Worlds Apart or One WorldTogether? - World Refugee Day
This morning, JRS Maban invited people to write messages on some blackboards that we scattered in a few locations. It was one of our ways to mark World Refugee Day. I like the message "REFUGEES ARE HUMAN BEINGS LIKE US.." To me this is the essence of what World Refugee Day is about - reminding us that there are nearly 70 million people around the world who would love to be where they call home, but are forced to flee - They seek refuge and safety - They are human beings like all of us. They want protection now. Longterm they want to return to their homes.
Only a very small proportion of the world's refugees seek refuge in Europe or want to give up on the longing to go home. Here in Maban, where the local population is estimated to be about 60,000 people, they have welcomed into their community over 150,000 people seeking refuge. South Sudan and Maban is itself impoverished beyond bellief. There are many challenges here not least extreme poverty, hunger and civil war. But Maban has welcomed refugees as best they can. Why? Maybe because they have in recent decades had to flee for refuge themsleves and have only in recent years returned to Maban. They know what it is like to be a refugee - they know that refugees are human! How I wish that Ireland and Europe could recover its own history of seeking asylum and refuge. Can we recover a sense of generosity and obligation to the needy of this world?
Two things stood out for me today. One was the begining of our intensive Teacher Training Course. It was a joy to welcome 44 student teachers who will live together in the JRS College. We gathered under one of the big trees that grace the grounds and began introductions.
Its facilities are basic, and I have a new headache of a water tank that has sprung a leak. However the water leak will not dampen the joy and excitment of these young men and women who are eagar to learn and to teach.
On my way back from welcoming the student teachers apart from thinking about the problem of a leaky water tank, I stopped in at our new Computer course for women. I was proud to see our JRS team living out the reality that life as a refugee goes on and that young people want and need education.
In a society where women have a long journey to go to gain equal status to men, such initiatives are small but important steps to empowering women. Some of these women have been in class all day, will have eaten little and after this computer class finsihed at 5pm, they began the 6km walk home, where they had little food and no doubt they had chores to do when they got home. Yet tomorrow they will do all this again. Remarkable!
My last litte tale of joy, is Eid. Last Friday Muslims celebrated Eid, the end of the season of Ramadan. On Friday afternoon I found this little puppy astray. , His ribs were showing through his tiny body. He was starving. He was distraught. So I took pity on him and brought him home. Everyone here has shown him attention and he is now flourishing. We have called him Eid! He is pictured above sleeping and sunggled up beside a bag with JRS branding. Perhaps it is a good symbol of what JRS seeks to do for our fellow human beings who are also hungry and lost.
I leave you with a reminder of what Pope Francis has suggestted should guide our response. Our common response to refugees can be articulated by four verbs; to WELCOME, to PROTECT, to PROMOTE and to INTEGRATE.
Thank you all for your onging support, prayers and good wishes.