Sisters set troubled Filipino teens on course to self-sufficiency

Smiling Jane Ollivier with another younger girl
Jane Ollivier, pictured at left in 2015, entered the School of Life at age 15 after being orphaned and passed around various relatives. While living at the School of Life, she earned an education degree, taught school and now works as a home life officer for ACAY to help other teen girls. (Courtesy of the Missionaries of Mary)

Quezon City, Philippines — Jane Ollivier lost her parents by the age of 10. For five years, she bounced around between various relatives before she entered the School of Life, a residential program for teenage girls in metropolitan Manila run by the Missionaries of Mary.

“I wasn’t treated as a child who needed help, but as a member of a family,” she said. “I found the care of a family that I was looking for.”

In her three years in the program, Ollivier earned an education degree. She taught school for a year before returning to the School of Life as the home life officer to help other girls learn to be self-sustaining.

The sisters “gave me a foundation of what real life was like,” said Ollivier, now 30.

The School of Life is one of the central programs of Association Compassion Asian Youth, or ACAY. For more than 20 years, the association has focused on providing the support, skills and structure to change the lives of troubled teens and young adults in the Philippines.

The School of Life, founded in 2000, provides a home for around 20 girls between the ages of 14 and 21, many of whom were abused. The program helps them with school or vocational training and teaches practical life skills to help the girls become self-sustaining, such as budgeting and managing a house, planning meals and shopping. The girls also can earn money by doing administrative tasks for the program and making and selling crafts.

The Second Chance program for teen boys who are in detention centers began in 2002 and also emphasizes personal development, such as through anger-management classes, and vocational training to enable participants to get jobs in construction and other skilled trades once they are released from detention.

ACAY is the brainchild of Sr. Sophie Renoux, who prefers to be known as Sr. Sophie de Jésus. In 1995, the French sister heard a call to help children in the Philippines after she participated in World Youth Day in Manila as a member of the Community of the Beatitudes. She moved to the Philippines from France two years later.

There, she found few programs to help teens, so she and Sr. Edith Fabian, a Hungarian sister Sister Sophie knew through the Community of the Beatitudes, founded Association Compassion Asian Youth in 1997. Over the years, they were joined by Sr. Laetitia Gorczyca from Poland and Sr. Rachel Myriam Luxford from New Zealand, who were also members of the Community of the Beatitudes. Together, they founded the Missionaries of Mary, a diocesan community, in 2007.

Now, the programs are models for other organizations in the Philippines as well as similar programs in other countries. A Second Chance program began in Marseille, France, in 2014. Members of a nongovernmental organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo have welcomed ACAY staff in Kinshasa for training and have gone to the Philippines to find aspects of the School of Life to incorporate into its program for teenage and young women.

Girls are referred by nongovernmental organizations and detention centers or after they age out of other social service programs; boys are referred through social workers, counselors and other staff at the detention centers. After they leave the program, the women tend to work at offices or as teachers or nurses, and the men become carpenters or entrepreneurs or work in the field of social development. Most alumni return to speak with the young men and women still active in the program.

A caring, family-like atmosphere is fundamental for the teenagers, Sister Sophie said. The sisters, staff and volunteers offer encouragement, counseling and support.

“Emotionally, I had people I could lean on,” Ollivier said. “The sisters gave me that motherly care I was looking for. They’re not just there to give you the basic needs, but they are there to give you everything that you need to empower you as a woman.”

Raymart Montinola credits the sisters with helping him change his life. He was in a detention center at age 18 when a social worker referred him to the Second Chance program.

“I felt hopeless,” he said. “I had no skills. I couldn’t get a job.”

The sisters helped him get an apprenticeship in furniture-making. When he was inspired to start his own business, the sisters loaned him money for machinery and helped him find clients. Now in business for more than a year, he is supporting his wife, who was in the School of Life program, and their two children.

“I learned a lot, and I’m thankful because they’re still there, even if I’m not in any program now,” said Montinola, now 30. The sisters “continued to give me opportunities, give me wings so I could fly.”

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/justice/ministry/sisters-set-troubled-filipino-teens-course-self-sufficiency

‘It’s radical’: the Ugandan city built on solar, shea butter and people power

Members of the Okere City community.
Members of the Okere City community. Photograph: Katumba Badru Sultan/The Guardian

Ojok Okello is transforming his destroyed village into a green town where social enterprises responsibly harness the shea treeGlobal development is supported by

The village of Okere Mom-Kok was in ruins by the end of more than a decade of war in northern Uganda.

Now, just outside Ojok Okello’s living-room door, final-year pupils at the early childhood centre are noisily breaking for recess and a market is clattering into life, as is the local craft brewery, as what has become Okere City begins a new day.

“I think what I’m doing here is radical,” says Okello, who is behind an ambitious project to transform the destroyed village of 4,000 people into a thriving and sustainable town.

Okere City began in January 2019. Its 200 hectares (500 acres) feature a school, a health clinic, a village bank and a community hall that also serves as a cinema, a church and a nightclub.

Electricity is available to all, generated from solar energy – a rarity in the region – and far from the many outbreaks of cholera which were rampant years ago, there is now clean water from a borehole.

Pupils at the school pay half their fees in cash, and the rest in maize, beans, sugar and firewood. The clinic lets people pay their bills in instalments. The local security man wields a spear, an unusual sight in an area where many men idle around as women shoulder most of the paid and unpaid work.

Okello is funding the project from his own pocket. Last year, it cost 200 million Ugandan shillings (about £39,000). The London School of Economics graduate and development expert had worked for several international charities and NGOs but grew disillusioned seeing projects fail because, he says, communities were not involved in decisions about their own future.

When he returned a few years ago to Okere Mom-Kok, hoping to meet extended family in the village he had left as a baby when his civil servant father was killed in the bush wars of the 1980s, he decided to put what he had learned into action. He wanted to create a project that was truly led by the people who lived there.

Okere now generates revenue. Every project, from the school to the local bar, can fund itself, something that has been possible because the project is being built not as a charity, but as a social enterprise, Okello says.

“I don’t want this project to be at the mercy of some white people,” he says. “I want us to have business conversations with partners. I want us to be responsible for shaping the destiny and the future of the project.”

Translated from Lango, Okere Mom-Kok means, “a baby should not cry” and the logo for the project has a smiling baby’s face. But Okello quips that building the town has been far from all smiles.

While comparisons could be made to Akon City, the futuristic smart city with its own currency being built by R&B star Akon in Senegal, Okere is, in essence, the opposite, according to Amina Yasin, an expert in city planning, who works in Vancouver, Canada.

“Akon City is going to be a walled city for the wealthy,” she says. “It sounds like a capitalist endeavour on the African continent. It is to benefit mostly non-indigenous Africans, unfortunately.”

Okere City will pioneer green energy, but its unique selling point is its shea trees. Okello says the inspiration came to him via the Marvel blockbuster movie Black Panther, as he sat under a shea tree outside his house one afternoon in early 2020.

“I looked at [the shea tree] and realised that we have this important natural resource and we were not harnessing it,” Okello says. “And I thought about Wakanda and Black Panther, they had vibranium, this shea tree could be our vibranium.”

“So I am like: ‘Damn, I’m going to invest everything within my means to tap this resource, to protect [it], and to use it to emancipate my community.”

In August, Okere Shea Butter arrived on the market. The whole city smells of shea butter, and Okello has advocated for the protection and regeneration of shea trees, classed as an endangered species threatened by extinction.

Once a week an investment club meets in the community hall. As the sun starts to set over the city, the members assemble in a circle. The majority of the more than 100 members are women, mostly farmers, but some also run small businesses.

“I got a loan from the club to buy shea seeds, which I sold at a profit,” says member Acen Olga.

Members’ financial contributions are carefully recorded before being redistributed as loans to members who need them. When borrowers repay the loan, the cycle continues.

This style of banking is particularly important because it’s original to Africans, Yasin says.

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/mar/03/its-radical-the-ugandan-city-built-on-solar-shea-butter-and-people-power

Catholic campaign to aid Syrian children who ‘have known nothing but war’

Syrian refugee. / D.Khamissy/UNHCR via Flickr CC BY SA 2.0.
Syrian refugee. / D.Khamissy/UNHCR via Flickr CC BY SA 2.0.

CNA Staff, – Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the start of the Syrian war, the Catholic charity Caritas has launched a campaign to help children in Syria with much needed medical, humanitarian, and educational resources.

March 15 marks the grim anniversary of 10 years of war in Syria. The World Bank estimates that the country has suffered at least $197 billion worth of infrastructure damage during the conflict.

“Syrian children have known nothing but war,” Caritas Internationalis states on its website.

The charity’s “Tomorrow is in our hands” campaign seeks to bolster educational opportunities for Syrian children after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed 50% out of the education system.

An estimated 2.45 million Syrian children were already not attending school at the end of 2019, according to the charity. Now, 2 in 3 children in the country are out of school.

“The lack of access to education by Syrian children risks having a devastating impact on the future of the country. The education sector is in dire need of resources, and donors should fund interventions designed to lift families out of poverty,” it states.

Caritas is seeking to provide meals in line with international nutrition indicators for children at schools and to launch child oriented workshops to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.

Eight in 10 people in Syria live below the poverty line with an estimated 11.1 million people in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, including 4.7 million people in acute need in 2020. Children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and the elderly are the most at risk.

The Syrian conflict began when demonstrations sprang up across the country protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president and leader the country’s Ba’ath Party. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.

The civil war has been fought among the Syrian regime and a number of rebel groups. The rebels include moderates, such as the Free Syrian Army; Islamists such as Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State; and Kurdish separatists.

Russia and Iran have been supportive of the Syrian regime, while western nations have favored some rebel groups.

Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Vatican’s diplomat in Syria for the past 13 years, has said that after nearly a decade of war, the Syrian people had now been hit with a “poverty bomb” amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Fr. Firas Lutfi, a Franciscan priest who served as a missionary in Aleppo at the height of the violence, witnessed the trauma endured by a generation of Syrian children who have spent the entirety of their lives in the uncertainty and tragedy of war.

The Franciscan sought to create a place of safety and healing for these kids, many of whom were suffering from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

“We observed that the children, the Aleppian children, many had trauma, post-war. Lots of them lost parents, some of them had mutilation, losing hands or legs, and they are afraid of everything,” Fr. Lutfi told CNA in 2020.

Lutfi founded the Franciscan Care Center’s post-traumatic war treatment program in Aleppo in 2017. Since then, its staff of clinical psychologists, volunteers, and social workers have served 1,500 Syrian children aged 6-17 years old.

Many children born in Syria amid the bombings and chaos of the war never received a birth certificate because their birth was not registered with the government.

To give these forgotten children an identity, the Franciscans began the “Name and Future” project in Eastern Aleppo.

“We take care of these children, and we gave them an official registration … We have in each center 500 children,” Lutfi said.

Among those cared for by the Franciscans in the centers in Aleppo are abandoned young people with Down syndrome and autism, as well as pregnant mothers in need of assistance.

Pope Francis offered encouragement to charities seeking to rebuild Syria in a video message in December.

“Every effort — large or small — made to foster the peace process is like putting a brick in the construction of a just society, one that is open to welcome, and where all can find a place to dwell in peace,” Pope Francis said.

“My thoughts go especially to the people who have had to leave their homes to escape the horrors of war, in search of better living conditions for themselves and their loved ones,” he added.

According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, more than 5.6 million people have left Syria since 2011. 

The majority of refugees stayed in the Middle East, with more than half registered as living in Turkey (3.6 million in 2021) and another 1.6 million refugees also living in either Lebanon or Jordan, which also border Syria.

Within Syria itself there are 6.7 internally displaced persons, according to Caritas.

“I appeal to the international community to make every effort to facilitate this return, guaranteeing the security and economic conditions necessary for this to happen. Every gesture, every effort in this direction is precious,” Pope Francis said.

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholic-campaign-to-aid-syrian-children-who-have-known-nothing-but-war

After two devastating hurricanes, Honduran sisters help communities rebuild

Srs. Milena Vanegas, left, and Victoria Emérita in the mud-covered playground of the nursery school they operate in La Planeta, a neighborhood of La Lima, Honduras, in late January.
Srs. Milena Vanegas, left, and Victoria Emérita in the mud-covered playground of the nursery school they operate in La Planeta, a neighborhood of La Lima, Honduras, in late January. Hurricanes Eta and Iota in November 2020 flooded their facility and the adjacent church, forcing their evacuation from the second story of their convent home. (Gregg Brekke)

SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS — Watching the waters lap at the top of the stairs leading to the second story of their convent home in the La Planeta neighborhood of La Lima, Honduras, Srs. Victoria Emérita and Milena Vanegas of the Sisters of Charity of Santa Ana knew they were running out of time and options.

The protective levees surrounding the town had been breached earlier that day, Nov. 5, and a wave of water swept through town in an instant, brought to La Lima by Hurricane Eta, which made landfall the day before. Even after the initial surge from the broken levees, flooding worsened as heavy rains pelted their submerged neighborhood.

Now, with water rising as high as 12 feet, the sisters prepared to evacuate into their attic on a ladder set up next to the access door. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary: A rescue boat arrived around 6:30 that evening, and the sisters were able to pry apart two security bars on the second-floor balcony, slip through the narrow gap, and slide down the patio roof into a waiting boat.

“We could see everything had already been lost,” Emérita said, surveying the mud from the balcony of their home in La Planeta in late January. “We were worried for ourselves, yes, but when the boat came, we knew our prayers had been answered.”

The boat transported the sisters to the higher ground of the highway running through town. Because of the damage to their home, the sisters first relocated to a private home and now live in a retreat center dormitory in nearby San Pedro Sula.

However, Eta was only the first of two major storms: Hurricane Iota followed two weeks later, Nov. 18, as a Category 4 storm, soaking this low-lying town in northeastern Honduras next to the Chamelecón River and resulting in further damage to the Our Lady of the Holy Fountain Nursery School that the Sisters of Charity of Santa Ana run and to the adjacent church.

The storms affected an estimated 4.7 million people and resulted in more than 100 deaths. At least $5 billion in property damages was sustained during the storms and subsequent flooding, one-fifth of Honduras’ gross domestic product. The total economic impact from the storms is estimated at $1.86 billion, including losses of 80% of the annual sugar cane, cacao and banana harvest.

Hondurans fortunate enough to return to their homes or construct makeshift shelters still face the ever-present threat of COVID-19, made worse by limited supplies of personal protective equipment. Large groups congregate at shelters and distribution centers when much-needed food and fresh water arrive. Few wear masks.

When Eta struck Honduras, there had been more than 98,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 2,700 deaths. As of March 1, confirmed total cases had risen to more than 170,000, with more than 4,100 deaths.

The sisters have tried to set a good example throughout the pandemic and hurricane recovery by wearing masks and encouraging others to do the same, observing distancing protocols, and advocating for testing and isolation from infected people. But for the poor residents of La Planeta struggling to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, these safety measures are often secondary to daily survival.

Providing help amid their own recovery

Months after the hurricanes, La Lima and the church property are marked by devastation. Although floodwaters receded by mid-December, the streets are still a muddy maze of makeshift paths and mud piles cleared from inundated homes. The mucking continues, shovelful by wheelbarrow. Some heavy machinery is present, with excavators and dump trucks clearing debris already removed from buildings where the deluge deposited 3 to 4 feet of mud.

At Our Lady of the Holy Fountain Nursery School, the flooding waterline is visible at nearly ceiling level, stopping at the neck of Jesus in a painting hanging over a doorway. Although the mud has been removed, the school’s rooms are piled full of salvaged equipment, such as cribs and toys. Most everything else at the school, church and convent is a total loss. The school’s kitchen and bathrooms will need to be redone, walls scrubbed and repainted, electric equipment and wiring repaired or replaced, and plumbing recertified for potable water.

The sisters continue to clean and prepare for an engineer’s evaluation on the soundness of the structures, which have several cracked walls, destroyed doors and buckled sections of flooring. They don’t yet know when their 35 students can return to the nursery school.

“At the moment, we don’t know the costs,” Emérita said. “The financing of the repairs is going to be quite difficult, and we will look for help since the nursery school by itself is not self-sustaining due to the type of population we serve.

“We are looking at the situation and asking God for his wisdom.”

Even as progress continues to restore the school, church and convent to their pre-hurricane states, the sisters are engaged in hurricane relief efforts for people affected in the area. Although displaced themselves, Emérita and Vanegas are coordinating efforts with local parishes to sort and distribute donated clothing, food and home furnishings to people who lost their homes and belongings in the storms.

Working out of two rooms piled floor-to-ceiling with donated goods at the Mhotivo Foundation in San Padro Sula, volunteers from nearby St. Peter and Paul Parish organize the items, preparing bags for Fr. Fredy Valdiviezo to pick up and distribute to local shelters housing hurricane victims. It’s a herculean effort, with thousands of items still coming through the doors each day: mattresses, bedding, cleaning supplies, food, propane tanks and more.

But the sisters know these physical provisions are only the beginning of the needs that have to be addressed in La Planeta.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/after-devastating-hurricanes-honduran-sisters-help-communities-rebuild

‘A pandemic of abuses’: human rights under attack during Covid, says UN head

Composite: Wires agencies

The world is facing a “pandemic of human rights abuses”, the UN secretary general António Guterres has said.

Authoritarian regimes had imposed drastic curbs on rights and freedoms and had used the virus as a pretext to restrict free speech and stifle dissent.

Writing exclusively in the Guardian, Guterres said the Covid-19 pandemic had rolled back years of progress on human rights, and that abuses had “thrived because poverty, discrimination, the destruction of our natural environment and other human rights failures have created enormous fragilities in our societies”.

There has been a global crackdown on opposition activists and human rights defenders, increased attacks on journalists and moves to curb free speech, censor the media, roll out invasive tracking apps and put in place extreme surveillance measures, many of which are likely to far outlast the virus.

China has been accused of particularly egregious breaches, including online censorship, invasive surveillance and the arrest of coronavirus whistleblowers.

“The Chinese regime has threatened, arrested, jailed and silenced whistleblowers and citizen journalists who tried to warn of or report on the pandemic. There are grave concerns that the surveillance technology it has rolled out as part of the effort to combat the coronavirus could be used to further stifle dissent and violate human rights,” said Benedict Rogers, chief executive of Hong Kong Watch.

Around the world, governments are failing to guarantee basic rights to health, education and equality, hitting the poorest, most marginalised and minorities the hardest.

Guterres said that the failure to ensure equity in vaccination efforts was “the latest moral outrage” to come out of the pandemic.

More than three-quarters of 128m vaccine jabs given so far have been administered in only 10 countries, according to the World Health Organization. Not a single dose has been administered in 130 countries, with combined populations of 2.5 billion.

While deaths tolls appear to be significantly higher in western states, the economic impact of Covid has been felt most acutely in the developing world. After years of progress on eradicating poverty, last year the pandemic pushed up to 124 million more people below the poverty line, defined as living on less than $1.90 (£1.36) a day, according to the World Bank. Advertisement

The impact on education has also been “catastrophic”, with school closures affecting around 1.6 billion children, says the UN. Girls in particular are likely to drop out, leaving them vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancy and domestic violence.

Progress on gender equality has been set back decades. “Violence against women and girls in all forms has skyrocketed, from online abuse to domestic violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation and child marriage,” said Guterres.

The pandemic has shone a harsh spotlight, too, on the dire working conditions of millions of low-wage workers. Massive orders for PPE have been produced by North Korean women toiling in secret factories in China, in conditions that amount to slave labour. Garment makers in Bangladesh have been left struggling to survive as orders from western clothing giants suddenly dried up. And in the Gulf, one of the world’s wealthiest regions, migrant workers have been victims of racial discrimination, arbitrary detention in appalling conditions and wage theft on a huge scale.

On top of the slew of pushbacks and attacks on human rights resulting from the pandemic, crises such as the conflict in Yemen, spiralling violence in Afghanistan, the military takeover in Myanmar and an escalating humanitarian crisis in Venezuela threaten the lives of millions across the world.

“From Syria to Myanmar, South Sudan or Yemen, or the situation facing the Uighur population in China, the pandemic has added another layer to existing and unfolding human rights crises around the world,” said Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK.

“There has been a failure of national governments and the United Nations in taking decisive action to address these big global issues and the UN security council veto must not continue to be used to block action on genocide or human rights abuses.”

In a speech to open the 46th regular session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva today, Guterres also said that racist, extremist movements are engaging in a “feeding frenzy of hate” and represent “the number one internal security threat” for some countries. He said global coordinated action was needed to defeat the grave and growing danger of racism.

“The danger of these hate-driven movements is growing by the day. Let us call them what they are: white supremacy and neo-Nazi movements are more than domestic terror threats. They are becoming a transnational threat,” he said. “These and other groups have exploited the pandemic to boost their ranks through social polarisation and political and cultural manipulation.”

The UN secretary general also said that gender inequality was the world’s biggest human rights scourge.

“The crisis has a woman’s face,” he said. “Violence against women and girls in all forms has skyrocketed, from online abuse to domestic violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation and child marriage.”

But amid the despair, there are some reasons for hope. “A real battle” had emerged in defence of human rights, according to Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The pandemic has posed enormous and dangerous challenges and has left millions of people less secure and more vulnerable than they were a year ago, but it has also spotlighted many of the inequalities that we can now focus on.”

Guterres called for a response based on solidarity and cooperation. “With the pandemic shining a spotlight on human rights, recovery provides an opportunity to generate momentum for transformation,” he said. “The virus threatens everyone. Human rights uplift everyone.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/22/human-rights-in-the-time-of-covid-a-pandemic-of-abuses-says-un-head

Vatican COVID-19 commission: Church can help combat rising violence against women

Credit: MikeDotta/Shutterstock.
Credit: MikeDotta/Shutterstock.

Vatican City, – The Vatican COVID-19 Commission called on Monday for the Catholic Church and governments to increase support for women suffering from violence amid the coronavirus crisis.

In a seven-page document released March 8, International Women’s Day, the commission said that the pandemic had “increased the vulnerability of countless women across the globe.” 

The text, entitled “Women in the COVID-19 Crisis: Disproportionately Affected and Protagonists of Regeneration,” said that domestic violence had risen during pandemic-related lockdowns. 

The commission asked governments to provide “safe spaces and services for those facing domestic violence.”

It also encouraged the Church to “denounce direct and systemic violence against women.”

The document suggested that an effective way to do this would be for Church leaders to back an appeal by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for a domestic violence “ceasefire.” 

It also said that “messages countering violence against women could be encouraged in homilies and in catechesis.”

Domestic violence incidents rose by 8.1% in the United States following lockdown orders, according to a Feb. 23 report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.

Pope Francis dedicated the month of February to prayer for women suffering from violence. 

In a video released Feb. 1, he said: “It is shocking how many women are beaten, insulted, and raped … We must not look the other way.”

Pope Francis asked the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to create the Vatican COVID-19 Commission on March 20, 2020. Working with other curial departments and outside organizations, the commission seeks “to express the concern and love of the Church for the whole human family in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The body, unveiled on April 15, 2020, consists of five working groups, which focus respectively on “acting now for the future,” “looking to the future with creativity,” “communicating hope,” “seeking common dialogue and reflections,” and “supporting to care.”

A note said that the new document was “elaborated by the four different taskforces of Working Group 2,” which tackles topics related to ecology, economics, labor, healthcare, politics, communications, and security. 

“While women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, they have been excluded from much of the COVID-19 decision-making in many countries, largely due to enduring underrepresentation in senior positions in key fields of medicine and politics,” the text said.

“This may have contributed to the lack of explicit attention paid to the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impacts on women and girls.”

“Countries with women leaders, however, have generally fared better overall during the pandemic. These leaders approached the crisis in a similar way: they consulted early with health experts and implemented containment measures early.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-covid-19-commission-church-can-help-combat-rising-violence-against-women-95019

Africans slam rich nations for blocking access to generic COVID vaccines

A health worker receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

NAIROBI, – Charities in Africa slammed rich nations on Thursday for blocking efforts to waive patents for COVID-19 vaccines, saying this would prolong the pandemic for years in poorer nations and push millions across the continent deeper into poverty.

More than 40 charities, including Amnesty International and Christian Aid, said Wednesday’s move by Western nations to prevent generic or other manufacturers making more vaccines in poorer nations was “an affront on people’s right to healthcare.”

Peter Kamalingin, Oxfam International’s Africa director, said sub-Saharan Africa – 14% of the global population – had received only 0.2% of 300 million vaccine doses administered worldwide.

“Ensuring every African can get a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine … is the most effective way to save lives and livelihoods, keep our children in school, reduce unemployment rates and re-open our economies,” he told a news conference.

“Without it, gains made by African countries on issues of food security, democratic governance, gender justice and women’s rights will be reversed completely.”

Richer members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) blocked a push by some 80 developing countries – led by India and South Africa – to waive its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement rules on patents.

The move sent a message that African lives were less important than those of people in rich nations, Kamalingin said.

Countries such as the United States and Britain argue that protecting intellectual property rights encourages research and innovation, and that suspending those rights would not result in a sudden surge of vaccine supply.

Africa’s confirmed coronavirus caseload is almost 4 million, with more than 100,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

While Africa accounts for less than 4% of the 118 million cases and 2.6 million deaths recorded globally, health experts say a lack of testing and reliable data from many African nations means the true figures may be far higher.

The World Bank estimates that the new coronavirus crisis has already pushed 40 million people in sub-Saharan economies into extreme poverty, that is, living on less than $1.90 a day.

Africa needs equitable access to vaccines to prevent further lockdowns, job losses and school closures, said the charities, which included the Pan-African Fight Inequality Alliance and the East Africa Tax and Governance Network.

“Without the vaccine, the pandemic will be prolonged on the continent. Africa will be in a pandemic state for the next four or five years,” warned Mwanahamisi Singano, programme manager from the African Women’s Development and Communication Network.

“If we don’t have the vaccine, we are extending the pandemic phase and all the evil that we have seen come with it.”

Western nations have celebrated the COVAX facility – a World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine-sharing programme to aid developing nations – which has so far delivered approximately 2 million doses to a handful of African countries.

But the charities said COVAX was far from an acceptable solution as it would only result in 20% of the population in those countries being vaccinated by the end of the year.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210311152316-1wx8m/

Brazil’s top court orders probe into Facebook sale of Amazon land

FILE PHOTO: An indigenous child of Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe, looks on in an area deforested by invaders, after a meeting was called in the village of Alto Jamari to face the threat of armed land grabbers invading the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Reservation near Campo Novo de Rondonia, Brazil January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

RIO DE JANEIRO, – Brazil’s top court on Tuesday ordered an investigation into how tracts of stolen land in the Amazon rainforest inhabited by indigenous tribes came to be put up for sale on Facebook.

Supreme Court justice Luis Roberto Barroso was responding to a lawsuit filed by charities and opposition parties that accused the Brazilian government of failing to protect indigenous peoples from the coronavirus.

In his ruling, he said some of the areas advertised for sale on Marketplace, Facebook’s classified ad space, belonged to the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people, who had been exposed to the disease by illegal land-grabbers and left in a “critical situation”.

An undercover investigation by the BBC last month found dozens of plots of land in the Amazon occupied by indigenous groups advertised on the site. Many had been deforested.

Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Last week the tech firm told the BBC it was “ready to work with local authorities” on the issue.

“The decision is based on a documentary broadcast by BBC News last week, which denounced the use of Facebook for advertising and marketing land in the Amazon,” said the Supreme Court in a statement.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon surged to a 12-year high in 2020, according to government data published in November.

Environmentalists say Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has weakened conservation efforts and raised hopes that new laws would legalise the claims of land-grabbers.

“Invasions and land-grabbing only happen because of impunity,” said Ivaneide Bandeira, from the Association of Ethno-Environmental Protection Kaninde, a non-profit organisation that assists the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau.

“So this decision from Barroso gives us hope that something will change, that the law will work.”

Barroso said the investigation should not be restricted to the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory, but should also cover “all other indigenous lands”.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210302182842-o72i1/

Football star Thierry Henry to quit social media over racism

The former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Henry, who has 15 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter [File: AFP]
The former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Henry, who has 15 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter [File: AFP]

Former France international Thierry Henry said on Friday he will be disabling his social media accounts to protest against the platforms for not taking action over anonymous account holders who are guilty of racism and bullying online.

Former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Henry, who has 15 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, said the platforms needed to tackle these issues with the same effort they put into taking down material that infringes copyright.

“From tomorrow morning I will be removing myself from social media until the people in power are able to regulate their platforms with the same vigour and ferocity that they currently do when you infringe copyright,” Henry said in a statement.

“The sheer volume of racism, bullying and resulting mental torture to individuals is too toxic to ignore. There HAS to be some accountability.

“It is far too easy to create an account, use it to bully and harass without consequence and still remain anonymous. Until this changes, I will be disabling my accounts across all social platforms. I’m hoping this happens soon.”

Last month English football’s governing bodies said that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were “havens for abuse” and urged the social media companies to tackle the problem in the wake of racist messages aimed at players.

Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), said nobody should be forced to disable their social media accounts due to abuse.

“Social media firms must do more to tackle this and we are introducing new laws to hold platforms to account,” he said.

“This is complex and we must get it right, but I’m absolutely determined to tackle racist abuse online.”

Instagram last month announced a series of measures to tackle online abuse, including removing accounts of people who send abusive messages, and developing new controls to help reduce the abuse people see.

Twitter said in 2019 that “vile content has no place on our service” after it took action on more than 700 cases of “abuse and hateful conduct” related to football in Britain in two weeks and promised to continue its efforts to curb the problem.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/3/26/football-star-thierry-henry-quitting-social-media-over-racism