Trailblazing woman mechanic changes wheels, oil and stereotypes in Egypt

Trailblazing woman mechanic changes wheels, oil and stereotypes in Egypt

ESNA, Egypt, – Lekaa El Kholy’s father used to rub a little blackened engine oil onto her face and tell her to wear overalls when they went to the Egyptian city of Luxor to buy supplies for his car repair workshop.

It was his way of showing people his daughter was a mechanic just like him, and of confronting deep-rooted beliefs about gender roles that keep all but a few women out of traditionally male professions in socially conservative Egypt.

Today, El Kholy, 24, has been fixing cars for more than a decade in the village of Esna and has captured national attention – with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi hailing her as the Upper Egypt region’s first female motor mechanic.

This month, she opened her own car maintenance centre in nearby Luxor and is also helping other aspiring female mechanics enter the male-dominated trade, especially those facing social or family pressures over their career choice.

“It’s not only about achieving my career dreams but also giving a helping hand to other women who are facing social challenges to become mechanics,” El Kholy said in her office, her late father’s portrait standing on a desk behind her.

She said she had been lucky because her father, who died in 2016, had supported her since she first showed a passion for the profession at the age of 11.

“I’m sure there are many other women out there who are passionate about the job but don’t find adequate support and help,” El Kholy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

According to the 2015 Global Gender Gap Index, Egypt ranks low in gender equity compared to other nations.

The Index, which measures disparities between men and women across countries, ranked Egypt 136th out of 145 nations and noted that only about a quarter of Egyptian women have paid jobs compared with nearly 80% of men. El Kholy has been organising training workshops for women interested in car maintenance in her hometown and in Tanta, a city north of Cairo where she used to work in a repair business.

So far, about 20 women have taken part and El Kholy said she planned to hire some of them at her new centre.

“From my training experience with men and women, I can confidently say that women are far better because they are more passionate about anything new they do,” she said.

One of El Kholy’s students, Nourhan Ahmed, 25, is already working at the car maintenance centre.

Ahmed said she had always loved cars and wanted to learn about vehicle maintenance – either for a possible job or for when she buys own car – but had never been able to find courses aimed at women.

Alongside her efforts to help other women enter the profession, El Kholy has ambitious plans for her business and hopes to open several branches in Egypt and even launch a brand that can be franchised abroad.

“This is a dream for me and I believe that I will achieve it one day,” she said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210105100959-worhk/

In Nigeria, nun cares for abandoned children labeled as witches

Sr. Matilda Iyang poses outside at the Mother Charles Walker Children Home Oct. 7, at the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus convent in Uyo, Nigeria. (CNS/Valentine Iwenwanne)
Sr. Matilda Iyang poses outside at the Mother Charles Walker Children Home Oct. 7, at the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus convent in Uyo, Nigeria. Since opening the home in 2007, Iyang has cared for dozens of malnourished and homeless children from the streets of Uyo; many of them had family who believed they were witches. (CNS/Valentine Iwenwanne)

Uyo, Nigeria — Three years after taking in 2-year-old Inimffon Uwamobong and her younger brother, Sr. Matylda Iyang finally heard from the mother who had abandoned them.

“Their mother came back and told me that she (Inimffon) and her younger sibling are witches, asking me to throw them out of the convent,” said Iyang, who oversees the Mother Charles Walker Children Home at the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus convent.

Such an accusation is not new to Iyang.

Since opening the home in 2007, Iyang has cared for dozens of malnourished and homeless children from the streets of Uyo; many of them had family who believed they were witches.

The Uwamobong siblings became well and were able to enroll in school, but Iyang and other social service providers are faced with similar needs.

Health care and social workers say parents, guardians and religious leaders brand children as witches for different reasons. Children subject to such accusations are often abused, abandoned, trafficked or even murdered, according to UNICEF and Human Rights Watch.

Throughout Africa, a witch is culturally understood to be the epitome of evil and the cause of misfortune, disease and death. Consequently, the witch is the most hated person in African society and subject to punishment, torture and even death.

There have been reports of children — labeled as witches — having had nails driven into their heads and being forced to drink cement, set on fire, scarred by acid, poisoned and even buried alive.

In Nigeria, some Christian pastors have incorporated African witchcraft beliefs into their brand of Christianity, resulting in a campaign of violence against young people in some locales.

Residents of the state Akwa Ibom — including members of the Ibibio, Annang and the Oro ethnic groups — believe in the religious existence of spirits and witches.

Fr. Dominic Akpankpa, executive director of the Catholic Institute of Justice and Peace in the Diocese of Uyo, said the existence of witchcraft is a metaphysical phenomenon from those who do not know anything about theology.

“If you claim that somebody is a witch, you would have to prove it,” he said. He added that most of those accused of being witches could be suffering from psychological complications and “it is our duty to help these people with counseling to come out of that situation.”

Witch profiling and abandonment of children are common on the streets of Akwa Ibom.

If a man remarries, Iyang said, the new wife may be intolerant of the child’s attitude after being married to the widower, and as such, will throw the child out of the house.

“To achieve this, she would accuse him or her of being a witch,” Iyang said. “That’s why you’d find many children in the streets and when you ask them, they will say it’s their stepmother who drove them out of the house.”

She said poverty and teenage pregnancy also can force children into the street as well.

Nigeria’s criminal code prohibits accusing, or even threatening to accuse, someone of being a witch. The Child Rights Act of 2003 makes it a criminal offense to subject any child to physical or emotional torture or submit them to any inhuman or degrading treatment.

Akwa Ibom officials have incorporated the Child Rights Act in an attempt to reduce child abuse. In addition, the state adopted a law in 2008 that makes witch profiling punishable by a prison term of up to 10 years.

Akpankpa said criminalizing injustices toward children was a step in the right direction.

“A lot of children were labeled witches and victimized. We used to have baby factories where young women are kept; they give birth and their babies are taken and sold out for monetary gains,” he told CNS.

“Human trafficking was very alarming. A lot of baby factories were discovered, and the babies and their mothers were saved while the perpetrators were brought to justice,” he added.

At the Mother Charles Walker Children Home, where most of the children are sheltered and sent to school on scholarship, Iyang demonstrates the Catholic Church’s commitment to protecting child rights. She said most of the malnourished youngsters the order receives are those who lost their mother during childbirth “and their families bring them to us for care.”

For contact tracing and reunification, Iyang formed a partnership with Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare. The process begins with parental verification by gathering information about each child and their location prior to separation. With the information in hand, an investigator drives to the child’s home village to verify what has been learned.

The process involves community chiefs, elders and religious and traditional leaders to ensure that each child is properly integrated and accepted in the community. When that fails, a child will placed into the adoption protocol under government supervision.

Since opening the Mother Charles Walker Children Home in 2007, Iyang and the staff have cared for about 120 children. About 74 have been reunited with their families, she said.

“We have 46 now left with us,” she said, “hoping that their families will one day pick them up or they will have foster parents.”

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/ministry/news/nigeria-nun-cares-abandoned-children-labeled-witches

Faith groups have a key role to play in reducing climate-linked violence

People walk past damaged buildings at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria Dec. 2. (CNS/Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)
People walk past damaged buildings at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria Dec. 2. (CNS/Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)

Gore: Probably one of the main things to lift up is the migration that results when people can no longer feed their families and are so desperate that they need to leave. And that did of course happen in the 2010 drought in Syria, and it has happened also [in] Central America, in what’s known as the Dry Corridor, where a lot of migration is coming from.

The U.N. estimates around 200 million people migrating due to climate impacts by 2050. There was a World Bank study in 2018 that estimated 143 million by 2030 from Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa alone. The hottest parts of the world also have the fastest-growing populations, so we need to be able to anticipate what is coming.

Religious communities have, as James said, the skills and the relationships and the networks and the sensibilities to be able to mitigate this type of conflict, to be able to anticipate and to build the kind of resilience that is needed in this extraordinary time.

What role can religious communities play in helping to mitigate some of the violence related to climate change?

Gore: So many people in the world derive their values from their religious traditions and identity. … It is incredibly important that we recognize how powerful religion and faith are. And there are ways in which we’ve seen throughout the world it can be used for good.

Bishop [Desmond] Tutu said the scriptural teachings about every human being made in the image of God were key to ending apartheid [in South Africa]. We saw with Gandhi and satyagraha [non-violent action] and ahimsa [non-violence] were used against British imperial rule. And in this country we have the example of Martin Luther King Jr.

In the situation we’re in now, where there’s going to be increasing strain and pressure and tension because of climate impacts and also because of the kind of system that is extracting and exploiting so many people’s ecosystems … faith communities bring it into a place of moral discourse about right and wrong and also can lift up nonviolence. That is a really strong tradition within a lot of faith communities.

There’s also on the front end the level of cause. The fossil-fuel energy extraction system and how that operates, the way big multinational agricultural corporations are operating on local food systems — on that level, there’s also an opportunity for faith communities to be leading the way.

Pope Francis says this very well in Laudato Si’, that part of the problem is that there’s not enough contact with people who are excluded from decision making, and that includes diplomacy. And so one of the things that religion and diplomacy can do is to be with the people in the real values they’re living, and take the best of that to help forge a better way.

Are there examples of religious communities who are doing this right now?

Gore: Last year, I was working with a community in Virginia … that was objecting to the placement of a giant fracked gas compressor station of a pipeline in a historically African American community. And amazingly, given the odds, they won this fight.

And as I witnessed it, it was largely due to the level of commitment and the clarity and the grounding and the strength that came from the interfaith work between a Black Baptist community and a community called Yogaville, where Swami Dyananda was leading the way. There was a very concerted effort to have prayer and a ceremonial approach — taking meals together, setting your intention before a march, for example — in a way that I think qualitatively changed the nature of the resistance to that compressor station.

In any of these situations, where there is something destructive toward a community, there can be the impulse to finger point and blame and turn on each other. Or you can appeal to some higher sense of purpose that brings you together and clarifies what’s happening and brings people to a greater level of commitment. And so I saw that work in an interfaith way in Virginia.

I also was able to travel last year to Recife, Brazil, and participate in an interfaith ceremony, in the oldest synagogue in the Americas actually. People [came] together from not only the Abrahamic traditions — Christianity, Judaism, Islam — but also from indigenous traditions and the Candomblé tradition, which mixes African traditional religion.

To see an interfaith group that honors those indigenous traditions for their own spiritual sovereignty also helps you to see through a different lens how it feels to them to have the Amazon being destroyed in the way that it is, because it’s an issue also of religious freedom. So participating and witnessing that gave me also faith in the power of religion and diplomacy to be a force for good. Peacemaking with each other and also with the Earth, with the ecosystems we’re living in, to stop the trajectory of being against the laws of nature and instead live in balance and harmony.

Patton: There are extremisms running throughout lots of our communities around the world, and one of the great drivers of that is lack of opportunity and lack of the ability to support yourself and your family. It offers opportunities for people to identify with a group and to provide, either in this world or the next, for their needs.

We have been working in Yemen since before the war broke out. And one of the spaces in which we work was severely affected by drought, severely affected by the collapse of the government and their inability to provide infrastructure, and severely impacted by violent religious extremist organizations that were recruiting young people.

We talked to tribal and religious leaders about how to resolve conflict issues, and the thing they brought up specifically was that water was one of the great drivers of violence. There was very little water in the area, and different communities were fighting over it, and the extremist organizations were trying to gain control over it.

So we supported a water infrastructure program, which is not our usual kind of work. We usually work much more on dialogue and reconciliation And what that did is the religious actors went to the young people who were being recruited by al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates, and with a spiritual narrative and a community narrative they brought them into these programs so that they would commit their energies to actually helping develop necessary infrastructures, so the communities could be improved and have their basic needs met — in this case, water.

[These kids] helped build these piping infrastructure. And afterwards, they said, “We always thought the government needed to do this kind of stuff. And when the government disappeared, we turned to the extremist groups to help us because they were coming in and providing for basic needs.” Very little of their engagement with the community was around ideology. A lot of it was around basic needs. So they said in the end, “We don’t need them anymore. And we will reject them and we will find ways to do this together as community members and as members of this religious community.”

Not only did they do that project, but then they went out and they talked to surrounding communities, raised their own funds and did additional water infrastructure programs on their own with at-risk youth from these faith communities. So it can have incredible impacts when you address some of these drivers, not just on basic needs and some of the issues around how climate affects people’s water and food availability [but also] ancillary benefits that are associated with countering radicalization and countering extremism and countering conflict dynamics.

It’s incredibly important work, and I think that these examples of how faith leaders, spiritual leaders, can drive this work forward — bringing communities together around these principles of stewardship — are essential and should not be overlooked.

Where can religious communities and leaders being most effective in these climate-related conflict situations? Can they be proactive, before conflicts begin, or can they help lessen tensions once conflicts start to develop?

Patton: We think in terms of a conflict curve. There’s pre-conflict, there’s the period during the conflict, and then there’s a post-conflict period. And each of the interventions at those different spaces is going to be significantly different. To stop a conflict from erupting is a very different kind of approach and methodology and engagement than to get people to stop shooting each other once they’ve actively started. And then to recover itself is an entirely different approach.

Religious communities can play a role in all three of those spaces. We work with some faith leaders on deradicalization of extremists — people who are very much involved in violence or committed to violence. But we also work on the kind of interfaith work that Karenna’s talking about, where we break down identity divisions and prejudices that might lead to conflict but have not yet. … And of course, it’s critically important, after a community has been broken by violence, that faith leaders, spiritual leaders can step forward and help heal that community.

Gore: Forgiveness, redemption, changing your sense of belonging to include those who you considered to be the enemy or the other — that is a place where faith leaders obviously can play a very positive role.

In the case of climate and environmental issues, I think it’s very important to look at the trajectory that we’re on right now in the world. That although we know the urgency of shifting to another energy system, the world still gets 80% of our energy from fossil fuels, and half of the global warming emissions that are up in the atmosphere now have been put up there in the last 20 years, which is the time that we’ve known the most about this and have had the most available alternatives.

Because we know that climate disruptions will lead to migration and conflict, mitigating conflict for religious actors also means changing this trajectory. Questioning and telling the truth, which is also such a part of prophetic tradition and certainly in the Judeo-Christian heritage that Pope Francis has very wisely drawn on for his work in speaking out about climate. That we must look at the truth and we must tell the truth, no matter how difficult it is for people to hear.

The arguments that are made for continuing on this trajectory are often that we need economic growth to end poverty, no matter whether there’s a lot of pollution and depletion … and so we need to understand that in fact it’s a very counterproductive model that we have now.

The U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, explained in a report that actually climate change would undo the last 50 years of progress and drive over 100 million more people into poverty. … We need to be asking the deep, serious questions about what is development for? What is the meaning of life? How do you measure a good society?

For those things, we need to be very mindful and respectful of the spiritual and faith communities that have been thinking about these things for many generations. And they ought to be consulted about any development that affects their community. These are people who should have a seat at the table.

And the faith leaders can be part of the conversation, setting a conversation based around ethics so it’s not just about money, it’s about well-being. It’s about what we want to be handing down to the future generations that we are proud of and that is sustainable. This is a really big challenge. We know that it’s here, and we know that it’s coming with stronger force. And if faith communities can step up and do this in a good way, we can make the world better in the process.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/faith-groups-have-key-role-play-reducing-climate-linked-violence

An Untapped Gem of the African Family-Farming System

The African economy is still mostly rural-based and informal, driven by family-holders farmers; primarily women. The improvement of the African family- farmers system will achieve the dual targets of addressing some of the poverty reduction and gender imbalance questions in Africa. It is in this vein that AEFJN considers agricultural development as an essential agenda in the mapping of the future strategy of EU-Africa partnerships or any partnerships with the African nations.

The quest for the development of African family-farmers does not suggest the industrialisation of agriculture in Africa. The stakeholders must clearly understand this, or else their development initiatives will be counterproductive and bring untold setback to the ecosystem and the African socio-economic system, which constitutes the very fibre of its identity and existence.  In general, family farmers function within the ambit of the principles of agroecology and they present potentials for sustainable food production and agriculture. Family farming is not necessarily averse to big size farms. Instead, it is opposed to farms that function outside the ambit of the principles of sustainable agroecology. The development of family farmers in this context could mean a shift from the chemical-dependent agriculture to the fold of family farmers or increasing the size of the family farmers’ farms without compromising the agro-ecological principles.

In one sense, the development of Africa’s agriculture points in the direction of building on the local innovations that are already in existence within the continent. There are already local innovations in African communities that would transform African agriculture and ensure food security if they are scaled up. The shade net system in Nigeria, for example, is an adaption of the greenhouse system. The shade net system uses agro nets or other woven material to allow entry of required sunlight, moisture and air. It creates an appropriate climate for plant growth and is a cheaper and better alternative to the greenhouse system, based on some conducted sample surveys. The shade net system also has higher acceptability, because it is cost-effective, well-suited to the African climate, and easily controlled by adjusting the intensity of the shade net.

One of the significant challenges facing Africa’s rural family is having real value for their produce. It is sad to see that after the farmers have laboured to till the soil and produced good quality foodstuff, unfavourable market forces compelled them to sell their produce at giveaway prices. The stories are told about the African farmers that highlight agriculture as their endeared way of life, but that is less than the whole truth. African farmers want good life lives just like every other human and the actual value their produce entitle them to that much. They need not live poverty-stricken when they labour sustainably and yield products of great importance. Their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere are the envy of other economic sectors and are recognised for their real worth. Agriculture is the business through which they can improve their living conditions, and that makes accessing market to have worth for their produce becomes imperative.

Scaling up the activities of the family- farmers may be what they need to realise their profitability. That would necessarily include access to market to ensure adequate marginal returns on their investments and to reduce the food loss and wastage that occurs at the farm gate. In this vein, creating an aggregation that connects smallholder farmers to access to market to enhance value for the family farmers’ labour will be a turning point in the life of the African family farmers.  Knowing that what they produce is fully utilised in feeding the people while at the same getting the worth for their labour will inspire and excite the average African farmer the more and the teeming African young people to embrace farming as dignified trade. Scaling up the activities of African family farmers is an achievable response to the unabating and perilous crossing of the Mediterranean. One of the lures that Europe holds for young Africans is the promise of dignified returns for just labour. The development of the family-farming system has the promise of an alternative to the dangerous quest for a better life. The first step, in this direction, is to take a hard look at the economic resources of the African continent; the family-farming system has remained unexplored, undervalued and exploited.

Sisters adapt food ministries to cope with pandemic, surge of those in need

Hour Children food pantry participant and Queens resident Jackie Terrasi, left, receives a food package from pantry coordinator Kellie Phelan. The pantry, based in New York City, is an initiative of Hour Children, a ministry headed by St. Joseph Sr. Tesa
Hour Children food pantry participant and Queens resident Jackie Terrasi, left, receives a food package from pantry coordinator Kellie Phelan. The pantry, based in New York City, is an initiative of Hour Children, a ministry headed by St. Joseph Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald. (GSR photo/Chris Herlinger)

In a time of uncertainty, one thing U.S. women religious and others who have been providing food during the COVID-19 pandemic know for sure is that the number of those who need food assistance has risen dramatically and continues to rise.

Officials from Feeding America, a national network of more than 200 food banks, told The Washington Post they have distributed 5 billion meals this year, and 40% of their food bank clients are people who have never relied on them before.

And food insecurity is projected to get worse: There could be 50 million food-insecure Americans by the end of 2020, up from 35 million at the start of 2020, the Post reported. But unless Congress can break its deadlock on what assistance to provide, the federal food programs supplying about half of the food that food banks distribute will end.

At a New York City food pantry that is an initiative of Hour Children, a ministry headed by St. Joseph Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald, the number of families using the pantry’s service is roughly double what it was over the summer.

Kellie Phelan, the food pantry’s coordinator, is struck by the number of new faces she sees in the lines every week. Many are young people, and many are coming from different boroughs in New York City.

“People are coming from everywhere,” she said.

Phelan told Global Sisters Report that while the number of families using the pantry’s services declined in the summer months from an early peak during the initial months of the pandemic, the numbers now are as high as they’ve been all year — about 700 a week.

The pantry, located in the Long Island City area of the borough of Queens, is open three times a week, and each day is averaging more than 200 clients, Phelan said. And she expects the numbers to stay that high or even increase in the coming months.

“There’s a lot of panic thinking right now,” she said. “Nobody knows what tomorrow is going to bring.”

Local community groups in Queens are helping restock pantry shelves through food drives in which volunteers ask shoppers at nearby grocery stores to buy canned foods and other nonperishables and donate them as they leave the stores.

Those efforts have been a huge success, Phelan said, helping to “completely restock” the Hour Children pantry shelves. “We’re beyond grateful.”

Because of social distancing concerns, the pantry earlier this year changed procedures, and clients now come to a table where they receive a prepackaged bag of food items rather than entering the pantry premises and picking items “supermarket style.” Those procedures remain in place, Phelan said, as do social distancing guidelines of people standing 6 feet apart.

But even with those guidelines in place, Phelan said, many clients are uncomfortable, particularly elderly people who are guarded about standing in line.

“It can be a scary situation for them,” she said. “They are scared, sad, but still grateful.”

The House of Bread, a 40-year-old soup kitchen in the poorest neighborhood of Hartford, Connecticut, has also seen a change in its regular patrons.

St. Joseph Sr. Maureen Faenza, one of the kitchen’s directors, said people addicted to drugs and those experiencing chronic homelessness are no longer the usual faces who come through for one hot breakfast and one hot lunch a day.

Though some still visit the kitchen, now, the House of Bread is largely seeing “neighborhood people, poor people, families who are struggling because they have lost their jobs and income,” she said.

Faenza, co-founder and co-director of the House of Bread alongside St. Joseph Sr. Theresa Fonti, said since the start of the pandemic, the city has placed their homeless clients in hotels or other housing while their daytime shelter attached to the kitchen has had to shut down because of the pandemic.

Fortunately, the House of Bread was able to maintain operations throughout the pandemic, though they have had to manage with fewer volunteers, as some were elderly and couldn’t take on the risk of exposing themselves to the virus, Faenza said.

With glass partitions protecting patrons who dine in, the kitchen is able to continue serving about 200 meals a day, with half of the visitors choosing to take their meals to go. And while the House of Bread usually delivers an additional 600 meals to children throughout the city, local schools have managed to provide those meals for the time being, though Faenza said they’ll restart that program in January.

In terms of stock, Faenza said they haven’t had a problem: This year’s annual fundraiser was done as a drive-thru Nov. 18 and was “extremely successful,” Faenza said. “We’ve been fortunate as far as donations and food.”

But just a few miles over in West Hartford, Mercy Sr. Beth Fischer’s ministry has had to make some adjustments that — while understandable and necessary — have been tough to swallow; namely, the lack of human connection between the volunteering students and the patrons at local food pantries.

Fischer oversees the community engagement office at the University of St. Joseph, where she works with students who are volunteers and those who do community clinicals and internships.

“For the 15 years I’ve been doing this work through the university, I’ve seen the transformation on the part of the students who get to meet people that they might not necessarily meet, but in a class, they might hear about it. And these experiences really touch them,” she said.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/sisters-adapt-food-ministries-cope-pandemic-surge-those-need

Hurricane devastation likely to spur migration from Honduras

A man carries his belongings through a flooded road in Marcovia, Honduras, Nov. 18, after the passing of Hurricane Iota. (CNS/Reuters/Jorge Cabrera)
A man carries his belongings through a flooded road in Marcovia, Honduras, Nov. 18, after the passing of Hurricane Iota. (CNS/Reuters/Jorge Cabrera)

El Trapiche, Honduras — Unrelenting rain from hurricanes Eta and Iota soaked and softened the mud bricks of the house where José Reyes lives with his wife, five of his eight children and a grandson in this remote village in southwestern Honduras.

“My house is made of adobe, and the wall cracked,” the farmer told EarthBeat. “The house was damaged because of the water — so much water, so much water. I couldn’t cover it.”

He hopes to repair the house but doesn’t know when that will be possible. Between the rain from two hurricanes in less than three weeks, and a series of rainy cold fronts expected to last until February, the ground is too waterlogged to make the bricks he needs to rebuild the wall destroyed by the storms.

Reyes’ crops of corn, beans and coffee were also damaged by the two tropical storms, which swept through Honduras in rapid succession between Oct. 31 and Nov. 18. Floodwaters from a stream near Reyes’ home swept away trees suitable for timber and part of his coffee field, which was on a hillside. His corn crop was ruined before he could harvest it.

“There’s no way of fixing that. Aid hasn’t arrived; it seems like it’s just on paper,” he said, adding that his village of El Trapiche needs assistance to make roads passable again.

According to civic and business groups, at least 100 people have died, damages top $10 billion and some 1 million Hondurans have lost their jobs or their source of income in the informal economy. Experts say the damage, which comes amid the economic and health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic could set the country back more than 20 years.

The areas hardest hit by the storms are Valle de Sula, which is the economic motor of Honduras, and the department of Gracias a Dios, the country’s most remote area, where crops and homes were destroyed, and people and livestock died. Honduras had not been so devastated by storms since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Government officials have not completed a damage assessment, but so far, large-, medium- and small-scale farmers in the country’s northern and western regions have lost nearly 80,000 acres of plantains, bananas, coffee, beans, rice and corn. Flooding also threatens more than 400,000 acres of sugarcane and oil palm plantations.

Drought, storms disastrous for farmers

“Honduras has always been one of the countries most vulnerable and most exposed to the effects of climate change, because of its geographic location, geography and productive structure,” Conor Walsh, Catholic Relief Services country representative in Honduras, told EarthBeat. “It doesn’t take much more study to trace a direct line between what people are experiencing and the effects of climate change.”

Before Eta and Iota, forecasters hoped that this year’s rainy season would bring enough precipitation to produce a better harvest than in the past few years, but the abnormal rains have been disastrous for agriculture in Central America, resulting in a grim outlook for the entire region, he said.

In an area of high temperatures and low rainfall known as the dry corridor, which stretches across Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, a multi-year drought has reduced the income and the food supply of at least 3.5 million people, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Honduras’ dry corridor includes 132 of the country’s 298 municipalities, mainly in the southern, western and central regions of the country.

In this area, which has the least access to irrigation water for crops, farmers lost between 50% and 90% of the fields where they produced pineapple, corn, beans, coffee and other export crops. The problem with beans, a dietary staple, was mold caused by the extreme dampness, which destroyed the harvest for farmers like Reyes.

The most recent storm left many people without homes, an income, farmland capable of producing crops or a safe place to return to, Walsh said. Many people have already taken refuge in cities, and the hurricanes are likely to result in a huge flow of migrants seeking better living conditions in other countries, including the United States.

Because this is the first disaster of this type in the country since 1998, the Honduran government has requested temporary protection status for those who seek to migrate to the United States, in an effort to start from scratch and improve their lives and those of their families.

It is understandable that migrating is the most attractive option for those who were hardest hit by the storms, Walsh said, because so far the government has announced no plan for rebuilding what the rains swept away.

The storms worsened the already-precarious state of food security in the country, he added. “It sounds awful, but this has been the last nail in the coffin.”

As of October, it was estimated that between 550,000 and 990,000 people in Honduras would not have access to food in 2021, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. That figure is likely to increase, Walsh said, because three years of drought and two devastating tropical storms have battered Central America’s economy, which depends heavily on the export of basic food crops, sugar and fruit.

Visible effects of climate change

Both the prolonged drought and this year’s atypically severe hurricane season are among the effects of climate change, Walsh said.

The hot, dry weather early in the year fueled an increase in the number and extent of forest fires between March and May, making the fire season “one of the worst in the past decade. Undoubtedly, that contributed to the vulnerability of the soil, leaving it hardened and without plant cover that would allow rainwater to filter into it,” he said.

“Climate change means that the rain, when it comes, is more intense and comes in the form of storms and flooding,” he added. “This is what experts and scientists predicted, and now we are living it in the flesh.”

Deforestation also worsened the disaster by contributing to landslides in various parts of the country.

To some extent, rain and flooding are beneficial to ecosystems in Honduras, as they carry fresh sediments and nutrients from the mountains to the agricultural valleys, biologist Walther Monge told EarthBeat. Heavy flooding, however, washes away soil and nutrients, leaving behind mud that will not support the bananas, corn, coffee and beans that are the country’s staple crops.

Officials have reported 77 deaths from Hurricane Eta and 22 so far from Iota, although experts say the figures could increase, because it has been impossible to reach the most remote areas of the country. Floodwaters remain high, and there are daily police reports of bodies found in rivers and streams.

Storm damage to infrastructure affected at least 1 million people in 16 of the country’s 18 departments, cutting off transportation for nearly a quarter of a million people in villages and cities in northern and western Honduras. As of Nov. 30, the Comisión Permanente de Contingencias, the government’s disaster agency, had tallied 27 bridges destroyed and 25 others damaged, as well as 748 stretches of road affected and one airport closed because of flooding.

One building that suffered heavy damage in the central part of the country was the chapel of the General Cemetery in Tegucigalpa. The chapel, built in 1954, had deteriorated over time, but heavy rains from the two hurricanes soaked the building’s walls and roof and caused a side wall to collapse. Workers were trying to keep the entire chapel from crumbling.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/hurricane-devastation-likely-spur-migration-honduras

‘Double burden’ for Ethiopian migrants stranded as conflict rages in Tigray

An Ethiopian woman who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region prepares a meal in Hamdait village on the Sudan-Ethiopia border in eastern Kassala state, Sudan November 14, 2020. REUTERS/El Tayeb Siddig

ADDIS ABABA,- When migrant worker Lula flew home to Ethiopia after eight months in Saudi detention, she thought her ordeal was over.

But instead of returning to her family in Tigray, she found herself stranded in the capital, unable to contact her parents and daughter as fighting has cut off the northern region and raised fears of a humanitarian crisis.

Lula is one of dozens of migrants who returned from Saudi Arabia last week to find that internet and phone connections to Tigray have been suspended and roads and airports closed.

“I have tried to contact my family but the phone is not working,” 29-year-old Lula, who declined to publish her full name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Addis Ababa.

“It is concerning not to hear from them at this point.”

Two weeks of escalating conflict between federal forces and rebellious local rulers has killed hundreds and pushed 30,000 refugees into Sudan, leading the United Nations (U.N.) to warn on Tuesday of a “full-scale humanitarian crisis”.

It has called into question whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Africa’s youngest leader and last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, can hold his fractured nation together ahead of national elections next year.

More than 14,000 Ethiopians have returned from Saudi Arabia since March, according to the U.N. migration agency, IOM, where many like Lula were detained in camps that the U.N. described as overcrowded and unsanitary.

Every year, it is estimated that tens of thousands of Ethiopians travel irregularly to the Gulf in search of better paid work. Many end up exploited as maids or on building sites.

STRESSFUL

More than 80 out of about 260 migrants who flew home to Ethiopia after the conflict broke out had to stay in a hotel in Addis Ababa because they came from Tigray and had no relatives in the capital. This included about 20 minors.

Shimeles Belaso, a director at Ethiopia’s ministry of peace said that the stranded returnees will be transported to their respective towns and villages when the situation calms.

“There are now security issues … just letting them go there is troublesome and (they could) be troubled and endangered,” he said.

“Therefore, the Ethiopian government is handling them, covering all the necessary costs for them.”

Lula was relieved that she had a friend in Addis Ababa who was willing to take her in, providing some home comforts and a familiar face to help brush away her painful memories of prison in Saudi Arabia.

Her dream of working abroad fell flat this year when rebels in Yemen – through which she and scores of other migrants were travelling to Saudi Arabia – rounded them up, while shooting and calling them “coronavirus carriers” and took them to the border.

Lula was one of thousands of migrants who were held in Saudi detention centres, described by Human Rights Watch as squalid and abusive, before being repatriated to Ethiopia.

“There were illnesses, hunger, deaths,” Lula recalled.

“It is better to beg in your own country,” said Lula, who has twice made the dangerous journey to Saudi Arabia, adding that she would not return there illegally.

Kassahun Habtamu, assistant professor at the School of Psychology of Addis Ababa University, said that the conflict and ensuing communications blackout put returnees at risk of developing mental health problems.

“Their migration experience is a very big burden by itself,” said Kassahun, who has studied the mental health problems faced by Ethiopian returnees from the Middle East.

“And this conflict now … they don’t know what is happening to their family members, they can’t even tell them that they are back. So this is a double burden, and it is very, very stressful.”

For Lula, the only option now is to find work in Addis Ababa while waiting for the conflict to end.

“I’m worried not to find a job, to have no money,” she said, after days of fruitless searching in the capital. “If the roads were open and I could see my daughter, I would go today.”

Kenya makes hospital arrests as it probes child trafficking ring

Motorists drive in traffic along a highway as pedestrians walk on the walkways before a curfew, which is a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Nairobi, Kenya May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

NAIROBI, – Kenya said on Wednesday it had arrested three hospital staff in a probe into the theft and sale of babies, accusing some public hospitals and care homes of colluding with organised crime.

Authorities acted after a BBC investigation revealed how Kenyan child trafficking syndicates – from street clinics to a government-run hospital – were stealing babies from vulnerable mothers to be sold for as little as $400.

Kenya’s Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai said three medical officers from a public hospital had been arrested, with a high possibility of more arrests to come.

“During an operation by police to unearth the organized crime, police officers noted with a lot of concern that local public hospitals and children homes within Nairobi are involved,” said Mutyambai in a statement.

“In the course of the investigations and operations, it is unfortunate that it was realised senior medical officers in collusion with the child smugglers are highly involved.”

The arrests were announced two days after the BBC aired its explosive Africa Eye documentary, ‘The Baby Stealers’, alleging a trade in babies that stretched right into Nairobi care system.

The government launched a sweeping investigation on Tuesday, saying it would do its utmost to root out the widespread human trafficking that has long plagued the East African nation.

Officials from the Mama Lucy Kibabki hospital named in the documentary did not reply to calls for comment.

Mutyambai directed county police commanders and other local security agencies across Kenya to “immediately undertake investigations and operations on matters touching on child trafficking” – especially in hospitals and children’s homes.

Kenya is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children who are trafficked into forced labour and sexual slavery, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

Once bought or lured, children are forced into domestic work, farming, fishing, herding, street vending and begging. Girls and boys are exploited in prostitution throughout Kenya, including in sex tourism on the coast, it added.

There are no accurate figures on the number of children trafficked in Kenya. However, the 2020 TIP report said the Kenyan government had identified 578 child victims in 2019.

Campaigners say the true number is far higher, noting that victims often do not understand they have been trafficked.

The BBC’S year-long investigation found young children were snatched from homeless women, while illegal street clinics in informal settlements were buying newborns from poor mothers.

An undercover journalist bought an abandoned boy just two weeks after birth from an official working at a government-run hospital. The official used legitimate paperwork to take custody of the child before selling him.

Simon Chelugui, minister for labour and social services, announced the establishment of a multi-agency team to probe the child trafficking syndicate.

“Following this expose, a team of officers and experts from the relevant government agencies has been constituted to exhaustively investigate and take the necessary action,” he told a news conference on Tuesday. “We will do everything possible to get to the bottom of this issue.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20201118130555-w7bf2/

Faith institutions launch new wave of fossil fuel divestment

Today, 47 faith institutions from 21 countries, including nine institutions from the UK, announce their divestment from fossil fuels as a practical response to the climate emergency.

Participating institutions include five Catholic religious orders in the UK, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, two United Reformed Church Synods, local Anglican and Methodist churches and American Jewish World Service. (See link to full list of participating institutions below.)

This week, from 19-21 November, Pope Francis has convened the ‘Economy of Francesco’, an online conference involving more than 1,000 young adults, which will explore innovative ways of shaping a sustainable economy. This conference builds on an announcement in June, when the Vatican recommended in its first-ever operational guidelines on ecology that all Catholic organisations divest from fossil fuels.

Fr Dermot F Byrne MHM, Regional Representative of Mill Hill Missionaries (British Region), said: “Our members have always worked among the poorest and most disadvantaged in Africa, Asia and South America, and the pursuit of social equality and justice has always been a serious priority for us. Concern for what Pope Francis reminds us is ‘our common home’ has to be part of that pursuit. As our numbers decrease worldwide, there can seem to be little that we can do to make an impact, but divestment from fossil fuels is a practical choice that is open to us all and may have far-reaching results. Consequently, we feel that such divestment is in line with Catholic social teaching and the spirit of the present age, and we are happy that we, as a Region, are able to make this small contribution.”

Sr Catherine Lloyd RSCJ, Provincial of the Society of the Sacred Heart (England and Wales Province) said: “The Province has actively engaged in reducing its carbon footprint for a number of years as the impact of the climate crisis became more apparent and urgent. After reflecting on our own values and the charism which underpins them, we have actively engaged with our fund managers to divest our investment portfolio of fossil fuels. Hopefully, we are making a contribution to working towards a future which is more sustainable and carbon neutral.”

The announcement coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Paris agreement on climate change. The UK government faces increasing pressure to demonstrate global leadership on the climate crisis ahead of the UN climate talks (COP26) taking place in Glasgow in November 2021. Faith organisations participating in the announcement amplify calls for the UK government to end support for fossil fuels overseas and act more decisively, having failed to meet its climate targets according to the Committee on Climate Change.

Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, recently advocated for Catholic leaders to play a more active role when he addressed hundreds of people in a webinar on Catholic investment for an integral ecology. He said: ‘The most urgent, most serious material threat to this world is a moral question… The defence of creation is the most fundamental fact of the Christian faith.’

In September, it was revealed that Shell plans to resume oil and gas exploration in the Arctic for the first time since 2015, despite pressure from faith investors and others that has exposed the inherent weakness of the fossil fuel industry. Shell has cited divestment as a material risk to its business.

Today’s divestment announcement means that more than 400 religious institutions have now committed to divest.

Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said: “The economic power of faiths, turned to responsible investments and the green economy, can be a major driver of positive change, and an inspiration to others, as we rebuild better.”

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, said: “It is hugely encouraging that so many faith institutions have stopped investing in the fossil fuel industry. Churches need to divest from fossil fuel companies as a practical response to the climate emergency ahead of COP26 next year. The UK government urgently needs to end subsidies for fossil fuels at home and overseas.”

The Leadership Team of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in England said: “As Sisters of the Holy Cross in England, Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, has encouraged us to focus on care of creation. For some time, we have been urging our investors to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels… We have realised that engagement with these companies only has limited success. We have now informed our investors that we have decided to completely disinvest from fossil fuels, and thus work towards a zero carbon future.”

The Congregation of Our Lady, Canonesses of St Augustine (UK Delegation) said: “According to our founders, our aim is to ‘do good to all and harm to none’ (St Peter Fourier) and ‘to do all the good possible’ (Blessed Alix Le Clerc). How can we put this into practice when we hold investments in oil and gas and we don’t go for investments that ‘promote a more just distribution of this world’s goods’ (from our Constitutions, 166)? ‘In our times the whole world has become our neighbour'(ibid, 3). One little way of loving our neighbour out there was for us to divest from oil and gas, which we did this February. And we’ve a long way to go yet.”

The Sisters of St Andrew in England gave the following statement: “At our last General Congregation in January 2017, one of the three main themes was ‘Justice, Peace and Safeguarding of Creation’. The final document states: ‘…we are in close interdependence with all of Creation. What happens in one part of our world has an impact on the rest of the planet.”

“Deepening this awareness led us to have a closer look at our investments here in England. We realised that part of our financial resources were actually financing more fossil fuel extraction and burning. We were thus contributing to the worsening of the climate crisis and its devastating impact on the poorest peoples of our human family, as well as the destruction of vast areas of wildlife on our beautiful planet Earth. We therefore decided to make the commitment to divest from fossil fuel and invest in funds that support constructive ecological, social and peace initiatives. This is one more important step on our journey of ‘integral ecological conversion’ (Laudato Si’).

“We pray that this step may contribute to the healing and wellbeing of our world and the flourishing of our Earth Community.”

https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/40909