The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication officially declared that the 47 countries in the UN World Health Organization (WHO) African Region are free of the virus, with no cases reported for four years.
“This is a momentous milestone for Africa. Now future generations of African children can live free of wild polio,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Polio is a viral disease that can cause paralysis, and mainly affects children under five.
The virus is transmitted from person to person, mostly through contact with infected faeces, or less frequently through contaminated water or food. It enters the body through the mouth and multiplies inside the intestines.
While there is no cure for polio, the disease can be prevented through a simple and effective oral vaccine, thus protecting a child for life.
‘A historic day for Africa’
The ARCC certification entailed a decades-long process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunization and laboratory capacity, as well as field verification visits to each country in the region.
The last case of wild poliovirus in the region was detected in Nigeria in 2016.
“Today is a historic day for Africa,” said Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke, ARCC Chairperson, announcing the certification.
A commitment by leaders
The journey to eradication began with a promise made in 1996 by Heads of State during the 32nd session of the Organization of African Unity held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, where they pledged to stamp out polio, which was paralyzing an estimated 75,000 children annually on the continent.
That same year, the late Nelson Mandela jumpstarted Africa’s commitment to polio eradication by launching the Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign, supported by Rotary International, which mobilized nations to step up efforts to ensure every child received the polio vaccine.
Nearly two million spared
Since then, polio eradication efforts have spared up to 1.8 million children from crippling life-long paralysis, and saved approximately 180,000 lives, WHO reported.
“This historic achievement was only possible thanks to the leadership and commitment of governments, communities, global polio eradication partners and philanthropists,” said Dr. Moeti.
“I pay special tribute to the frontline health workers and vaccinators, some of whom lost their lives, for this noble cause.”
Always remain vigilant
However, Dr. Moeti warned that Africa must remain vigilant against a resurgence of the wild poliovirus.
Keeping vaccination rates up also wards against the continued threat of vaccine-derived polio, or cVDPV2.
WHO explained that while rare, vaccine-derived polioviruses can occur when the weakened live virus in the oral polio vaccine passes among populations with low levels of immunization. Over time, the virus mutates to a form that can cause paralysis.
Adequate immunization thus protects against wild polio and circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses, the UN agency said.
Learning from polio eradication
WHO officials in Africa believe that the experience in eradicating wild poliovirus has other benefits for health on the continent.
Despite weak health systems, and significant logistical and operational challenges, countries collaborated effectively to achieve the milestone, according to Dr. Pascal Mkanda, Coordinator of WHO Polio Eradication Programme in the region.
“With the innovations and expertise that the polio programme has established, I am confident that we can sustain the gains, post-certification, and eliminate cVDPV2,” he said.
The experience also will inform response to other challenges, both new and ongoing, Dr. Moeti added.
“The expertise gained from polio eradication will continue to assist the African region in tackling COVID-19 and other health problems that have plagued the continent for so many years and ultimately move the continent toward universal health coverage,” she said. “This will be the true legacy of polio eradication in Africa.”
MEXICO CITY, – The arrest of three Mexican women accused of trafficking more than 20 children from within their extended family has been criticized by rights activists, who say they are being punished for being poor.
But campaigners and family members reject the trafficking charges, saying the three indigenous women – who are mothers to some of the children – simply took the youngsters to work with them occasionally, as many low-income parents do in Mexico.
“Lots of families… go out selling with their daughters and sons because there isn’t anywhere to leave them,” said Jennifer Haza, director of Chiapas children’s rights nonprofit Melel Xojobal.
“For us, there isn’t evidence of human trafficking,” she said, adding that instead of pursuing prosecutions in such cases, the state government should be looking at ways to give vulnerable children a better start in life.
Mother-of-five Enereida Gomez, sister of one of the detained women, said they sometimes had no choice but to take the children with them onto the streets while they sold handicrafts.
“We’re not criminals,” Gomez said, sobbing at a recent news conference on the case, which has received international media attention.
Another local nonprofit Colectiva Cereza has filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) to ask for its intervention in the case, citing what it called inconsistencies in the investigation.
But Chiapas State Attorney General Jorge Llaven has defended the prosecutions, saying children can be trafficked by their parents and that being poor cannot be an excuse for crime.
“Exploitation, of course, is a crime that is closely linked with poverty, but we can’t use poverty to justify a crime or else we would become ungovernable,” he told reporters earlier this month.
“We also aren’t criminalizing poverty, I want to make that clear,” he said.
The prosecutor’s office did not respond to a request for further comment about the case, which received renewed scrutiny following the death in custody of Adolfo Gomez, an indigenous Tzotzil man and the grandfather of most of the children.
His wife was also detained.
TRAFFICKING LAW REFORM?
Labor trafficking expert Monica Salazar said it was important to consider the conditions that the three detained mothers were living in themselves, and what benefit they got from the situation.
Salazar, who supports reforming the law, said it should be updated to reflect the reality of poor families.
“It’s not the same to talk about a ‘benefit’ that no one dies of hunger in a family versus organized crime taking advantage,” said Salazar, the founder of nonprofit Dignificando El Trabajo (DITRAC).
More than three quarters of people live in poverty in Chiapas, a southern state bordering Guatemala.
Thousands of children, including some of those found in the raid, do not have birth certificates or go to school, Haza said.
Twenty of the children who were found are now in a government shelter and Melel Xojobal is trying to reunite them with grandparents and other relatives. The other three are babies, so are with their mothers in prison, Haza said.
Prosecutors raided the house in Chiapas after Adolfo Gomez, the grandfather, was detained in a separate case linked to the disappearance of a two-year-old boy.
The missing boy was eventually found safe and well but Gomez died in prison within two weeks of his arrest. Relatives say prison authorities told them he had died by suicide, but they claim his body showed signs of torture.
Chiapas prosecutors said last week they had arrested two public servants for breaches of their duty of care of Gomez.
An estimated 463 million children have been unable to access remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic and widespread school closures, according to the United Nations children’s fund.
A new report published on Thursday by UNICEF said at least one-third of the world’s schoolchildren lack the equipment or electronic access that would allow them to pursue distance education.
“The sheer number of children whose education was completely disrupted for months on end is a global education emergency,” Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, said in a statement.
“The repercussions could be felt in economies and societies for decades to come,” she said.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused the largest disruption to education in history, with schools closed in some 160 countries in mid-July, affecting an estimated 1.5 billion students, according to the UN.
A new report published in July by international charity Save the Children said nearly 10 million children may never go back to school because of deep budget cuts and rising poverty caused by the pandemic.
In an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus, many countries switched to online learning, but aid groups say this has only widened the learning gap between children from rich and poor families.
The UNICEF report underlined gaping geographical differences in children’s access to distance education, with far fewer affected in Europe, for example, than in Africa or parts of Asia.
The report is based on data gathered from roughly 100 countries, measuring public access to the internet, television and radio.
Even children with adequate access may face other obstacles to distance education – whether the lack of a good workspace at home, pressure to do other work for the family, or a lack of technical support when computer problems arise, the UNICEF report said.
Of the students around the world unable to access virtual education, 67 million are in Eastern and Southern Africa, 54 million in western and central Africa, 80 million in the Pacific and East Asia, 37 million in the Middle East and North Africa, 147 million in South Asia, and 13 million in Latin America and the Caribbean.
No figures were given for Canada or the United States – the worst-affected country by the virus – where the issue of reopening of schools has sparked fierce political debate and concern among educators.
With the new school year soon to begin in many countries – including in-person classes in many places – UNICEF urged governments to “prioritise the safe reopening of schools when they begin easing lockdown restrictions”.
Where reopening is impossible, governments should arrange for “compensatory learning for lost instructional time”, the report said.
ACCRA, – Reporting rape is traumatic for anyone, but having to pay two months’ wages to complete the medical form prevents many in Ghana from seeking justice, said a leading actress whose campaign to waive fees has reached the presidential palace.
British-Ghanaian actress Ama K. Abebrese – who starred with Idris Elba in the award-winning 2015 drama “Beasts of No Nation” – started a petition after hearing about the prohibitive charges in the West African nation where rape convictions are rare.
The minimum doctor’s fee for filling out a police medical form is 300 cedis ($52) – twice the average monthly earnings of informal workers, said Abebrese, one of Ghana’s most influential TV hosts who started out as a teenager presenter in London.
“If you can’t afford it, it is almost like you are denied justice on the basis of money,” said Abebrese, whose petition has attracted more than 14,000 signatures in a month.
“If you don’t get that medical report, essentially, the case to prosecute dies right there and then.”
Rape, sexual assault and domestic violence are significantly underreported in Ghana and the police lack capacity to effectively investigate cases, which can take years to reach court, according to women’s rights groups.
Community leaders sometimes negotiate for rapists to pay compensation to victims’ families but they have come under fire in recent years for not taking the crime seriously enough.
Abebrese said she was hopeful that the government would scrap the medical fees after she met with Ghana’s first lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, who said the president had been made aware of the situation, and with gender minister Cynthia Morrison.
A gender ministry spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that they were “working on it”.
Police spokeswoman Sheilla Abayie-Buckman said many people could not afford to complete the medical form.
“It is quite expensive for an ordinary person. I guess not more than 50% are able to afford (it)” said Abayie-Buckman, who was unable to provide statistics on rape reports.
Doctors charge 300 to 800 cedi to fill out police medical forms and 1,000 to 2,000 cedi for giving a medical opinion for legal purposes, according to a Ghana Medical Association (GMA) document seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Frank Ankobea, president of the GMA, which represents medics and sets the fees, said they were necessary to cover doctors’ transport and expenses if called to court.
“Professionals charge that and it is so with all other professions,” he said, adding, “the government can absorb (the cost) and make sure all these provisions are made.”
Since starting the campaign, Abebrese said she has received dozens of calls from victims of sexual assault who were unable to seek justice because of the cost.
“(For) so many people, their cases were never prosecuted, it has really opened my eyes,” she said.
“You think you have an idea but you have no idea the magnitude,” said Abebrese, who recently called for a relationship expert who said in an interview that “every rape victim enjoys the act” to be banned from Ghanaian television.
Most Ghanaians believe that women are to blame for rape if they wear revealing clothes, according to a government survey.
Rape victims also struggle to access justice in other African countries, said Jean-Paul Murunga, a Nairobi-based programme officer for the women’s rights group Equality Now.
He said that rape survivors in Kenya have to pay $10 to $15 for a medical report and free post-rape care is only available in centres run by charities in many countries.
Murunga called on African governments to live up to legally binding promises, made in a pan-African women’s rights pact known as the Maputo Protocol, to ensure access to justice.
“The protocol … obliges African states to provide budgetary and other resources for preventing and eradicating violence against women,” he said. “This is yet to be realised.”
A quick scan of the parishes and groups partnering with Catholic Energies reveals a noticeable geographic pattern: Virginia is a growing hotbed of solar activity.
Last month, three parishes in the Arlington Diocese powered up new solar installations, each developed and financed through Catholic Energies, the burgeoning program of the Catholic Climate Covenant that helps church institutions find outside funding to take on energy initiatives without the initial burden of hefty upfront costs.
With the new installations, the parishes — St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Falls Church, St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Springfield and Nativity Catholic Church in Burke — will collectively offset the carbon dioxide emissions produced by powering 3,500 homes for a year or burning 15,000 tons of coal. Just as attractive to their finance councils, the solar projects came at no cost and forecast sizeable savings.
At St. Anthony of Padua, the 421-kilowatt rooftop solar system — the largest of the three parishes — is expected to cover almost 90% of the parish’s energy demand. The solar panels, along with LED lighting upgrades, are projected to save St. Anthony upwards of $1.3 million over the 25-year term of the power purchase agreement.
The rooftop panels at Nativity are part of several green initiatives under way at the parish. Its creation care ministry has also begun a community vegetable garden, and its school is developing an outdoor learning space with native plants and species. In bulletins this summer, the ministry team and pastor Fr. Robert Cilinski included reflections on “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical. While the panels will save the parish money — more than $200,000 — they also reflect Christian values to safeguard creation.
“Our solar panels are on the rooftop shouting the wisdom of Laudato Si’, the social teaching of the church,” Cilinski recently told the Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper.
With each Richmond parish, none paid any upfront costs, an arrangement made possible by Catholic Energies.
The program first works with groups to determine if solar is a fit, then seeks funding, primarily through power purchase agreements. In those deals, an outside investor finances the project and sets a fixed rate for energy usage, often lower than local utility rates, which is paid directly to the investor.
Since launching in fall 2017, Catholic Energies has completed 11 solar projects in the past 13 months. Eleven more are under contract and expected to be completed by the end of 2020. By then, the program will have footprints in eight states, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
But the biggest business for Catholic Energies so far has been the region around Virginia. Of the 22 solar installations in all it expects to have completed by the end of the year, 10 are in the Old Dominion and two are in the Washington, D.C., area, where it is also working to finalize contracts with three more Catholic clients.
The completed projects include the 2-megawatt solar installation for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, the largest solar project in the city and to date the largest completed by Catholic Energies, which is based in the District of Columbia. The array’s 5,000 panels began producing power in April. Since then, the electricity it has generated from the sun has offset roughly 1 million pounds of carbon emissions, or the equivalent of planting 25,000 trees, according to Catholic Energies.
Back in 1970, the earth’s biocapacity was more than enough to meet annual human demand for resources. But in the half century since, we have steadily outgrown our single planet. Humanity now consumes around 60% more than Earth can yield in a year, meaning we need 1.6 planets to sustain us.
In 2019, we had already spent our resource budget for the year by July 31, the earliest Earth Overshoot Day ever recorded by the Global Footprint Network, which has been calculating global and national ecological impacts for near three decades. In that time, humanity has overshot its biocapacity — defined as an “ecosystems’ capacity to produce biological materials used by people and to absorb waste material generated by humans” — by a few more days each year.
But due to the global coronavirus lockdown, 2020 has bucked the trend. This year, Earth Overshoot Day has moved back by more than three weeks to August 22.
Projections point to almost 15% reductions in CO2 emissions (around 60% of the total footprint) in 2020 as a result of the pandemic-related slowdown in fossil fuel use across the transport, power, industry, aviation and residential sectors. The global Earth Overshoot calculation, which uses data from the likes of the International Energy Agency, also includes forest production, which dipped nearly 9%, and our food footprint, which was steady.
One Planet Misery or Prosperity?
According to Mathis Wackernagel, founder and president of the Global Footprint Network, this year’s contraction is welcomed. But he says the fact that it is accidental means it is not sustainable.
“The tragedy of this year is that the reduction of carbon emissions is not based on a better infrastructure such as better electricity grids or more compact cities,” he told DW. “We need to move the date by design, not by disaster.”
To meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) targets to limit warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celcius, the current decline in the emissions curve would have to continue at the same rate for the next decade, Wackernagel points out. At present, however, this is being achieved through economic and social suffering.
“Not doing anything, being stuck at home. That’s not the kind of transformation we need. It’s not lasting,” Wackernagel said.
The goal must be to “systemically adjust to the physical budget we have available,” added the Swiss-born Global Footprint Network founder and 2018 World Sustainability Award winner. “Do you want one planet misery or one planet prosperity?”
Wackernagel argues that the coronavirus is itself a reflection of ecological stress. “These pressures that we see like pandemics, like famine, like climate change, like biodiversity loss, they’re all manifestations of an ecological imbalance,” he said.
Lowering Emissions for the Benefit of All
A key side effect of disaster-driven emission reductions is the fact that “the pain is going to be unevenly distributed,” according Wackernagel. Marginalised groups, especially people of color, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic’s “huge economic impacts,” said Sarah George, a senior reporter with Edie, a UK media company that promotes sustainable business practices.
Edie conducted its first Earth Overshoot webinar in 2019, with the aim of educating organizations to reduce their resource footprint through business models that are sustainable for everyone in the long-term.
George says this year’s webinar on August 22 will also address the misnomer spread by some climate skeptics that a green, low-consumption future is only possible under the deprivations of a lockdown.
“They have used the situation to say that lockdown is ‘what green campaigners want,’ and that we cannot enjoy things like international travel, economic growth, etc. in a green future,” George told DW.
But post-lockdown, George says the goal is to create a one planet model through which businesses can couple “better economic and social outcomes” with “lower emissions and air pollution.”
Kartel is from Umoja slum in Nairobi. Another social worker and I found this 4-year old at a garbage dump site, shivering with cold. We took him to the hospital and then looked for his sole caretaker, a 14-year-old brother. They were living alone much of the time, but we later discovered their grandmother, also a street dweller, living in a mabati (an iron-sheet shelter) flooded with water. We could see where they huddled together with goats at night to keep warm. When we suggested that the boys join us, the grandmother was relieved to know Bosco Boys would care for her grandsons.
This is just one story that I have learned since 2017, when I began working as a social worker with boys like these two at Bosco Boys. Right now I volunteer there, as I am studying for my bachelor’s degree in sustainable human development at Tangaza University in Nairobi. The work at Bosco Boys is now part of my practicum requirement.
At the Bosco Boys informal school, I teach art and life skills and serve as counsellor and after-school tutor. This informal setting is a basic preparation for some of the boys to later attend Kuwinda, a primary boarding school. I like the boys and find them friendly and cooperative, and we have grown in mutual understanding and trust. I also find they are unusually responsible in doing their work, except at times when they fall behind in doing homework.
I think their responsibility is a result of having to live on their own and fend for themselves. But the discipline of study is challenging for some because — coming from street life — their listening abilities are not well developed, and they are easily distracted.
One of the methodologies proven successful for rehabilitation at the center is play therapy. The boys spend several hours a day in games. One of my challenges in working with the boys is understanding their slang. It is like another language. I have to ask them to explain what they are saying in ordinary language.
The boys are organized into four group houses, and positive competition is encouraged; they are rewarded for good behavior and completed assignments. Although this system is a way to help them to discipline themselves, as they can keep each other from “messing up,” there are times when informal cliques erupt into fights, even over small issues.
Bosco Boys Langata rehabilitation center was established in 1994 by the Salesian Priests to help boys overcome addictions and behaviors learned on the street. Thirty-two boys ages 5 to 11 are undergoing rehabilitation at the moment, and more than 3,000 have benefited from this center. Some of the boys live at the center, but others are day students. The boys usually stay from one to two years, and a good number of them are successfully rehabilitated.
Most of the boys I work with are from the slums of Kibera (the largest Kenya slum), Mathare (the second largest slum), Rongai and other slums around the country. These very large slums are infamously tough, marked by widespread poverty, unemployment and high crime rates. It is not an easy place for children to grow up, although many do. Education is also limited because school fees are a luxury for most families living there.
When you think of God’s creation, what image comes to your mind?
Is it the sun at dawn peeking over a peaceful meadow filled with wildflowers? Or maybe a woman drawing water from a well in a parched landscape during a drought? Might you think of a vast forest charred to shades of gray and black by devastating wildfires?
Creation can mean many things to many people. Often, it depends upon the environment around you, as well as where you’ve been.
In his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis said that “contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us.” He went on to say, “An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals.”
“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs,” Francis wrote.
Throughout his career, photographer and journalist Paul Jeffrey certainly has experienced the awe and wonder of our world. He’s also witnessed the destruction that human activity can bring to ecosystems and those who call them home. With camera in hand, he has documented all these dimensions of creation, first as a missionary in Central America and then during years of globetrotting on assignment.
The contemplation of creation the pope describes is the jumping-off point for EarthBeat’s new spiritual reflection series, Lens on Creation. The series is timed to mark the ecumenical Season of Creation, which begins Sept. 1 and runs until Oct. 4.
In Lens on Creation, Jeffrey will lead readers on a visual expedition into some of the images of creation from his many travels. He tells the stories behind the images, introducing you to the people and environments they feature, along with the threats they face and their work to safeguard the natural worlds they call home.
“There is no way to separate caring for the planet from caring for the health and dignity of individual persons and families,” he writes in today’s opening reflection.
In Lens on Creation, Jeffrey will take readers to a post-typhoon Philippines, a city dump in India, the top of Washington’s Mt. Tahoma, and even his own backyard in Oregon.
Building on this year’s Season of Creation theme, “Jubilee for the Earth,” Jeffrey offers reflections on the consequences of human decisions on many of the corners of our world featured in the photos. He explores through people’s stories how climate change has made weather-related disasters more destructive, limited access to clean water, ruined coffee crops in Guatemala and led to conflict in Africa. At the same time, he poses examples of how strategic decisions can also renew life and flourishing for all.
He also brings those places close to home with suggestions for further study, reflection and action. Pope Francis also reminds us that we are all connected, with one another and with the world’s ecosystems. Our decision about purchases can affect people in distant places. And their struggles for environmental justice sometimes mirror those of people in our own neighborhoods — perhaps in places where we’ve never noticed them.
“We have a terrifying ability to mess up God’s creation,” Jeffrey writes. “But we also have the ability to confess our environmental sin and work to restore the integrity of the planet which we share with an amazing variety of animals and plants.”
The U.S. bishops’ conference is encouraging solidarity, charity and compassion for low-income and essential workers during the upcoming Labor Day festivities in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“This Labor Day is a somber one. The COVID-19 pandemic goes on,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City in a statement released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Wednesday, Sept. 2.
Archbishop Coakley is the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
“The dignity of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, is not at the center of our society in the way it should be,” said Coakley. “In some workplaces, this has meant an emphasis on profits over safety. That is unjust. Consumerism and individualism fuel pressures on employers and policy makers that lead to these outcomes.”
The archbishop said that the coronavirus’ impact on the economy has brought damage to the country’s financial, mental, and physical health.
“Economic circumstances for so many families are stressful or even dire,” he said. “Anxiety is high. Millions are out of work and wondering how they will pay the bills. And for workers deemed ‘essential’ who continue to work outside the home, there is the heightened danger of exposure to the virus.”
While the situation is dire, said Coakley, Pope Francis’ reflections that the devastation wrought by the pandemic could result in a regeneration of beauty and hope.
“God never abandons his people, he is always close to them, especially when pain becomes more present,” said Coakley.
“God knows the challenges we face and the loss and grief we feel. The question to us is this: will we pray and willingly participate in God’s work healing the hurt, loss, and injustice that this pandemic has caused and exposed? Will we offer all we can to the Lord to ‘make all things new?’”
Coakley lamented that essential workers, including “meat packers, agricultural workers, healthcare providers, janitors, transit workers, emergency responders, and others” have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.
“As a result, low wage workers, migrant workers, and workers of color, have borne a disproportionate share of the costs of the pandemic,” he said. Even prior to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, “a significant number of Americans were trapped in low wage jobs, with insecurity around food, housing, and health care, and with little opportunity for savings or advancing in their career,” a situation that has not been made any better.
“It is devastating to say, many have paid with their life,” said Coakley.
Coakley also touched on the growing civil unrest throughout the country, saying that things that “may have been hidden to some” are now being revealed.
“Against this backdrop, the murder of George Floyd was like lighting a match in a gas-filled room,” he said.
There is, however, cause for optimism even amidst these times, said Coakley.
“Injustice does not need to have the last word,” he said. “The Lord came to free us from sin, including the sins by which we diminish workers and ourselves.”
Coakley advised Catholics to be conscious consumers of the goods they purchase, and to consider the origins of the items and how companies treat their employees.
He also encouraged Congress and the White House to “reach a deal that prioritizes protecting the poor and vulnerable” as the government has played an “indispensable role” in addressing the various crises.
The archbishop further noted that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which turns 50 this year, has done much to alleviate the effects of the pandemic.
“The CCHD-supported Rural Community Workers Alliance has helped organize workers in rural Missouri, pressuring employers to take these concerns seriously and advancing the dignity of workers,” he said. “These groups, as well as labor unions and other worker associations, make an invaluable contribution to the safety and wellbeing of workers.”
Catholics, said Coakley, “are each called to practice solidarity with those in harm’s way” in order to preserve worker’s rights and their dignity. He encouraged people to donate to local food banks and Catholic Charities agencies.
“Pope Francis is fond of citing the 1964 dogmatic constitution, Lumen Gentium, which reminded us that ‘no one can save themselves alone,’” said Coakley.
“This is true in this life and the next. The fruits of individualism are clear in the disparities brought to light by this crisis. Through our work of solidarity, let us be a counter-witness to individualism.”
Accra, Ghana, – Salamatu Abubakar spent years of her childhood picking up scraps of plastic on the streets of Accra, the African coastal city that is the capital of Ghana. Her dad took the plastic to an open air market, selling it in bulk to recyclers and scrap dealers, and barely earning enough to get by.
In that same market, Samuel Ganyo, who had come with his mother to Accra from a poorer city in Ghana, sold slices of sugar cane to marketplace vendors, shoppers, and people passing by in cars. A popular snack across Africa, sugar cane didn’t pay enough for Samuel and his mother.
Daniel Lomotey started working in another Accra market when he was 10. He dropped out of school then, and started working for his uncle pushing a handcart hired by vendors to move their products in the Mandela marketplace. It was hard work, and it didn’t pay very much. And because Daniel, like Salamatua and Samuel, wasn’t going to school, his prospects for the future looked grim.
When Daniel was 12, he met Sister Anthonia Orji of the Daughters of Sacred Passion, a Nigerian religious sister working in Ghana. Sr. Anthonia helped kids do hard, heavy work on the streets, and helped them get back to school.
Sr. Anthonia is the centre manager and education officer at the Welfare, Empowerment Mobility Centre in the Archdiocese of Accra. Her work is part of the Rays of Hope project, which aims to help Ghana’s street kids, like Salamatua, Samuel, and Daniel, by giving them a home, and getting them enrolled in school.
Daniel is 18 now. He met Sr. Anthonia in 2014. And he told ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner, that meeting her is the best thing to happen in his life.
“Through her guidance and support, I am now a final year Junior High student at the St. Peter’s Catholic School in Ayikuma. Apart from that, I have acquired the skills in sewing and barbering through training at WEM,” Daniel said.
Samuel, who is 16, also lives at the center, along with 22 other young people.
“I have learnt a lot like farming and barbering of hair as an additional skill to my schooling and I advise all vulnerable children who have the opportunity like me to make good use of it,” said Samuel.
The center doesn’t discriminate based upon religion. Though a Muslim, Salamatu said she has come to love Catholicism, through the guidance of Sr. Anthonia, whom she said is her mentor and mother.
“I picked polythene on the streets for my dad to sell in the Ashaiman market to earn a living. But thanks to Rays of Hope, I now live a life of dignity,” she told ACI Africa, adding, “Through the skills training and way of life at the center, I can pray the rosary and other Catholic prayers very well even though I am a Muslim.”
Ghana’s constitution prohibits many types of child labor. But Sr. Anthonia told ACI Africa that the constitutional law is not always followed, and that many poor children are put to work because of the poverty of their families.
Sr. Anthonia lamented school drop-out, child mortality, child labor, child trafficking, rape, prostitution and defilement of vulnerable children and urged Ghanaians to create a sense of belonging in street children.
She said that with the outbreak of COVID-19, the children ranging between the ages of 7 and 15 in residence at the WEM Center have been placed in various homes.
All the children, she said, were schooling at the St. Peter’s Catholic School.
“For the fear of the spread of the coronavirus at the WEM Center, 20 out of the 23 children have been placed in various homes of volunteer families and they are monitored daily by our re-integration staff,” Sr. Anthonia told ACI Africa.
The main aim of the center is to help Ghana’s street children get to school, and stay healthy, while staying connected with the parents and extended families of the children. The religious sister said that a lot of effort goes into establishing a frequent contact between the street survivors and their families.
“We believe that what God has created and bound together should not be separated. The connection to one’s family is the most valuable foundation for becoming a successful and responsible member of society. Therefore, we are convinced of putting all our effort, patience and love into the reintegration process of our beneficiaries,” she said.
Sr. Anthonia said that Christians have been endowed with the ability to perceive, appreciate and understand the situation of the vulnerable person, identify their needs, design needed services and facilitate the provision of requisite intervention to bring relief to them.
She appealed to parents and opinion leaders to jointly take steps to curb drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, teenage pregnancies, armed robbery, occultism and cyber fraud among the youth, especially those on the streets.
The work of her project, she said, begins with finding street children eager to go to school, and families willing to approve that.
“We search the streets of Ashaiman, Tema, Accra and its environs from the First Contact Place. Every year, we search for street children in the major cities in Greater Accra and those who are willing to be supported, along with their families, sign a contract for onward enrollment every September,” she told ACI Africa correspondent.
She explained that the center’s educational approach is divided into pre-school classes, formal education and informal education as well as moral and religious aspects of life.
“Pre-school” isn’t for younger kids, as the term denotes in the West. At WEM, all new recruits are prepared for school life through intensive one-year pre-school classes.
“The children who were once on the streets and not schooling will have to be prepared to enhance their reintegration into school life,” the nun said, and added, “This demands patience, energy and love.”
“In pre-school classes, we focus to improve their oral, literary and arithmetic skills through a structured curriculum, and in the later stage of their development in pre-classes, other subject areas are introduced.”
There are 36 children at the collection center who are being prepared for school life. The collection point, in extreme cases, serves as a temporary shelter for beneficiaries, whose relatives or parents have not yet been located.
The Nigerian nun explained that at the collection center, the beneficiaries come on a daily basis to be taught mathematics, English language and other subjects by the class teachers and volunteers.
“They are also educated on personal hygiene, social, religious and moral skills through classes and special programs,” she added, and explained that the children have a period of morning devotion after their chores, before they go into their classes for lessons.
The classes, she said, are divided into three levels to meet the children’s individual academic needs, as they undertake five hours of classes per day.
When they complete the one-year pre-class, they are enrolled into basic school after they have met the criteria, which include punctuality and discipline, ability to read and write, to calculate simple arithmetic, personal hygiene like bathing, washing, and neatness in dress, Sr. Anthonia said.
The children are admitted into Catholic schools because “we believe the environment and as well as the Christian routine will help grow their moral and religious values,” said Sr. Anthonia.
As part of its humanitarian activities, Rays of Hope sponsors the former vulnerable children from the basic to the tertiary level of education, providing shelter, food, accommodation, and school fees.
Sr. Anthonia said that passion to restore dignity among young people who have made mistakes in life inspires her apostolate.
“The work at Rays of Hope for me is not just work but rather it is a ministry and a call. Ordinarily, when you look at it with human eyes, you might not want anything to do with it,” she said.
“It is all about a call from God and a passion to make an impact in the young people’s lives.”