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Our church partners in Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Solomon Islands are reaching out in faith to shift community norms and behaviours that allow or excuse family violence, to prevent it long before it has the chance to happen. They are doing it using the heart language of the Pacific, where upwards of 90% of people identify with a Christian faith.

Since 2012, we’ve been supporting our Pacific partners in a unique and powerful approach, addressing the root causes and breaking cycles of violence that go back generations, through gender equality theology.

The results are incredible. There’s exciting change happening in our partner churches: hearts moved, lives transformed away from violence, families and communities made safer. Read more

Here, some of our partners share about the impact of gender equality theology in their lives and communities.

And you can see it for yourself! Download our Gender Equality Theology Resource Pack here.

We need your support to continue this life-changing work.

This program was previously supported by the Australian Government, but the grant expired in 2021. Your support will help us continue this powerful and unique work to end family violence, led by our Pacific partners. We hope to raise $90,000 to keep it going strong. 

Donate now

Mereani Nawadra, Methodist Church in Fiji and Pacific Conference of Churches

“What does peace mean to me as a woman? Peace is gender equality. Peace is education. Peace is freedom from violence and oppression. Peace is being able to walk on the streets of Suva without the fear of being sexually harassed or assaulted.”

Pastor Lima Tura, United Church in the Solomon Islands (centre)

“90% of people in the Solomon Islands believe in God. When a message about women comes from the Bible, their eyes are open, they feel it has more weight. And that’s why we will see a reduction in gender-based violence and increased respect for women in our society.”

Pastor Nippy Aiong, Presbyterian Church Vanuatu

“Many people don’t believe until they study the Bible notes we make [on gender equality] and then they say, ‘Oh! There is something here for us!’ And they are accepting women as equals. I cannot tell you what a change this is for us.”

Rev Dr Cliff Bird, United Church in the Solomon Islands

“Statistics on violence against women and girls and children are shocking… they must lead [us] to actions that counter the evil head on. It is people who construct cultures, it is also people who can and must change cultures that dehumanise and deny certain groups of people their God-given humanity, dignity and equality.”

Bairenga Kirabuke, Kiribati Uniting Church

“Rates of violence are too high, and people need to choose a more peaceful way. It starts with small things: men being more helpful, sharing the load, considering others. That can be a good first step. I hope we can take the message of Gender Equality Theology to all the outer islands of Kiribati.”

Growing up, Rev Noa Turaganivalu had a typical life for a boy in Fiji.

He was raised in a rural village on a small, remote island, played a lot of rugby and went away to a boarding school (where he played more rugby). And as the only son in a family of six, he was always regarded as ‘first’ and ‘above’ his three sisters.

“It’s been a cultural and traditional norm for the male to come first and be at the top of everything we do. That’s how I was raised. … I was taught that being a man meant to be strong, and women were inferior to men,” says Rev Noa.

It is no secret that such norms can be a factor in the prevalence of violence against women everywhere. In the Pacific, where the vast majority of people identify as Christian, Pacific churches have a huge role to play in ending violence.

Today Rev Noa is an ordained minister and, supported by UnitingWorld, is a champion of gender equality for the Methodist Church in Fiji (MCIF). But it’s been a long journey to where he is now, Rev Noa admits.

The patriarchal mentality he grew up with continued into his marriage.

“Back then I tried to take ownership of my wife. I was abusive and she can tell many stories of how I used to treat her,” Rev Noa says.

The journey to change for Rev Noa started at theological college but wasn’t fully developed until he was confronted by the theology of gender equality expressed by Solomon Islander theologians Rev Dr Cliff Bird and Rev Siera Bird, and others.

Before embracing his post as Gender Equality Theology (GET) Minister for MCIF, Rev Noa spent an entire year grappling with the gender equality Bible studies and other resources, first reading and meditating on the ideas, and then starting to enact them in his life.

“As I looked deep into the theology, it was something that transformed me: The way I see the world, the way I see my wife and my children and the way I see others,” says Rev Noa.

“When we go out from the right interpretation of the Bible, that men and women were created in the image and likeness of God, that does not allow you to do any harm or abuse to anyone.”

Rev Noa says his life has changed in a way that makes him proud as a husband, father and grandfather.

“I can now respect my wife for who she is, her dignity and also my children and grandchildren. They can tell the story of my transformation in the way I speak and the way I act now.”

Supported by UnitingWorld, Rev Noa has been travelling throughout Fiji, preaching at churches and fellowship groups, running workshops, training ministers and lay leaders and changing hearts with his powerful testimony as he teaches the biblical basis for gender equality and anti-violence.

It’s busy, hard work. But Rev Noa says things are changing before his eyes.

“The ball is rolling. Slowly, because this work is countercultural and counter-traditional,” he says.

“Thank you all in the Uniting Church for your partnership. We need your prayers and support as we try to bring peace and stability to our nation and our world.”

We Need Your Help!

This program was previously supported by the Australian Government, but the grant expired in 2021.

Over the coming months, we will be sharing stories and fundraising to continue this powerful and unique work led by our Pacific partners. We hope to raise $90,000.

To donate and find out more, visit www.unitingworld.org.au/endviolence We look forward to keeping you updated about this life-changing project!

Top photo caption: Rev Noa and his family “I can now respect my wife for who she is, her dignity and also my children and grandchildren.”

 

Rev Noa, Gender Equality Theology Minister for Methodist Church in Fiji, preaching about the biblical basis for gender equality and anti-violence.

 

Even before she was conceived, Mery Kolimon had a calling.

Her parents, Timorese nationals from one of Indonesia’s most beautiful archipelagos, dedicated their first child to God’s work even before Mery’s mother fell pregnant. It was a promise with a profound impact.

Rev Dr Mery Kolimon is now the first woman to become Moderator of our partner church in West Timor, the Christian Evangelical Church in Timor (GMIT). Under her leadership, GMIT is deeply committed to helping transform every aspect of the society it serves.

“I’m glad that my parents promised me to the Church and to the world,” Rev Mery says, via a Zoom call squeezed in between many others. She is recovering personally from COVID-19 and leading a team responding not only to the pandemic, but to the worst cyclone in West Timor’s history.

“I believe the role of the Church is to be actively immersed in every part of our society- the economy, environment, socially, politically and spiritually.

It’s not enough for us to teach or proclaim the Good News. We must work hard to become it for those around us.”

It’s an absolutely no holds barred approach to the meaning of faith, refreshingly clear about the role of the Christian church. In a country where COVID-19 is decimating the population and the economy, and where poverty has always stalked families and hollowed out dreams, Rev Mery’s vision of the good news leaves no room for debates between word and deed.

“We are here to strengthen people’s faith and spirituality, but we can’t be only busy with ourselves,” Rev Mery says. “Malnutrition, human trafficking, poverty, disaster – how is the Church the good news in all of this?”

A church relevant to its people

GMIT is right where its community needs it most. They offer prayer, trauma counselling and activities to engage children who lost everything in the recent cyclone.

Their preaching focusses on finding God in suffering, care for creation and environmental stewardship.

They help re-train those who are in desperate need of income, offering small business start up loans and education on everything from livestock breeding to marketing.

They’ve been actively assessing disaster-struck regions to support government efforts to provide help, and on the ground providing their own resources like solar lamps, food, clean water, school uniforms and building material. And they’ve been in touch with other partners in the region to find out how to build back better.

In other words, they’re a people with an impact upon every aspect of life. Their ministry really matters.

Unique perspectives

As the first woman to become Moderator of her church, Rev Mery is often asked what she wants her legacy to be. GMIT has a long history of women’s engagement in ministry, with ordination of women beginning in 1959. But what would a church led by a woman in the top job look like, she’s asked?

“I don’t know if its about gender as much as it is about power,” Mery responds. “I see my role as being about empowering others, about how power is managed especially for those who have the least. This has always been the way of Jesus – standing with those who are poor, bringing liberation to those with heavy burdens.”

Each year, GMIT chooses a passage of scripture to guide its ministry for the next twelve months.  This year, Rev Mery says, Ezekiel 37:10 has provided the vision the Church needs.

“God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy that the dry bones in the valley would come back to life,” she says.

“That’s our role – to breathe life back into that which seems dry and hopeless. We are building something new for the child who dreams of going to school and can’t afford the fees… for the family looking for hope… for the earth itself as we look for ecological renewal.”

Rev Mery and GMIT stand among so many of our partners who share similar holistic, inspiring approaches to their life together. This month, we’re highlighting their work and hope you’ll join us in prayer and giving as we live the gospel among our global neighbours.

Donate here to support our partners like Rev Mery and the Christian Evangelical Church in Timor

My name is Anna and I am 58 years old.  I live in Gokwe South. I’m a proud member of a group started by the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe Relief and Development (MeDRA) in 2017.

Our group is called kunzwa nekuita which means ‘hearing and doing’. As well as education about health and hygiene, we began an internal lending and savings project to help boost our household income. We started our poultry breeding project with 50 chickens and sell an average of 6 chickens to neighbours at an average monthly income of 800ZLW (A$3.17)

We inject this money back into our group so we can expand our activities. We encourage our communities to maintain clean homes free from litter and practise personal hygiene by washing with soap and water. We’ve also taught our community to erect tippy taps at their homes, dig rubbish tips and use blair toilets.

Recently MeDRA staff visited us to provide COVID-19 awareness to our group and gave us education and communication materials for an in-depth knowledge of the disease. We weren’t sure about the hand washing, social distancing, symptoms of COVID-19 or the referral path for a person suspected of a COVID-19 infection, but we now have flyers and posters so we can prevent the spread of the disease.

As a group we really feel there is a need to reach out to men as they have challenges in practicing measures given by our government on COVID-19 prevention. Many men also believe hygiene is only a women’s issue and do not take awareness campaigns seriously.

I would like to thank MeDRA for supporting us with this education so we can spread the word and keep our community safe from COVID-19. I also feel there is a great need for sanitisers, masks and more training to prevent the myths about the disease from spreading.

If we remain united and practice the regulations, we are very hopeful we can fight COVID-19 in our community.

UnitingWorld’s partner, the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe Relief and Development Agency (MEDRA) is working to raise awareness and stop the spread of COVID-19. While many regular activities are currently on hold due to lockdowns, the team have re-focussed all their energy toward providing vulnerable communities with education and awareness on COVID-19, as well as supplying food and sanitation items like soap and hand washing stations.

You can help by donating today to our COVID-19 appeal. Please give to help save lives and protect livelihoods.

*As a valued partner of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program, we are eligible for funding that means tax-time donations can go up to six times as far in the field saving lives. We’ve committed to raise $1 for every $5 for which we’re eligible, and that’s where your donation has its power.

Every dollar will be used for immediate COVID-19 responses providing food and sanitation packs, health information and hand washing facilities, as well as fighting to keep poverty at bay long term through sustainable development projects.

Please give at www.unitingworld.org.au/actnow or call us on 1800 998122

UnitingWorld is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Almost exactly three months ago, a colleague and I threw on medical masks to board a plane for Colombo, Sri Lanka. We snapped off a few pics for laughs and then chucked them in our bags for the rest of the trip…I haven’t seen them since.

Over five steaming hot days (think humidity so solid you can eat it), I met people who left me feeling inspired and hopeless and uplifted and angry and helpless and all the usual things because #Cathgetsfeels… but one young guy in particular, let’s call him Raj, put down a little anchor in my heart. He has Down syndrome and went through schooling provided by the disability unit of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, mainstreamed within his local school. His teachers remember him as ‘cheeky, talkative and always ready with a laugh ❤️

Finding people who love and respect the value of others, especially those with disabilities, can be a challenge anywhere in the world, including right here in Australia, yes? But in developing countries, that heartbreak is magnified tenfold. The staff in that school weren’t just pinpricks of light in the lives of individuals, they were a blazing counter-cultural beacon. Raj’s family knew it, too. They were anxious about what would become of him once he outgrew formal schooling. Poverty among Tamil people on the east coast of Sri Lanka is much higher than for the rest of the population – and many times worse for people with disabilities.

But Raj struck gold again – the church approached his neighbour, a mechanic, who took him on as an apprentice. When we met him, he was welding bike bits and dreaming of, “never marrying. Just buying as many shoes as I like.” ?? What’s not to love about that ambition?


His sense of freedom was as radiant as the sparks from his tools. Inclusive education and an advocate who believed in him have changed his future forever.

We left with his tale and his pics and I promised him we’d tell his story far and wide. Within two weeks of our return, Australia’s borders were shut; since then 349,000 people have died from COVID-19. And this is the first time I’ve spoken about Raj to anyone other than family.

Do you know how many people like Raj, who took the opportunities in front of them and ran for life, face the prospect of being dragged back to poverty’s dungeon as a result of COVID-19?

Half a billion. Half a billion.

In Sri Lanka, the streets are quiet. There are no bikes to fix and no school; those with the means clean out the supermarkets on the few days they’re open, and people who relied on a daily wage – like servants, construction workers, small stall holders – have no money for food. Raj isn’t working, isn’t earning an income, and doesn’t have a place to share his grin – not now, and not for the foreseeable future. This is what COVID-19 will take from him and millions of others.

I know it’s not only Raj and people in the developing world who are struggling; it’s also our own families and friends who’ve had jobs and income snatched away, and lost maybe just as much at the visceral level of anxiety and loneliness and hopes eroded. Acknowledging our local need is deeply significant, but it’s not the whole story, and it’s not forever. What comes next?

There’s been so much talk of ‘in this together’ but how long can it last? As our own restrictions start to lift and we put toes back into social and economic waters, how long will we still speak about ‘together’? And who’s included in that category? It’d be so easy for us to try to just ‘get back to normal’, albeit with an even greater commitment to safeguarding ourselves physically, emotionally and economically from another event like this one.

And yet for a few more weeks at least, here we are, still a bit raw and nervy with our bellies exposed. For just a few more weeks, the absolute fragility of our lives still hangs in the balance and we feel, perhaps a little, what it might be like to be without job security, or deflated entirely by the reality of what’s hit and what’s to come. And maybe even a bit alone.

We know that when budget time comes around next, the Australian Government will most likely raid the foreign aid budget to help make up the massive debt we’ve racked up rescuing ourselves from this train wreck. And we know that most Australians will get behind the move, because even though we give 0.21% of GNI (Gross National Income – about 21c for every $100 Australia earns) to support our neighbours, the population in general THINKS it’s about 14%, which they believe is too high and should be reduced to 10% ?. Every single country in the world will do the same. And the people with the least means to survive this thing, once again, will suffer the most.

Unless?

Tonight, flicking through the pics on my iPhone, I found Alex, me and Raj in a selfie (okay quite a few selfies) and I wonder: how is he doing? What is he thinking? Is there any hope for his future?

Actually, there is. But it means each of us continuing to embrace the vision of ‘together’ and walking away from the fear that makes us wonder if we have the means to look after anyone but ourselves.

We do. We can. If we were each to give even just a small amount, today, or even better each month, we could be part of making life immeasurably, unimaginably, better for someone like Raj. It really doesn’t take that much- but it gives back out of all proportion.

The video below is the story we told, when we got home, instead of Raj’s. I feel sadder about that than anything. Please take a look and if you can, act. Donations to UnitingWorld can go up to six times as far for people like Raj right now thanks to the help of Australian Government funding.*

I’m delighted to see the way we’ve managed this crisis as a nation and the steps we’re making toward recovery.  But it also breaks my heart that once again, that recovery will be deeply uneven around the world.  Please don’t chuck your mask in your bag and move on forever. This story still needs telling.



*As a valued partner of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), we are eligible for funding that means tax-time donations can go up to six times as far in the field saving lives. We’ve committed to raise $1 for every $5 for which we’re eligible, and that’s where your donation has its power.

Every dollar will be used for immediate COVID-19 responses providing food and sanitation packs, health information and hand washing facilities, as well as fighting to keep poverty at bay long term through sustainable development projects.

Please give at www.unitingworld.org.au/actnow or call us on 1800 998 122

UnitingWorld is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Timor Leste is still one of the youngest nations in the world. Officially formed in 1999, 42% of its population is under the age of 14 (18% of Australians are under 14). That adds up to lot of young people to be nurtured and guided, all of them the children of parents traumatised by years of conflict during the fight for independence.

Timor Leste’s Protestant Church is building the future from the ground up by nurturing and protecting her young people. With UnitingWorld’s support, they’re giving groundbreaking insights into the nature of child protection, implementing new policies in schools and churches, teaching leaders to spot the signs of neglect and abuse, and standing up for the victims of family violence.

The workshops have been funded by your recent gifts through Lent Event and are dramatically changing the way children and young people are cared for.

“There were 60 people at the recent workshop in Dili from churches, schools and the community,” says UnitingWorld’s South East Asia Coordinator Debora Murthy. “For most, this is very new information. Culturally, children tend to be overlooked, especially when there are added pressures like family trauma or poverty. If a child has a disability, they are even more vulnerable. We’ve been looking at the special place Jesus gave to children and the way Jesus stood up for those who were badly treated. In many places, if abuse happens it is covered up; both pride and shame prevent crimes against children from being reported.”

Recognising Frederick Douglas’ suggestion that it is “easier to build strong children than to repair broken (wo)men,” the Church in Timor Leste is determined to chart a future of peace, compassion and hope by providing the best possible care for its next generation.

Your gifts are
making it possible.

THANK YOU to everyone who gave so generously to Lent Event this year, making it one of our best supported fundraisers in recent years.

We’re looking forward to doing it all again next year! www.lentevent.com

Almost exactly two months after our son died in 2004, some 250,000 people were killed by a series of tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. It was described at the time as the worst tsunami event the world had ever seen. I didn’t watch any of the footage. That kind of graphic imagery simply wasn’t needed to help me share a tiny fraction of the pain and loss countless families were experiencing around the world in that moment.

Death, especially unexpected death, doesn’t just leave us gutted. It leaves us helpless and angry. In the outpouring of grief and gifts following the Boxing Day Tsunami, as well as in the expressions of love we received after Hugh’s death, there was a common theme: if only we could have done something – anything – to prevent this cavernous loss.

Here’s the astonishing fact. Often we can. We just choose not to.

Massive-scale loss – of life, homes and livelihoods in natural disasters – is preventable. So are the deaths of individuals like Hughie, babies who die at the rate of 2000 a day from complications arising form dirty water. Each of these lives matter no less than Hugh’s.

Preventable.

We’ve heard a lot about how to prevent the deaths of children from disease, but natural disasters seem to fall into a different hand-wringing category altogether. They’re so random! So mercilessly destructive!

True, and an earthquake measuring 9.2 on the Richter Scale underneath the Indian ocean is always going to create havoc. But here’s the thing. The sheer number of lives lost and ruined by natural disasters can be dramatically reduced.

Here’s how:

  • Investing in early warning systems and planning for evacuation, especially in isolated regions and areas where poverty is widespread – co-incidentally often the places where natural disasters strike hardest
  • Training leaders in life saving responses before, during and after emergency, and giving them the resources they need to carry them out
  • Building housing and shelters in areas that are less likely to be hammered by storms, floods, quakes and the slow death march of changing climate
  • Planning for water and food supplies that can survive sudden shocks so that people don’t fall critically ill or lose their means of making a living after disaster

In the years following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, which killed almost 16,000 people, all these steps were put in place. It cost billions of dollars. But the result is that people live with a great deal more security – not certainty, but security – about their chances of surviving natural disasters, short and long term.

It’s simply not the case for others in the Asia/Pacific region, where 70% of the world’s worst natural disasters wreak their unholy havoc. These nations are too poor, too under-resourced, and too far from the media spotlight to thoroughly invest in the kind of changes that would increase survival rates. They only hit the headlines once their men, women and children are washed up on beaches or buried alive beneath the mud.

And that’s when the world suddenly digs deep to give, to grieve and to ask one another: “How can Mother Nature be so cruel?”

There’s actually a better question to ask, but few of us will confront it head on. It’s along the lines of “How can human beings be so short-sighted?”

Classrooms being ‘built back better’ in Fiji

If we know how to save lives today, why do we wait until it’s too late?

Of course, the answer to that question is as complex as humanity itself. Some of us are genuinely unaware of how effective Disaster Risk Reduction is, how to go about supporting it, or how it’s desperately needed in parts of the world where poverty already robs people of so much. Some of us are only moved by the plight of our neighbours once we see them clutching their children and wading through waist-deep water, or burying their loved ones. And all those reactions are human.

But here are the facts. Just $1 invested in preparation before a disaster saves $15 in recovery efforts later. That means the money you invest today is 15 times more effective than giving it after the disaster hits.  The economic kickbacks of preparing communities to plan, build and shock proof are astronomical. But the lives saved are even more impressive.

If only there was something we could have done? There is. Don’t let others die while we’re wondering.

“Rough day at work, hey?” says my fifteen year old with a grin when she comes home and notices the first draft for our upcoming UnitingWorld campaign.

We don’t believe in charity,” declares my scrawl on a large sheet of paper, folded in two.

It’s a tagline probably worthy of the raised eyebrow. For years when they were younger, whenever other kids asked our girls what their parents did, they tended to reply that we ‘worked for charities.’ It was easier than explaining the ins and outs of overseas aid or social entrepreneurship here in Sydney. Everyone gets the concept of charity: “Generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill or helpless”. Good stuff, right?

“Open it up,” I tell Jem. “You have to read the next bit.”

Inside: We don’t believe in charity. We believe in solidarity.

 Ah,” says Jem. “Nice.”

“We believe in solidarity.”

None of us want to be regarded as ‘charity cases.’ We’d much rather just be people – with strengths and weaknesses, sure – but always essentially just people. Charity is a beautiful word of course – it’s always meant love and brotherhood, generosity, kindness. But it sometimes feels like it also has overtones of pity, distance: “I’m giving because I feel sorry for you, and you’re so helpless, so here: please take this.” Even better than charity, I think, is solidarity – the idea that our equal and shared humanity is what matters most, even if the details of our experience are sometimes quite different.

Eduardo Galeano wrote: “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

Solidarity recognises that beneath the cards that life has dealt us, we’re equally human, with equal strengths and weaknesses, even if they’re vastly magnified by our circumstances. Making the quiet effort to redistribute our resources is a respectful (if inadequate) attempt to recognise this. You could argue it’s just semantics, but I think it’s actually important.

In West Timor I met Betcy, a mum probably around my age.

Betcy has four children, and although she’s functionally blind she used a low interest loan from the Church of West Timor to start a small business selling used clothes and saved enough money to build her own home. It has almost-reliable electricity, a shared bed for the three boys, and a brand new water tank to safeguard their often-dirty water supply. When she speaks about the dreams she has for her children (another small loan to send her eldest to university to study engineering, for example), and when she proudly shows me the wardrobe where her children hang their school uniforms, or shyly grins at the antics of her eight year old daughter chasing the family dog – we share one of those wordless ‘mum’ moments. That’s about all it takes.

Betcy and her daughter

I come home here to my house with the two bathrooms, the car that conveniently beeps as I mow down my recycling bin on the way to my children’s excellent schools, and Betcy stays with me. She’s with me in the knowledge that I have a huge amount of practical resources to share, simply because I was born in a different place, through no merit of my own. She’s here in the knowledge that resilience, courage, love and aspiration are universal, and that my children are not the only ones who deserve to have those dreams nurtured. She’s alongside me in the certainty that “poor people” are not helpless – they’re determined, creative and capable. And they may be in some cases geographically removed, but they share many of my life experiences.

Most especially, I realise that any one of us could be Betcy if the world tilted its axis just a fraction and the lottery of birth placed us somewhere where rains stubbornly refused to fall or life is shattered in a hail of bullets; if our parents had to choose between sending us to school or finding us work to do to help keep the family fed. All of this knowledge and the shared humanity it points to – that’s solidarity.

This knowledge changes how I live, what I think, how I use my money and my time. Before you offer me a sainthood, I’m a reluctant learner. Always.

Does this lead to generous acts and donations? Hopefully. But not just edge of my life, got-a-bit-left-over donations from pity. Ideally, this is using the resources I have in an attempt to express genuine respect for people who are fully human, fully deserving of the same opportunities as me and my family, and fully able to make use of them. Giving money this way might mean I go without something I’d kinda like. Because three quarters of the world go without things that kinda-keep-them-alive, and they have every much a right to that life as I do.

For me, solidarity will always be more meaningful than charity. So no, Jem, it wasn’t a rough day at work. It was another good one, and I’m grateful as always for everything I learn with UnitingWorld and with our partners in West Timor, Fiji, India, China, Vanuatu and South Sudan. Most especially, I’m grateful for the confronting and motivating fact of our equal, beautiful and shared humanity. I’ll continue to learn and be challenged by how to respond to it.

– Cath

Support determined, creative and capable people freeing themselves from poverty by making a tax-deductible donation to our End of Financial Year campaign before June 30:

To be totally honest, I didn’t think a beauty salon business was going to make the most compelling ‘poverty alleviation’ story I’d ever seen. Um – why are people in this highly disadvantaged part of the world popping off for a manicure? Surely they have better things to be doing with their money?

This, I confess, is the narrative running through my sweat-addled brain as we haul up in a hilly neighbourhood outside West Timor’s capital of Kupang, where motorbikes clog the winding streets and the air is thick with humidity. And then I meet Ana and Aron, clearly delighted but also a bundle of nerves to host us in the small home they share with their four year old son Ryder (…I know. I’m not sure where that came from, but Ryder is wearing Power Ranger shorts pulled up to his chin, and he’s entirely awesome).

It’s a beautiful house, tended with loving hands. Stones line the paths; there are handmade shell windchimes and mobiles; plants and colourful pots are carefully arranged around the door. Whatever else you think you know about ‘people living in poverty’, plant this one right here: creatives are creative no matter where you find them and how much money they have to “spare”.

Simple humanity is a complex thing to deal with. Taking in the scene of creative domesticity before me, a handmade wind-chime hits hard: you are like me. You value beauty and self expression. It’s life-giving. You’ll fight to preserve it no matter what.  And that makes you no longer ‘other’ – the poor West Timorese woman – but a mum like me, finding the hopeful and the happy, the quirky, in the midst of the mess.

Many of us are curiously reluctant to acknowledge simple humanity in people who have less – the right to leisure time, investment in beauty, choice.  Somewhere deep and un-named there’s a sense that surely every cent, every moment should be spent surviving. Yet here’s the truth: the same tiny fires of elation are lit in hearts everywhere by things we all share – the joy of making something perfect with your own hands; the first smile of a child; sunsets, stars and potted plants.

These are the vital reminders that we are all human, equally wonderful and worthwhile but not equally resourced. Why? A simple toss of the dice places some of us here and others there. And this is a deeper challenge to us than simply being able to hand out cash or charity to ‘the deserving poor’ – for whom we can feel sorry because they’re so unlike us. It serves up some bigger questions and unsettles us deeply.

Ana, it turns out, has a spinal birth defect that means she stands only 1.3metres tall – she’s tiny and has struggled all her life with pain. She walks a little unevenly but she’s tenacious. Her husband Aron and son Ryder both have eyesight problems – Aron is functionally blind and Ryder has recently had cataract operations. He turns his head like a little bird to follow the sound of our voices and gallantly attempts to see us using his unaffected peripheral vision. The three of them sit close on a bench outside their home and tell us about the business they run together.

Beauty and massage, they tell us, are the heart of their work – hair cuts and shampoos and sometimes nails; massages for tourists and people who need them for health reasons. Not everyone in West Timor lives on $2 a day. They came up with the idea because Aron is good with his hands and can work easily without sight. He has a mobile phone, fully voice equipped – while we’re talking he takes a message and lines up an appointment, shyly chuffed to be able to show his business in action. He has strong hands, Ana tells us, also proud of her husband. And her passion is for cutting and styling – people will always need haircuts.

The low-interest business loan the pair manage through TLM – the social services agency of the Protestant Church in West Timor – was a godsend. It meant the family could turn a small profit – afford Ryder’s cataract operation, restore the well that is their only water supply, invest in the equipment they both need for their businesses, and also to plan for the kind of schooling Ryder will need as a child with a disability.

Because make no mistake about it – life for people with disabilities in the developing world is beyond tough. No social security. No NDIS. No respite, counselling or advice from experts. Ana, Aron and Ryder are pretty much on their own in a city where eating means working – crooked spine, sightless eyes, whatever your challenge.

Here’s what’s impressive about this model of poverty prevention: microfinance loans give people the skills and confidence to run businesses in a vast range of areas, doing stuff that they know other people need. It allows them the dignity of real work – and in Ana and Aron’s case – creative work that gives them what’s clearly a certain amount of joy. And why should we, in the ‘let’s go to Uni, choose our careers and live happy, fulfilled lives’ be the only ones to experience that? Why shouldn’t Ryder, in his hand-me-down Power Ranger pants, have the same dreams as our own kids?

Here’s the confronting truth of the human condition – any one of us could be Ana or Aron. Opening our hearts and hands to this reality is freeing – helping us to live with solidarity, generosity and simplicity; assessing how much we really need to be happy; and where and how we find beauty. It’s in standing together to bring life to each other that we discover what it means to be fully human.

UnitingWorld is a valued partner of the Australian Government, receiving flexible funding under the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) each year to implement development and poverty alleviation programs overseas. Every donation you make to this project will be combined with funding from the Australian government to reach more people. We have committed to contribute $1 for every $5 we receive from the Australian government. Your donation will allow us to extend our programs.

That means your gift will go five times as far toward ending poverty and providing dignity for families like Ana and Aron’s in West Timor, Bali and Zimbabwe.  

How many times can you say that you were involved in a ‘life-or-death’ situation? A situation where your actions and decisions could make the difference between someone living or dying? Once? Twice? Never? What if I told you that as you read this, that’s exactly where you find yourself…

The word ‘famine’ is used relatively frequently in modern language, but it’s actually not something that happens often. On 20 February, the United Nations declared famine in two counties of South Sudan. It was the first time famine had been declared anywhere in more than six years. Some are saying that the current severity of food insecurity in South Sudan hasn’t been seen since a post-war Europe experienced famine in 1947. But what exactly is food insecurity?

A crash course in food insecurity

There are five official categories of food insecurity: 1) minimal, 2) stressed, 3) crisis, 4) emergency, and 5) catastrophe (i.e. ‘famine’). Currently in South Sudan, there are an estimated 4.9 million people in categories 3, 4 and 5. Of these 4.9 million people, it’s estimated that 100,000 people are in category 5: catastrophe (famine). People in categories 3 and 4 are at risk of severe malnutrition, which causes lasting impacts – entrenching people in poverty and disrupting education for generations.

People in category 5 are dying of starvation. Not tomorrow, not next week… now. And the reality is the majority of the people in category 5 are among the most vulnerable; typically pregnant women, children and lactating mothers.

I was speaking to a friend recently about how dire the situation is, and he asked what he thought might have been a silly question. He wanted to know why, when faced with the imminent starvation of 100,000 of South Sudan’s most vulnerable people, the international community couldn’t just “bring them food.” Not a silly question at all, but definitely not as simple as he thought.

And in the coming months it’s about to get more complicated.

$1 today is worth more than $1 in two months

South Sudan is facing more than one crisis. Set among the backdrop of a failing economy, collapsing infrastructure and the constant threat of conflict, famine response is not an easy task. In addition to all of this, May will see the start of the rainy season. Roads will become impassable, and the only option for delivering food and non-food essential items will be by air freight. Air freight is significantly more expensive than ground freight.

Right now aid workers are in a position to be able to ‘pre-place’ food and non-food items into the hardest hit areas, to be distributed now and as the lean season continues. Not only does immediate action mean that we can reduce the number of those 100,000 people who will die of starvation, but it also limits the number of additional people moving into category 5 during the lean season.

Acting at once means that more money can be spent on essential items as opposed to transport costs. More money on food and non-food necessities means more lives are saved.

That’s where you come in

You’re faced with a life-or-death situation, only it’s not your life at stake. Despite this famine happening to people thousands of miles away – people you’ll probably never meet – you can save a life by taking action today. Tomorrow could be too late for the 100,000 in South Sudan who will go to bed on the brink of starvation.

Lots of my friends and family tell me they plan to donate. I tell them: don’t wait.

– Megan

Megan Calcaterra
International Programs Manager, Asia/Africa

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