kale, spinach, capsicum, and passion fruit. These crops are highly sought after by local merchants. As a result he is now able to feed his family and sell the extra to traders in the local market, earning approximately $70 per month – money that is used to pay school fees and make further improvements on the farm.

This summer I had the opportunity to visit many farmers like Hiram during a Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) learning tour to Kenya. The trip was part of the Good Soil campaign, a CFGB initiative to engage the Canadian government to increase support for agriculture as part of our international development assistance.

Like Hiram, many Kenyan farmers we visited talked about the impact of a changing climate – in particular increasingly unpredictable rainfall.  And, like Hiram, many farmers have experienced remarkable transformations, thanks to support for training and scale-appropriate technology.

October 16 is World Food Day, which this year is focusing on the impact of a changing climate on food insecurity.  Small-holder farmers, who make up the majority of the world’s farmers and the vast majority of people experiencing hunger in the world, are very vulnerable to changes in climate such as rapidly changing rainfall or temperature patterns.

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The Good Soil learning tour participants posing with a plaque honoring Canadian contributions at ILRI. CFGB photo/Emily Cain.

Yet, while the Canadian government has shown renewed interest in addressing climate change and mitigating its impacts, its funding for agriculture through international development assistance has dropped by 30% in the past three years. Agriculture, however, can play a critical role in enabling people in developing countries to respond to changing realities: people like Hiram and many of the other farmers  we met in Kenya.

Re-investing in agriculture would allow vital research to take place like the work we visited at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi. ILRI does research focused on the needs of small-scale farmers with livestock. We heard of research ranging from innovative insurance systems for livestock to protect farmers from droughts to identifying more reliable livestock feed for farmers with limited grazing land.

When we visited ILRI, much of the equipment proudly displayed a Canadian logo – a sign of a history of Canadian funding. But while there were a lot of old stickers and plaques, Canadian support has declined.  A reinvestment by Canada in agricultural research for small-scale farmers could make a powerful impact by developing scale-appropriate solutions.

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Lucas Makau with tomatoes ready for market. CFGB photo/Emily Caine.

Or it could mean enabling young entrepreneurs like Lucas Makau to start farming in new ways.  Lucas practices conservation agriculture on approximately three quarters of an acre.  This involves minimal tillage, using mulches or cover crops, and crop rotation.  Lucas has applied this to growing tomatoes, which he then sells in Nairobi – an entrepreneurial approach to farming that has generated income for his family.  A key benefit of conservation agriculture is that much more water is retained in the soil, making crops less susceptible to changing weather patterns.  This increases yields and reduces vulnerability.

Whether supporting grassroots initiatives or the structures and research that support them, Canada can make a big impact by supporting more agricultural initiatives through our international development assistance.  We can reduce global hunger and enable small-scale farmers to be more resilient to the effects of climate change – while also benefiting local economies, empowering women, and improving nutrition.

Please take action to encourage the Canadian government to increase aid for agriculture. Learn more about the Good Soil campaign; then order, sign and send Good Soil postcards to the Prime Minister.  In addition, visit http://aid4ag.ca/, which outlines ten priorities for investing in agriculture – priorities that have been supported by over 30 organizations across Canada.

Love in the time of sanctions

This reflection is written by Jacob Greaser, who recently completed an internship with the MCC U.S.’Washington office, focusing on U.S. foreign policy.  It originally appeared on Third Way Cafe. For information on Canada’s relationship with the DPRK, click here.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK/North Korea) is probably one of the most mysterious and least visited places in the world for North Americans. Even for many U.S. policymakers, DPRK is often seen through a political cloud of fear and presented as an unknowable and unpredictable enemy. For the U.S. government, the label of “enemy” usually leads to punitive measures such as sanctions. For Christians, the label of “enemy” should mean something quite different.

Jesus’ teaching to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) may seem to be a meaningless phrase in the midst of political complexity, but it is an important perspective that is often missing from U.S. policy. In fact, there are more open avenues for peacebuilding in DPRK than many people realize. DPRK has been placed under increasingly strict sanctions by the U.S., but humanitarian assistance is still permitted and needed. In the recent flurry of policies directed at the DPRK government, it is important not to ignore cries for help from vulnerable citizens inside DPRK.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), one of just a few organizations providing humanitarian aid in DPRK, assists individuals with tuberculosis and provides orphanages with food and other material resources. MCC heeds Christ’s call to address the needs of the most vulnerable in society and believes this applies everywhere, including DPRK. Over 20 years of working in DPRK, MCC has been allowed access to verify that our resources get to those vulnerable people. Through MCC’s commitment to serving vulnerable people everywhere, MCC has the rare opportunity to work and build relationships with people in DPRK.

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These children at the South Pyongan Kindergarten Orphanage in Pyongsong, DPRK receive soya milk made from soybeans provided by MCC. MCC photo/Rachelyn Ritchie

The picture that is painted of DPRK as a repressive, secretive country often leads people to forget that DPRK allows humanitarian workers and even tourists into parts of the country. By working in DPRK, MCC is able to challenge assumptions that engagement with DPRK is impossible and shows that some level of trust can be built through consistent engagement over 20 years. Even though the relationship between the U.S. and DPRK governments is tense right now, MCC finds hope in the relationships it has built with partners in DPRK and sees relationships on that small scale as one potential path towards a larger dialogue.

MCC’s commitment to vulnerable people looks beyond the political rhetoric to love our enemies. This ultimately opens up spaces for relationship building and ongoing dialogue. While both governments frequently blame the other for escalation and refusing engagement, this destructive cycle of blame denies all possibility of meaningful engagement or understanding. MCC is able to challenge the narrative of DPRK as unreachable through the individual relationships it has built and to provide an example of small scale engagement.

Eventually, small examples of love can open the door for large acts of peace.

 

The awful grace of God: Thoughts on an MCC learning tour to Lebanon

This reflection is written by Jon Nofziger, constituency relations coordinator for MCCBC.  Jon wrote this reflection as he led a group of MCC constituents on a learning tour to Lebanon, where they learned about the Syrian refugee crisis and met with Syrian partners. 

“What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.  The Life-Light blazed out of darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.”  John 1:4-5 The Message

“He who learns must suffer, and even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” Aeschylus, fifth century BC Greek playwright of tragedies

I liken a learning tour to being enrolled in the College of Life and taking a course in “hard knocks.”  While our group did not endure the same “knocks” as people  we met in Lebanon, one thing is certain: we learned that many who have passed through the crucible of suffering will acknowledge they have found themselves better for the experience—bitter though it may have been. These saints have insights to offer a hurting world.

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Syrian refugees, living in Lebanon and receiving psychosocial assistance informal education activities from MCC partner Popular Aid for Relief and Development, pose with members of the learning tour. MCC photo/Scott Campbell

For centuries, skeptics have argued that the presence of evil in this world negates the idea that a good God exists. It is alleged that if an all-powerful God exists, who refuses to put an end to evil and suffering, then certainly God could not be all-good.

But blaming God for current woes in the world is akin to charging Henry Ford with the responsibility for the death of a person killed in a drunk-driving accident.

The argument against the goodness of God, grounded on the basis of earthly evil, assumes there is no logical purpose to be served by God’s toleration of human tragedy.  Yet at the end of the day, we must own up to the fact that we simply are not qualified to judge what God is doing. Our scope of vision is microscopic.

This is one of the lessons the patriarch Job had to learn when, in his suffering, he became very critical of his Maker, questioning the Lord’s wisdom. God gave him an examination to show him how “small” he actually was (Job 38-41); Job was in no position to subject the Almighty to critical analysis.

Rather than question God’s wisdom and purpose, we, like Job, should acknowledge God’s company/communion with human tragedy.

 With our lives, we testify to believe in one of two Gods: either an omnipotent idol that controls and arranges everything, or the God of hope who works alongside us.Dorothee Soelle, German theologian.

While in Lebanon, our group was introduced to the suffering of the church in Syria through our partner, the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC). We met and heard from Father Walid, a Catholic priest from Syria.  He and his volunteer crew of 16 have been distributing material resources from MCC and other NGOs to over 2,000 families in rural areas in the western part of Syria.

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Father Walid and his team assist with the distribution of MCC blankets, September 2015. Photo courtesy of FMEEC.

Father Walid is a quiet, unassuming man. Another MCC partner translated from Arabic to English as Father Walid shared with us details of his work. At one point he stopped, visibly overcome with emotion. He swiveled his chair so his back faced us, taking deep breaths and gathering himself in order to continue. When he was ready to begin again, he said, “The burden is too heavy.”  He also made clear that his primary work is not simply to provide material help. Rather, it is to “bring hope and be with the people.”  When asked what does hope look like, his quick, humble response was simply, “We are Christians aren’t we?”

To be honest, I didn’t fully comprehend the profundity of his reply.  To my western, affluent ears, the words sounded rather fatalistic. Upon return to Canada, I went surfing the web for insight to what Father Walid could have meant by his reply.  I came across some writings of Ivone Gerbara, Brazilian nun/philosopher/liberation theologian who worked alongside Dom Helder Camara (grandfather of liberation theology).  She offers similar sentiment:

 God is our hope because we want to go beyond the terror, violence, and fear that crush us. God is our hope because we often have no visible hope, because the haze of fear that envelops us seems terrifying. God is our hope as the ultimate cry for justice: a no to unjust killing, to arms and armies, and a yes to dignified life. God is our hope in our despair…For this reason, within the mystery of our lives, God is our hope.

When we suffer or share in the suffering of others, our compassion for others deepens. It has been said that the difference between “sympathy” and “empathy” is that in the former instance one “feels with” (i.e., has feelings of tenderness for) those who suffer. One becomes aware there are 1.2 million refugees now living in Lebanon. With “empathy” one almost is able to “get inside” the one who suffers—because the one offering comfort has been there!  For example, we have met Amlah (not real name) and two of her children and she invited us into her current home, a UNHCR-provided tent.

If you choose to enter into other people’s suffering, or to love others, you have to consent in some way to the possible consequences.Ita Ford, Maryknoll sister, murdered in El Salvador 1980.

While our learning tour group has not suffered as those we met during our days in Lebanon, we will share in their suffering.  We will have images, names and faces, not just statistics, because we have been there.  We will be changed people.  There will be consequences. Thanks to the awful grace of God.

Prayer:  May acceptance of our brokenness, of our healing, of our being called to serve, be a sign of our faith in the ongoing goodness of a God who journeys with us– in the power and love to remove any barrier within and among us; in the mystery of the challenge given to each one to make bread and life and beauty available to everyone. Amen.

Support a future for Gaza!

“And this is how we see our future — to be killed by the conflict, to be killed by the closure (blockade), or to be killed by despair.”

These words, spoken by a 15-year-old boy, describe how the desperate situation in Gaza is destroying the hopes and dreams of Gazan youth. The boy shared this message with Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, and Ki-moon shared it with the UN Security Council on July 12.

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This Gazan family (names withheld for security reasons) received MCC material resources after the 2014 war. MCC photo/Jesse Bergen

Through the months of July and August 2014, a war between Hamas and Israel resulted in massive death and destruction, primarily for Gazans. More than 2100 Palestinians, including 495 children, were killed, as well as 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 civilians. It was the third such war in six years. Two years after the most recent war, Gaza continues to suffer:

  • Of 11,000 homes completely destroyed in 2014, only 10 percent have been rebuilt; 75,000 people are still without a home;[*]
  • 250 schools were damaged or destroyed and many have not been repaired; 400 schools currently run double shifts as a result;
  • Severe electricity and fuel shortages lead to rolling blackouts that can last hours; this seriously hampers pumping systems for water and sanitation;
  • 80 percent of the population is dependent on humanitarian assistance for basic necessities;
  • Unemployment levels are estimated to be 40 percent or more – among the highest in the world;
  • The psychological trauma of successive wars and the stress caused by unemployment have resulted in increased levels of domestic violence and divorce; for children, the impacts are nightmares, bed-wetting, difficulty concentrating and even completing school.
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Many Gazans continue to live in makeshift shelters like this one. MCC photo/Jesse Bergen

A major reason for the lack of progress in Gaza’s reconstruction is because of the Israeli blockade on Gaza – a blockade on land, sea and air that has been in place for nearly a decade. The blockade has crippled the Gazan economy and isolated the people of Gaza politically and socially. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that “the closure of Gaza suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts.” People frequently refer to Gaza as an open air prison with 1.8 million prisoners.

Israel says that the blockade is needed to limit Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli cities and towns, and to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. But critics say that the blockade actually fuels the rocket attacks and increases insecurity for Israelis; moreover, the blockade constitutes a form of collective punishment and a violation of international law.

A specific impediment to Gaza’s recovery is the restrictions placed by the blockade on the entry of basic building materials such as wood, cement, steel bars. The lifting of these restrictions would go a long way to rebuilding homes, even while a full end to the blockade is critical to a long-term solution for Gaza and for Israel.

MCC has joined the Association of International Aid Agencies in calling for action that will lift the Israeli blockade and specifically the restrictions on building materials.  Please join us by viewing this video and signing this petition.

Children constitute half the population of Gaza. Many of them have lived their entire life under the blockade. Please support a future for them.

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* MCC’s response to the 2014 crisis included emergency food assistance, the distribution of essential non-food items, and repair of 70 houses that had been damaged but not completely destroyed.

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