Posts Tagged ‘Development’

UnitingWorld
By UnitingWorld

Everything in Common: Year Six students lead the way

November 25th, 2014

Year Six students at Christian College Geelong have raised an impressive $3651.35 toward toilets, school books, chickens, goats and health care for families around the globe through their annual Year Six Market Day and UnitingWorld’s Everything In Common Gift Catalogue.

“It’s our best outcome ever and we’re absolutely delighted with how the students and wider school community embraced the idea,” says classroom teacher Stephen Cody.

“We took a vote as to what we would support this year and UnitingWorld’s Everything in Common was the winner.  The students really seemed to get behind the idea of gifts that make a practical difference to people’s lives.  They were so enthusiastic about planning their stalls to reap the most profit for the gifts they’d chosen.”

November 17 saw the school playground awash with 650 students, all buying and selling their wares and each with a keen awareness of how their money would ultimately be used.  Slushies, home made fudge, cupcakes, henna tattoos, hamburgers and other delicacies all changed hands as students eagerly watched their fundraising totals inch toward their chosen targets of goats, chickens and bees.

“We spent time on the Everything in Common website looking at exactly which gifts were in need in which countries and locating places like Zimbabwe on world maps, so it was useful for our geography skills as well,” says Stephen.

“The students then planned their stalls, surveyed their peers as to what items would sell best and advertised the items from the catalogues they were saving toward to encourage people to support their stalls.  Some displayed thermometers on the walls behind them to show how close they were to reaching their target.  They were so motivated by everything they’d learnt and the end result was fantastic.”

UnitingWorld extends a huge thank you to the staff, students, parents and friends of Christian College Geelong.  Your creativity and enthusiasm is a great encouragement to us all and helps provides people around the globe with the resources they need to free themselves from poverty and share the hope of Christ. 

Do you want to get your school or youth group involved in supporting the life changing work of our partners overseas?  Check out these resources to help you get started. UnitingWorld Engagement Toolkit.

To find out how you can run an Everything in Common stall at your school or workplace, call Fiona on 8267 4449.

To buy gifts for your friends and family visit www.everythingincommon.com.au

 

 

bronwynf
By Bronwyn Fraser

Of Faith, Fear and Fast Boats

October 14th, 2014

I am sitting in a Cafe overlooking the harbour in Honiara, Solomon Islands. It is Sunday morning, and the atmosphere is vibrant and the cafe full of chatter…

I have spent this week in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, on the remote Rononga Island attending the UCSI General Assembly. The UCSI are embarking on a process to develop a Strategic Development Plan to be better enabled to utilise their limited resources and to access future opportunities in a coordinated and strategic way to the benefit of their communities. UnitingWorld is supporting them on this journey and I was there to talk with the Assembly about the process and the importance of the Church developing this plan.

It has been an interesting trip characterised by fear and reassurance, of venturing into the unknown and finding family and community instead of the struggle and challenge that my apprehension predicted.

In the UnitingWorld office before I left we laughed as I tried on the life jacket I would be wearing on the open ocean boat trip to Rononga Island, somewhere in the Western Province in the Solomon Islands. Here began my apprehension. Upon searching Google maps, my fears seemed to be reinforced, as a thickly vegetated island image appeared on screen with no roads, actually no signs of human life at all.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those princess types who require all the 5 star comforts. Quite the contrary, however you get to a stage in life where you appreciate the little comforts, like a toilet not already occupied by a billion big hairy spiders, or a shower with walls, a mattress to sleep on, running water and electricity…  Ironically comforts that clearly not everyone can take for granted.

When I arrived at Gizo the adventure began. First was the boat ride from the airport to town. Then there was the challenge of identifying which of the myriad of identical boats were waiting to take me to Rononga, all while trying to blend in among the local crowd and needless to say, failing dismally. As it turned out none were for me, my chariot was yet to arrive

With life jacket on and apprehension high I climbed into the open boat and braced myself to be tossed about at the whim of the ocean. But to my surprise after only an hour on the ocean I arrived safely at my destination without needing to rely on the life jacket at all.

And as I entered the dining hall of delegates, I was again surrounded by an ocean, a sea of friendly faces, many familiar to me, and many I was yet meet. And from the very first I was at home.

As I reflect on the last few days it occurs to me that the invitation to this kind of adventure that takes us out of our comfort zones is not so uncommon.  Sure it may not literally require traveling on a boat to a remote island of the Solomon Islands, but the challenge to face our fear and to take that journey from fear into the unknown. It seems to me that the place of fear is often within our comfort zone and all too easy to cling to, because at least it is familiar and it is known. But to face that fear and stride into the unknown, now there’s a journey. As we talked about the UCSI strategic planning at the General Assembly, I could see that this is that very same journey for many in the church. While the current situation may not be as effective as it could be, at least it is known and understood. But to challenge the systems and open up the Church to significant change, well that’s a boat ride into the unknown. But it is not a journey taken alone.

And often that journey can be difficult but it’s not without its joys. The ocean was surprisingly calm, the breeze across by face and the feel of sea spray on my skin refreshing and the scenery, breathtaking. Amidst the journey I found a beautiful peace. Not only did I arrive safely on Rononga, but I the boat ride was totally awesome!

For the record, the toilet was totally clear of hairy 8-legged freaks, Wet Ones can be a makeshift shower where privacy is lacking, a torch produces light and there is nothing like water piped directly from untouched mountain springs

My lesson from the week: Me fela trust him God! Him good fela full time!

Aside: An added bonus of the trip was that I got to use the very exact same toilet we made in the workshop with the Women’s Fellowship last year. Very cool! Well, except of course for the awkward stinging sensation on my upper thigh immediately after using the toilet. As I went back up to meet the women, one asked if it was ok. I smiled through the searing pain to assure her it was fine. “No ant bites?” she asked. “Oh is that what that is” I exclaimed rubbing the painful area. They laughed. Situation normal!

UnitingWorld
By UnitingWorld

Disability Inclusion: A Pilot Program

August 14th, 2014

By Tricia Mileham, UnitingWorld Experience Volunteer in West Timor

It is estimated that 1 in 7 people around the world are living with a disability, and that 20% of the world’s poorest people have a disability. Microfinance has proven to help people break the poverty cycle, yet only 0.5% of people living with a disability in the world’s poorest countries are currently registered as microfinance clients. There is obviously huge potential, and UnitingWorld and its partner Tanaoba Lais Manekat are two organisations working to make inclusion in microfinance a reality.

Over the past year the two organisations have designed and implemented an exciting new pilot project in Kupang, the capital city of West Timor, which aims to provide people with disabilities greater access to microfinance services. I have witnessed much of this journey as a UnitingWorld Experience Volunteer on placement in West Timor.

Beginning the journey towards inclusion for people with disabilities into microfinance programs is slow, but filled with hope – hope that barriers can be identified, hope that attitudes will change, and hope that improved understanding will lead to action to transform the lives of people living in poverty with a disability.

Over the last year I’ve seen TLM staff connect with local Disability Provider organisations and participate in training run by UnitingWorld. In conversation and training I have witnessed them move from medical or charity approaches to disability to a social model which highlights the importance of removing barriers in order to encourage participation of people with disabilities.

I’ve been privileged to participate in a couple of events run by TLM to build bridges with the community. Together we have gathered – people with physical or visual disabilities, village and church leaders, social workers or support personal as well as TLM staff trainers and marketing staff – to explore options for TLM to provide people with disabilities access to microfinance services and to learn from one another.

We learned that access was an issue as we saw a man with a severe physical disability climb up steps on his hands. We learned that putting out tables with a tray at lunch made it easier for many to manage their lunch. We learned to say our name and orientate the environment for people who could not see. The list goes on.

One of the most powerful activities at one event was creating a wall of boxes to symbolise the barriers – environmental, institutional and attitudinal – that people with disabilities can face. Afterwards we talked about how these barriers can be overcome. As we heard inspirational stories of success from those who had conquered academic success or who had established a business, I watched as TLM staff saw first-hand the power and potential people with disabilities have.

One story stands out to me. The musician we had organised for the morning was called away at short notice. The first people to arrive at this session were profoundly vision impaired. After introductions one of the men enquired to me, “Is there a keyboard in the room?” to which I replied, “Yes” and proceeded to escort him to a seat behind the keyboard. After a brief time orientating himself to the keyboard, he then began to play with skill and confidence.

Starting a new initiative like this pilot project can be difficult, especially when attitude and behavior change is needed. I have watched as staff struggle with their own attitudes toward people with disabilities. Again and again we grappled with the question of how much do we treat “them” as different because of their disability? What is fair? What is realistic? What will create “victim” mentality or “abuse” from others or have positive and negative “social effects”? And of course there are always many unseen factors in a culture that an onlooker doesn’t see.

At a time when integration of special needs students into regular schools was gaining momentum in Australia, I worked as an itinerant support teacher to assist this process across three districts. “Normalization” – an interesting word in itself – meant trying to keep programs and processes as close as possible to that of others, adjusting the environment or attitude or offering access support.

In the same way, discussion for this pilot program in West Timor has seen the discussion swing from “Let’s provide no interest loans because it’s too difficult for them” and “They need adjusted loan rates to sell the product because they are used to getting lower rates from the government or banks” to “To be sustainable the product should be the same as existing loans.”

Another picture which will stay engraved in my mind is that of a tall man with very low vision, standing in front of our office at the edge of one of Kupang’s busiest streets. Behind him stood another man with his hand on the back of the man in front, behind him another man doing the same and behind him another man. All of the men are blind, and it is peak hour. Watching the men cross that street reminded me of the courage, determination, skill and faith people with disabilities have. I also now have a new vision to put to the saying “the blind leading the blind.”

The journey to inclusion is slow and has many hurdles, but it is a privilege to be part of the process, as together we take small steps to making a difference. I am thankful to UnitingWorld staff for their vision, financial and human support, and faith in a God who loves all and challenges us to do the same.

Tricia and her husband David have spent several months with UnitingWorld’s partner TLM in West Timor as a part of an Experience Volunteer placement.

cathtaylor
By Cath Taylor

Bunny Hunting and Bigger Pictures

March 31st, 2014

Faced with a wall of chocolate bunnies in Coles my immediate impulse is to knock the head off one and devour it.

We’re still almost two weeks out from Easter Sunday and my eldest daughter, with whom I’ve undertaken a “sugar fast” for Lent Event, would be pretty horrified.  The younger one would probably be a willing accomplice.

It’s tricky talking to children about Lent.  On the one hand we’ve tried to make it all quite concrete by being involved in Lent Event which is a fantastic concept: embracing the idea of living simply, “giving things up” so that we can clear our minds, reflect on Jesus’ time in the wilderness and relate to people who live with less.  On the other, it’s understandable that a legalistic approach might create a “Thank God that’s over!” kind of fervour to rival anything Jesus could come up with on Easter Sunday.

Lent Event’s call to act, reflect and connect aims to strike a balance – helping us all realise that a ‘break’ from a world devoted to excess is important, introducing us to the lives of partners living in challenging situations around the world, encouraging us to make practical sacrifices that will fund clean water, schools, training health workers and peace building projects.  It aims to help us line up our heads, hearts and hands the way Jesus did as he walked this earth 2000 years ago.

But no one said it would be easy.  Our eight year old finds stories of need incredibly sad.  Asking me how I’ve spent my day, her face falls when I tell her I’ve been writing about children who, instead of playing or going to school, spend their lives picking the cocoa beans that we use in our chocolate.

“Don’t tell me mum, it’s just too sad,” she says.

She brightens a little when I tell her that buying Fair Trade chocolate makes a difference, encouraging chocolate makers to treat farmers fairly and paying a wage that will mean children have the chance to go to school.  Later, she’s likely to dump her life savings on the kitchen table to give to Syrian or South Sudanese refugees.  And giving up sweet biscuits or apple juice, while difficult, is a daily reminder of what it’s like to go without.

Our twelve year old has become passionately committed, partly because she’s been with us to India and seen both the kilometres of confronting human need and the hope to be found in small villages where schooling is lighting up faces and offering the real prospect of employment.  With friends, she’s taken part in studies and games provided for young people that explore the concept of why poverty exists and why Lent is a good time for people to stand with our partners overseas.  Not for her the bunny hunt.  Not yet, anyway.

As parents, we don’t want our children to simply ‘pray’ or ‘give’ to people who struggle with poverty.  As in Jesus’ life and so many others, we want them to be unafraid to sit beside those who’ve been tossed aside by the rest of society, regarding their future as somehow bound up together with their own.  It’s a constant struggle in a world hell-bent on creating divisions and neatly compartmentalising everything.  But we believe that being part of a Uniting Church is a helpful part of breaking down the barriers and that participating in Lent Event is formative in the development of their spiritual lives.  Talking about the issues, struggling with our own thoughts and feelings, being inspired by others, getting it wrong – that’s life.

For now, the bunnies are safe… but with two weeks to go, I can’t promise we won’t falter. I’m not sure that it’s the main game anyway, to be honest.  Even if we don’t do it perfectly, it’s all part of a journey toward a much bigger picture of active love and justice within God’s world.   For us, that’s what really matters.

Want to know about Lent Event?  Check it out here

Ready to make a donation to Lent Event projects?  Right here

cathtaylor
By Cath Taylor

Coffee will save the world

February 20th, 2014

The two cups of coffee you give up each day in March and April will help a child learn to read.

Great headline!  If I actually drank coffee I’d be sold.  Likewise those TV ads I remember from my childhood:  “For less than a cup of coffee a day, you can change Marli’s life.”  Cue African music and images of beaming, no-longer malnourished child.  Extraordinary, I always thought.  Let’s take two!

And it is astonishing what remarkable changes can be brought about through the injection of sums of money that here in Australia seem microscopic.  Intelligent, hard working people all over the world, given the right resources, bring about massive changes in their circumstances.  They learn to read.  They create jobs.  They thrive.  There are other challenges to overcome, but there’s no denying that material resources make a huge difference.

So here’s a familiar pitch:  for the next forty days, UnitingWorld’s Lent Event encourages you to bring your own lunch to work, give up takeaway on the weekend, forego your two cups of coffee or even leave your car at home on weekdays.   In return, we’ll inject the money you save into a midwife training program in South Sudan, projects that create change for women in the Pacific and peace initiatives overcoming violence and conflict in Papua New Guinea.  Lives will be changed.

And your job?  The coffee.

Or is it?

I have a hunch that many of us are tiring of the ‘one click’ approach to ‘changing the world’.  We ‘like’ the catchy meme.  We share and sign the petition.  We give up the cup a day.  But deep down, we wonder whether there might be something more to it.

Lent Event is about fundraising.  Make no mistake about it, the money you donate makes a huge difference and our partners can’t do without it.  But Lent Event is also about deep, thoughtful engagement.   And that’s because deep, thoughtful engagement – with God, ourselves and others – is what actually makes a meaningful difference to individual lives and through them, to this planet.

There’s no quick fix to entrenched problems like greed and hoarding and inequality and racism.  When Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, he didn’t return with a  ‘cup of coffee a day’ solution.  Footsore and hungry, he returned to the cross.

Lent offers us the opportunity to draw aside to reflect and simplify our minds, hearts and lives. It’s a time to wrestle with ourselves and all that we’d like to be.  We’re called both to give up and to take up – jettisoning the stones that are weighing us down, adding to our kits the virtues that give us wings.  Lent might be a tradition of the church but something of it is present in the hearts of anyone who ever longed for time out, for the elusive ‘perfect holiday’, for the New Year’s Resolution they actually saw through.  It’s present wherever people are serious about engaging themselves and others for deep, abiding change.

Activists, policy makers, development specialists, parents, preachers, children… we all know the world isn’t the way we want it to be.  And as countless wise men and women have taught, change begins with us.

This Lent, we invite you on a journey.  You can check out resources for prayer and worship, a great Bible study series and stories of how your help makes a difference on our website.  We want you to know that you’re part of a movement of people worldwide who, with varying degrees of access to the resources we have at our fingertips, are working toward peace and justice, love and equality.

Coffee will not change the world.  But a thoughtful, committed, generous community of those who keep the faith and work with hope and love?

Well, we very well might.

Get involved with Lent Event here.  It runs from March 5 through to April 11 2014.

cathtaylor
By Cath Taylor

Change your mind, change a life: who’s got a disability?

October 10th, 2013

“The biggest misconception we face is that people with a disability need our sympathy.  They actually need equality.  Sure, they need some extra resources and some understanding, but letting people be part of it and helping them gain some self confidence goes a long way.”

They’re powerful words from someone who began advocating for her son even before he was born.

That’s because the vast majority of Down Syndrome babies don’t make it into the world – early detection makes for an excruciating decision for parents as early as 18 weeks.  When my neighbour Ange tells me their decision to continue with her  pregnancy lead to negativity from both medical staff and acquaintances, I’m filled with a bewildering array of emotions.

One in seven people around the world lives with disability, 80% of them in the world’s poorest countries.  I remain largely ignorant of the reality of their lives, even here in Australia.

What does it mean to really value the strengths as well as work with the vulnerabilities of people living with disability?  Practically speaking, what makes the most difference in terms of a positive future? Is it possible that some of the biggest problems people with disabilities face are… the attitudes of people without disabilities?

“Ash is a laid back, happy little three year old attending preschool and doing really well.” Ange tells me when I ask about her experiences.  “In terms of the practical things, we learnt early on about the importance of early intervention: speech, physiotherapy, occupational therapy.  The funding coming into play has been great – there’s amazing support services out there for us.  We’ve had other parents help us increase our knowledge and hold our hands.  And the ipad has changed so much for us – apps that improve both gross and fine motor skills give Ash choice and freedom.  He’s improving out of sight.”

But?

“What we really want is for Ash to be given a chance to be amongst it, not pushed aside.” Ange says.  “Seeing people with disabilities out there in the community – children in schools, people in jobs, contributing – that’s what changes opinions more than anything.”

And this is where it really matters. Minds need changing as much as anything else.  It’s this level of inclusion – which target both the person living with the disability and his or her community – that UnitingWorld in partnership with the Free Wesleyan Church is striving to help foster in Tonga.

Kindergarten teachers are now being given training on the best ways to include children with disabilities, helping set goals that focus on strengths instead of simply sidelining students.  It’s a major step forward for a culture that has traditionally struggled to include those who don’t fit the mould of what has been considered “acceptable.”

“Although the progress of the children with disabilities is encouraging, what’s really exciting is the reaction of the children without disabilities,” says Project Co-ordinator Amelia Tuiónetoa .  “Just by including children with special needs in the kindergartens we’re now seeing the other children no longer regard those with disabilities as different or to be avoided.   They’re just other children in the sandpit.”

It’s this experience ‘in the sandpit’ that Bronwyn Fraser, Manager of Peacebuilding & Livelihoods Programs (Pacific) is hoping UnitingWorld can help replicate.

“The Tongan Government and local disability advocates are becoming pro-active in recognising the need for policies that are inclusive of people with disability.”  Bron says.    “Up until now, as is the case in many Pacific countries, seeing people with disabilities thrive hasn’t really been a priority.  Often they’re excluded and ignored. We’re developing training workshops on disability inclusive early childhood education.  An open forum will help teachers with skills and help Government and non-government agencies begin to engage in a conversation of change.”

Already, children like Ash who might otherwise live on the edge of society are seeing the world open up.  And significantly, it isn’t really even about the provision of resources like ipads, so much as it is about shifting perceptions – encouraging people to view ability differently.

“Increasingly, no matter where we are in the world, it’s a case of seeing people as having strengths instead of defining them by perceived limitations.  It’s about looking at what deficits we have as a society that need to be overcome in order to let those strengths shine.”  Bron says.  “Sometimes it’s something material that’s lacking, but very often it’s attitudes that need work, like understanding and acceptance.  Often we’re the ones who need to change, not the person with what society regards as the disability.”

 

UnitingWorld is dedicated to helping keep people everywhere in the picture:  through inclusive training for teachers in kindergartens in Tonga; through providing access to small business loans for people with disabilities so they can earn a living for themselves and their families.  To find out more click here

cathtaylor
By Cath Taylor

Real peace is about justice and it starts with me

April 25th, 2013

“Real peace is not just the absence of conflict- it is the presence of justice.”  Martin Luther King.

Dawn, April 25.  In hushed cities and towns all over Australia, school children shuffle and stamp their feet, blowing softly into the sleeves of school jackets to warm their hands, awed and sombre.   Early sun picks out the light on bronzed medallions.  Aging muscles ache in autumn cold.  A dog pauses to watch, head on one side.  And the parade grinds into life.

For most people around Australia, the gallant fight ‘to remember’ during peace-time is a tough call.  Nightly news images of battle-worn places aside, it’s difficult to relate to the sheer horror of war.  For many of us, conflict is confined to the M5 motorway during peak hour and arguments with our teenagers over the appropriate time to upgrade to the iphone 5.

So do we live in peace?

If you consider the words of Martin Luther King – that real peace requires not just the absence of conflict but the presence of justice – then you’d have to answer no.  There’s not much justice in a society where the richest 10% of the Australian population are more than 10 times wealthier than the poorest 10%. Not much justice when as many as one in four children even here in Australia don’t start school ready to learn – lacking experience with letters and numbers, socially and emotionally underprepared. Many are  from families where no one has held a job for two generations.  There’s not much justice when the life expectancy of an Aboriginal man and a white man differs by up to 12 years.

Kick those statistics out globally and the picture becomes even more dire.  Where’s the justice in a world where more people officially now die of diseases relating to over-eating than from starvation?  Doesn’t it make you just a little uncomfortable to know that the world’s poorest people will pay most heavily in terms of climate related disasters even though it’s the world’s wealthiest countries creating most global pollution?

We live in a world torn by conflict, and peace depends upon justice.

The Scriptures speak at length about justice, especially for the poor.  From the prophets and the early church fathers to Jesus and the writers of the epistles, the message is crystal clear:  people are not poor through any fault of their own, through accident or curse.  They are poor because their rights are trampled, because they are not paid what they are owed, because people in power take more than they need, because those who have enough do not share.  The early church father John Chrysostom said that the shoes of the wealthy belong to the poor people who have no shoes.  People are poor because they’re denied justice and those responsible will be held to account.  The prophet Isaiah puts it simply:

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus echoes Isaiah’s voice when he describes his call.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’.  Luke 4: 18-19

Our work at UnitingWorld as peacebuilders and partners in God’s mission is about so much more than meeting need as it arises.  It’s not about simple charity for ‘people who are poor’ and it’s not just about responding to need.  It’s about participating in the reign of justice that finds expression in the life of Jesus. It’s about working with our partners to break the systems that cause poverty and injustice and being part of the world as it should be, as it is becoming and as it is in Christ.

Justice extends a call on the daily business of our lives – the choices we make in the supermarket about which item to buy and how much we consume.  Justice asks us to speak up at election time and call our leaders to keep their commitment to foreign aid not only because it works, but because the poor have a right to a share in the abundance that the rest of the world enjoys.  Justice asks us to live more simply.  Justice calls us to dig deeper.  It calls us to identify ourselves as the rich and powerful and make change accordingly.

Justice is confronting.  Far easier for each of us to feel that we are involved because we are big hearted, because ‘the poor need our compassion.’  The Scriptures tell a different story.  Yes, we’re called to love.  But the clarion call to justice can’t be ignored.

And there’s no lasting peace without it.  Lest we forget.

cathtaylor
By Cath Taylor

You Go Girl! 3 reasons to focus on the girl child

October 11th, 2012

“Don’t treat me differently just because I’m a girl!”

It was a bit of a mantra for me, growing up with three brothers.  Glaring down from the highest branches of a tree or smirking slightly after beating one of them in a wrestling match, my determination not to be singled out as different sometimes bordered on the extreme.

Now with two beautiful daughters of my own, I have to confess I was a little uncomfortable at first with the idea that we need a special “International Day of the Girl Child”.  Why only for girls?  Why not for children everywhere?

Well, here are three compelling reasons we need to focus particularly on girl children right now.

1. In many parts of the world, baby girls are either aborted or left to die in infancy.

In their book “Half the Sky – Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women”, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn write:  “It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century.” Every year, at least 2 million girls go missing because of gender discrimination.

Why?  The situation is complex, but one major reason is that poverty forces parents to preference their male children because they feel they’re better able to support the family long term.

What can be done about this?   First, we need to be aware of the situation and its causes.  Focussing our efforts on education and the reduction of poverty is vital.  And we need to raise our voices to defend those who can’t speak for themselves because of their age and vulnerability.  No one should die simply because they weren’t born a boy.

2. One in three girls world-wide is denied an education. 

While poverty and lack of resources in developing countries affects the education of all children, the statistics are better for boys who tend to stay longer in school. Discrimination in many countries still suggests to girls that their role in life is primarily to marry young and bear children.  However, the evidence is that educating girls in particular has a major impact on overcoming poverty for entire communities.

“Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest return available in the developing world,” Lawrence Summers wrote when he was the chief economist of the World Bank in the 90s.  “The question is not whether countries can afford this investment, but whether countries can afford not to educate more girls.”

So what are the impacts of girls’ education?

  • As a country’s primary school enrolment rate for girls increases so too does its gross domestic product
  • With each year of secondary schooling a girl completes her wages increase by 15-25%
  • Educated girls are 6 times less likely to marry young, which has a significant impact upon child mortality, health and nutrition.
  • Educated women typically invest 90% of their income in their family, compared with 30-40% of a man’s income.  As a result the next generation lead better lives as well.

3.  10 million girls marry as children. 

Every 3 seconds a girl in the poorest parts of the world is forced into a marriage.

Girls who marry young are more likely to suffer from HIV/AIDS, poor nutrition, domestic violence and poverty.  They will bear children who are likely to die young.  And childbirth is the leading cause of death in children aged 15-19 in the developing world. Globally, around one in three young women aged 20-24 years were first married before they reached age 18. One third of them entered into marriage before they turned 15.

The campaign to end child marriage is gathering strength throughout the world and is the theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child.

I no longer think it’s good enough to treat everyone ‘equally’.  Sometimes, in order to make things right, we have to invest special effort into those who’ve been the subject of discrimination for centuries.  Let’s get things moving for our girl children worldwide.


Desmond Tutu said recently:  “If we succeed in empowering girls, we’ll succeed in everything else.”  Big claim.  Let’s try it out.

 

5 Things you can do right now to support girl children.

  1. Encourage girls you know personally to do and be everything they can!
  2. WATCH this video here on saying NO to child marriage
  3. Donate to UnitingWorld’s Indian education projects fundraised by the Trek for the Rights of Women and Girls here
  4. Learn more about UnitingWorld’s projects preventing Trafficking of Women and Girls in India
  5. Share this blog!

 

 

UnitingWorld
By UnitingWorld

The Power of Women and Girls

July 18th, 2012

The Power of Women and Girls was the topic for the second UnitingWorld lunch for members of the 13th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia.

Lisa Meo is a Fijian Australian who advocates for women in theological education at various schools and churches in the Pacific Islands. She spoke about the inconsistencies between the rights of males and females across the world, saying that the majority of women globally are largely uneducated, bear children too young and are unaware of their importance in society.

“Our task is to encourage and support them (women) to go further — from the kitchen to the pulpit!” Ms Meo said.

Speaking next was Zesly Pah from West Timor. Ms Pah is Director of Finance for Tanaoba Lais Mane Kat (TLM), which means “serving with love”.

TLM is the largest microfinance service provider in Eastern Indonesia. It focuses mostly on supporting women and rural communities.

Ms Pah explained that culturally, when a woman has money, she usually spends it on her family. For men however, money’s status symbol means they often spend it on items which are not beneficial to the family such as cigarettes.

She then told guests inspiring stories of women who had built a better future for themselves and their families by taking advantage of TLM’s microfinancing opportunities.

Prof. Kirsteen Kim, Professor of Theology and World Christianity at Leeds Trinity University College, UK reflected on how in the Western world “feminism” could be a dirty word.

Prof. Kim explained that it wasn’t until she lived in other countries that she saw how important feminism was around the world.

“Even if we don’t feel it, it is still a problem for our sisters and we need to support them,” said Prof. Kim who will also deliver the Cato lecture at Assembly on Wednesday night.

Small loans lead to big change

At 29, Gloria is a young woman with big dreams. She dreams her three children will be able to have the education that she never had. She dreams she will always be able to provide the simple necessities for her family.

Three years ago, Gloria’s family faced serious troubles. Gloria’s husband struggled to find work and the profits from Gloria’s small kiosk business, which she ran from their home, went into paying off debts.

Attracted by its friendly staff, low interest rate and weekly repayment system, Gloria decided to take out a loan through TLM.  She soon became involved in the group lending program and received a loan of IDR 750,000 (around AUD $100).

Gloria thought hard about what to do with the loan. She identified a need and decided to start a small business selling gasoline by the edge of the road in front of her house. Her business model is simple: she buys gasoline at the Gas Station and then sells it onto her local community in smaller containers.

This initiative was successful, and Gloria was able to pay back the loan easily. Hher daily income has significantly increased and she can meet the needs of her business while covering the costs of her family. She is thrilled she will be able to provide for her children into the future.

Gloria is just one of the many people whose lives have been transformed through a small loan.  You can read more about TLM microfinance here.

UnitingWorld
By UnitingWorld

Sitting and Dancing on the mat

July 4th, 2012

UnitingWorld’s Kathy Pereira shares about her recent experience of sitting, and listening, to our sisters in the Pacific.

Recently I spent a week sitting (well trying to sit) cross legged on a mat! My cumbersome attempts to sit with dignity made us all laugh.  It seems I have lost much of the art of “mat – sitting” – flexibility, capacity to sit still for longer than 10 minutes, capacity to put physical discomfort aside to focus on the things that matter, capacity to sit and wait for others to speak and to hear quiet voices emerge from the silence. Too often I want to stand up, fill the space with noise or with action and make myself comfortable.

As we sat on the mat and heard stories, it became clear that I was among greatness –  twelve Pacific women leaders who are deeply engaged both in their communities and beyond. These are women who lead in beautiful ways, with grace and dignity, strength and respect, women who have a vision for their sisters that sees them empowered within their communities.

As we met together, conversations emerged, questions were asked, ideas were challenged and hope was born.

Reflecting on our time together, I am reminded of the concept of “imago Dei”- that we are created in the image of God. One of the most fascinating and exciting aspects of being engaged in mission is seeing how this is reflected in and expressed through different cultural contexts. This week I have been reminded that this comes into focus when women are acknowledged as image-bearers of God. What is done to and through them is done to and through Christ. For too many of our Pacific friends this fact is rarely celebrated outside their own women’s groups. There is a space at the table but it is often as the server rather than those seated.

I recognise my own cultural lenses that contributes to this when I, as a white Western woman, receive an honoured seat at the table of leadership and decision-making in the church and community while many of my Pacific sisters continue to wait on the table.

This week, I have spoken too much. (Those of you who know me personally will not be surprised at this!) But amidst the clamour of my own voice I have tried – even if feebly- to listen. And here is a snippet of what I heard in the whispers….

Our friends from Vanuatu told us of the strength of their women. We were taken on an imaginary journey into a small village a half day walk from the town where there are shops, a clinic and other basic facilities.

Leiwani, our local host, shared with us some of her daily life. She wakes early for prayer and devotions, prepares food for her husband and family, gets her children ready for school (a 2 hour walk away), cleans, walks up to the mountains to get food and back up to the mountain stream (another 1 hour walk each way) to get fresh water – a necessity as the wells in their ocean-side village are now brackish as the sea rises.

Leiwani ‘s home is right on the water. She is nervous about what she hears from others about this thing called Climate Change.  She can see with her own eyes that the land she used to walk on is now under the sea. She prays to God that her land will not be flooded like in the story of Noah. And, ever pragmatic, she also appeals to the chief to allow her to move further inland. But this breaks her heart, for the land on which her house sits was her mother’s, and her mother’s before her, and her mother’s before that. She feels the deep burden of responsibility for this land that she now sees slipping under the sea. But what can a woman do to change the tide?

And the tide changes life in the village in other ways. The increasing tidal wave of globalisation has brought other challenges. Teenage boys with too much time on their hands and too little access to education gather together on the fringe of the village abusing substances that are new to the village and causing mayhem. Sometimes it is not even safe for Leiwani to walk along the path to the mountains. They don’t bother the men so much, but a woman walking on her own can be vulnerable. “You know what I mean,” she told us.

Leiwani is a church woman, as are most of the women in the village. She gains strength and courage from her friends and from her faith. She sees that God cares deeply about her and she finds hope in this. Together, these local church women see possibilities for speaking into the challenges their community is facing.

Maybe a program educating the community about climate change and what they can do to minimise its impact on their lives could help. It could explore how they can work together to support people as they are relocated, how they can minimise waste, how to use power supplies that do not rely on fossil fuels. Leiwani and her friends see there is much to do. But where do they start? How will they find the resources needed to get underway?

They also speak about economic empowerment for their women. What if women could learn about how they can use their skills and talents to provide a small income for their families?  Many of their women sew, or weave mats, or bake good food. If they could do this and sell some things maybe they could make a difference. If they did this together, they could change their communities. Children could go to school with shoes on their feet, or maybe even a small school could be built nearby so there was no longer a need for children to walk 4 hours every day. What a dream! They know they are strong and capable and they all know what it is to work hard. If they could just get a start…

And then there is the thing we find it hardest to speak about – both in Leiwani’s culture and my own – gender based violence. Leiwani sees it, has even experienced it, yet feels powerless to do anything about it. She whispers… perhaps we can work together with our men to start to talk about these things – to remember that our mothers are also God’s image bearers and what is done to them, is done to God. So the seed of an idea germinates – a program that gives the church a voice to speak into issues of safety for all people, and especially the women. Maybe the church could be the ones who speak and model these changes to the wider community.

So after 5 days of sitting on the mat, of sharing and thinking and framing and planning, ideas are born.  We danced on the mat we had previously sat on! Dance filled with joy that a good thing has started and there is a vision and hope for the future.

UnitingWorld is currently engaging with women from our Pacific partners, listening for the potential of a major cross-Pacific program for women. These Pacific women and UnitingWorld are all hoping we will be able to trial their ideas across four countries in the coming months, to test our hunch that this could be something that is God-inspired and deeply empowering.

Have you been moved at all by this? We ask you to pray for this trial and for our friends in the Pacific as we seek, through active service together, to re-imagine the church in its fullness as the imago Dei – the rich, varied, deep image of God. 

Let us know if you would like to be involved – prayerfully, financially, as an advocate or in any other way. We will need many Australian partners if this is to succeed. It is very much in its infancy and we will make sure we communicate the journey as it unfolds. We invite you to step out with us, patiently and respectfully listening to and supporting in practical ways what our Pacific women friends develop.

For further information or to register an interest in keeping informed or contributing to this fledgling project please contact Kathy Pereira – kathyp@unitingworld.org.au.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in these blogs are those of their authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UnitingWorld or the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia