Now that my internship is completed, I can reflect on the entire experience, from start to finish. Since I began studying international politics and development back in 2004, I have always been interested in post-conflict nations. I was incredibly interested in the genocide that had taken place in Rwanda, as I was old enough to watch it unravel at the time. In 2007, a friend of mine gave me a book called, “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah, which really grabbed my attention. It was a book that chronicled his life as a forced child soldier in Sierra Leone and his road to rehabilitation. After reading his so recent ordeal, his personal tale I wanted to learn more about the Sierra Leonean war and the country as a whole. I wrote my graduate thesis about female soldiers who participated in the war and was therefore able to do a significant amount of research about the many different aspects of the conflict.
Even though I had done so much research, I really did not know what to expect when coming to Sierra Leone. Since I had been to quite a few other African countries I guess I assumed it would be quite similar. I couldn’t have been more wrong. At first glance Freetown seems like a very bustling city, vibrant and full of life. After spending 6 months there you begin to see and realize how much the war really had such a negative effect on the country and its people. It is still so undeveloped, years behind even its neighboring countries. There is still such widespread poverty everywhere and many crippled and disabled people vigorously begging all over the city. There is almost no infrastructure development and the sewage system is just non-existent. Constant power and water outages coupled with a terrible education and judicial system, Sierra Leone really is a country where the effects of war are evident everywhere you look and experience every minute of the day.
One thing that Sierra Leone does have, however, is hope and optimism for a brighter future. The people have a resilient spirit which is evident in the way they work hard and work hard together, using their strong faith and love for one another to make it through each day. Although living in Sierra Leone had its many challenges, I am so grateful to be able to have spent so much time in such a unique and special place and the memories will last with me for a lifetime. Thank you YMCA for this great opportunity and experience!!
Source: Kimberly B, YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka
20 February marks International Social Justice Day. Selected by the UN in 2007, it is a day to promote "access to social well-being and justice for all". But exactly what does that mean? What does a socially just society look like? What should the Church be doing about this? What kind of issues does it involve?
To help answer these questions, Christian Today spoke to the coordinator for the Social Justice Office of the Christian Reformed Church, Peter Vander Meulen.
CT: How would you define what social justice is?
PVM: Well for a start, I'm not entirely sure if it means the same thing to Christians as it does to those in the world.
The definition we use tends to be worded differently depending on the audience. A good all round definition is that, you know you have a reasonably just society if the people are able to participate in social interaction using the full extent of their gifts, if they have their basic needs met, and following from those things if they have meaningful work.
This is an image of social justice based on the idea that people are created in God's image, and they have a set of rights, so it's a rights based definition. They have rights because they are made in God's image. We have obligations to each other because we are made in God's image. It is rooted in the fact that we are all small images of God.
Everyone we sit next to in church or a civic meeting is an eternal being and so has to be treated in a way that I would treat myself or my children. It is a definition rooted in the divinity of each human being, and it's also a definition that is linked to the common good. We live in community, the trinity is a community. If our communities inhibit certain groups of people, certain classes or types of people, it is not a socially just community.
In a religious context, to a religious audience, I will often talk about the Hebrew word shalom, and how it means having right relationships. Peaceful relationships between people, between people and God, and between people and the Earth.
Those are the two basic things, a common good, rooted in our image of God.
We have rights as human beings and consequently a just society honours and protects those rights, for each and every person.
CT: In terms of practical reality, how should that kind of justice be expressing itself? If a church is looking to help create a more socially just world, what should it be doing?
PVM: The church that is most socially just is the church that is as widely inclusive as possible. It is the church that views and values each and every person as an image of God. A church like that does not make distinctions based on class or creed or sexual orientation or anything like that. We as individuals should be welcoming and loving to everyone who crosses our path.
An example of this would be the alcoholics anonymous group. Just like there the only requirement is people wanting to change, the only requirement for membership in a church that I would describe as socially just is a desire to get closer to God and live together in community.
Of course churches have doctrines. Churches have definitions of sinful behaviour, but they don't need to inhibit a just and welcoming community where anyone can come in and feel like they've met Christ. That's very different from what we see in a lot of our churches.
It isn't a rules based justice. It's a justice based on how we treat individuals that are in our communities and that are passing through our communities. That last one means the alien and the immigrant, and that's what we're working on right now.
Some churches are really good at that. We have churches that have spent thousands of dollars on undocumented people, who are here without the proper papers. When they get caught, they have all these court costs, they fight deportation, and churches rally around them: "you won't deport this person, we love this person, they take communion with us, they worship with us," so they're very good at that kind of thing.
But so often, when you go a step further and say "you know what, there are millions of people being deported right now in the US because we have an immoral, broken immigration system" and then you ask them "will you band together as Christians, with others, and help change that system because of the love of God?" they'll say "whoa, that's pretty political".
We'll respond by saying "yeah that's the definition of politics, the kinds of rules we create to try and build a just society, and our immigration system is broken, and you're seeing the evidence of that in your church. Why don't we fix it together?"
That's the bit that a lot of churches don't get. To have that tough conversation in a church, and come to an agreement about what kind of public square action we need to take for a more just and loving society. That's something that's difficult to do.
You have to put your relationship with God and your fellow church members above your political affiliation. That's where we get screwed up so often in the US. We tend to identify politically first, and then we pick a church based on our policies. That's just backwards.
By Michael Trimmer
Source: Christian Today
International competitive games have a long history of generating news coverage that extends beyond just keeping score. In light of the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the arduous efforts that nations put into preparation and the affairs and state of the host nations themselves become hoisted into the spotlight.
The hosting of a major global sporting event like the Olympics or the World Cup can generate positive global media attention and revenue,while allowing countries to display their already existing or desired economic and political prowess. While some argue that hosting has the potential to provide nations and their citizens with a number of gains, reality proves otherwise.
Evidence of economic gains from increased tourism and investment is not always what actually happens in nations that are already facing economic hardship. The 2004 Athens’ Summer Olympics left the nation with even greater debt as a result of building sports complexes that are now underutilized or even abandoned.
While the games may aim to serve the purpose of displaying a nation’s significance as a leading or rising global economic or political power, the ongoing Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil are actually bringing a great deal of attention to the poverty and instability of these leading world powers.
Numerous reports from Sochi have focused on brown drinking water, stray dogs, and hotel amenities not fit for living, Behind these headlines is coverage of what it is like to live in Sochi. Leading up to the opening of the games, families living in or near endemic poverty found themselves displaced because of construction in preparation for the olympics.
In Brazil,a similar story has emerged. In preparation for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, construction of sporting complexes have forced families out of their homes, homes which for many served as an economic pillar of stability. Stories continue to arise regarding diplacement and worker’s rights, or the lack thereof. Notably, the preparation for for the games has wound up highlighting the severe poverty faced by many who reside in Brazil’s favelas.
As recurring international mega sporting events continue to press on and generate billions of dollars for some, they continue to directly contribute to ongoing poverty and inequality for those living in the host nations.
Direct Service Implications
In working with vulnerable foreign populations, direct service providers are faced with a number of diverse issues related to human rights violations and varying identities of poverty. While the challenges of each nation are widely different, providers must continue to understand the complex issues their clients face on a micro and macro level. Whether working abroad or domestically with recent immigrant populations, providers must continue to remain informed about the challenges individuals face given their current or former geographical locations.
In order to stay informed of human right issues and the state of global affairs, providers can find information through Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations’ websites, mailing lists, and social media.
Source: Social Justice Solutions