Sisters near Goa beaches offer children of sex workers brighter options

Sr. Lourenca Marques, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Holy Family of Nazareth, observes training in stitching with teacher Mary Fernandes (far right) at Asha Sadan at Baina in the western Indian state of Goa. (Lissy Maruthanakuzhy)
Sr. Lourenca Marques, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Holy Family of Nazareth, observes training in stitching with teacher Mary Fernandes (far right) at Asha Sadan at Baina in the western Indian state of Goa. (Lissy Maruthanakuzhy)

Vasco, India — Kasturi Rupali turns into a bundle of joy when she sees Sr. Lourenca Marques. “Sister is everything to me, my father and mother. What I am today is because of her,” the 26-year-old daughter of a commercial sex worker says, clasping the hands of Marques, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Holy Family of Nazareth.

The young woman came to Asha Sadan (house of hope), a center the congregation manages at Baina Beach near Vasco, the port town of Goa state in western India.

Rupali grew up at the center from infancy, as did Anand Patil, who turned up for a visit on a November afternoon in 2020.

“Sister Lourenca put me in one of the best boarding schools run by Capuchin fathers in Goa. I have no regrets today,” Patil, 32, said with joy radiating from his mustached face.

Now employed, he has married a girl who had grown up with the Holy Family nuns from childhood.

Rupali, Patil and his wife are among more than 80 children of commercial sex workers and HIV-positive women Marques has helped to forget their dreary past and settle in life.

“These children are very helpful to me now. They help one another financially, too,” Marques told GSR, pointing to the two visitors. She said Asha Sadan’s former residents now gather together for holidays. “I take them for picnics. We have Christmas celebrations together. We are like a big family,” the 56-year-old nun continued with pride ringing in her voice.

It all began 28 years ago when Marques accompanied her then superior, Sr. Jane Pinto, to Baina to introduce her to their new mission in Goa’s infamous red-light district, which was confined to a single street. The nuns’ mission aimed to give a new life to the children of commercial sex workers and women living with HIV.

“I was shocked to see little children wrapped in dirty clothes begging on the beach,” recalled Marques, who had completed a bachelor’s degree in social work.

The beach was dotted with a stretch of huts where women cooked for their children between meeting their clients.

“The women and their pimps looked at us with suspicion, as if we were a threat to their thriving business. We felt strange moving around in a strange world,” Marques recalled.

The women were unapproachable and unfriendly. “We could not enter some houses, as customers were waiting for them. We were puzzled how we would carry on our mission among such people,” she told GSR.

The nuns stayed in Baina for easy access to the women and their children. They began with family visits, although no one welcomed them initially.

“I came with a statue of Mother Mary. She has helped me,” Marques said with a smile. Their persistent visits helped build a rapport with the women and their children. Trust in the nuns grew gradually.

In the initial years, Marques found the local “respectable people” hesitant to disclose that they also lived in Baina, near the red-light neighborhood.

The main customers for the women were sailors, who came to the port.

In 2002, Manohar Parrikar, the then chief minister, or governor, of Goa, tried to end the flesh trade in the state by torching the huts in Baina. “But now it has spread all over Goa,” Marques bemoaned. Some women still operate from Baina.

The nuns found most women in the trade were ages 14-25. They came from the nearby states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra and were trafficked into prostitution because of poverty or ignorance. “Sometimes their family, relatives or even boyfriends lure them to the trade,” Marques explained.

Sr. Maria Angela, also a Holy Family sister and Marques’ companion, says a lighter-skinned girl earns between 300 and 500 rupees (US$4.06-$6.77) from a client while a dark-skinned worker gets from 50 rupees (US68 cents) to 100 rupees.

“A part of the earnings would go to brothel owners and for cosmetics,” Angela told GSR.

The young nun recalled a woman telling her that she felt like a caged bird on the red street. She pleaded with the brothel owner to let her go home, but she refused, saying the woman had to pay back the money the owner had paid to the agent who brought her there.

“She had to sleep with men even when she fell sick. She was warned that if she escaped, they would track her down and kill her and her parents,” Angela said.

Women who spoke to GSR asked not to be identified.

One of them, still living in Baina, said she had landed there after a “well-dressed woman” visited her village in Karnataka and promised a lucrative job in the city.

“We were uneducated and were happy to earn some money. We trusted her and took the bus to Goa with our parents’ consent. Only after reaching here did we realize the trap she had set for us,” she said.

Some women have surrendered to their fate. “My father sold me when I was 14. I get good food and clothing. There is nothing to complain about. After a few years, I will be free from my debts and then I will become a madam and get girls to work for me,” said a young woman.

Marques says her congregation took up the mission as a challenge among the women, who are hidden from society.

The sisters set up Asha Sadan on the ground and fourth floors of a four-story building, a five-minute drive from Baina Beach. They then welcomed the children from Baina Beach to Asha Sadan. Sometimes mothers would bring their children to the nuns’ center while they continued working.

“We visited the hutments two or three times a day to bring the small children to the center to feed and teach them. Some would run away and loiter around,” Marques said of their initial days.

The nuns still manage the day care center for children and women. These days, they prepare children ages 3-6 for primary education, besides feeding them nutritional meals.

“As they grew up and could manage by themselves, I placed them in one more house [a group home 30 minutes drive from Baina]. The older ones look after the younger ones now. I visit them each day. Many are day scholars now. And I live in my convent,” Marques said.

During holidays, the children would be brought to Asha Sadan. “We would sleep on the floor, girls on one side of me and boys on the other side,” Marques said.

The nun also placed some promising students like Patil in reputable boarding schools.

Rupali said she came to the nuns as an infant. “My maternal aunts brought me to her [Lourenca] as my mother was too sick. I had two elder brothers. I have not met them. … One of my aunts also stayed with me, and the sister educated her. She is doing well in life now.”

The aunt is now 36.

Rupali was between jobs, staying at Asha Sadan. She has found a new job as a receptionist in a hospital in Margao, Goa’s commercial capital.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/ministry/news/sisters-near-goa-beaches-offer-children-sex-workers-brighter-options

Almost half of Myanmar risks falling into poverty by 2022: UNDP

Women and children are likely to feel the brunt of a steep increase in poverty caused by COVID-19 and February's military coup, according to the United Nations Development Programme [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]
Women and children are likely to feel the brunt of a steep increase in poverty caused by COVID-19 and February’s military coup, according to the United Nations Development Programme [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the instability following a military coup in February, could plunge almost half of Myanmar’s population into poverty, reversing economic gains made over the last 16 years, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“The ongoing political crisis will, doubtless, further compound the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, reducing incomes,” the UNDP said in a report (PDF) published on Friday.

In the organisation’s worst-case scenario, 48.2 percent of Myanmar’s population, the equivalent of about 26 million people, could be living in poverty by 2022, compared with 24.8 percent in 2017, the UNDP said.

The agency defines Myanmar’s national poverty line as those living below 1,590 kyats ($1) a day in 2017 terms.

The political crisis is likely to affect small businesses acutely, resulting in lost wages and a drop in access to food, basic services and social protection, according to the UNDP.

Women bearing the brunt

As a result, it is women and children who are expected to bear the heaviest brunt of the two crises.

“The effects of COVID-19, amplified by the effects of the overthrow of the civilian government, are likely to lead to a disproportionate increase in urban poverty.

“This is related to the fact that urban areas, where most of the income-generating activities of the near poor are, have been ground zero for the pandemic and the focus of the most severe crackdowns,” the report’s authors wrote.

Even before recent events, one-third of Myanmar’s people were living “on low levels of consumption that put them at risk of falling into poverty”, the agency said.

More than 83 percent of households have reported a drop in income since the start of 2020, according to the UNDP.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis on February 1 when the military arrested elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the ruling National League for Democracy and took power for themselves. The coup triggered a civil disobedience movement and mass protests around the country to which security forces have responded with increasing violence.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an advocacy group that has been tracking arrests and deaths, says 759 people have been killed since Aung San Suu Kyi’s government was removed. Its records show 3,461 in detention.

Food concerns

Myanmar has reported 142,800 cases of COVID-19 with 3,209 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins University. New daily cases have fallen sharply since the start of the year.

The UN’s food agency said last month that rising food and fuel prices in Myanmar since the coup risk undermining the ability of poor families to feed themselves.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said food prices were rising, with palm oil 20 percent higher in some places around the main city of Yangon since the beginning of February and rice prices up 4 percent in the Yangon and Mandalay areas since the end of February.

Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, controls large parts of the country’s economy, with interests in Myanmar’s mobile phone system, tourism, food and beverage sector and its lucrative precious stone mining industry. Foreign investors, including global clothing brands which have used Myanmar as a source of cheap labour, have also been reassessing their involvement in the country, likely putting further pressure on the economy and its workers.

https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/4/30/almost-half-of-myanmar-risks-falling-into-poverty-by-2022-undp

Dispute over COVID-19 deaths pits indigenous Brazilians against gov’t

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Indigenous Leader Sonia Guajajara of the Guajajara tribe looks on after meeting with the parliamentary front in defense of the rights of indigenous people at the chamber of deputies in Brasilia, Brazil February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

RIO DE JANEIRO, – The government agency created to protect Brazil’s indigenous people is out to destroy them, a prominent native leader said on Thursday after Funai asked the police to investigate her for fake news.

Police subpoenaed Sonia Guajajara, head of Brazil’s largest indigenous coalition APIB, at the request of the native affairs agency Funai, after she accused the government of genocide for not protecting indigenous people from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Bolsonaro’s Funai does not recognize the indigenous movement, and has no dialogue with those who diverge from the government’s position”, Guajajara said, referring to right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been in office since 2019.

“They want to end the indigenous culture in the country once and for all,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Funai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agency said in its submission to the police that it had invested 26 million reais ($4.9 million) to fight the pandemic in indigenous lands, including distributing food and setting up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands.

Funai was set up in 1967 to coordinate and implement government policies to protect the indigenous population, especially isolated and recently contacted people.

That function has been curtailed under Bolsonaro who has criticized indigenous people for having too much reservation land and advocates commercial mining on their lands. Bolsonaro named a policeman, Marcelo Xavier, to run the agency.

“Inside Funai there are many serious civil servants who are trying to do a job that corresponds to the interests of indigenous peoples,” said Guajajara.

“But Funai’s management no longer serves those interests.”

INTIMIDATION

Funai asked that the police investigate Guajajara last week for “perfidy and the crime of slander” because of APIB’s documentaries about the lethal impact of the government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis on native people.

“The biased content of fake news … reveals serious illegality. Although possible criticism is tolerated, what in fact happened was an authentic abuse of freedom of expression,” Funai wrote in its submission.

On Wednesday, a judge halted the police probe into Guajajara, saying in court documents that its main goal was to “silence political demonstrations” by APIB.

Funai is not the only government agency under Bolsonaro to be accused of turning against indigenous people that it is mandated to protect.

Sesai, the agency responsible for providing medical care to indigenous people, has come under fire for allegedly underreporting COVID-19 deaths.

While Sesai reports about 663 deaths due to COVID-19 among indigenous people, a tally by APIB shows 1,063 fatalities among the country’s 900,000 native people.

“When the pandemic started, it exposed how bad indigenous health was,” said Eriki Paiva from the Terena peoples in the centre-west state of Mato Grosso do Sul, one of the groups with the most deaths, according to APIB’s data.

“It saddens us that beyond not doing the basics, they have now used intimidation tactics against our leaders.”

Sesai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Funai has also rejected APIB’s tally.

“(The) data presented was inflated, with the intent to manipulate, almost doubling the number of deaths among indigenous people,” Funai wrote in its submission to the police.

Cristiane Juliao, a leader of the Pankararu people in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, dismissed Funai’s claim that it set up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Funai’s presence basically involved the delivery of a basic food baskets,” she said, adding her tribe set up the barriers and Funai provided equipment, transport and funding for a short while and then vanished.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210506175032-l691x/

Britain passes “life-saving” law on domestic abuse

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A woman and children cast their shadows as they stroll in the sunshine on the Southbank in London, Britain September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

LONDON, – Britain passed “life-saving” domestic abuse legislation on Thursday that campaigners say will protect millions of women, hold more abusers to account and clamp down harder on revenge porn.

About 2.4 million people, mostly women, experience domestic abuse every year, according to the government.

The legislation comes amid wider efforts to tackle the issue after lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 left many women trapped at home with violent partners.

“This is a fantastic and ground-breaking day,” Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The new law will make a huge difference to the lives of millions of domestic abuse victims, and definitely save lives.”

The act establishes a new offence of “non-fatal strangulation”, closing a loophole that campaigners say has let some abusers escape justice for choking attacks – which can cause brain damage, strokes and other serious injury.

Men who throttle their partners risk five years in prison.

The act also makes it a crime to threaten to share intimate images – or revenge porn – with a sentence of up to two years.

TRANSFORMATIONAL

Domestic abuse charities said the legislation’s explicit recognition of economic abuse as a form of domestic abuse for the first time was “transformational”.

Economic abuse, in which someone may restrict a partner’s access to money and other resources, can prevent them leaving a dangerous relationship.

The new law also stops defendants in murder trials from relying on a defence of “rough sex gone wrong”.

Campaigners said Britain was the first country to outlaw the “rough sex” defence.

The issue gained global attention following the 2018 murder in New Zealand of British backpacker Grace Millane, whose killer said she died accidentally during consensual sex.

Other new provisions in the law include imposing a legal duty on local authorities to provide shelter for abuse victims, a ban on abusers cross-examining victims in family courts and the creation of domestic abuse protection orders.

Interior minister Priti Patel hailed the new law as “long overdue”, saying in a statement it would ensure “perpetrators  of these abhorrent crimes  are brought to justice”.

The act – which applies to England and Wales – also establishes the post of domestic abuse commissioner to hold local and national government to account in their handling of an issue that affects an estimated 1.6 million women a year.

Domestic abuse charity Refuge said the legislation, while progressive in many respects, was “far from perfect” and failed to protect many migrants, who cannot access benefits and may be afraid to report abuse to police.

“This is a missed opportunity to ensure all woman experiencing abuse are protected,” said Refuge chief executive Ruth Davison.

Refuge said it was also worried about a 50-million-pound ($69.78 million) shortfall to finance shelter.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210429132610-6yg8k/

Nuns in Vietnam help tuberculosis patients get back on their feet

Huynh Thi Phung, a former tuberculosis patient, gives customers a cheery wave while she sells food on the sidewalk in Hoa Vang District of Quang Nam Province, Vietnam. (Joachim Pham)
Huynh Thi Phung, a former tuberculosis patient, gives customers a cheery wave while she sells food on the sidewalk in Hoa Vang District of Quang Nam Province, Vietnam. (Joachim Pham)

Quang Nam, Vietnam — Truong Van Lenh contracted tuberculosis from fellow inmates while he was serving a nine-year sentence for drug trafficking.

After he was released from prison in 2017, he learned that his wife and two children had sold their property in Quang Nam Province and left for other places, leaving him homeless.

His health deteriorated rapidly, and he could not integrate himself into the community, as his neighbors disrespected and kept clear of him because of his highly infectious illness and his status as an ex-convict.

In 2018, Lenh, a Buddhist, was sent to receive medical treatment at state-run Lung Hospital in Quang Tri Province in Da Nang, where he received free food daily from St. Paul de Chartres sisters and Catholic volunteers. The St. Paul de Chartres sisters are just some of the nuns from various congregations in the cities of Da Nang, Hue and Dong Ha in Central Vietnam who provide free food, emergency supplies and care for tuberculosis patients, people with HIV/AIDS, and other patients in need at public hospitals. (Local religious organizations are not allowed to run hospitals.)

“The nuns offered me 1 million dong [$43] per month within six months so that I could pay the rent after I was back on my feet. They also gave me another 2 million dong to sell lottery tickets for a living,” said Lenh, now 53, who uses a wheelchair after he lost his right leg because of complications from diabetes.

“I am over the moon now as I can earn 70,000 dong a day to put food on the table by myself, and I love my life,” he said, adding that in the past, he had attempted suicide because he saw no future.

St. Paul de Chartres Sr. Lucia Duong Thi Tam runs Binh An (Peace) Clinic in Que Son District of Quang Nam Province, at which three nuns provide free long-term treatment for 27 tuberculosis patients. Many of them have no permanent address or are homeless and have no personal papers, which means they cannot be admitted into public hospitals. Other patients include motorbike taxi drivers, lottery ticket sellers, used-item collectors, and cleaners at traditional markets.

“We have to ask for donations from benefactors to offer them food and medicine and transfer those who get worse to public hospitals,” said Tam, 55, adding that the nuns also buy public health insurance for many patients.

Since the clinic began in 2015, 135 patients have fully recovered from tuberculosis.

She said the nuns who work at parishes detect TB patients, pay them regular visits and take care of them, show them how to take medicine and make follow-up clinical examinations in time, and offer them basic food and money. When a patient dies, the sisters also attend the funeral and console relatives.

Some of the nuns in Da Nang provide free food daily to 30 patients at a public hospital who could not afford to buy food.

“We also educate local people in TB infections, how to prevent the illness and to care for patients. We tell them that TB is curable so they should love and help patients receive medical treatment early,” Tam said.

The Vietnam National Tuberculosis Control Program reported that an estimated 100,000 new TB cases are detected and given medical treatment annually, while another 50,000 new patients are undiagnosed. Approximately 12,000 people in Vietnam die each year from the disease, higher than the death toll from road accidents. Tuberculosis patients die mainly because the disease is not discovered and treated in time.

The Southeast Asian country ranks No. 11 among the 30 countries with the highest number of TB cases globally and has made a political commitment to end tuberculosis by 2030 by setting up the Commission to End Tuberculosis in December 2019.

The Vietnam National Tuberculosis Control Program said it is extremely concerned about the falling detection rates and the high rate of patients who refuse medical treatment because they cannot afford it and because of the serious effect of COVID-19.

Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Truong Son said in March that all tuberculosis patients are given free medicine by law, but patients must shoulder the financial burden of diagnosis and X-rays, other medicine, food and other costs, accounting for over 20% of their households’ annual incomes.

He said there is still widespread discrimination against tuberculosis patients, which gives patients an inferiority complex and causes them to hide their illness.

Mary Luong Thi Xuan Phuong from the ancient town of Hoi An said she caught scrofula, a form of tuberculosis, from her husband, who died of AIDS. Even though she was cured of her disease at a local hospital in 2019, she said her neighbors stayed away from her and she was rarely invited to attend weddings and death anniversary parties. Few people sat at the same table with her, and people threw away chopsticks, dishes and other items she used.

“I am given a new lease on life since local nuns paid regular visits and consoled me,” said Phuong, 42. “I attended a three-day course in tubercular prevention, basic information on TB and HIV/AIDS at their Binh An Clinic.”

Phuong, who teaches at a day care center run by St. Paul de Chartres sisters, now serves as a volunteer for the HIV/AIDS prevention program established by the Da Nang Diocese.

“I join with local nuns to teach Catholics from local parishes TB and HIV/AIDS prevention on the weekends,” she said, adding that she and her son converted to Catholicism last year.

Tam said the nuns win the hearts of local people who respect and admire their selfless service. In 2012, she and another nun had their motorbike run out of gas while they were returning to their convent from visiting a person with HIV/AIDS. A man dropped off his wife with the nuns, drove to buy gas and filled up the nuns’ gas tank. Three years later, Tam found the man in Da Nang Hospital.

“We were happy to meet him again and comforted him while he was in the hospital,” she said.

The man, who had AIDS and tuberculosis, appreciated the nuns’ care and converted to Catholicism one year later, Tam said.

“We invited a local priest who had to disguise himself as an ordinary person to administer the last sacraments to him before his death,” she said. “We treated him with tender loving care, and he responded the same. That sounded right up our street.”

She said in 2019, the nuns in Da Nang gave 57 poor people, including tuberculosis patients, vocational skills and 6 million dong each to make a living, as many of them suffered from lack of food and malnutrition.

Huynh Thi Phung, who used to smoke heavily and caught TB, said she was cured of her illness and now earns up to 100,000 dong per day selling traditional food on the sidewalk in Hoa Bac Commune, Hoa Vang District of Da Nang.

Phung, 46, said she had to collect used things from the garbage for a living after serving a three-year term in jail for being involved in a prostitution ring in 2018 and her only son was kept in a detention camp for robbery.

“I regained my dignity and have a better life today, thanks to the generous support of the nuns who treat me like their relatives,” Phung said with a smile.

St. Paul de Chartres Sr. Agatha Le Thi Bich, one of two sisters who work at Lung Hospital in Quang Tri Province, said the nuns monthly give money to 47 patients there, nine of them diagnosed with TB, to cover their hospital fees and food.

Bich, a nurse, said they also journey with outpatients and offer them psychological advice so that they can overcome their challenges and determine to pursue their treatment until their diseases are cured.

“Poor patients are reluctant to receive hospital treatment, and their diseases consequently get worse,” Bich said. “We look after them with love and patiently walk with them in treatment.”

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/ministry/news/nuns-vietnam-help-tuberculosis-patients-get-back-their-feet

Catholic groups work to feed Brazilians affected by job loss, COVID-19

People in need receive food aid in São Paulo April 14 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Carla Carniel)
People in need receive food aid in São Paulo April 14 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Carla Carniel)

Sao Paulo — As unemployment increases and COVID-19 infections surge in the country, Catholic entities in Brazil are ramping up efforts to feed the increasing number of people going hungry.

“The pandemic did not only affect those who live on the streets. It has hit even those who have homes,” Fr. Revislande dos Santos Araújo of Our Lady Consolata Parish in Boa Vista, told Catholic News Service.

The priest, who started a social project dubbed Stirring the Pot in 2015 to distribute meals to drug addicts and homeless people, now also serves meals and distributes food to Venezuelan refugees camped on the streets and to Brazilians who lost their jobs.

Back in 2015, the priest cooked and distributed the meals around the neighborhoods of Boa Vista. “In the beginning, 40 meals were made per day, but at the end of the first year, with the help of donations we were distributing 70 meals,” he said.

With the arrival of Venezuelans in 2016, he explained, the initiative became a bigger project.

“We saw that many did not make it into the shelters and set up camp around the main bus station. They often did not have food to eat, so we extended our Stirring the Pot to help them, too,” he said. “With the pandemic, we offer 1,200 to 1,500 meals per day for those who live on the streets.”

In addition to the homeless and refugees, he said, his parishioners, people with very little means, are also suffering.

“We live in a poor area; our parishioners are poor people. The majority are construction workers, cleaning ladies, etc. With the pandemic, these people lost their jobs. There was a huge increase in poverty and people frequently do not have enough to eat — something that before [the pandemic] we did not see often,” he said.

“For the Venezuelans who live in tents near the bus station, we send meals, while, for the Brazilian families, we send them food packages, so they can cook at home,” he told CNS.

However, donations are decreasing.

“Those who used to donate a kilo of beans, a kilo of rice, now are asking for donations. I try to reach out, doing live events on the internet asking for help, but there are many of my parishioners who used to help and now no longer can because they are finding it hard to put food on the table themselves,” he said.

Araújo, who teaches at the city’s public schools, recalled more than one of his students reaching out to him saying, “‘My mom has lost her job, we don’t have enough to eat at home.'”

The dwindling number of volunteers and donations are also seen in other parts of Brazil. Now, a campaign promoted by the São Paulo Archdiocese along with the charitable aid agency Caritas not only aims to collect money and food for the vulnerable but also to encourage new volunteers to step up and contribute.

“Despite the solidarity, things are getting more difficult. The people who helped are now out of a job,” said Father Marcelo Maróstica Quadro, Caritas director and pastoral coordinator of the Belém region in São Paulo.

The campaign, dubbed Animating Hope, plans to collect food and financial resources to purchase food baskets to distribute to vulnerable families.

“Hunger is a reality that goes against God’s plan,” said Quadro.

He said Caritas has mapped out 450 “points of hope,” where it collects and distributes meals and food baskets. Most of the parishes around São Paulo serve as points of hope.

At the beginning of the pandemic, he said, St. Joseph Parish distributed 40-50 food baskets per month. “Now we distribute more than 300,” he added.

With unemployment rising and food insecurity increasing, the archdiocese, through Caritas, also created a Committee to Fight Hunger and introduced a number of actions to mobilize and unite parishes and parishioners.

“There are a lot of people suffering. Let us help. Let us reach out as best as we can so that these people do not have so much suffering,” Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer said during his weekly radio show.

Other entities linked to the Catholic Church have also stepped up to help. The Brazil branch of AVSI, a Milan-based organization founded on Catholic social teaching, has run three separate programs to deal with the issue: two food basket campaigns and now a program offering meal vouchers for 500 families whose children attended a day care center funded by AVSI. With the schools closed, these children are unable to eat breakfast and lunch at the center.

“We are now trying to get the day care center reopened, because many of those children depended on those meals,” said Fabrizio Pellicelli, president of AVSI in Brazil.

Situations like these are repeated throughout the country.

“In a country like ours, everything that is planted grows,” said Quadro. “There shouldn’t be a reason for our people to go hungry. There is a lack of policies by the government to reduce food insecurity in this country.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/coronavirus/catholic-groups-work-feed-brazilians-affected-job-loss-covid-19

Migration to flee rising seas could affect 1.3 mln Bangladeshis by 2050

People make their way to a safer place before Cyclone Amphan makes its landfall in Gabura outskirts of Satkhira district, Bangladesh, May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer

DHAKA,- Bangladeshi migrants leaving the coast due to rising sea levels could trigger waves of migration across the country that will affect at least 1.3 million people by 2050, according to a new study.

A new mathematical model predicts the country’s southern regions along the Bay of Bengal will be the first impacted by sea level rise, causing displacement that would eventually affect all of the nation’s 64 districts.

Some migrants could displace existing residents, triggering further movement of people, said the study published by the American Geophysical Union, an international scientific group.

The population of Dhaka, a popular hub for migrants, is expected to shrink after an initial surge as residents seek to move away from an overburdened capital, researchers said.

With more than 600 million people at risk of being displaced by sea level rise in coastal regions worldwide in this century, researchers say their model could help countries prepare by ensuring cities are equipped to deal with an influx of migrants.

“The paper seeks to understand not only the immediate displacement due to sea level rise, but the cascading effects that their migration will trigger through the country,” co-author Maurizio Porfiri told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.

“The model will initially tell you that Dhaka is the place to go, but ultimately, as the place gets overpopulated… people will have to distribute everywhere. So every place will get a fraction of the migrants.”

Bangladesh, a country of more than 160 million, is a low-lying nation often included on lists of countries most at risk from the impacts of rising global temperatures, from more extreme storms to floods.

Last year, the nation witnessed flooding that lingered for an unusually long time and experts feared the economic impact was worsened due to job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The study’s authors say their model can be used to assess migration trends caused by any kind of environmental disaster, from droughts and wildfires to earthquakes.

“Mathematical modelling is the only way we have to ground our future decisions,” said Pietro De Lellis, an engineer at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy and the study’s lead author, in a press release.

The study’s model considers human behaviour, such as whether people are willing or able to leave home and if they later are likely to return there.

“(The study) has rightly focused on the complexity of human behaviour that is involved in the decision-making process of potential migrants,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development.

“Towns in other parts of the country, besides Dhaka, need to prepare to receive climate migrants in the future.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210428132934-jsfof/

COVID won’t respect borders – UN urges divided world to unite

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

NEW YORK, – The United Nations on Thursday urged a divided world to unite against a virus that ignores all borders, saying the pandemic could delay by a decade its goal to end global inequalities.

A new U.N. report estimated that the novel coronavirus has unleashed the worst recession in 90 years, threatening to derail its ambitious list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The goals, approved in 2015 with a 15-year deadline, aim to end hunger, gender inequality and violence against women, while expanding access to education and health care in poorer nations.

“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a statement.

“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis.”

An estimated 114 million jobs have been lost worldwide, and about 120 million people have sunk back into extreme poverty as the virus circles the globe, the report found.

The U.N. said the economic devastation has widened “already yawning” inequities, with the chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots mirrored in the vaccine rollout.

Of $16 trillion distributed in relief, only 20% was spent in developing countries, the report found, and all but nine of the 38 countries administering vaccines were developed nations.

It called on nations to contribute an estimated $20 billion to vaccinate poorer nations this year, and urged richer members to offer developing nations debt relief, investment – and hope.

“Countries must be helped to not only stay afloat financially, but to invest in their own development,” U.N. Under Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said in a statement.

It is not the first time the U.N. has said development goals are at risk in a pandemic that has prioritized short-term survival over long-term aspirations.

But the warning has taken on new urgency as cross-border rows erupt over the fairest way to vaccinate the whole world, with some countries accused of abandoning common cause to safeguard their home front.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210325174645-xw5k2/

India’s ‘Solar Man’ lights path out of poverty with clean power

Santipada Gon Chaudhuri in his office at the NB Institute of Rural Technology, Kolkata, India, in 2019. HANDOUT/Courtesy of NBIRT

KOLKATA, India, – Since he was a child, Santipada Gon Chaudhuri had sought ways to help India’s rural poor, so when the electrical engineer was invited to visit a co-worker’s home in the Himalayan village of Herma in the early 1980s, he saw his chance.

“I was appalled to see how local communities were living in darkness after sunset,” remembered Chaudhuri, 71, who then worked for the government in the northeastern state of Tripura.

“Some used kerosene lamps, but even kerosene was not always easy to get. Since I had both the skill and position to try and provide power to them, it made me act,” he said.

The villages of Tripura are located on tough, hilly terrain, where Chaudhuri realised it would be hard to put up power lines.

“But they had solar energy in abundance,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

In 1983, he used government funding to install solar panels for 70 homes, as well as running a community television and water pump – the first time anyone in the hamlet had seen electric light.

That small project sparked a career dedicated to bringing energy to people in impoverished, remote communities, a mission that earned Chaudhuri the moniker of India’s “Solar Man”.

Today, more than 100 homes and businesses in Herma are lit by an updated solar energy system, allowing villagers to be more productive while reducing their use of expensive, polluting fuels like kerosene.

“Life in the village would come to a complete standstill after sunset. But with light in our homes now, our children are studying until night,” said villager Sumoti Riyang, 33.

“Shops and business establishments remain open in the evening. We can work more. All this is generating more income for us,” she said.

In his Kolkata office, adorned with awards he has won since his first project nearly 40 years ago, Chaudhuri said he gets “great satisfaction” from seeing how solar power has changed lives in Herma, connecting residents to the modern world.

CAREER OF FIRSTS

Herma was the first tribal village in the country to gain access to solar power, and by 1989 Chaudhuri had led the installation of solar technology in nearly 40 villages across India’s northeastern states.

Four years later, he developed India’s first centralised solar power station with a distribution network on Sagar Island in the Sundarbans, home to one of the world’s largest mangrove forests, supplying 100 households through power lines.

The project was considered a breakthrough at a time when solar technology “was largely confined to laboratories and prototypes”, said Samrat Sengupta of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a nonprofit think-tank.

By 2000, more than 400,000 people in villages around the Sundarbans national park were using solar power, through a mix of mini-grids and domestic solar-power systems.

At the time, the area had the highest per-capita consumption of solar power in the world, Chaudhuri noted.

The project earned him an Ashden Award, known as the “Green Oscars”, and the Euro Solar Award from Germany.

In 2006, it also inspired India’s then-President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to invite Chaudhuri to design a captive solar unit for the presidential palace.

“Chaudhuri’s work is a classic example of empowerment of indigenous communities through solar power,” said Arun Tripathi, director general of the National Institute of Solar Energy, an autonomous body under the renewable energy ministry.

In 2009, Chaudhuri installed the country’s first grid-connected solar plant in West Bengal’s Jamuria village, a 2-megawatt (MW) project serving 5,000 families.

This was lauded as an “environmental breakthrough” because, until then, solar power had been limited to remote areas without access to electricity, said CSE’s Sengupta.

Jamuria was the first location to use solar to replace coal power in the grid, bringing clean energy into the mainstream, he said, noting it cut the amount of coal burned locally by 2,000 kg (4,400 pounds) per hour and decreased carbon emissions.

FLOATING SOLAR

Sengupta and others said Chaudhuri’s work helped pave the way for India’s National Solar Mission, launched in 2010.

The initiative, on which Chaudhuri consulted, had an initial target of producing 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar power by 2022.

Having already nearly doubled that ahead of time, India has set a new goal of 100GW.

But as its solar power expansion has gained pace, a growing population and increasing urbanisation have made finding enough land for big projects more difficult.

In response, Chaudhuri came up with India’s first floating solar power station.

In 2014, after joining the nonprofit NB Institute for Rural Technology, which he now heads, he led construction of an experimental 10-kilowatt government-funded floating solar panel on a lake in Kolkata’s New Town.

“Designing the floating structure of the panel and anchoring it in the water body were major challenges,” he said.

That project grew into a national programme that now generates more than 1,700MW of solar power from floating panels in various coastal states around the country.

Despite its progress, India’s solar push has some limitations including high capital costs, scarcity of land and the need for sunny weather, said Partha S. Bhattacharyya, former chairman of Coal India Limited, the world’s largest coal producer which is also investing in solar energy projects.

“Thermal (coal) power is reliable and consistent, due to greater grid stability,” he added.

Chaudhuri and his team are currently experimenting with solar-powered pumps that push water up to a higher storage reservoir that can then generate hydro-electricity using micro turbines, supplying villages when needed.

“The very concept of solar power has changed from simply providing lights to controlling carbon emissions,” Chaudhuri said. “It is time that we seriously think about how to leave behind a more livable world for future generations.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210416022435-cbymh/

Refugees use farm training to survive food shortages during the pandemic

Rose Geno, 30, tills her land in preparation for the next planting season, which began in March. With the skills and support she received from Sr. Lucy Akera and Salesian missionaries, she hopes to increase her harvest. Geno started farming to mitigate fo
Rose Geno, 30, tills her land in preparation for the next planting season, which began in March. With the skills and support she received from Sr. Lucy Akera and Salesian missionaries, she hopes to increase her harvest. Geno started farming to mitigate food shortages at the Palabek refugee camp in northern Uganda, amid the pandemic. (GSR photo/Doreen Ajiambo)

Palabek Refugee Camp, Uganda — It is just after midday and the sun is high up in the sky above this dusty, sprawling settlement of 55,574 people in northern Uganda. Rose Geno with her three children sit inside their grass-roofed mud hut to escape the scorching heat as she prepares a meal of corn and beans.

The 30-year-old South Sudanese refugee said her school-age kids now eat smaller meals more often after she managed to harvest enough crops during the previous season (June-November). She is among thousands of refugees who have received seeds and farming support from the Salesian missionaries and a nun to help mitigate food shortages amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My life became unbearable when the pandemic hit us,” she said. A lack of funding from international bodies reduced food rations at the camp. “We slept hungry many times because the ratio was cut by 40% at first and it was later reduced to 20%,” she said.

Geno fled from Pajok, a town in South Sudan located 10 miles from the border with Uganda, in April 2017 after fighting intensified between government forces of President Salva Kiir, and forces loyal to the former vice president, Riek Machar. She escaped with her children after her husband was killed by soldiers, walking for three days in the bush before reaching Palabek.

She says the coronavirus and the resulting ration cuts and food shortages threatened their lives more than the civil war in her young country in which more than 380,000 people have been killed and nearly four million people displaced.

“We nearly died from hunger during the peak of the pandemic but thanks to the priests and a nun who came to our rescue in our time of need,” she said.

Sr. Lucy Akera of the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Gulu said they had to act quickly to save the lives of refugees. “We distributed the little food we had in our store to refugees and we quickly realized we had to look for a long-lasting solution to hunger, which was farming,” she said.

Over 1.4 million refugees in more than 14 refugee camps across Uganda bore the brunt of the pandemic after the East African country registered its first case of COVID-19 a year ago.

Catholic groups moved swiftly to provide food, clothing and counseling to thousands of refugees. Salesian Fr. Lazar Arasu, director of Don Bosco Palabek, said his congregation gave packets of food including corns, flour, beans, rice and cooking oil to the refugees and also distributed blankets, dozens of pairs of shoes and clothes.

“When the pandemic hit the world, it came to us as a shock.We were not prepared at all. Everything was closed down and refugees were left for dead,” said Arasu, who is among the five Salesian missionaries living and working in the Palabek refugee camp. “We were forced to share our little food and other essential goods with the refugees to keep them alive amid the pandemic.”

However, Akera had a different way of tackling food shortages in the camp. With the help of the Salesian missionaries, she began providing training, tools and seeds for refugees to plant and harvest crops to support their families in the midst of the pandemic.

She and the Salesian missionaries distributed fertilizers and several hundred kilos (thousands of pounds) of beans, maize, soya beans, simsim or sesame, groundnuts and many assorted vegetable seeds such as collard greens. They also distributed tons of cassava cuttings.

“The only way we could tackle hunger during the pandemic was through farming. So we had to train and support refugees with seeds and fertilizers to plant and harvest enough crops to feed their family,” said Akera, the only nun working at the Palabek camp. She lives in a small mud hut built of sticks, mud and metal scrap. “I also did farming and I planted groundnuts, soya beans and maize. I have enough food which I share some with my neighbors who are refugees.”

Akera, who grew up in a farming family, has been able to transfer her agricultural skills to the refugees. The 58-year-old nun, who comes from Gulu town, 60 miles away from Palabek, said her calling to serve led her to work in the camp despite the hardships, though she sometimes feels lonely.

“I feel happy being in the camp though I’m lonely. No sister wants to come and live in this hardship area,” said Akera, whose congregation is in Gulu. “I was born and raised in a rural area so living in the camp for me is a normal thing.”

The East African country of more than 44 million is celebrated around the world for providing refugees with the land for shelter and agricultural use. Arasu said his congregation has been renting land from the local Ugandans for refugees who don’t have enough land for farming to help them grow enough crops to feed their families.

“I rented some farms from the hosting community. The money I used was provided by the Don Bosco missions and since children were home, they helped their parents in farming,” he said. “God was also faithful; it rained a lot and since the land was virgin land, it produced really well.”

Akera came to the camp in 2018 after the Salesian missionaries requested the Archdiocese of Gulu to ask sisters to come and help serve the people in the camp. Before the pandemic, she tried to provide hope and solidarity to refugees while helping to distribute aid. But she now has a new ministry amid the pandemic: sensitizing refugees on the importance of farming.

“My new ministry is to ensure refugees support themselves through farming because COVID-19 has taught us the biggest lesson of not relying completely on food aid distributions,” she said. “We want to keep on training them on how to plant crops and ensure they have enough harvest.” She began training refugees on farming in May 2020 after the pandemic reduced food rations for refugees. 

Every morning, Akera visits various villages within the camp to train and emphasize to refugees the importance of farming. She recently demonstrated to a group of farmers how to plan their farms from the beginning of the season up to harvest without encountering any problems.

The training involves land preparation, seed selection, planting, weed management, soil fertility management, harvesting, postharvest handling and storage, she said.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/refugees-use-farm-training-survive-food-shortages-during-pandemic