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UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe gives an update on COVID-19 and appeals for support.

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UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia, collaborating for a world free from poverty and injustice. Click here to support our work.

Header photo via SBS news.

Our partners in Bali have been finding innovative ways for children to stay safe, connected and spreading important information about COVID-19.

As part of safety lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Indonesia, the Bali provincial government recommended all school children study at home.

With children isolated in their houses, our partners MBM held a drawing contest to keep students connected and help promote social distancing, handwashing and awareness about COVID-19. Entrants were primary and junior high school-age children who lived in communities connected to our partner church GKPB and community development projects run by MBM.

61 children enthusiastically entered the competition and came up with some great creations!

Kadek, a junior high school student won first place in the competition. The theme of his cartoon is keeping a safe distance and using a mask to prevent transmission of the virus.

Kadek with his cartoon

Kadek lives in a village in the Bangli region and he and his family are assisted by an MBM community development project. He said he was inspired to enter the competition after sitting in on one of MBM’s education sessions on COVID-19 that his parents attended.

His cartoon is now being published by MBM and GKPB as part of educational resources to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

MBM Project Coordinator Irene Arnawa said the project encouraged children to think about health and safety, as well as creative ways to spread the message to others.

“We hope that by doing these kinds of activities, children will be able to realise the importance of following health advice to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19,” said Ms Arnawa.

Great work Kadek and all the other entrants!

Some of the finalists – so many great entries

MBM’s COVID-19 crisis response in Bali:

  • 1,838 families provided with educational brochures about COVID-19 prevention.
  • 320 families assisted by existing projects have received a COVID-19 health package (containing masks, soap and vitamins) to reduce their vulnerability to contracting COVID-19.
  • 5,929 people given food assistance.
  • 61 children in target communities have been sent videos about how to wash their hands properly.
  • Six villages have been aided with marketing their products to enable to them to continue to receive an income without needing to travel to city markets.
  • 1,000 fruit and vegetable plants prepared to help improve long-term food security and nutrition for people who have lost work or must isolate themselves.
  • 12 women trained to make fabric masks; 3,110 were then bought by MBM to distribute.
  • 21 village leaders helped with technical assistance on how to realign their village budget to support families impacted by COVID-19. They are using a website to access health information and have created an independent isolation room for the arrival of migrant workers needing to self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Ten church leaders in Bali trained in safeguarding so they can become COVID-19 volunteers in their communities.
  • 20 health workers serving COVID-19 patients in a local hospital have received food and accommodation from MBM’s quarantine facility to enable to them to isolate from their families and community while working.

Our partners will continue to serve their communities throughout this crisis and beyond. Donate now to support their critical work: www.unitingworld.org.au/actnow


UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. Our partner in Bali is the Christian Protestant Church in Bali (GKPB) and their development agency Maha Bhoga Marga (MBM). Click here to support their work.

The Foreign Affairs and Aid Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has begun a series of roundtable public hearings to inform the inquiry into strengthening Australia’s relationships with the Pacific Islands.

The Sub-Committee was asked to inquire into how Australia could meet current and emerging opportunities and challenges facing the Pacific island region.

The initial roundtable on June 18 heard witnesses from non-government and intergovernmental organisations working with partners in the Pacific region. UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe was invited as a witness to present to the Sub-Committee and answer questions.

Dr Goringe’s initial comments to the roundtable are below, and the full transcript can be found here (which also contains responses to follow-up questions from Committee members).


We are the aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church and, through our relationships with the churches in the Pacific, we have a history that goes for over a hundred years of connecting and collaborating with Pacific island churches and church communities. That’s historically been in collaborations in social services like health, education and WASH, and in more recent times the collaborations have also included support for building up governance and leadership capacity, supporting Pacific churches to do sustainable community development in the Pacific communities, and working on gender equality, in particular around women’s equality and the safeguarding of children. Our perspective is one of both an aid organisation and a church relational organisation which has very deep connections throughout the Pacific.

Our primary recommendation to this inquiry was that our relationships with the Pacific really need to engage with churches in the Pacific, churches being probably the strongest and most influential civil society organisations in the Pacific. Engaging with them has a whole range of reasons around it, which include the fact that they are deeply embedded in community and are very influential in the public. You can build on a very long relationship between Australian churches and Pacific churches, a history of collaboration and mutual respect. Also, the Pacific diaspora in Australia is very active within Australian churches. To channel that and to leverage those connections between the Australian Pacific diaspora and Pacific communities, working through churches, would be very useful. And, finally, churches, as established local community institutions within Pacific countries, have leadership structures at sub-national, national and also regional levels that give us hooks for the Pacific step-up program to connect with and meet people. I think it’s a channel into deep community grassroots as well as highly connected and influential aspects.

Our second recommendation is the Pacific step-up and the building up of relationships in the Pacific really need to be centred on the aspirations of Pacific Island people, and I think that kind of manifests in a couple of different ways in our experience. For us, the biggest thing is that it requires Australia to deal with the issue of climate change with integrity. Before the pandemic wiped everything else off people’s agendas, climate change was the No. 1 issue to worry about. Climate change remains, still, the biggest existential threat to life in the Pacific. And if we don’t engage with Pacific people with a willingness to grapple with that, we have the risk of undermining everything else that we try to do with the step-up initiative.

The second thing that comes out of that—that is, if we focus our desire to build relationships with the Pacific on the needs of the Pacific people—is there is, in our experience of engaging very widely across many countries, a desire for models of development that are not just a mimic of the Western model of development that Australia may have pursued in terms of industrialisation and trade. There is obviously desire for an improvement in quality of living and access to services, but there is also a very strong desire for tapping into Indigenous knowledge, being conscious of social and cultural values in development. In particular, for the past 12 months we have been engaging with a movement called Reweaving the Ecological Map, which is a collaboration between universities and churches in the Pacific. It is actually trying to put together a framework for development, from a Pacific perspective, that brings together the value of the natural environment, and the social, emotional health and wellbeing of people as well as the economic wellbeing of the community. We have an opportunity here. This is a moment in time where Australia could step in—not step in, but step up to partner, to nurture, to support and to accompany Pacific countries in a journey of development that is driven by their own agenda. This is a great opportunity for us to have a huge amount of integrity, rather than necessarily driving development in the Pacific based on our own understanding of what is the right solution.

Another aspect of the needs of communities and people in our relationship is just making sure that with the things we are doing to support Pacific economies, like the labour mobility programs that we’ve got—both of them—that we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot by creating economic wellbeing at the expense of community. We are finding at community level that long-term absences of working-age parent cohorts cause significant harm to families, and there is a price being paid at the community level for having Pacific Islanders spending long times working in Australia. We’re not saying we should stop that; we’re just saying those schemes need to be re-evaluated to look at social impacts. As an aid organisation we’re being asked by communities to support them to address the social problems that are being caused by the absence of adults when children are growing up, so issues of dependency, abuse of alcohol and other substances, gambling, pornography and whole range of other issues when parents are absent from communities for lengths of time.

And the last aspect of what we’re really recommending to this committee is the whole-of-government aspect and how Australia’s efforts to approach the Pacific through the step-up is perceived in many places as being fairly self-serving. We’re hearing back this idea that Australia was treating the Pacific like a pawn in a game of a regional stand-off with China. I think we need to make sure that other policies and how we work holistically, particularly in trade agreements around our aid program, and in particular how we as a country address climate change with our internal policies, is going to play a significant role in whether our approach to the Pacific is seen to be genuine and have the interests of both parties. The Pacific’s relationship with Australia is very strong. One of the most profound experiences for us in the last months is realising that when, during the summer of the bushfires, when Australia was going through a pretty tough time, all of our Pacific partners raised money for the Australian churches’ emergency effort. This contribution and this mutuality is a very strong base from which to build.

I’ll wrap up by saying that we have very strong relationships between Australia and the Pacific, particularly through the churches and through a huge amount of collaborative work that has been done in social and sustainable community development. But that approach will have to be built on assertiveness in the Pacific and a willingness to grapple with climate change and our ability to make sure that things that we do in one place don’t backfire in other places. That’s what’d we’d like to say, and we’re very happy to take questions later.

The Committee is accepting submissions for the inquiry until Tuesday, 30 June 2020 and is keen to hear views from within Pacific island countries, individuals who have participated in labour mobility schemes and those who have settled permanently in Australia, amongst others.

(Editorial from our Update Newsletter🙂

It’s 260 AD and across the Roman Empire, as many as one in four people are dying from plague. Bodies are left to rot in the streets and civic life grinds to a halt as people abandon the sick and flee from the cities.

One group is remarkably, consistently different.

In an Easter pastoral letter to his flock at the height of the carnage, Dionysius the Bishop of Alexandria notes: “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ…”

Over the next sixteen centuries, through plagues that wiped out 60% of Europe’s population, historians credit the caring actions of Christians with not only saving countless lives, but with prompting the exponential growth of their faith.

Today, our leaders have called us to dig deep into the roots of this practical, other-centred faith. We were made for times like these.

“The whole premise of the Judeo-Christian faith is that we’re blessed to be a blessing to others, to be a gift, to make a contribution, to grow and co-create. At times like this the siren call to just hunker down and look after ourselves is seductive, but it fundamentally contradicts everything we understand about ourselves as people of God.” –Rev David Baker, Moderator of the Queensland Synod.

“During these testing COVID-19 days we keep hearing “we are all in this together”. We tend to interpret that as we must look after our family, neighbours and friends. As people who follow the way of Christ our orientation needs to be much broader.” –Rev Steve Francis, Moderator of the Western Australia Synod.

“Please join me, in supporting the work of our partner churches through UnitingWorld’s COVID-19 Appeal. Now, more than ever, we all need to support one another, so that we can come through this crisis into a world where the basics of life: clean air, water, food, shelter, healthcare, love and community are part of all our lives. Let’s join with our global partners in embodying God’s vision for the flourishing of all people and the whole creation.” –Dr Deidre Palmer, President of the Uniting Church in Australia.

Click here to read our latest Update Newsletter.

Click here to download the PDF version.


COVID-19 update 

While many project activities have been put on hold due to lockdowns, we are redirecting people and money to meet immediate COVID-19 related needs. Our partners are continuing to serve their communities in innovative ways and working hard to retain the development gains you’ve helped make happen.

Thank you so much to all our regular givers and all of you who’ve helped resource our partners to respond to this crisis. Your donations are being put to use protecting lives, preventing hunger and building the long-term resilience of communities in the Pacific, Asia and Africa.

Thank you for supporting this critical work.

Join the power of people uniting against COVID-19

As a valued partner of the Australian Government, we can access funding each year to implement our poverty alleviation programs. Every donation you make to our tax-time appeal will be combined with funding from the Australian Government to reach more people. We have committed to contribute at least $1 for every $5 we can access in government funding, which means right now your gift can go up to six times as far!

Donate now at www.unitingworld.org.au/actnow or call 1800 998 122

As South Sudan emerges from seven years of brutal civil war, COVID-19 is creating new threats to peace. Our partners have asked us to pray in solidarity and keep holding onto hope.

Earlier this year, the struggle for peace in South Sudan took a significant step forward. In February, President Salva Kiir Mayardit swore in Dr Riek Machar as Vice President and both declared the end to their rivalry; a power struggle that resulted in a seven-year civil war that left nearly 400,000 people dead.

After many failed starts at peace and a great deal of international pressure, the agreement of leaders to form a ‘Transitional Government of National Unity’ was a cause for celebration.

Power vacuums causing new waves of violence

Unfortunately, the new government has failed to appoint state governors to provide much-needed local leadership and this has already resulted in renewed violence. An estimated 800 people have been killed in intercommunal clashes since February.

Just last month, hundreds of people were killed in outbreaks of  violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities in Jonglei state. Hundreds of women and children have also been abducted and are still in captivity.

PCOSS Vice General Secretary Rev Orozu Daky shared these words with us recently:

“My heart is bleeding with what is happening between Lou Nuer and Murle…I know for sure through prayers of many believers around the world, there will be peace between them. However, God has time frame to that to happen. We need peace among the two sister tribes.

Pray together without ceasing. Amen”

South Sudanese faith communities in Australia have also called on the Church for prayer and solidarity. Responding to the recent violence, Pastor Moses Leth of the South Sudanese Nuer Faith Community in Queensland wrote to members of the Uniting Church in Australia:

At this point, we do not know what else to ask of you besides your will to plea to God with us. As always, we seek for your prayer and solidarity. 

Click here to read Pastor Moses’ full letter.

New stressors on cycles of violence in South Sudan

As well as the of lack of political leadership at the state level, ongoing food insecurity and COVID-19 are also fueling intercommunal violence.

In South Sudan, 6.5 million people, or 55% of the population, are expected to face severe food insecurity between May and July 2020, owing to the dire economic situation and events like last year’s floods and locust invasions that destroyed crops, killed livestock and contaminated water supplies of whole communities.

While food insecurity increases the risk of violence over land and resources, violence in turn works in a vicious cycle to increase food insecurity. Conflict prevents people from moving in search of food, it restricts humanitarian access to deliver emergency food and supplies and disrupts trade routes and access to markets.

COVID-19 is also expected to put further pressure on the cycle of violence. Social distancing requirements have meant peacebuilding and mediation efforts have stalled and people’s ability to go to work and buy food have been severely restricted.  In addition, a sharp fall in government oil revenues has meant  funds for peace processes have been cut.

What can be done? Is there any hope?

Our partner the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) has been committed to working for peace in South Sudan since the 1970s. This has included running peacebuilding and trauma healing workshops for South Sudanese people of various tribes living in refugee camps in bordering countries, training church leaders in peacebuilding skills that can be shared with the wider community, as well as collaborating in ecumenical peace efforts as part of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC).

Now, PCOSS is working as part of the SSCC to mediate between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities to seek a peaceful resolution. At a time when there is an absence of local leadership and UN peacebuilding missions and NGOs are facing difficulties in implementing peace programs, the work of the Church is especially vital for reconciliation and peace.

PCOSS Moderator Rt Rev Peter Gai Lual Marrow said:

“The church cannot sit back and watch while the nation is bleeding.  Now am asking your prayers in this process of mediation we started trying to bring together the two communities to the table to talk about possible reconciliation.”

“The church, no matter how fragile is the leadership of this country, will try her level best to say “STOP” fighting and let people resolve this recycling revenge amicably through peaceful negotiations…Let’s hope for success, keep going on in our thoughts and prayers.”

PCOSS Moderator Rt Rev Peter Gai

During COVID-19, PCOSS is providing vulnerable communities with awareness about COVID-19, food and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) items and delivering psychosocial support. They are also continuing their critical peacebuilding activities.  You can help. Click here to support our partners to respond to COVID-19 and save lives in South Sudan.

Please join us in prayer:

  • For PCOSS and SSCC, and that their peace mediation efforts are successful
  • For lasting peace between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities and others across South Sudan
  • For the safe return of abducted women and children
  • For the recovery and healing of people physically injured or experiencing trauma; and
  • For our partners PCOSS as they respond to COVID-19.

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. UnitingWorld supports our partners the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) to train ministers and lay leaders and equip them with the tools they will need to teach reconciliation and peacebuilding skills in families and between tribal groups throughout South Sudan. Read more 

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).

In the middle of preparing COVID-19 lockdown measures, Tropical Cyclone Harold hit the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga over 1-11 April. Reaching up to Category 5, the cyclone forced people into evacuation centres where proper physical distancing became impossible.

Homes and food supplies were destroyed, resulting in what has been called a “double-disaster” for the people and communities affected. Below are some updates from our church partners.

Solomon Islands

TC Harold struck the Solomon Islands first as a Category 3 cyclone, damaging the food bowl region of Guadalcanal, damaging important crops and limiting the local food supply. As a member of the Solomon Islands Christian Association, the United Church in Solomon Islands has been part of an ecumenical response to address the short to medium-term shortage of food. This response has been funded through DFAT on the advice and request of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC).

Vanuatu

TC Harold intensified into a Category 5 as it made landfall in the northern Islands of Vanuatu. Espirito Santo, Pentecost, Malacula and surrounding Islands were hit worst. The Australian Government made funds available for a coordinated response between NGOs, local churches and the Vanuatu Government.

The ecumenical response is addressing the need for clean water and sanitation, non-food items and support to evacuation centres. Our partner the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu (PCV) has facilitated its own response by collecting food and non-food items from congregations in unaffected areas and directing these to communities that bore the brunt of the damage. They are working closely with the government on coordinating the distribution of the resources.

The Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union has donated relief supplies towards the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office to support the COVID-19 response. The requested supplies included soap, toiletries,  clothes, candles, matches, food items and containers for storage.

One of the key lessons learned from Cyclone Pam in 2015 —and now being witnessed all over the world during COVID-19—is that the risk of violence towards vulnerable people increases during such crises. This includes violence against women, girls and children; domestic violence, violence against people with disabilities and the LGBTIQ community. The Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union of PCV are increasing their efforts to address this violence, especially within cyclone-affected areas during their distribution of collected goods. If you would like to support this aspect of the response and help our partners keep people safe, click here to donate now.

Fiji

After Vanuatu, TC Harold lowered to Category 4 and moved towards Fiji, striking Vitu Levu and the country’s eastern islands. At the time, Fiji had recorded a small number of COVID-19 cases so maintaining physical distancing was vitally important but almost impossible as people were forced into evacuations centres. Food supplies were damaged and road blockages hindered the response.

Our partner the Methodist Church in Fiji is responding to the needs of those in the most affected areas and have contacted UnitingWorld and the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) for support. We have responded through both a DFAT-funded ecumenical response as well as directly with our partners. After Cyclone Winston, MCIF in partnership with UnitingWorld and the UCA, established a Disaster Chaplaincy Network to help people work through the stress and trauma of disaster experiences. We will work with MCIF to refresh the training of this network in the light of this double-disaster and support the deployment of chaplains to support people work through the stress. If you would like to support this aspect of the response, please donate to our disaster fund here.

The Methodist Church of Fiji has donated relief supplies to Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office to assist those affected from Tropical Cyclone Harold.

Tonga

Before leaving the Pacific, TC Harold hit Tonga at Category 4. The tiny islands of ‘Eua and parts of Tongatapu were most affected. This comes after Cyclone Gita decimated these same islands just two years earlier.

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (WFCT) was able to utilise a building repairs storage facility constructed and stocked out of the Cyclone Gita response in partnership with UnitingWorld/UCA (see below pic). The building meant that they could begin the repairs to damaged buildings within the first days and weeks after the cyclone, rather than having to wait for supplies to be shipped in from New Zealand.

FWCT has accessed a funding grant from the Australian Government to supply water tanks to vulnerable families affected by the cyclone and to support health and hygiene advice for COVID-19 prevention. They are also hoping this partnership will strengthen and they can expand the Disaster Chaplaincy Network to be ecumenical; reaching not just those communities affected by cyclones, but all the people struggling with the fear and uncertainty created by COVID-19. If you wish to support FWCT in their response, please donate to our disaster fund here.

Across the Pacific, especially in the places affected by TC Harold and other disasters, people are asking important questions about where God is during these crises and what or who is to blame for them.

UnitingWorld is standing with all our partners as they grapple with these questions by collating Pacific-led theological resources and commentary for churches to lead their communities through these difficult questions and in responding with faithful action. 

The Pacific Conference of Churches’ annual Pacific Day of Prayer will be observed this year on Friday 8 May.

The liturgy and worship resources for 2020 have been prepared by Kiribati Uniting Church (KUC) with a reflection by KUC Secretary for Mission, Rev Maleta Tenten (pictured above left).

Under the theme ‘Christ our Living Hope’ (1 Peter 1: 3–12), the worship resources reflect on the global challenge of COVID-19 and the impacts of Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold, which recently devastated parts of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga.

Rev Maleta finds encouragement in Peter’s letter to Christians suffering persecution under the Roman Empire and encourages Christians today to consider how COVID-19 has put more pressure on those who were already suffering injustice before the crisis.

“There are existing empires in our midst and from outside our regions who continue to control and exert power over the powerless,” says Rev Maleta.

“The Easter message speaks to us to ‘Rise with Christ and not to be afraid’ to start afresh. We have to examine ourselves and our roles as Christians to see and to hear the cry of those who continue to suffer, the oppressed, those deprived of their human rights and dignity, the poor, women/girls and children being abused and violated, those with bleak future for their children and generations because of climate impacts…”

Read Rev Maleta’s full reflection and find the worship resources for the Pacific Day of Prayer below.

Website (Pacific Conference of Churches)

PDF Download


Prayer points for the Pacific Day of Prayer 2020

For the impacts of Coronavirus

  • Victims of Covid-19
  • Families who had lost their loved ones
  • The safety of health care/service providers/volunteers
  • Safety of our countries from this life threatening disease/virus

The effects of Cyclone Harold and other natural disasters

  • Victims of natural disasters
  • Families who had lost their loved ones
  • Support to victims who lost their homes, livestock, farms etc…
  • Children‟s of families affect and for their education

For those who continue to suffer in our societies

  • The poor
  • Women and girls from sexual abuse
  • Violence against women and children
  • Disabilities/disabled people including elderly
  • Gender inequality

For victims of climate change and sea-level rise

  • Those in coastal and low lying islands
  • Poor health due to water shortage and brackish water
  • Poor housing especially those alongside the coastal line due to strong wind and king tides

For West Papua

For the impacts of globalization in our countries

Header image by Natasha Holland: (from left:) Rev Maleta Tenten – KUC Secretary for Mission, Rev Dr Tioti Timon – Principal of Tangintebu Theological College, Bairenga Kirabuke – RAK (Women’s Fellowship of KUC) Project Coordinator and Gender Focal Point.

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA). The UCA is a member of the Pacific Conference of Churches.

With curfews and lockdown measures in place across the Pacific, our church partners are responding to COVID-19 and reaching out to their communities in creative and innovative ways. Projects in health, sanitation, education and gender equality have had to quickly adapt to address the impacts of COVID-19 and the safety lockdowns.

The crisis is doubly alarming for people in the Pacific. Health infrastructure is severely limited and there are no welfare safety nets for thousands of people suddenly unable to work. The need for solidarity and support across our region is needed now more than ever.

We’ve been in contact with our church partners and have provided some short updates below.

For updates on all projects, click here to visit the Projects page.



Papua New Guinea

Lockdown measures have significantly curtailed project activities and staff are working from home on unreliable Wi-Fi connections.

The Safe Water for Remote Communities project team has begun refocusing the existing hygiene behaviour change activities towards handwashing and hygiene messages that are specific to COVID-19.

The team has a strong partnership with the Milne Bay Provincial Government and as Papua New Guinea will have curfews and other lockdown measures for the foreseeable future, the team has sought special permission to support government-led educational messages to communities.


Fiji

The Methodist Church in Fiji (MCIF) have been an active part of the national COVID-19 programme under the Ministry of Health to engage their large national network in precautionary efforts and community education. MCIF President Rev Vakadewavosa has been outspoken on the need to listen to health advice and respect government restrictions, as well as giving theological and pastoral guidance on responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

With national lockdown measures in place, the Methodist Women’s Fellowship through the Gender Equality Theology project are exploring alternative ways to continue to share Gender Equality Theology and Theology of Child Protection and Care messages during this time.

MCIF are also seeking to support families who are struggling with food rations as many people have lost their jobs due to the lockdown restrictions.


Solomon Islands

Rural communities in the Solomon Islands have been flooded with people from urban areas after the government directive for all citizens not working and living in cities to return or relocate to their home provinces immediately. This has created a difficult situation for many families and communities, as well as escalating the risks of domestic violence.

The United Church in the Solomon Islands (UCSI) have identified a need to focus on families in lockdown. They have created educational resource packages, ‘Safety and Protection at Home Under COVID-19,’ using simplified community-level messaging on Gender Equality Theology and Child Protection.

They have begun distributing to congregations and the wider community through regions, circuits, health officers and Assembly Office personnel.

UnitingWorld’s project funding is contributing towards the cost of this work.


Kiribati

The Reitan Aine ki Kamatu (RAK – Women’s Fellowship of the Kiribati Uniting Church) will continue to deliver their radio broadcasts on Gender Equality Theology and Theology of Child Protection and Care through this project.

Tonga

The Free Wesleyan Church in Tonga (FWCT) have been supporting the government-led response to COVID-19 and health and hygiene messaging. With restrictions now lifting somewhat, the church office is back open and FWCT members are allowed to meet in small groups.

With less imports to the country, food supplies are becoming limited so the government has directed families and communities to establish home gardens. FWCT are encouraging all in their church to follow this directive.

In partnership with the Tonga National Council of Churches, FWCT are also making efforts to strengthen their Disaster Chaplaincy Network and deploy chaplains into communities. They will provide mental health support and work with communities as they struggle to find God in the midst of the pandemic and seek to live out a faithful response. UnitingWorld is working with the FWC and TNCC in this chaplaincy work.


Vanuatu

The Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union (PWMU) Project Team are unable to carry out many of their activities as normal, but they will be showing the ‘Violence is a Sin’ message from PCV leaders’ advert, on Vanuatu TV during the lockdown measures. They will also be running a text message campaign and reaching people through alternative media such as Facebook where they can continue to share messages of valuing family life, healthy human relationships, the importance of hand washing and how to make homemade masks.


Tuvalu

The FFEKT (the Women’s Fellowship of the EKT Church in Tuvalu) have a sewing group to support women to earn an income. Since March, the sewing group has been sewing face masks to sell to community members to promote personal hygiene and safety around the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tuvalu, the government has been proactive in putting measures in place to prevent potential transmission, including messaging around the importance of good health and hygiene.

The government office, NGOs and community members have been ordering masks from the FFEKT sewing group and so far (as of 6th April), there have been 126 orders for masks. They are encouraging people to buy two masks each so that they can wash their masks and ensure they remain clean. For those who cannot buy the masks, the sewing group is teaching them how to make their own so that they can provide masks for their family members.


Other resources

The Pacific Conference of Churches has been providing theological guidance on COVID-19 to help people understand what is happening and give practical and pastoral guidance in how to respond. The messages are being adapted by member churches across the Pacific.


Please continue to pray for our church partners and support the relief effort as you are able.

Click here to donate.