A shepherd has been hailed as a hero in China after it emerged that he saved six stricken runners during an ultramarathon in which 21 other competitors died.
Zhu Keming was trending on Weibo on Tuesday, three days after a 100km (60-mile) cross-country mountain race in the north-western province of Gansu turned deadly in freezing rain, high winds and hail.
The incident triggered outrage and mourning in China, as questions swirled over why organisers apparently ignored warnings about the incoming extreme weather.
Zhu was grazing his sheep on Saturday around lunchtime when the wind picked up, the rain came down and temperatures plunged, he told state media.
He sought refuge in a cave where he had stored clothes and food for emergencies but while inside spotted one of the race’s 172 competitors and checked to see what was wrong because he was standing still, apparently suffering cramps.
Zhu escorted the man back to the cave, massaged his freezing hands and feet, lit a fire and dried his clothes.
Four more distressed runners made it into the cave and told the shepherd others were marooned outside, some unconscious.
Zhu headed outside once more and, braving hail and freezing temperatures, reached a runner lying on the ground. He carried him towards the shelter and wrapped him in blankets, almost certainly saving his life.
“I want to say how grateful I am to the man who saved me,” the runner, Zhang Xiaotao, wrote on Weibo.
“Without him, I would have been left out there.”
Zhu has been feted in China for his selfless actions, but the shepherd told state media that he was “just an ordinary person who did a very ordinary thing”.
Zhu rescued three men and three women, but regrets that he was unable to do more to help others who reportedly succumbed to hypothermia.
“There were still some people that could not be saved,” he said. “There were two men who were lifeless and I couldn’t do anything for them. I’m sorry.”
The tragedy has thrown a renewed spotlight on the booming marathon and running industry in China, with authorities ordering organisers of events to improve safety.
According to the Paper in Shanghai, five cross-country, marathon or other running races have been cancelled at short notice.
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.
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.”
Quezon City, Philippines — Jane Ollivier lost her parents by the age of 10. For five years, she bounced around between various relatives before she entered the School of Life, a residential program for teenage girls in metropolitan Manila run by the Missionaries of Mary.
“I wasn’t treated as a child who needed help, but as a member of a family,” she said. “I found the care of a family that I was looking for.”
In her three years in the program, Ollivier earned an education degree. She taught school for a year before returning to the School of Life as the home life officer to help other girls learn to be self-sustaining.
The sisters “gave me a foundation of what real life was like,” said Ollivier, now 30.
The School of Life is one of the central programs of Association Compassion Asian Youth, or ACAY. For more than 20 years, the association has focused on providing the support, skills and structure to change the lives of troubled teens and young adults in the Philippines.
The School of Life, founded in 2000, provides a home for around 20 girls between the ages of 14 and 21, many of whom were abused. The program helps them with school or vocational training and teaches practical life skills to help the girls become self-sustaining, such as budgeting and managing a house, planning meals and shopping. The girls also can earn money by doing administrative tasks for the program and making and selling crafts.
The Second Chance program for teen boys who are in detention centers began in 2002 and also emphasizes personal development, such as through anger-management classes, and vocational training to enable participants to get jobs in construction and other skilled trades once they are released from detention.
ACAY is the brainchild of Sr. Sophie Renoux, who prefers to be known as Sr. Sophie de Jésus. In 1995, the French sister heard a call to help children in the Philippines after she participated in World Youth Day in Manila as a member of the Community of the Beatitudes. She moved to the Philippines from France two years later.
There, she found few programs to help teens, so she and Sr. Edith Fabian, a Hungarian sister Sister Sophie knew through the Community of the Beatitudes, founded Association Compassion Asian Youth in 1997. Over the years, they were joined by Sr. Laetitia Gorczyca from Poland and Sr. Rachel Myriam Luxford from New Zealand, who were also members of the Community of the Beatitudes. Together, they founded the Missionaries of Mary, a diocesan community, in 2007.
Now, the programs are models for other organizations in the Philippines as well as similar programs in other countries. A Second Chance program began in Marseille, France, in 2014. Members of a nongovernmental organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo have welcomed ACAY staff in Kinshasa for training and have gone to the Philippines to find aspects of the School of Life to incorporate into its program for teenage and young women.
Girls are referred by nongovernmental organizations and detention centers or after they age out of other social service programs; boys are referred through social workers, counselors and other staff at the detention centers. After they leave the program, the women tend to work at offices or as teachers or nurses, and the men become carpenters or entrepreneurs or work in the field of social development. Most alumni return to speak with the young men and women still active in the program.
A caring, family-like atmosphere is fundamental for the teenagers, Sister Sophie said. The sisters, staff and volunteers offer encouragement, counseling and support.
“Emotionally, I had people I could lean on,” Ollivier said. “The sisters gave me that motherly care I was looking for. They’re not just there to give you the basic needs, but they are there to give you everything that you need to empower you as a woman.”
Raymart Montinola credits the sisters with helping him change his life. He was in a detention center at age 18 when a social worker referred him to the Second Chance program.
“I felt hopeless,” he said. “I had no skills. I couldn’t get a job.”
The sisters helped him get an apprenticeship in furniture-making. When he was inspired to start his own business, the sisters loaned him money for machinery and helped him find clients. Now in business for more than a year, he is supporting his wife, who was in the School of Life program, and their two children.
“I learned a lot, and I’m thankful because they’re still there, even if I’m not in any program now,” said Montinola, now 30. The sisters “continued to give me opportunities, give me wings so I could fly.”
CNA Staff, – Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the start of the Syrian war, the Catholic charity Caritas has launched a campaign to help children in Syria with much needed medical, humanitarian, and educational resources.
March 15 marks the grim anniversary of 10 years of war in Syria. The World Bank estimates that the country has suffered at least $197 billion worth of infrastructure damage during the conflict.
“Syrian children have known nothing but war,” Caritas Internationalis states on its website.
The charity’s “Tomorrow is in our hands” campaign seeks to bolster educational opportunities for Syrian children after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed 50% out of the education system.
An estimated 2.45 million Syrian children were already not attending school at the end of 2019, according to the charity. Now, 2 in 3 children in the country are out of school.
“The lack of access to education by Syrian children risks having a devastating impact on the future of the country. The education sector is in dire need of resources, and donors should fund interventions designed to lift families out of poverty,” it states.
Caritas is seeking to provide meals in line with international nutrition indicators for children at schools and to launch child oriented workshops to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.
Eight in 10 people in Syria live below the poverty line with an estimated 11.1 million people in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, including 4.7 million people in acute need in 2020. Children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and the elderly are the most at risk.
The Syrian conflict began when demonstrations sprang up across the country protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president and leader the country’s Ba’ath Party. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.
The civil war has been fought among the Syrian regime and a number of rebel groups. The rebels include moderates, such as the Free Syrian Army; Islamists such as Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State; and Kurdish separatists.
Russia and Iran have been supportive of the Syrian regime, while western nations have favored some rebel groups.
Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Vatican’s diplomat in Syria for the past 13 years, has said that after nearly a decade of war, the Syrian people had now been hit with a “poverty bomb” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Fr. Firas Lutfi, a Franciscan priest who served as a missionary in Aleppo at the height of the violence, witnessed the trauma endured by a generation of Syrian children who have spent the entirety of their lives in the uncertainty and tragedy of war.
The Franciscan sought to create a place of safety and healing for these kids, many of whom were suffering from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.
“We observed that the children, the Aleppian children, many had trauma, post-war. Lots of them lost parents, some of them had mutilation, losing hands or legs, and they are afraid of everything,” Fr. Lutfi told CNA in 2020.
Lutfi founded the Franciscan Care Center’s post-traumatic war treatment program in Aleppo in 2017. Since then, its staff of clinical psychologists, volunteers, and social workers have served 1,500 Syrian children aged 6-17 years old.
Many children born in Syria amid the bombings and chaos of the war never received a birth certificate because their birth was not registered with the government.
To give these forgotten children an identity, the Franciscans began the “Name and Future” project in Eastern Aleppo.
“We take care of these children, and we gave them an official registration … We have in each center 500 children,” Lutfi said.
Among those cared for by the Franciscans in the centers in Aleppo are abandoned young people with Down syndrome and autism, as well as pregnant mothers in need of assistance.
Pope Francis offered encouragement to charities seeking to rebuild Syria in a video message in December.
“Every effort — large or small — made to foster the peace process is like putting a brick in the construction of a just society, one that is open to welcome, and where all can find a place to dwell in peace,” Pope Francis said.
“My thoughts go especially to the people who have had to leave their homes to escape the horrors of war, in search of better living conditions for themselves and their loved ones,” he added.
According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, more than 5.6 million people have left Syria since 2011.
The majority of refugees stayed in the Middle East, with more than half registered as living in Turkey (3.6 million in 2021) and another 1.6 million refugees also living in either Lebanon or Jordan, which also border Syria.
Within Syria itself there are 6.7 internally displaced persons, according to Caritas.
“I appeal to the international community to make every effort to facilitate this return, guaranteeing the security and economic conditions necessary for this to happen. Every gesture, every effort in this direction is precious,” Pope Francis said.
CNA Staff, – During a webinar on human dignity this week, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles reflected on immigration and the Christian’s obligation to love.
Gomez, who is president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, spoke on Jan. 12 at the 21st annual Winter Conference for the Notre Dame de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. He highlighted the dangers a secular society poses to a culture’s understanding of human dignity, especially toward immigrants.
“As we know, the condition of migrants and refugees has been one of the key moral concerns of [Pope Francis’] pontificate. And it is true: forced migration, mass movements of populations, is one of the signs of our times. Not since World War II has the world faced this kind of refugee crisis,” he said.
“We are all brothers and sisters, and we need to treat others as we want to be treated. As faithful citizens, we need to work to ensure that our nation is welcoming and generous, that we never close our hearts or turn our backs on people in need.”
The theme of the conference is “We Belong to Each Other,” which is taken from a quote by Saint Mother Teresa: “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Taking place Jan. 12-14, the webinar includes speakers such as noted moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, Notre Dame law school dean Marcus Cole, and California State Poet Laureate Dana Gioia.
In his talk, Gomez reflected on the Christian obligation to welcome the stranger.
“As Christians, we worship a God who has revealed himself as Love. And as Christians, we know that human beings are made in the image of this God, in the image of Love,” he said.
“We are created out of love. And we are made to love. To love as Jesus loved, and as Mother Teresa and the saints love. Whenever I hear this story, I am reminded of that beautiful saying from St. Augustine, ‘If you see love, you see the Trinity.’ This is the truth about God, the truth about the human person.”
Gomez has advocated for immigrant and refugee rights for over 20 years. He noted that the United Nations estimates that 80 million people in the world have been forcibly displaced by war, persecution, social unrest, and economic distress – including about 40 million children.
“They are living on the run; they are exploited by human smugglers and some of them are being sold into slavery,” he said.
“Their living conditions have been made even more desperate now, because of the pandemic and the closing of borders,” he added. “But the global refugee crisis – like so many of the troubles in the world – is more than a failure of politics or diplomacy. It’s a failure of human fraternity and solidarity. It’s a failure of love.”
The archbishop pointed to Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti. He said the pope has issued this encyclical as a missionary appeal to share God’s love in a heavily secular culture.
Catholics must respond to this calling by sharing the truth about God’s love and the Christian family, he said.
“Unless we know these truths, we cannot understand our Christian commitments – for immigrants and refugees, for the poor, the unborn, the imprisoned, the sick, the environment. Unless we know these truths, we cannot understand how to create a society that will be good for human beings. “
“To put our challenge in its simplest terms: unless we believe that we have a Father in heaven, there’s no necessary reason for us [to] treat one another as brothers and sisters on earth,” he said.
During his many years advocating for immigration reform, the archbishop said he has repeatedly encountered the question – “What do we owe to the migrant?” Simply put, he said, Christians are obliged to show love, recognizing that an immigrant’s dignity is not qualified by his legal or social status.
“Love means remembering that they are souls, not statistics. They are men and women and children with dreams and hopes, no different than you,” he explained.
“Every immigrant and refugee is a child of God, made in his image. Every one of them has rights and dignity that can never be denied,” he said. “And that’s true whether they are in this country legally or not; and that’s true whether they’re eligible for asylum under our laws or not.”
Amid an atmosphere of political tension and division, Gomez challenged Catholics to remember that God is the Father of all people and to bear witness to God’s love.
“We need to tell our neighbors about the God who is love. We need to tell them the good news that we are all children of God, that there is a greatness to human life,” he said. “That every one of us is created in God’s image, endowed with God-given rights and responsibilities, and called to a transcendent destiny.”
In a time of uncertainty, one thing U.S. women religious and others who have been providing food during the COVID-19 pandemic know for sure is that the number of those who need food assistance has risen dramatically and continues to rise.
Officials from Feeding America, a national network of more than 200 food banks, told The Washington Post they have distributed 5 billion meals this year, and 40% of their food bank clients are people who have never relied on them before.
And food insecurity is projected to get worse: There could be 50 million food-insecure Americans by the end of 2020, up from 35 million at the start of 2020, the Post reported. But unless Congress can break its deadlock on what assistance to provide, the federal food programs supplying about half of the food that food banks distribute will end.
At a New York City food pantry that is an initiative of Hour Children, a ministry headed by St. Joseph Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald, the number of families using the pantry’s service is roughly double what it was over the summer.
Kellie Phelan, the food pantry’s coordinator, is struck by the number of new faces she sees in the lines every week. Many are young people, and many are coming from different boroughs in New York City.
“People are coming from everywhere,” she said.
Phelan told Global Sisters Report that while the number of families using the pantry’s services declined in the summer months from an early peak during the initial months of the pandemic, the numbers now are as high as they’ve been all year — about 700 a week.
The pantry, located in the Long Island City area of the borough of Queens, is open three times a week, and each day is averaging more than 200 clients, Phelan said. And she expects the numbers to stay that high or even increase in the coming months.
“There’s a lot of panic thinking right now,” she said. “Nobody knows what tomorrow is going to bring.”
Local community groups in Queens are helping restock pantry shelves through food drives in which volunteers ask shoppers at nearby grocery stores to buy canned foods and other nonperishables and donate them as they leave the stores.
Those efforts have been a huge success, Phelan said, helping to “completely restock” the Hour Children pantry shelves. “We’re beyond grateful.”
Because of social distancing concerns, the pantry earlier this year changed procedures, and clients now come to a table where they receive a prepackaged bag of food items rather than entering the pantry premises and picking items “supermarket style.” Those procedures remain in place, Phelan said, as do social distancing guidelines of people standing 6 feet apart.
But even with those guidelines in place, Phelan said, many clients are uncomfortable, particularly elderly people who are guarded about standing in line.
“It can be a scary situation for them,” she said. “They are scared, sad, but still grateful.”
The House of Bread, a 40-year-old soup kitchen in the poorest neighborhood of Hartford, Connecticut, has also seen a change in its regular patrons.
St. Joseph Sr. Maureen Faenza, one of the kitchen’s directors, said people addicted to drugs and those experiencing chronic homelessness are no longer the usual faces who come through for one hot breakfast and one hot lunch a day.
Though some still visit the kitchen, now, the House of Bread is largely seeing “neighborhood people, poor people, families who are struggling because they have lost their jobs and income,” she said.
Faenza, co-founder and co-director of the House of Bread alongside St. Joseph Sr. Theresa Fonti, said since the start of the pandemic, the city has placed their homeless clients in hotels or other housing while their daytime shelter attached to the kitchen has had to shut down because of the pandemic.
Fortunately, the House of Bread was able to maintain operations throughout the pandemic, though they have had to manage with fewer volunteers, as some were elderly and couldn’t take on the risk of exposing themselves to the virus, Faenza said.
With glass partitions protecting patrons who dine in, the kitchen is able to continue serving about 200 meals a day, with half of the visitors choosing to take their meals to go. And while the House of Bread usually delivers an additional 600 meals to children throughout the city, local schools have managed to provide those meals for the time being, though Faenza said they’ll restart that program in January.
In terms of stock, Faenza said they haven’t had a problem: This year’s annual fundraiser was done as a drive-thru Nov. 18 and was “extremely successful,” Faenza said. “We’ve been fortunate as far as donations and food.”
But just a few miles over in West Hartford, Mercy Sr. Beth Fischer’s ministry has had to make some adjustments that — while understandable and necessary — have been tough to swallow; namely, the lack of human connection between the volunteering students and the patrons at local food pantries.
Fischer oversees the community engagement office at the University of St. Joseph, where she works with students who are volunteers and those who do community clinicals and internships.
“For the 15 years I’ve been doing this work through the university, I’ve seen the transformation on the part of the students who get to meet people that they might not necessarily meet, but in a class, they might hear about it. And these experiences really touch them,” she said.
Following an explosion that killed more than 150 people in Beirut, international Catholic groups have responded by providing health services and necessities to the victims.
At least sixteen Catholic organizations, including Catholic Relief Services and Caritas International, have responded to the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port.
As victims in Beirut face an urgent need for shelter, medication, hygiene kits, and mental health services, these organizations have dispatched medical teams and relief groups to assist with basic necessities.
The explosion killed at least 154 people, and injured about 5,000 others. Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud estimated that the explosion has caused as much as $10-15 billion in damages and as many as 300,000 people to be temporarily displaced from their homes, according to the BBC.
The fire started near the port’s large grain silos. It soon spread to a warehouse holding 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive.
Many buildings and warehouses along the docks were completely destroyed, and the explosion’s shockwave caused damage within a six-mile radius. The adjacent areas included Beirut’s mostly Christian neighborhoods of Mar Maroun and Achrafieh.
Despite damages to their own facilities, CRS has provided relief to the victims of the explosion. Caritas Lebanon has offered water and hot meals at several locations throughout Beirut. Caritas health care centers have also opened, and a mobile medical unit and mental health team have been available to the public.
“Our partners started working right away to make sure people were getting help, even though their own buildings were damaged in the explosion,” said CRS spokesperson Megan Gilbert.
“At CRS we’re privileged to contribute to the overwhelmingly generous volunteer response of the Lebanese people, despite all that they have been through over the past year,” she said Aug. 6.
Gilbert added, “many people in Lebanon were struggling to get by even before this explosion. Now because of the destruction, people are staying in severely damaged homes, or even out in the streets. They are going to need long-term support to get through this.”
Lebanese president Michel Aoun promised a transparent investigation into the explosion.
“We are determined to go ahead with an investigation and unveil the circumstances surrounding what happened as soon as possible and hold those responsible and those who were negligent accountable and serve them the most severe punishment,” he said Aug. 5.
However, many Lebanese have blamed the government for corruption and negligence. They see the investigation as an attempt by political officials to avoid blame.
The ammonium nitrate had been stored at the port since 2014.
LONDON, – A British prison has launched a meal delivery service staffed by inmates as part of a charity initiative that aims to cut reoffending rates by giving prisoners a better chance of finding jobs after their release.
The Clink Charity opened a restaurant at Brixton prison in London six years ago, but the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close in March, prompting the debut of the “Clink at Home” delivery service last week.
Prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentences get on-the-job training and work towards industry-recognised qualifications. They work on a voluntary basis in exchange for the training they receive.
Christopher Moore, the Clink Charity’s chief executive, said the restaurant programme gives prisoners a vital taste of “life on the outside, on the inside”.
“Prisoners come down for eight hours a day, in an environment that doesn’t look or feel like prison, replicating a real-life working environment,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“They’re learning to work as part of a team, they’re gaining confidence and are motivated and proud of what they do.”
According to the Clink Charity’s 2019 report, which draws on government statistics, reoffending rates among former prisoners who were enrolled in the programme fall by up to 66%.
Those who take part in the programme leave with industry-standard certificates in food service, preparation and cookery, as well as soft skills essential to helping them readjust to life outside prison, Moore said.
The Brixton restaurant, where diners have to pre-book a table to enter the jail, is one of four similar eateries based at prisons across the country. Between them, they train about 200 prisoners at any one time.
Moore said many former trainees do go on to find jobs in the restaurant business, with several now working at four- and five-star hotels and Michelin restaurants.
Elizabeth Orr, 42, one of the programme’s first participants at a prisoner-run restaurant in Styal Prison in northwest England, is now head chef at her family-run business in Liverpool.
“I lost everything when I went to prison but the support that was given to me absolutely changed my life,” said Orr, who has been nominated to receive a local award for her contribution to helping maintain vital services during the lockdown.
“When I first came home, I was in full-time employment as a pastry chef within two weeks. It felt like a sense of normality.”
ROME, – Berat Kjamili has vivid memories of queuing for days outside a government building in Turkey for papers that would allow him – an 18-year-old refugee from North Macedonia – to legally reside and study in the country.
“There were 1,000 people there and I couldn’t get in. The next day I went at 6 a.m. and still I couldn’t get my papers. The third day, I slept on the street that night (to beat the queue),” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The experience led him to build a website where refugees can apply for residency permits. It is now operated by the Turkish government.
Kjamili, 27, is part of a generation of refugees who have set up fintech firms to help other refugees and migrants send money, access paperwork and share information about housing and jobs.
Often working in shops, cafes and factories, refugees have been harder hit by coronavirus-triggered job cuts than citizens in their host countries, U.S. development groups said on Wednesday.
Businesses like Kjamili’s could play a key role in helping refugees to integrate amid a global pandemic that, according to the United Nations, has increased xenophobia and led to a surge in evictions.
Among the world’s 30 million refugees and asylum seekers are many who lack bank accounts and have only intermittent access to Internet and mobile phones.
More than 1 billion people worldwide lack government-issued credentials to prove their identity, which can result in “social, economic, and political exclusion”, UNHCR said in a recent report.
Refugees given ID cards by the United Nations on arrival in a new country have limited ways to partake in the economy, said Hanna Mattinen, a senior officer in the agency’s cash aid team.
“In the vast majority of cases, with this ID… they can’t open bank account, they don’t have access to SIM cards,” she said.
As businesses go cashless and require card payments – a drive hastened by COVID-19 – refugees and migrants could be left “locked out of the system”, said Marta Zaccagnini, Program Manager Europe for Village Capital, an organisation supporting impact-driven start-ups.
A NEW BANK
Roham Soleimani, an Iranian refugee in Berlin, is hoping his company BankeNu – Nu means new in Persian – could help. The 28-year-old is working on a blockchain-based service that would allow people to transfer money from anywhere.
“It’s a big opportunity to help people like us. To give opportunity to people who suffer sanctions, the un-banked, the migrant communities… and offer the services with low fees,” he said.
Soleimani set up a marketing agency that helped secure European wages for Iranian freelance designers back home.