All posts by sndden

Vending machines bring safe, cheap water to Nairobi slums

An employe of community organisation Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) activates a water selling machine at a in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

NAIROBI, – In the 30 years that Josephine Muthoni has lived in Nairobi’s Mukuru slum, she has never had a steady supply of clean water.

The only way to get water was from vendors dotted around the slum, who charge exorbitant prices for the often polluted water they buy from government water points or steal straight from the municipal pipes, the 62-year-old mother of nine explained.

Muthoni said filling a 20-litre (5-gallon) jerry can cost as much as 50 Kenyan shillings ($0.45) – a potentially crippling amount in a city where the majority of slum dwellers earn less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank.

“We would sometimes walk five kilometres to get water. I thought that was how life should be until I worked for a family and saw water flowing full time from their taps,” the retired housekeeper told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The more than 600,000 residents living in one of Nairobi’s largest slums have struggled with water access for years, a problem exacerbated by frequent bouts of city-wide water rationing, which has been ongoing since 2017.

But soon, Mukuru residents will be able to fill a jerry can with clean water for as little as 50 Kenyan cents, using token-operated vending machines that the city government is installing in an effort to ease the slum’s water stress.

With the new system, residents will receive plastic tokens – similar to key fobs – that they can charge using the M-Pesa mobile money platform.

They then insert the tokens into a machine at one of the 10 water stations being set up around Mukuru and select how much water they want dispensed.

Kagiri Gicheha, an engineer at the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), which is helping develop the system, said the project is in the final stages, only awaiting the installation of the vending machines.

The dispensers, each costing 200,000 shillings, mean Mukuru residents will no longer be at the mercy of the slum’s informal, exploitative water market, Gicheha said.

“This is a way of controlling the cartels that have long been stealing water in the slums because this is an automated system that is very easy to manage,” he said.

Until the system is operational, residents can fetch clean water for free from boreholes that have been dug for the project, each of which will feed up to four water dispensers.

Since starting the project in April 2020, the city government has drilled nearly 200 boreholes across five Nairobi slums and hopes to expand to more areas depending on funding and demand, Gicheha said.

CHEAP, CLEAN, RELIABLE

Officials decided to launch the system in Mukuru after seeing the success of a similar programme run by the local nonprofit Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum.

Currently, there are 23 machines dispensing water to Kibera residents, who pay two shillings to fill a jerry can, said Johnstone Mutua, a programme officer at the grassroots group.

“The project is very efficient. Most residents now know how to use the system and we installed solar-powered lights for security at night,” said Mutua.

“This means someone can get water anytime they want.”

Maureen Adhiambo, a 28-year-old mother of three in Kibera, says the vending machines cost half of what she used to pay water vendors and finally offer her a reliable source of water.

“(Before), the queues were too long and water would come only once a week,” she said.

“Now, I can buy five 20-litre jerry cans of water per day … and there’s no queue.”

Mutua said the first attempt at setting up a water vending system was in Mathare slum in 2015.

But the machines were being fed from large tankers, not boreholes, he said, which meant during drought there was no water to fill them with – so now the machines in Mathare stand empty.

RISKY WALK FOR WATER

Fuelled by explosive population growth, demand for water in Kenya’s capital has shot up over the past decade, but broken municipal water pipes and frequent drought leave the city chronically thirsty.

While residents need more than 810,000 cubic meters daily, the city’s dilapidated water infrastructure can only supply 526,000 cubic metres, according to figures from the NCWSC.

Across Kenya, the water crisis hits hardest in slums, where nearly half the urban population lives, according to the World Bank, and where homes are not connected to the water grid.

Before the vending machine project came to Mukuru, Gideon Musyoka, an elder of one of the villages inside the slum, said the taps at the government water points rarely flowed and when they did the water was often tainted by raw sewage.

For women, the search for water was time-consuming, expensive and dangerous, exposing them to sexual assault or rape. “Women were almost getting used to being raped, even in broad daylight, as they went to water points to fetch water,” said Muthoni, the Mukuru resident.

EFFICIENCY

Jamlick Mutie, an independent water and sanitation expert working in Nairobi’s slums, applauds the water dispensers as a safe, affordable and efficient solution.

Mutie noted that at the subsidized cost of 25 shillings per cubic metre, Mukuru residents will be able to buy water for less than half what other Nairobi residents pay to get it piped into their homes.

Efforts to get clean water to the slums are especially urgent during the coronavirus pandemic, with health experts pointing to handwashing as one of the best ways to curb the spread of COVID-19, he said.

“For the slum residents, it would be a disaster without water,” he said.

The price of the water is enough to cover the costs of maintenance and electricity to run the machines, making the project sustainable, he added.

The biggest challenge, Mutie warned, is protecting the machines from the cartels who see the project as a threat to their business.

Mutua at SHOFCO said Kibera residents are tackling that problem by having volunteers guard the water stations.

To discourage tampering with the vending machine pipes, the charity built an aerial water network, suspending the pipes overhead rather than burying them underground, and is encouraging the government to do the same in Mukuru, he said.

As the people in Mukuru wait for their water vending machines to arrive, Musyoka, the village elder, said having abundant, clean water is something many of them never could have imagined.

“Seeing so much water in Mukuru slums is what we call magic. Now, we can say that people are clean and healthy,” he said. ($1 = 109.7500 Kenyan shillings)

https://news.trust.org/item/20210914025931-652om/

‘A willingness to start with ‘yes’’: How one Catholic school graduated its first student with Down syndrome

Abby Aguedelo
Pastor of St. Augustine’s, Fr. Peter Gori O.S.A. (right) and admissions director Paula O’Dea (left) hand Abby Aguedelo her diploma on graduation day./ Wendy Agudelo

Tears flowed down the faces of Abigail “Abby” Agudelo’s classmates, as earlier this year she became the first student with Down syndrome to graduate from St. Augustine’s School in Andover, Massachusetts. 

“We know other parochial schools in Massachusetts are striving to do the same today,” Abby’s mother, Wendy Agudelo, told CNA in an interview in August. “And because of Abby’s experience, other families who desire a Catholic school education for all of their children, including those containing a family member with special needs, are now looking at parochial school education as opportunistic.”

Because of her own mother’s strong Catholic faith, Wendy Agudelo had always wanted a Catholic education for all of her children. She also hoped Abby would have an academic path with “full inclusion,” and would not be placed in a classroom separate from other students. 

After Abby’s time in public preschool, however, her mother was not certain of a combination of Catholic education and full classroom inclusion.

“We noticed a divide between what we wanted for Abigail and what the school felt she should receive given her diagnosis,” she said in an email to CNA. 

It was during Agudelo’s search for a school that then-St. Augustine principal Paula O’Dea and pastor Fr. Peter Gori O.S.A. stepped into the breach, and decided that St. Augustine’s would accommodate Abby’s needs. 

“When Abby and her wonderful parents first made their inquiry to us at St. Augustine School about enrolling, the principal and I were concerned that we might not have available all that Abby would need for a successful experience,” Gori told CNA in an email. “We and Abby’s parents all agreed to give it a try and that there would be no hard feelings if things didn’t work out.” 

Gori said that Abby’s parents were “right all along” in believing that Abby would thrive at St. Augustine’s. “We received from her as much or more than she did from us,” Gori said. “It was a delight and a blessing every day and every year to have Abby at St. Augustine School.”  

Wendy Agudelo told CNA that, in general, parochial schools may not have a significant amount of resources. She noted organizations that exist to educate and support parochial schools interested in broadening their demographics. She named the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion and the FIRE Foundation as a few examples of these groups.

“Not every parochial school, or administrator for that matter, is interested in this path,” Wendy Agudelo said. “It comes with its set of challenges, but also great reward.”

She said that those who choose the path that St. Augustine’s School chose “ultimately earn the greatest return on investment.” 

“Nine years ago,” Paula O’Dea told CNA, “we didn’t have any teachers with a moderate disabilities certification. Now, we have a lot of teachers with that as their second degree, and we’ll have two full-time special ed teachers on site.” O’Dea is currently admissions director for St. Augustine’s.

O’Dea, who was the school’s principal at the time of Abby’s entrance, believes that St. Augustine’s was the only elementary school in the Archdiocese of Boston to accept a student with Down syndrome.

She told CNA that in Abby’s time at public school, her parents observed her in the corner of the classroom with a special education teacher, “not really being included in anything in the classroom.”

When Abby first arrived at the school, O’Dea said the school decided that, in order to properly live out its Catholic mission, it needed to find ways to support any student who wanted to attend. 

The school partnered with local Merrimack College to hire a student studying moderate disabilities as a subsidized, full-time teacher to support Abby. O’Dea said the school’s decision was a success, because it was affordable and effective for Abby. St. Augustine continues to have a “Merrimack Fellow” today.

O’Dea said that hiring the Merrimack Fellow was “a very small investment financially for us to have such a great outcome in the end.” She says she would recommend it as an alternative to hiring a full-time special education teacher for the classroom. 

Abby’s parents said that they stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the administration and staff throughout Abby’s schooling. They encouraged teachers at every grade level to gain more professional development and experience with special needs through local conferences and workshops. 

While working full time, both of Abby’s parents spent much of their time at St. Augustine’s volunteering at Kindergarten centers, the lunchroom, as a chaperone on numerous field trips, and as active guild members helping to run events and fundraisers.

Wendy Agudelo said that partnering and collaborating with the school “every step of the way” bore amazing results.  

“In my opinion,” Agudelo said, “it’s not about available resources as much as it is a willingness to start with ‘yes’ and work together towards a shared goal.” 

“We’re not alone and believe that the more families know, the more armed with opportunity they become,” she said. “We’re very, very fortunate to have found such great academic partners for our children, but pepper in some serious faith and a sprinkling of compassion, and nothing is impossible!” 

“Abby’s achievement is very impressive,” said Thomas Carroll, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, to CNA. “But the biggest impact is the effect she had on the entire school community.  They all were blessed to have her as a classmate or student.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/248967/a-willingness-to-start-with-yes-how-one-catholic-school-graduated-its-first-student-with-down-syndrome

Good Shepherd sisters in Mozambique minister to refugees fleeing crisis

Good Shepherd Sr. Eva Ribeiro, in white blouse, and project manager Pirai Oriente, in red T-shirt with white trim, work with displaced families from Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique. (Courtesy of Eva Ribeiro)
Good Shepherd Sr. Eva Ribeiro, in white blouse, and project manager Pirai Oriente, in red T-shirt with white trim, work with displaced families from Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique. (Courtesy of Eva Ribeiro)

Mozambique seems to be a part of the world many know little about. I certainly knew very little about the East African nation until I traveled there in 2008 as the executive director of the Hilton Fund for Sisters. Traveling from place to place, I witnessed much suffering, particularly in rural areas: lack of water, food, education and health care. At that time the country, including the sisters, were still recovering from the impact of independence from Portugal in 1975 when the government nationalized all the schools and health care centers. Sisters had lost everything and, as often happens without experienced government employees taking over the administration, the institutions began to decline sharply in quality and services.

Consequently, when they can no longer manage, such governments return the educational and health care centers to the sisters, having done little or nothing to build them up. This means the sisters must start over from scratch. Governments rarely offer financial assistance for rehabilitation. Rural areas suffer the most, as they are basically abandoned by governments that focus on city development. This seems to be one reason Cabo Delgado has become the epicenter of the national crisis involving an extremist power struggle.

Day by day, as I listened to the paltry news coverage of the tragedy going from bad to worse, I wondered if any sisters could help us understand what is happening and how they are responding to the crisis there. I eventually found the enlightening story of four Good Shepherd Sisters who are living and serving in the thick of it.

They began by describing the Cabo Delgado region in northeastern Mozambique, where insurgents are causing monumental damage and chaos. Radicalized Islamic groups have been fostering unrest and terrorism along the East African Coast of the Indian Ocean for many years. Conditions worsened in 2017, Cabo Delgado was terrorized and attacked by jihadist gangs. Cyclone Kenneth struck in 2019, exacerbating the instability of Cabo Delgado caused by al-Shabaab, Islamist militants with ties to al-Qaeda. The local people, already frustrated and angry at the government’s unwillingness to listen, began joining al-Shabaab and adding energy to the confusion and terror. 

According to the U.S. Institute of Peace, motivation might also have been fueled by the memory of Cabo Delgado as the birthplace of Mozambique’s liberation from Portuguese colonialism. The people grew weary of government corruption; police colluding with illicit gems, wildlife and drugs; human rights abuses; and ancestral land grabs for foreign interests. Radicalized groups have occupied strategic areas of the north, where gas and oil fields have been recently discovered. 

Already, nearly 800,000 people, particularly women and children, have left the Cabo Delgado area — some for neighboring countries; those who choose to stay in Mozambique, went to  Nampula, the country’s third largest city just to the south.

Four Good Shepherd sisters came to Mozambique in 1997 and to Nampula province in 2002 at the invitation of the local bishop. Later, to allow young sisters to study in local universities, they established a house in Nampula town, where some moved to continue their education. The sisters belong to the Angola/Mozambique Good Shepherd unit, citizens of two of the six Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa. Upon arrival in the Nampula region, they settled in Namaponda, a small, rural town that grew as families moved from remote areas.

The sisters began searching for the best way to address the needs of families marginalized by lack of employment and education. They eventually set up an adult literacy program, an informal day school and nutrition program for the children in the neighborhood of Serra da Mesa on the periphery of Nampula. The primary Good Shepherd focus is always on women and children, particularly those marginalized, in poor health, abject poverty and vulnerable to trafficking.

Since 2020, the sisters have been engaged in limited ministry there because of COVID-19, but at the end of 2020 they joined efforts assisting refugees in camps on the outskirts of Nampula town. They began by distributing water, food and medicine. Many family members were traumatized from witnessing parents, siblings and relatives raped, tortured or killed and disappeared. 

The sisters, who were not trained, referred people to international NGOs and government ministries. As the crisis grew, the U.N. named it a “Children’s Crisis” because so many children in the camps had no idea where their parents or family members were.

After months of struggling, and overwhelmed as the numbers of refugees and displaced people increased daily, the sisters organized a team of lay mission partners to work with them. With funds from the Good Shepherd International Foundation in Rome, they purchased medicine, water and food, as well as local materials to build temporary shelters and replace roofs on houses. They also set about monitoring the most vulnerable, settled families — those who have been in the camps for many months. They organized home visits and education in hygiene, health and agriculture, giving the residents seeds and gardening implements to improve their diets and nutrition. Fifty-three percent of the people suffer from malnutrition, compared with the national average of 43%, and the illiteracy rate of those arriving is about 67%. This rate confirms that most are from rural areas, where educational opportunities are still minimal, as I witnessed in 2008.

The sisters lament that, even with aid coming into the area, there is not enough drinking water, food or sanitary facilities. Without access to medicines, diseases spread quickly, including cholera and COVID-19. HIV/AIDS is a persistent problem, its management made difficult because of food insecurity. Antiviral medicines do not work without proper nutrition. I remember the rising incidence of HIV in that 2008 visit, and now these same problems are plaguing the people again. As people are forced to move about, the disease will only flourish.

Sisters are also concerned about trafficking, which finds fertile ground in the camps. People struggle to survive and listen to false promises of jobs to provide income for their families. The sisters are working hard to find ways to keep this pandemic under control by staying in contact with families who are vulnerable. There seems to be no end in sight for this terrible situation. How does the country get others to help as hope lags?

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/religious-life/blog/good-shepherd-sisters-mozambique-minister-refugees-fleeing-crisis

Environmental threats ‘greatest challenge to human rights’: UN

Human rights such as access to water are increasingly under threat by environmental 'threat multipliers' [Mike Hutchings/Reuters]
Human rights such as access to water are increasingly under threat by environmental ‘threat multipliers’ [Mike Hutchings/Reuters]

Environmental threats are worsening conflicts worldwide and will soon constitute the biggest challenge to human rights, the United Nations has warned.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday climate change, pollution, and nature loss are severely affecting human rights, while countries across the globe fail to take the necessary action.

“The interlinked crises of pollution, climate change and biodiversity act as threat multipliers, amplifying conflicts, tensions and structural inequalities, and forcing people into increasingly vulnerable situations,” Bachelet said.

“As these environmental threats intensify, they will constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights of our era.”

The comments came as part of a global update delivered by Bachelet at the opening session of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The former Chilean president said environmental threats were already “directly and severely impacting a broad range of rights, including the rights to adequate food, water, education, housing, health, development, and even life itself”, hurting the poorest nations the hardest.

The UN rights chief cited “murderous climate events”, including the fires in Siberia and California, and floods in China, Germany and Turkey. Bachelet warned severe droughts could additionally force millions of people into misery, hunger and displacement.

Addressing the environmental crisis is therefore “a humanitarian imperative, a human rights imperative, a peace-building imperative and a development imperative”.

“It is also doable,” she added.

Bachelet’s office is pushing for more ambitious climate commitments at the 12-day COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, set to begin on October 31.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic offering an opportunity to focus on environment-friendly projects, “this is a shift that unfortunately is not being consistently and robustly undertaken” because of the failure on the part of member states to fund and implement commitments made under the Paris climate accords.

“We must set the bar higher – indeed our common future depends on it,” the UN rights chief said.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/13/environment-to-become-biggest-challenge-to-human-rights-un

Air pollution is slashing years off the lives of billions, report finds

Smoggy conditions in New Delhi
Smoggy conditions in New Delhi. India is worst affected country, with the average citizen dying six years early. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Air pollution is cutting short the lives of billions of people by up to six years, according to a new report, making it a far greater killer than smoking, car crashes or HIV/Aids.

Coal burning is the principal culprit, the researchers said, and India is worst affected, with the average citizen dying six years early. China has slashed air pollution in the last seven years, but dirty air is still cutting 2.6 years from its people’s lifespan.

Fossil fuel burning is causing air pollution and the climate crisis, but nations have much greater power to cut dirty air within their own borders. The climate crisis is now also adding to air pollution by driving wildfires, completing a vicious circle, the scientists said.

The team said recent events had illustrated the different futures possible depending on whether governments act or not. Coronavirus lockdowns cut pollution, revealing the Himalayas to some Indian city dwellers, while wildfires in the western US caused serious pollution on the other side of the continent in New York City.

“Air pollution is the greatest external threat to human health on the planet, and that is not widely recognised, or not recognised with the force and vigour that one might expect,” said Prof Michael Greenstone at the University of Chicago. Greenstone and colleagues developed the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which converts air pollution levels into their impact on life expectancy.

The average global citizen loses 2.2 years of life with today’s levels of air pollution and, if nothing changes, that adds up to 17bn lost years, Greenstone said. “What else on the planet is causing people to lose 17bn years of life?”

“Furthermore, we’re not just letting it happen, we’re actually causing it,” he said. “The most striking thing is that there are big countries where, effectively, a combination of the government and [societal] norms are choosing to allow people to live really dramatically shorter and sicker lives.” He said switching to cleaner energy and enforcing air quality measures on existing power plants have cut pollution in many countries.

The report estimated the number of additional years of life people would gain if air pollution levels in their country were reduced to World Health Organization guidelines. In India, the figure is 5.9 years – in the north of the country 480 million people breathe pollution that is 10 times higher than anywhere else in the world, the scientists said. Cutting pollution would add 5.4 years in Bangladesh and Nepal, and 3.9 years in Pakistan.

In central and west Africa, the impacts of particulate pollution on life expectancy are comparable to HIV/Aids and malaria, but receive far less attention, the report said. For example, the average person in the Niger delta stands to lose nearly six years of life, with 3.4 years lost by the average Nigerian.

China began a “war against pollution” in 2013 and has reduced levels by 29%. This is adding an average of 1.5 years on to lives, assuming the cuts are sustained, the scientists said, and shows rapid action is possible.

“Coal is the source of the problem in most parts of the world,” said Greenstone. “If these [health] costs were embedded in prices, coal would be uncompetitive in almost all parts of the world.”

Fossil gas is significantly less polluting than coal and Japan said in June that it would offer $10bn in aid for energy decarbonisation projects in southeast Asia, including gas power stations. But gas burning still drives global heating and Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief, said on Sunday: “Let’s be clear, gas is not an alternative to coal and nor is it a transition fuel. Investments in new gas must stop immediately if carbon neutrality is to be reached by 2050.”

The AQLI report is based on research comparing the death rates of people living in more and less polluted places, with heart and lung problems being the largest source of early deaths. The analysis is based on small particle pollution, but is likely to include the effects of other air pollutants as these all tend to be high in the same locations. The estimates of air pollution around the world were derived from satellite data at 3.7-mile (6km) resolution.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/01/air-pollution-is-slashing-years-off-the-lives-of-billions-report-finds

Almost a third of world’s tree species face extinction: Report

General view of a tract of the Amazon jungle which burns as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Apui, Amazonas State, Brazil August 11, 2020 [File: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]
General view of a tract of the Amazon jungle which burns as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Apui, Amazonas State, Brazil August 11, 2020 [File: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

Almost a third of the world’s tree species are at risk of extinction, while hundreds are on the brink of being wiped out, according to a new report.

The landmark study, published by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) on Wednesday, said some 17,500 tree species – or 30 percent of the total – are at risk of extinction, while 440 species have fewer than 50 specimens left in the wild.

Overall the number of threatened tree species is double the number of threatened mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles combined, the report said.

“This report is a wake up call to everyone around the world that trees need help,” BGCI Secretary-General Paul Smith said in a statement.

Among the most vulnerable trees are species including magnolias and dipterocarps – which are commonly found in Southeast Asian rainforests. Oak trees, maple trees and ebonies also face threats, the report said.

Trees help support the natural ecosystem and are considered vital for combating global warming and climate change. The extinction of a single tree species could prompt the loss of many others.

“Every tree species matters – to the millions of other species that depend on trees, and to people all over the world,” Smith added.

Thousands of varieties of trees in the world’s top six countries for tree-species diversity are at risk of extinction the report found. The greatest single number is in Brazil, where 1,788 species are at risk.

The other five countries are Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Colombia and Venezuela.

The top three threats facing tree species are crop production, timber logging and livestock farming, the report said, while climate change and extreme weather are emerging threats.

At least 180 tree species are directly threatened by rising seas and severe weather, the report said, especially island species such as magnolias in the Caribbean.

Though mega-diverse countries see the greatest numbers of varieties at risk of extinction, island tree species are more proportionally at risk.

“This is particularly concerning because many islands have species of trees that can be found nowhere else,” the report added.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/1/a-third-of-worlds-trees-are-at-risk-of-extinction-says-report

Sisters continue a mission of justice and peace, despite danger

A family is pictured sitting near a damaged home after an attack by suspected members of the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency, Nov. 1, 2018, in Bulabulin, Nigeria. (CNS/Reuters/Kolawole Adewale)
A family is pictured sitting near a damaged home after an attack by suspected members of the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency, Nov. 1, 2018, in Bulabulin, Nigeria. (CNS/Reuters/Kolawole Adewale)

Life in Nigeria is better experienced than described. A country in West Africa with a population of about 219,000,000, Nigeria has a Christian majority in the east and south, a Muslim majority in the north, and both Christians and Muslims in the west. It is not news anymore that life in Nigeria is as unsafe for its citizens as it is for foreigners. At one time a country with some of the happiest and most religious people in the world, it is currently one of the most terrorized nations on the face of the earth: and this is where the religious sisters witness to the Golden Rule, on a daily basis, without counting the cost.

Equipped with spiritual armor, the sisters traverse the country to strengthen the populace, in spite of physical dangers. In the past, not many sisters were seen in Nigeria engaging in works that would have had a place in the limelight, but a vocation boom has multiplied the number of religious congregations and institutes in the country. Today, sisters are everywhere. Their mission: eloquently advocating for peace, conscientiously cleaning wounds, and courageously wiping the faces of impoverished and traumatized masses who have been turned into refugees in their own country, thus united in hardship. Justice and peace are the watchwords of these sisters.

I have been reflecting on how religious sisters/nuns — women who profess the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience — participate in the daily work of peace and justice in Nigeria, to strengthen their resilience in the work of evangelization. Once chosen and called, no one who looks back is worthy of the kingdom (Luke 9:62), and our experiences as sisters in Nigeria, I believe, will be an encouragement to others in other parts of the world.

Corruption has robbed our country of good leadership, impoverished the people, destroyed social amenities and infrastructures, and promoted and empowered terrorists’ activities that are violating human rights and rendering many homeless, orphaned and widowed. The recent events of the #EndSars protest in the country is just a tip of the iceberg of brutality which is producing victims who need the attention of sisters in many situations.

As every sector is endangered, the lives of the sisters also are in perpetual danger, yet they go out daily to give hope to the people all over the country in schools, orphanages, civic centers, clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, home visitations, and camps for people who are displaced.

I am still thinking about Sister Henrietta Alokha of Bethlehem Girls College, Lagos, who was killed when a pillar fell on her as she searched for her trapped students, after an explosion leveled their school last year.

Due to insecurity all over the country, the bandits, kidnappers, herdsmen, and Boko Haram activities know no bounds. The fate of sisters engaging in apostolates in every corner of the nation is wrapped in uncertainty.

I remember one example of some sisters working in a diocese in western Nigeria. For years they have been agents of security and peace in the area, where they run a diocesan school. The school has been set on fire three times by parents from an “untouchable tribe,” whose children were sent home because of their refusal to pay school fees; not that they could not afford it, but because they felt impunity. Sisters have continued teaching there for the sake of others who also need education. Their perseverance and undaunting spirit always calm the residents of the area.

When I was serving as principal of a school in the north, I watched very traumatized students struggle with perpetual anxiety because of religious differences that led to gunshots and the raiding of churches, schools and homes by terrorists. Here, the sisters organized forums for parents to discuss our common goals for the students’ welfare and their positive mental health.

Sisters have also joined our voices in calling for an end to incessant killings in the country, justice for victims and equity for all.

Again, our identifying with the people paves the way to acceptance and collaboration. There is a high acceptance of the sisters among Muslims. They especially appreciate the sisters’ habits, which indicate — “we come in peace” — and endear them to the people. Bishops in the north are leveraging this acceptance and are using more sisters in evangelization in the dioceses.

Sisters in the medical field take mobile clinics to very remote settlements, to provide as much help as they are allowed to give to the numerous young mothers who are married off very young due to religious belief in early marriage. Such opportunities are used to instruct the women on topics not prejudicial to religion, to maintain peace and harmony. Many sisters work with displaced persons in camps and use the opportunity to give them hope.

In addition, some sisters engage in advocacy for the vulnerable victims of human traffickers. They, the sisters, go from school to school, to town gatherings, markets and village settings, giving enlightenment programs and training people on various skill acquisitions to develop self-worth and self-confidence, and reduce the chances of being exploited.

Other sisters take in girls with unwanted pregnancies, nurture them to term, and train them in skills for motherhood, thus helping to reduce the rate of abortion. Some get involved in ecumenism and interreligious dialogue programs; since sisters’ integrity is not in question, they broker peace and harmony wherever they are. Trust and confidence in the sisters is the only key that opens the door allowing them access to all these places.

Therefore, adorned in their religious habits, sisters work for and among all classes of people; among Christians and non-Christians, in churches and in civic centers, in camps and villages, in schools, clinics and hospitals — anywhere there are human beings in the country, regardless of creed — giving love, offering hope and encouraging fervent faith to drive out fears.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/ministry/column/sisters-continue-mission-justice-and-peace-despite-danger

Slaves to deforestation: Labor abuses fuel Brazil’s Amazon destruction

Brazilian labor inspectors and police find workers in slavery-like conditions in the makeshift camp where they were living while building structures with illegally logged timber, in the state of Para, Brazil, June 25, 2021. Handout/Magno Riga

RIO DE JANEIRO, – When labor inspectors arrived in a rural area of the Brazilian Amazon state of Para in late June, they expected to rescue illegal loggers working in slavery-like conditions. But the trees were already cut down and the loggers gone.

Instead, the officials from Brazil’s anti-slavery mobile enforcement group found four men and a boy of 15 building fences and cattle sheds nearby with the illegal timber, on the orders of a local farmer who kept them in a ramshackle camp.

“They had no water, they had no bathrooms,” said Magno Riga, the inspector in charge of the rescue. “They told us they had never been in such a precarious condition.”

Deforestation surged in Brazil after right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, giving a green light to mining and agriculture in protected parts of the Amazon and weakening environmental enforcement agencies.

But while the forest loss itself sparked international outcry among foreign governments and the public, little attention has been paid to the labor abuses underpinning the practice, legal specialists told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Historically, Para is the state where workers are most often found in slavery-like conditions, accounting for at least 13,259 of a total of 56,000 people found across Brazil since 1995.

The state is also a hot-spot for deforestation, topping the list for Amazon region states since 2006, government data shows.

“The relationship (between deforestation and slavery) is permanent,” said Lys Sobral Cardoso, who leads anti-slavery efforts at Brazil’s Labor Prosecutor’s Office, an independent body of public officials.

“It has been that way for 20 to 30 years,” she added.

CATTLE AND MINES

While there is no hard data on deforestation and slave labor, more than 1,324 workers have been rescued from slavery-like conditions while felling wood from native forests since 1995, said Mauricio Krepsky, head of the government’s Division of Inspection for the Eradication of Slave Labor.

But there are likely many more such cases going undetected, said Krepsky, as inspectors find it hard to get information and rescue workers in remote areas where most deforestation occurs.

“Many workers do not report (their employers) for fear of not getting more work or even of being murdered,” he said.

In 2019, when deforestation jumped, 12 workers were rescued in Para and 17 in Roraima, both Amazon states, with several more rescues carried out since.

Traditionally, unscrupulous farmers have used slave labor to clear land for cattle, which feeds Brazil’s powerful meat-packing industry – but recently mining is also attracting attention from the authorities as a driver of deforestation.

“We do not have consolidated data saying that there is deforestation in all (illegal) mining areas, but in all cases in which I worked, there was deforestation,” said Cardoso, who has worked on about 20 such cases.

As illegal logging and gold mining – both highly profitable industries – have expanded in the Amazon, labor officials have stepped up efforts to tackle the slavery issue.

In 2018, Brazil set up the Labor Prosecutor’s Office to fight abusive working conditions in illegal mines.

On July 28 this year, more than 100 federal police officers drove to a farm in Para, near the city of Ourilandia, to investigate reports of a huge illegal gold mining operation.

“The whole area was deforested illegally,” said labor prosecutor Edelamare Melo, who took part in the raid.

During the operation, federal police arrested six men found responsible for the illegal mining and apprehended machinery. Melo interviewed about 50 workers who were left in the mine but many others fled as soon as they saw the police arrive.

Besides living in flimsy sheds without walls, the workers had no protective gear and drank water left over from the mining process, which Melo said was likely contaminated by mercury.

“All this forms the conditions for slave labor,” she added.

Slavery in Brazil is defined as forced labor but also includes degrading work conditions, long hours posing a health risk or work that violates human dignity.

NO ALTERNATIVES

Three workers from the raided illegal gold mine were sent to a halfway house for rescued slaves in Maraba, in Para state, run by the Comissao Pastoral da Terra (CPT), a Catholic charity that has pioneered anti-slavery efforts in Brazil.

Like most workers rescued from activities linked to deforestation, they were from neighboring states with few employment opportunities, said Geuza Morgado from the CPT.

“We’ve had cases of people being rescued for a second or third time,” said Morgado. “The standard story is that in their towns there are no jobs, so they need to migrate.”

The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, the CPT and Para’s State Commission for the Eradication of Slavery (Coetrae-PA) have all run programs among workers to raise awareness of their rights and slave labor in Para and neighboring states.

But the impact is limited due to a dearth of other job opportunities, said Leila Silva, a social activist in Para and Coetrae-PA member from 2013 to 2020.

“They don’t have access to an alternative,” said Silva. “To break (the cycle) we need effective public policies.”

States and cities should offer job training to rescued workers so they can build a better life, she said.

“Some want to study, but they have no access to a school. So they go back to the slavery cycle,” she explained.

Riga, who rescued the four men and the teenager in Para, sees little chance of a brighter future for them and others trapped in similar slave-like conditions.

“There’s a huge demand for this sort of work, and they live off of it,” he said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210823120004-rbvx7/

Indian states preparing for next COVID wave focus on children

Children wearing protective masks wait to enter the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus railway station, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mumbai, India, April 14, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni

MUMBAI, – Several Indian states are building facilities with more paediatric beds, plus oxygen, due to concern that children returning to school without being vaccinated will be among the most vulnerable during a third wave of coronavirus infections.

Health administrators have taken heed of trends in the United States, where a record number of children have been hospitalised as the coronavirus Delta variant, first found in India, has surged through unvaccinated populations.

During a second wave of infections in India that peaked in April and May, hundreds of thousands of people died for want of oxygen and medical facilities, and now there are concerns that another third wave will gather during the winter months.

“We don’t know how the virus will behave, but we cannot afford to be unprepared this time around,” Suhas Prabhu, who heads the Paediatric Task Force in the big western state of Maharashtra, said.

“No mother should have to run around looking for a hospital bed when her child is sick.”

The Maharashtra government has stockpiled medicines, and built facilities for additional pediatric beds and oxygen provisions in new centres in Mumbai and Aurangabad.

Built on empty stretches of land or in re-purposed stadiums, the Mumbai facilities have a total of 1,500 pediatric beds, most of them with oxygen.

“We can upgrade this capacity to double if needed,” Suresh Kakani, a senior official with Mumbai’s civic body said.

In neighbouring Gujarat, authorities have set up 15,000 pediatric oxygen beds, health commissioner Jai Prakash Shivahare said.

India provides vaccines to people above the age 18. Most vaccines administered in India are made by AstraZeneca Plc , while shots produced by local manufacturer Bharat Biotech are also being used.

Another local firm Zydus Cadilla and Bharat Biotech are separately testing vaccines for children but the results are not expected until the year end.

Meantime, schools in at least 11 of India’s 28 states have opened after more than a year of closures, raising worries these could become breeding grounds for transmission of the virus.

As of March 2021, less than 1 pct of India’s coronavirus deaths were in the under 15 age group, according to the health ministry, and officials say the severity of the disease in this age group has been minimal so far.

Epidemiologists say there is no evidence to show that the Delta variant or any other mutations affect children more than other parts of the population.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210819101527-ngfhj/

Sisters join ranks of hospital volunteers in Vietnam’s COVID epicenters

Women and men religious arrive on Aug. 20 at Minh Tam Hotel, where they will stay while serving COVID-19 patients at local hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (Joachim Pham)
Women and men religious arrive on Aug. 20 at Minh Tam Hotel, where they will stay while serving COVID-19 patients at local hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (Joachim Pham)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam — Hundreds of women and men religious in Ho Chi Minh City and two provinces in south Vietnam badly hit by the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 have voluntarily joined front-line forces for the fourth time in two months to take care of patients at hospitals and in isolated places.

On Aug. 20, 115 Catholics and Buddhists in the Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese set off to work at hospitals for COVID-19 patients in Ho Chi Minh City. They follow the three previous waves of 260 religious volunteers who ministered to local hospitals for one to two months beginning July 22, Aug. 11-12, and Aug. 16.

Most of volunteers are sisters, and many will serve only one month so they can return to work for their day care centers as the new school year starts in September. The volunteers will quarantine for two weeks before returning to their convents.

This time, seven Catholic priests and 85 religious from 14 congregations of women religious and 10 congregations of men religious based in the city were received at Minh Tam Hotel, where they will stay for one month while they work at the COVID-19 Resuscitation Hospital in Thu Duc.

Dalat Lovers of the Holy Cross Sr. Mary Bui Thi Bich Huyen said she and four other sisters from her convent will join the front-line workers. They each have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We feel we have an absolute duty to work with other people to care for patients as all of us are God’s children,” Huyen said.

The 41-year-old nun said they are nursery teachers and have no professional skills in health care, but “we can give patients our tender care, emotional support and prayers as they have no loved ones by their side. We pick up this chance to bring God’s love to all people we serve.”

Phan Kieu Thanh Huong, vice chairman of the city’s Fatherland Front, an umbrella organization of the communist government, said she greatly appreciated local Catholic volunteers who bravely sacrifice themselves to look after patients and help reduce health care providers’ workloads.

Huong said the conditions at the hospitals are not as good as the religious’ convents and monasteries, so they have to try their best to cooperate with other people to provide good care for patients and push back the pandemic.

As of Aug. 25, Ho Chi Minh City and the provinces of Binh Duong and Dong Nai, the country’s epicenters of the contagious delta variant, have recorded 289,084 infections and 8,395 deaths among the country’s 381,363 cases and 9,349 deaths since the first cases were detected on April 27, according to the Ministry of Health.

Dr. Le Anh Tuan, deputy director of the COVID-19 Resuscitation Hospital, expressed his deep gratitude to the archdiocese for sending another group of religious volunteers to the hospital.

Tuan praised the previous religious volunteers for their tremendous enthusiasm supporting patients and medical staff.

“The hospital would fail to operate effectively without volunteers,” he said.

He said the hospital will offer the best and safest conditions it can to volunteers so they can bring real health benefits to patients. The volunteers will be tested for COVID-19 and train in basic medical care skills before they are sent to the hospital. Those who have not been vaccinated will get vaccines, and the volunteers will be trained in how to protect themselves from infection.

Mary Queen Sr. Teresa Mary Nguyen Thi Hong Hue said she and five other sisters had worked for just three hours at a hospital for COVID-19 patients as part of the first wave of volunteers in late July before they were put in quarantine after they were told they had contracted the virus. However, health officials later apologized for giving them wrong results: They did not have COVID-19.

Hue said they registered to serve at the COVID-19 Resuscitation Hospital for one month this time.

“We eagerly work with others to bring God’s love to patients who have no relatives by their side,” said Hue, who works as a nurse at a day care center run by her congregation. She also takes care of elderly sisters.

Hue said patients in hospitals are too weak to look after themselves. Many are put on ventilators and cannot talk.

“Volunteers in full protective gear are assigned to feed serious patients through tubes, wipe their bodies, change diapers and sheets, clean facilities, collect waste and help medical workers treat patients,” she said. “We show Catholic patients how to make a sign of the cross, encourage them to recite prayers and pray for dying ones.”

“We are told that we face high risk of infection and can die, but we trust in the Divine Providence and believe God protects us,” Hue said. “This is a great opportunity for us to bear witness to Christian values among people in misery.”

On Aug. 20, Salesian Fr. Joseph Mary Tran Hoa Hung, who oversees all orders, societies and associations based in the archdiocese, said 352 priests, nuns and brothers have been sent to serve three local hospitals since July 22 at the city’s request.

Hung said that 87 of them were put in quarantine on Aug. 23 for two weeks before they return to work at their convents.

Hung said the outbreak of the delta variant is still raging in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s commercial hub, so local health authorities sought help from the archdiocese. The city faces a severe lack of medical staff working with COVID-19 patients because of the number of people with the virus.

He said Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang called on local congregations to continue taking part in this charitable activity. He said local sisters, brothers, seminary candidates and novices between the ages of 20 and 50 are encouraged to spend one month helping COVID-19 patients.

Fr. Joseph Dao Nguyen Vu, who represents Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese, and the city’s authorities and health officials welcomed the religious volunteers. Vu said the religious who have been assigned to local hospitals graciously take on a high risk of infection to work in dangerous places and serve coronavirus victims.

“This is an excellent opportunity for us to show our creative vigor, love and care to medical workers and patients,” he said. “What we have are our soft hearts and God’s strength.”

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/sisters-join-ranks-hospital-volunteers-vietnams-covid-epicenters