RIO DE JANEIRO, – The government agency created to protect Brazil’s indigenous people is out to destroy them, a prominent native leader said on Thursday after Funai asked the police to investigate her for fake news.
Police subpoenaed Sonia Guajajara, head of Brazil’s largest indigenous coalition APIB, at the request of the native affairs agency Funai, after she accused the government of genocide for not protecting indigenous people from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Bolsonaro’s Funai does not recognize the indigenous movement, and has no dialogue with those who diverge from the government’s position”, Guajajara said, referring to right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been in office since 2019.
“They want to end the indigenous culture in the country once and for all,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Funai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The agency said in its submission to the police that it had invested 26 million reais ($4.9 million) to fight the pandemic in indigenous lands, including distributing food and setting up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands.
Funai was set up in 1967 to coordinate and implement government policies to protect the indigenous population, especially isolated and recently contacted people.
That function has been curtailed under Bolsonaro who has criticized indigenous people for having too much reservation land and advocates commercial mining on their lands. Bolsonaro named a policeman, Marcelo Xavier, to run the agency.
“Inside Funai there are many serious civil servants who are trying to do a job that corresponds to the interests of indigenous peoples,” said Guajajara.
“But Funai’s management no longer serves those interests.”
Funai asked that the police investigate Guajajara last week for “perfidy and the crime of slander” because of APIB’s documentaries about the lethal impact of the government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis on native people.
“The biased content of fake news … reveals serious illegality. Although possible criticism is tolerated, what in fact happened was an authentic abuse of freedom of expression,” Funai wrote in its submission.
On Wednesday, a judge halted the police probe into Guajajara, saying in court documents that its main goal was to “silence political demonstrations” by APIB.
Funai is not the only government agency under Bolsonaro to be accused of turning against indigenous people that it is mandated to protect.
Sesai, the agency responsible for providing medical care to indigenous people, has come under fire for allegedly underreporting COVID-19 deaths.
While Sesai reports about 663 deaths due to COVID-19 among indigenous people, a tally by APIB shows 1,063 fatalities among the country’s 900,000 native people.
“When the pandemic started, it exposed how bad indigenous health was,” said Eriki Paiva from the Terena peoples in the centre-west state of Mato Grosso do Sul, one of the groups with the most deaths, according to APIB’s data.
“It saddens us that beyond not doing the basics, they have now used intimidation tactics against our leaders.”
Sesai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Funai has also rejected APIB’s tally.
“(The) data presented was inflated, with the intent to manipulate, almost doubling the number of deaths among indigenous people,” Funai wrote in its submission to the police.
Cristiane Juliao, a leader of the Pankararu people in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, dismissed Funai’s claim that it set up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Funai’s presence basically involved the delivery of a basic food baskets,” she said, adding her tribe set up the barriers and Funai provided equipment, transport and funding for a short while and then vanished.
LONDON, – Britain passed “life-saving” domestic abuse legislation on Thursday that campaigners say will protect millions of women, hold more abusers to account and clamp down harder on revenge porn.
About 2.4 million people, mostly women, experience domestic abuse every year, according to the government.
The legislation comes amid wider efforts to tackle the issue after lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 left many women trapped at home with violent partners.
“This is a fantastic and ground-breaking day,” Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The new law will make a huge difference to the lives of millions of domestic abuse victims, and definitely save lives.”
The act establishes a new offence of “non-fatal strangulation”, closing a loophole that campaigners say has let some abusers escape justice for choking attacks – which can cause brain damage, strokes and other serious injury.
Men who throttle their partners risk five years in prison.
The act also makes it a crime to threaten to share intimate images – or revenge porn – with a sentence of up to two years.
The issue gained global attention following the 2018 murder in New Zealand of British backpacker Grace Millane, whose killer said she died accidentally during consensual sex.
Other new provisions in the law include imposing a legal duty on local authorities to provide shelter for abuse victims, a ban on abusers cross-examining victims in family courts and the creation of domestic abuse protection orders.
Interior minister Priti Patel hailed the new law as “long overdue”, saying in a statement it would ensure “perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes are brought to justice”.
The act – which applies to England and Wales – also establishes the post of domestic abuse commissioner to hold local and national government to account in their handling of an issue that affects an estimated 1.6 million women a year.
Domestic abuse charity Refuge said the legislation, while progressive in many respects, was “far from perfect” and failed to protect many migrants, who cannot access benefits and may be afraid to report abuse to police.
“This is a missed opportunity to ensure all woman experiencing abuse are protected,” said Refuge chief executive Ruth Davison.
Refuge said it was also worried about a 50-million-pound ($69.78 million) shortfall to finance shelter.
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.”
Sao Paulo — As unemployment increases and COVID-19 infections surge in the country, Catholic entities in Brazil are ramping up efforts to feed the increasing number of people going hungry.
“The pandemic did not only affect those who live on the streets. It has hit even those who have homes,” Fr. Revislande dos Santos Araújo of Our Lady Consolata Parish in Boa Vista, told Catholic News Service.
The priest, who started a social project dubbed Stirring the Pot in 2015 to distribute meals to drug addicts and homeless people, now also serves meals and distributes food to Venezuelan refugees camped on the streets and to Brazilians who lost their jobs.
Back in 2015, the priest cooked and distributed the meals around the neighborhoods of Boa Vista. “In the beginning, 40 meals were made per day, but at the end of the first year, with the help of donations we were distributing 70 meals,” he said.
With the arrival of Venezuelans in 2016, he explained, the initiative became a bigger project.
“We saw that many did not make it into the shelters and set up camp around the main bus station. They often did not have food to eat, so we extended our Stirring the Pot to help them, too,” he said. “With the pandemic, we offer 1,200 to 1,500 meals per day for those who live on the streets.”
In addition to the homeless and refugees, he said, his parishioners, people with very little means, are also suffering.
“We live in a poor area; our parishioners are poor people. The majority are construction workers, cleaning ladies, etc. With the pandemic, these people lost their jobs. There was a huge increase in poverty and people frequently do not have enough to eat — something that before [the pandemic] we did not see often,” he said.
“For the Venezuelans who live in tents near the bus station, we send meals, while, for the Brazilian families, we send them food packages, so they can cook at home,” he told CNS.
However, donations are decreasing.
“Those who used to donate a kilo of beans, a kilo of rice, now are asking for donations. I try to reach out, doing live events on the internet asking for help, but there are many of my parishioners who used to help and now no longer can because they are finding it hard to put food on the table themselves,” he said.
Araújo, who teaches at the city’s public schools, recalled more than one of his students reaching out to him saying, “‘My mom has lost her job, we don’t have enough to eat at home.'”
The dwindling number of volunteers and donations are also seen in other parts of Brazil. Now, a campaign promoted by the São Paulo Archdiocese along with the charitable aid agency Caritas not only aims to collect money and food for the vulnerable but also to encourage new volunteers to step up and contribute.
“Despite the solidarity, things are getting more difficult. The people who helped are now out of a job,” said Father Marcelo Maróstica Quadro, Caritas director and pastoral coordinator of the Belém region in São Paulo.
The campaign, dubbed Animating Hope, plans to collect food and financial resources to purchase food baskets to distribute to vulnerable families.
“Hunger is a reality that goes against God’s plan,” said Quadro.
He said Caritas has mapped out 450 “points of hope,” where it collects and distributes meals and food baskets. Most of the parishes around São Paulo serve as points of hope.
At the beginning of the pandemic, he said, St. Joseph Parish distributed 40-50 food baskets per month. “Now we distribute more than 300,” he added.
With unemployment rising and food insecurity increasing, the archdiocese, through Caritas, also created a Committee to Fight Hunger and introduced a number of actions to mobilize and unite parishes and parishioners.
“There are a lot of people suffering. Let us help. Let us reach out as best as we can so that these people do not have so much suffering,” Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer said during his weekly radio show.
Other entities linked to the Catholic Church have also stepped up to help. The Brazil branch of AVSI, a Milan-based organization founded on Catholic social teaching, has run three separate programs to deal with the issue: two food basket campaigns and now a program offering meal vouchers for 500 families whose children attended a day care center funded by AVSI. With the schools closed, these children are unable to eat breakfast and lunch at the center.
“We are now trying to get the day care center reopened, because many of those children depended on those meals,” said Fabrizio Pellicelli, president of AVSI in Brazil.
Situations like these are repeated throughout the country.
“In a country like ours, everything that is planted grows,” said Quadro. “There shouldn’t be a reason for our people to go hungry. There is a lack of policies by the government to reduce food insecurity in this country.”
DHAKA,- Bangladeshi migrants leaving the coast due to rising sea levels could trigger waves of migration across the country that will affect at least 1.3 million people by 2050, according to a new study.
A new mathematical model predicts the country’s southern regions along the Bay of Bengal will be the first impacted by sea level rise, causing displacement that would eventually affect all of the nation’s 64 districts.
Some migrants could displace existing residents, triggering further movement of people, said the study published by the American Geophysical Union, an international scientific group.
The population of Dhaka, a popular hub for migrants, is expected to shrink after an initial surge as residents seek to move away from an overburdened capital, researchers said.
With more than 600 million people at risk of being displaced by sea level rise in coastal regions worldwide in this century, researchers say their model could help countries prepare by ensuring cities are equipped to deal with an influx of migrants.
“The paper seeks to understand not only the immediate displacement due to sea level rise, but the cascading effects that their migration will trigger through the country,” co-author Maurizio Porfiri told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.
“The model will initially tell you that Dhaka is the place to go, but ultimately, as the place gets overpopulated… people will have to distribute everywhere. So every place will get a fraction of the migrants.”
Bangladesh, a country of more than 160 million, is a low-lying nation often included on lists of countries most at risk from the impacts of rising global temperatures, from more extreme storms to floods.
Last year, the nation witnessed flooding that lingered for an unusually long time and experts feared the economic impact was worsened due to job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The study’s authors say their model can be used to assess migration trends caused by any kind of environmental disaster, from droughts and wildfires to earthquakes.
“Mathematical modelling is the only way we have to ground our future decisions,” said Pietro De Lellis, an engineer at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy and the study’s lead author, in a press release.
The study’s model considers human behaviour, such as whether people are willing or able to leave home and if they later are likely to return there.
“(The study) has rightly focused on the complexity of human behaviour that is involved in the decision-making process of potential migrants,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development.
“Towns in other parts of the country, besides Dhaka, need to prepare to receive climate migrants in the future.”
NEW YORK, – The United Nations on Thursday urged a divided world to unite against a virus that ignores all borders, saying the pandemic could delay by a decade its goal to end global inequalities.
A new U.N. report estimated that the novel coronavirus has unleashed the worst recession in 90 years, threatening to derail its ambitious list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The goals, approved in 2015 with a 15-year deadline, aim to end hunger, gender inequality and violence against women, while expanding access to education and health care in poorer nations.
“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a statement.
“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis.”
An estimated 114 million jobs have been lost worldwide, and about 120 million people have sunk back into extreme poverty as the virus circles the globe, the report found.
The U.N. said the economic devastation has widened “already yawning” inequities, with the chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots mirrored in the vaccine rollout.
Of $16 trillion distributed in relief, only 20% was spent in developing countries, the report found, and all but nine of the 38 countries administering vaccines were developed nations.
It called on nations to contribute an estimated $20 billion to vaccinate poorer nations this year, and urged richer members to offer developing nations debt relief, investment – and hope.
“Countries must be helped to not only stay afloat financially, but to invest in their own development,” U.N. Under Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said in a statement.
It is not the first time the U.N. has said development goals are at risk in a pandemic that has prioritized short-term survival over long-term aspirations.
But the warning has taken on new urgency as cross-border rows erupt over the fairest way to vaccinate the whole world, with some countries accused of abandoning common cause to safeguard their home front.
KOLKATA, India, – Since he was a child, Santipada Gon Chaudhuri had sought ways to help India’s rural poor, so when the electrical engineer was invited to visit a co-worker’s home in the Himalayan village of Herma in the early 1980s, he saw his chance.
“I was appalled to see how local communities were living in darkness after sunset,” remembered Chaudhuri, 71, who then worked for the government in the northeastern state of Tripura.
“Some used kerosene lamps, but even kerosene was not always easy to get. Since I had both the skill and position to try and provide power to them, it made me act,” he said.
The villages of Tripura are located on tough, hilly terrain, where Chaudhuri realised it would be hard to put up power lines.
“But they had solar energy in abundance,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
In 1983, he used government funding to install solar panels for 70 homes, as well as running a community television and water pump – the first time anyone in the hamlet had seen electric light.
That small project sparked a career dedicated to bringing energy to people in impoverished, remote communities, a mission that earned Chaudhuri the moniker of India’s “Solar Man”.
Today, more than 100 homes and businesses in Herma are lit by an updated solar energy system, allowing villagers to be more productive while reducing their use of expensive, polluting fuels like kerosene.
“Life in the village would come to a complete standstill after sunset. But with light in our homes now, our children are studying until night,” said villager Sumoti Riyang, 33.
“Shops and business establishments remain open in the evening. We can work more. All this is generating more income for us,” she said.
In his Kolkata office, adorned with awards he has won since his first project nearly 40 years ago, Chaudhuri said he gets “great satisfaction” from seeing how solar power has changed lives in Herma, connecting residents to the modern world.
CAREER OF FIRSTS
Herma was the first tribal village in the country to gain access to solar power, and by 1989 Chaudhuri had led the installation of solar technology in nearly 40 villages across India’s northeastern states.
Four years later, he developed India’s first centralised solar power station with a distribution network on Sagar Island in the Sundarbans, home to one of the world’s largest mangrove forests, supplying 100 households through power lines.
The project was considered a breakthrough at a time when solar technology “was largely confined to laboratories and prototypes”, said Samrat Sengupta of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a nonprofit think-tank.
By 2000, more than 400,000 people in villages around the Sundarbans national park were using solar power, through a mix of mini-grids and domestic solar-power systems.
At the time, the area had the highest per-capita consumption of solar power in the world, Chaudhuri noted.
The project earned him an Ashden Award, known as the “Green Oscars”, and the Euro Solar Award from Germany.
In 2006, it also inspired India’s then-President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to invite Chaudhuri to design a captive solar unit for the presidential palace.
“Chaudhuri’s work is a classic example of empowerment of indigenous communities through solar power,” said Arun Tripathi, director general of the National Institute of Solar Energy, an autonomous body under the renewable energy ministry.
In 2009, Chaudhuri installed the country’s first grid-connected solar plant in West Bengal’s Jamuria village, a 2-megawatt (MW) project serving 5,000 families.
This was lauded as an “environmental breakthrough” because, until then, solar power had been limited to remote areas without access to electricity, said CSE’s Sengupta.
Jamuria was the first location to use solar to replace coal power in the grid, bringing clean energy into the mainstream, he said, noting it cut the amount of coal burned locally by 2,000 kg (4,400 pounds) per hour and decreased carbon emissions.
Sengupta and others said Chaudhuri’s work helped pave the way for India’s National Solar Mission, launched in 2010.
The initiative, on which Chaudhuri consulted, had an initial target of producing 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar power by 2022.
Having already nearly doubled that ahead of time, India has set a new goal of 100GW.
But as its solar power expansion has gained pace, a growing population and increasing urbanisation have made finding enough land for big projects more difficult.
In 2014, after joining the nonprofit NB Institute for Rural Technology, which he now heads, he led construction of an experimental 10-kilowatt government-funded floating solar panel on a lake in Kolkata’s New Town.
“Designing the floating structure of the panel and anchoring it in the water body were major challenges,” he said.
That project grew into a national programme that now generates more than 1,700MW of solar power from floating panels in various coastal states around the country.
Despite its progress, India’s solar push has some limitations including high capital costs, scarcity of land and the need for sunny weather, said Partha S. Bhattacharyya, former chairman of Coal India Limited, the world’s largest coal producer which is also investing in solar energy projects.
“Thermal (coal) power is reliable and consistent, due to greater grid stability,” he added.
Chaudhuri and his team are currently experimenting with solar-powered pumps that push water up to a higher storage reservoir that can then generate hydro-electricity using micro turbines, supplying villages when needed.
“The very concept of solar power has changed from simply providing lights to controlling carbon emissions,” Chaudhuri said. “It is time that we seriously think about how to leave behind a more livable world for future generations.”
Palabek Refugee Camp, Uganda — It is just after midday and the sun is high up in the sky above this dusty, sprawling settlement of 55,574 people in northern Uganda. Rose Geno with her three children sit inside their grass-roofed mud hut to escape the scorching heat as she prepares a meal of corn and beans.
The 30-year-old South Sudanese refugee said her school-age kids now eat smaller meals more often after she managed to harvest enough crops during the previous season (June-November). She is among thousands of refugees who have received seeds and farming support from the Salesian missionaries and a nun to help mitigate food shortages amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My life became unbearable when the pandemic hit us,” she said. A lack of funding from international bodies reduced food rations at the camp. “We slept hungry many times because the ratio was cut by 40% at first and it was later reduced to 20%,” she said.
Geno fled from Pajok, a town in South Sudan located 10 miles from the border with Uganda, in April 2017 after fighting intensified between government forces of President Salva Kiir, and forces loyal to the former vice president, Riek Machar. She escaped with her children after her husband was killed by soldiers, walking for three days in the bush before reaching Palabek.
“We nearly died from hunger during the peak of the pandemic but thanks to the priests and a nun who came to our rescue in our time of need,” she said.
Sr. Lucy Akera of the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Gulu said they had to act quickly to save the lives of refugees. “We distributed the little food we had in our store to refugees and we quickly realized we had to look for a long-lasting solution to hunger, which was farming,” she said.
Over 1.4 million refugees in more than 14 refugee camps across Uganda bore the brunt of the pandemic after the East African country registered its first case of COVID-19 a year ago.
Catholic groups moved swiftly to provide food, clothing and counseling to thousands of refugees. Salesian Fr. Lazar Arasu, director of Don Bosco Palabek, said his congregation gave packets of food including corns, flour, beans, rice and cooking oil to the refugees and also distributed blankets, dozens of pairs of shoes and clothes.
“When the pandemic hit the world, it came to us as a shock.We were not prepared at all. Everything was closed down and refugees were left for dead,” said Arasu, who is among the five Salesian missionaries living and working in the Palabek refugee camp. “We were forced to share our little food and other essential goods with the refugees to keep them alive amid the pandemic.”
However, Akera had a different way of tackling food shortages in the camp. With the help of the Salesian missionaries, she began providing training, tools and seeds for refugees to plant and harvest crops to support their families in the midst of the pandemic.
She and the Salesian missionaries distributed fertilizers and several hundred kilos (thousands of pounds) of beans, maize, soya beans, simsim or sesame, groundnuts and many assorted vegetable seeds such as collard greens. They also distributed tons of cassava cuttings.
“The only way we could tackle hunger during the pandemic was through farming. So we had to train and support refugees with seeds and fertilizers to plant and harvest enough crops to feed their family,” said Akera, the only nun working at the Palabek camp. She lives in a small mud hut built of sticks, mud and metal scrap. “I also did farming and I planted groundnuts, soya beans and maize. I have enough food which I share some with my neighbors who are refugees.”
Akera, who grew up in a farming family, has been able to transfer her agricultural skills to the refugees. The 58-year-old nun, who comes from Gulu town, 60 miles away from Palabek, said her calling to serve led her to work in the camp despite the hardships, though she sometimes feels lonely.
“I feel happy being in the camp though I’m lonely. No sister wants to come and live in this hardship area,” said Akera, whose congregation is in Gulu. “I was born and raised in a rural area so living in the camp for me is a normal thing.”
The East African country of more than 44 million is celebrated around the world for providing refugees with the land for shelter and agricultural use. Arasu said his congregation has been renting land from the local Ugandans for refugees who don’t have enough land for farming to help them grow enough crops to feed their families.
“I rented some farms from the hosting community. The money I used was provided by the Don Bosco missions and since children were home, they helped their parents in farming,” he said. “God was also faithful; it rained a lot and since the land was virgin land, it produced really well.”
Akera came to the camp in 2018 after the Salesian missionaries requested the Archdiocese of Gulu to ask sisters to come and help serve the people in the camp. Before the pandemic, she tried to provide hope and solidarity to refugees while helping to distribute aid. But she now has a new ministry amid the pandemic: sensitizing refugees on the importance of farming.
“My new ministry is to ensure refugees support themselves through farming because COVID-19 has taught us the biggest lesson of not relying completely on food aid distributions,” she said. “We want to keep on training them on how to plant crops and ensure they have enough harvest.” She began training refugees on farming in May 2020 after the pandemic reduced food rations for refugees.
Every morning, Akera visits various villages within the camp to train and emphasize to refugees the importance of farming. She recently demonstrated to a group of farmers how to plan their farms from the beginning of the season up to harvest without encountering any problems.
The training involves land preparation, seed selection, planting, weed management, soil fertility management, harvesting, postharvest handling and storage, she said.
Stang, a longtime champion of farmers’ land rights in rural Brazil, was assassinated in 2005 in the northern Brazilian state of Pará in the Amazon Basin. A native of the United States, Stang became a naturalized citizen of Brazil. Her death led to the creation of a reserve of more than 1 million hectares devoted to sustainable use of rainforest land by the local population, whose rights she championed.
Earlier this year, researchers from Brazil, Finland and the United States discovered, or “described,” two new species of screech owl in Brazil, and one of those species, the Xingu screech owl, received a scientific name in honor of Stang. The name, Megascops stangiae, honors Stang’s work “on behalf of poor farmers and the environment in the Brazilian Amazon region,” the congregation’s Ohio Province said in a statement.
The common name, Xingu screech owl, is a reference to an area where the new species is found, the statement said. That area is located between the Tapajós and Xingu rivers, the area where Stang worked and was killed.
Congregational leader Sr. Teresita Weind said biologist Therese Catanach, a member of the research team, contacted the congregation about naming the owl for Stang, as the team was moved by Stang’s life story.
“Sister Dorothy’s murder left a big impression on me, especially when I started research in tropical forests,” Catanach said.
Two other researchers, Brazilian biologists Sidnei Dantas and Alex Alexio, discussed what to name the owl. Dantas had visited Stang’s gravesite, and Alexio suggested one of the owls be named after Stang as “a way to raise awareness about the Amazon, being the ‘lungs of the planet,’ and home of tropical medicinal plants, birds, animals, and human lives,” the congregation said.
Bon Pasteur Kolwezi received the award in a ceremony in February. In accepting the honors, Sr. Jane Wainoi Kabui, the program’s director, noted the role of the organization’s staff, fellow congregational members and the Good Shepherd International Foundation and their “unremitting support to our communities and shared commitment to fight modern slavery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
The ministry has its roots in an initiative that began in 2012, when the congregation’s Province of Eastern Central Africa established a community development program “to combat child labor, human rights violations, and modern slavery in the copper and cobalt mining region around the city of Kolwezi in the DRC,” the congregation said in an announcement of the award.
The ministry now works in eight communities where cobalt mining is dominant.
“It has helped more than 3,000 children quit the mines and attend school, 500 families to secure alternative and sustainable livelihoods, 300 girls and women to gain new skills and make a decent living away from the mines, and educated more than 20,000 people on how to campaign for better working conditions,” the congregation said.
The project inaugurated a new Bon Pasteur Center in Kolwezi in 2019 in an initiative that includes 14 classrooms to instruct roughly 1,000 children whose families live in the nearby mining communities. The demand for that schooling has been so great, Kabui said, that “the biggest challenge has been that the center can only accommodate a given number of children, and so sometimes we have to turn children away.”
Advocacy is also part of the ministry’s work, and Kabui said in the congregational announcement that she hopes more people will “become conscious of the dehumanizing conditions the artisanal miners have to go through.”
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LONDON, – Keeping girls in school and taking young climate leaders seriously are keys to tackling climate change, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said on Friday.
Speaking to a virtual panel, Malala, 23, said educating girls and young women, particularly in developing countries, would give them a chance to pursue green jobs and be part of solving the climate crisis in their communities.
“Girls’ education, gender equality and climate change are not separate issues. Girl’s education and gender equality can be used as solutions against climate change,” Malala told an online event by British think-tank Chatham House.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some 130 million girls worldwide were already out of school, according to the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO, which said more than 11 million may not return to classes after the pandemic.
“When we educate girls … they can become farmers, conservationists, solar technicians, they can fill other green jobs as well. Problem-solving skills can allow them to help their communities to adapt to climate change.”
From sexual violence in displacement camps to extra farm work, women and girls shoulder a bigger burden from worsening extreme weather and other climate pressures pushing people to move for survival, global aid group CARE International says.
Scientists expect forced displacement to be one of the most common and damaging effects on vulnerable people if global warming is not limited to an internationally agreed aim of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Climate disasters have also been linked with early marriage, school drop-outs and teen pregnancies, says U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.
Malala also called on world leaders to pay attention to youth climate activists, citing movements like “Mock COP” in November when young people launched a two-week event designed to mirror the format of the delayed U.N. climate talks.
“Listen to young people who are leading the climate movement. Young people are reminding our leaders that climate education and climate justice should be their priority.”
Apple produced a documentary about Malala in 2015 and teamed up with her Malala Fund in 2018 to promote secondary education to girls across the globe.
In 2009 at age 12, Malala blogged under a pen name for the BBC about living under the rule of the Pakistani Taliban. In 2012 she survived being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for campaigning against its attempts to deny women education.
In 2014, she became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate at age 17. In 2018 she launched Assembly, a digital publication for girls and young women available on Apple News. She graduated from Oxford University in June.