Christian Aid Week 2018
Talk repeated at St James, Colwall Sunday 29 July 2018
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Hello! My name is Michael Llywelyn-Jones and I am a Volunteer Speaker for Christian Aid. And before I start this talk, I thought you might like a brief introduction about me:
- Come from Swansea, but I’ve lived in Little Marcle (near Ledbury) for 28 years
- Married to Anne for nearly 35 years: Kim (31) and Jonathan (28)
- Civil Engineer
- Rugby fanatic, supporting Wales and the Ospreys
- Been a Church of England Lay Reader for 24 years, and a Volunteer Speaker for Christian Aid for 4 years
Christian Aid carries out three main types of work:
- Firstly, we work with our partners to implement long-term development projects on issues that communities have identified as being a problem.
- In our advocacy and campaigning work, we challenge regulations that favour the rich and powerful and neglect the poor and marginalised, at both national and international levels. In addition to our work within the UK and Europe, some of our partners are involved in lobbying their own governments.
- We also respond to numerous emergencies where humanitarian assistance is needed, and it’s this aspect of our work which is the focus of Christian Aid Week 2018.
For example, our Ethiopian partner “Water Action” identified communities who had low levels of access to water. They worked with local people to build a network of pipes to carry fresh water from nearby springs into local villages. Water Action then helped to set-up water committees in villages – the committees are responsible for collecting a small fee from villagers to pay for upkeep and repairs (which are carried out by local people) and for ensuring that the pipes are being maintained. This is work that the communities are proud of and take ownership of. As a result, it will deliver long-term benefits.
For example, in 2010, Christian Aid helped our partner Centro Bono in the Dominican Republic to establish a campaign, simply called “4% for education”. Its aim was to lobby the government to act on a law passed in 1997 which required 4% of the country's GDP to be spent on schools. On the 4th of every month, whatever the weather, millions of supporters across the country joined together to demand “4% for education”. Thanks to the dedication of the campaigners, every candidate in the 2012 presidential elections included a promise to enforce the law in their manifestos. Finally, after 2 years of campaigning, the Dominican government announced on 4th December 2012 that 4% of its GDP in 2013 would be spent on education. Centro Bono and other organisations are now involved in monitoring this, ensuring that the money goes to where it is needed.
Now a key aspect of our approach is that, in all of these activities, we always work with local partners. We believe that working with and through partner organisations – rather than directly implementing projects ourselves – is more likely to achieve wide-scale and lasting change in the lives of poor and marginalised people.
In Christian Aid Week 2018, we are focusing on Haiti and the humanitarian assistance which is desperately needed there. And I thought it would be useful to start by looking at a few facts about Haiti, to put things into context:
- The nation of Haiti borders the Dominican Republic on an island in the Caribbean Sea – point at the 2 maps
- In size, it is bigger than Wales and smaller than Belgium
- It has a population of 11 million people, which is the 2nd biggest in the Caribbean, and only slightly less than Cuba, which is 4 times the size – point at the map
- It was originally colonised by Spain, after Christopher Columbus landed there on his first voyage across the Atlantic
- It was then settled by French buccaneers and, in 1697, the island of Hispaniola was officially divided between the Spanish part (the Dominican Republic) and the French part (Haiti) – point at the map
- In the middle of the French Revolution, the slaves in Haiti revolted against French colonial rule and eventually defeated Napoleon’s army. As a result, the sovereign nation of Haiti was established in 1804. It was the first independent nation in Latin America and the Caribbean, and it is the only nation in the world to have been established as a result of a successful slave revolt.
Haiti is a beautiful place, with strong, tenacious people, but they face a fierce enemy: some of the worst natural disasters on earth.
It is also one of the poorest countries in the world, and the poorest in all of North and South America – its gross domestic product per person is just 4% of the UK’s. This makes it much harder for them to cope with the relentless earthquakes, storms and hurricanes they endure. The people are resilient, and they’re constantly fighting to survive. But they’ve been hit by disaster so many times, and climate change is only making it worse. Each time Haiti is hit, people lose their homes and livelihoods, and it’s getting harder and harder for them to rebuild.
A shocking number of Haitians either live in precarious houses or have been uprooted from their homes entirely, making them incredibly vulnerable. 7 years on from the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince in 2010, an estimated 38,000 people were still displaced.
Just months after the 2010 earthquake hit, the worst cholera epidemic in recent history rapidly engulfed Haiti, killing thousands and infecting more than 6% of the population in just over 2 years. The ongoing crisis placed an enormous strain on Haiti’s severely weakened health care system.
In November 2016, Hurricane Matthew wreaked yet more havoc across the southern coast of the country, killing 546 people and destroying homes, businesses and infrastructure. Up to 90% of some areas was destroyed. We watched in fear again as Hurricane Irma approached Haiti in September 2017. They narrowly escaped a direct hit then, but we know it’s only a matter of time before the next hurricane strikes.
Natural disasters are just one of several reasons why many Haitians are forced to flee their homes. Many tried and failed to resettle in the Dominican Republic after facing systematic discrimination there. Often, they return to Haiti but can’t return to their homes.
Still others have been uprooted by the restavek system – the name comes from the French reste avec, meaning to stay with. Under this system, parents unable to care for children may send them to live with better off families, often their own relatives or friends. The child lives with the family and does domestic chores in exchange for food, housing and education. However, the education and food often aren’t supplied and the family often take advantage of the children. Men take advantage, doing violence to young girls who don’t have their parents there and don’t go to school any more. But the girls don’t speak out, because it’s shameful, a humiliation for the family.
In the immediate aftermath of a disaster like Hurricane Matthew, the world comes together to try and help the survivors. But as time goes on, the attention shifts. 18 months after Hurricane Matthew, the cameras have left Haiti ……………
But Christian Aid hasn’t forgotten Haiti, and we don’t just respond to crises like the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew. We’ve been working in Haiti since the 1980s, and we’ve fought by their side through every setback they’ve faced in that time.
Our local partner, KORAL, helps local people prepare for disasters. Ahead of Hurricane Matthew we were able to warn local communities, helping to evacuate around 5,000 families and saving many lives. In the immediate aftermath we:
- Distributed urgently-needed shelter kits and hygiene kits
- Distributed seeds and livestock to families so they could rebuild their livelihoods
- Gave cash grants to help people who lost fishing equipment, and reserves of food and seeds, to get back on their feet
We also build disaster-resistant homes to give people safe, secure places to live. Following the 2010 earthquake, we built 700 specially designed earthquake-resistant homes. These houses survived the hurricane, with just one losing its roof.
As well as weathering the storm, these houses continue to transform the lives of the people living in them for the long term. The houses include a porch area, a large living and dining room, two bedrooms, a latrine, a shower and a rainwater tank. They don’t just provide shelter; they give dignity and respect to those living in them. No wonder Haiti’s president has highlighted them as a model for the country.
Frantzie Du Bois, the General Co-ordinator of Koral says:
'Only Koral works with the excluded and marginalised people. If Koral didn’t work with them, no-one would work with them. The people say that, when Koral say they’ll work with you, they do work with you. When those people are dealing with other organisations, even the local state, most of the time they say they will come to help, but nothing is done. Koral has been working with the communities for 10 years now, so they have built confidence between Koral and the community members.'
'Christian Aid is the best partner of Koral. Christian Aid did not come in the emergency phase; Christian Aid has been working in a sustainable way with Koral. Christian Aid is working with the communities, through Koral. That’s why it’s different. It’s not a donor, it’s a partner. Christian Aid does not have a commitment with Koral, it has a commitment with the communities.'
'Christian Aid is the partner that all the communities know about, because Christian Aid people go in the field and talk to the people. The people know that Christian Aid is there and working with Koral. They are serious: when they say something, they stand behind it. They are committed to what they say. That’s the reason why Koral has a good reputation; as long as we start a process with Christian Aid, it will continue and go to the end.'
And what I would like to do now is to focus on the lives of just two people in Haiti, so we can appreciate both what their lives are like and what a huge difference a little help can make. And these two people are a man called Marcelin and a woman called Vilia.
This is Marcelin. He has endured relentless disasters, as Haiti has been hit by hurricane after hurricane after earthquake. Each time, Marcelin and his family lose everything. They’re made poorer and more vulnerable. Marcelin is strong, but if he gets knocked down again he doesn’t expect to get back up. When we asked him what would happen if another hurricane comes, he replied: ‘We would die’. Marcelin still hasn’t recovered from Hurricane Matthew over a year ago. His chances of surviving another disaster are slim.
You just need to see his current home to realise how vulnerable he is. Marcelin lives in a 2m x 2m block of concrete – about the size of a four-man tent – it used to be a communal shower. There are no windows or door, and the only furniture he has is a single bed. It’s a tiny, claustrophobic space which Marcelin shares with his daughters Ketia (18), Linda (16) and Keshna (15), in constant, sweltering heat.
Marcelin’s wife left over 10 years ago. Since then he has fought hard to raise his children alone, cooking, cleaning and caring for them and picking up odd jobs wherever he can to afford essentials like soap for them.
He can no longer afford to send all his daughters to school, and it’s a struggle even to provide enough food. Sometimes they go hungry. Marcelin starts work tending a small patch of land as soon as the sun rises, but he’s battling changing weather patterns. Too much sun or too much rain often means he loses everything he has grown.
'I lost my livestock; I lost pigs, goats and chickens, the wind took them away. I lost everything in the house, I lost all the chairs. I have nothing left except the small bed that the girls sleep on. I sleep on the floor.'
'There are times when I feel like I don’t have the strength to do anything and I call upon God and say Lord give me strength and courage, because I have three children to care for.'
Marcelin is worried about his daughters all the time. He’s anxious that their hunger could lead them to be exploited by predatory men in exchange for food. And his daughters worry that his hunger puts him at risk of serious illness. He doesn’t eat enough for someone doing hard labour, and they’re scared he could get sick and die.
‘He took care of us when our mother left us, cooked and cleaned. If there was no one around, he wouldn’t leave us alone and would take us with him. He used to take care of us but now we are suffering, we have no food. After Matthew we often go hungry.’
‘After Matthew went through, we were back down to zero. Our Dad lost his gardens, everything was lost. It wouldn’t rain enough, or sometimes when it did rain, it rained too much and the gardens were lost. That’s when we fell on hard times. We used to have food to eat, but now we’ve fallen on very, very, very hard times.’
If we can build Marcelin and his family a new home, it would give them a safe place to weather the next disaster. It would provide the strength they need to keep going. A new home would give them a fighting chance to build a better life. It’s the first step to making sure they thrive, not just survive.
And now we’ll see what a difference we can all make, by looking at Vilia’s story.
This is Vilia. Thanks to the lessons she learnt from her mother, Vilia feels strong and alive. But sometimes strength isn’t enough. Sometimes you need someone else in your corner too.
Vilia and her family lived in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. Vilia was on her way home when she heard people running and shouting. She saw wires fall and houses crumble. The streets were confusing and terrifying. She couldn’t even recognise her home or neighbourhood. As she searched for her home, for safety, for her mother, she had to step over bodies lying on the ground.
Vilia never found her mother. Her mum was an incredibly strong woman, and she passed her strength on to her daughter. But strength alone wasn’t enough to save her from the earthquake. Vilia never got to see her mother again, and still doesn’t know how she died. It’s still a deeply painful source of sadness for her.
Bereaved and homeless, Vilia went back to her hometown in the Torbeck region with her husband and 7 children. But life was a struggle, and she had nowhere safe to stay.
Christian Aid’s partner KORAL realised how dire her situation was, and reached out to help her. They built her a new home, safe, stable and strong enough to stand up to natural disasters.
‘I was so happy with the house, I couldn't even wait for them to turn it over to me. It wasn't even finished, but I went inside, blocked it with sheets and slept inside.’
The new house made Vilia incredibly happy, but it’s done more than that. It’s been a safe haven for dozens of people when they needed it most.
On that terrifying night when Hurricane Matthew hit, Vilia’s neighbours quickly realised that her house was the only one in the area sturdy enough to cope with the hurricane. One by one, they fled to her house and she welcomed them in. As the storm and the rains raged on, she opened her house in solidarity with her neighbours. She shared food and a safe shelter to sleep in for several days.
54 people sheltered safely from the hurricane in Vilia’s house. She potentially saved 54 lives that night.
Despite the ferocity of the hurricane, her house lost only one roof panel and wasn’t damaged in any other way. Many of the other homes in the area were totally destroyed.
‘Some people stayed two weeks before they returned home to go and make themselves a small shelter, because they say you can’t be an adult at someone else’s home. They’d feel too uncomfortable to stay here. If it were up to me, they could stay here as long as they want, and I’d find a place to sleep somehow, even if it was on two chairs. In the first days after the storm, I slept on two chairs so that I could welcome people. People came with wet clothes, and I took what I had that was dry, and gave it to them.’
Vilia’s crops and livestock were swept away, but KORAL helped her with a water filter and seeds for beans, sweet potatoes, yams and plantain. This meant Vilia could start to rebuild with crops that help soil retention, making her crops safer in future. Not long after Hurricane Matthew, another tragedy struck and Vilia’s husband passed away. This time, KORAL gave her the cash she urgently needed to keep sending her children to school.
During Hurricane Matthew, Vilia and her house were at the heart of the community, and it’s the same in good times. She’s the president of her marching band, which plays music using basic drums and other rudimentary instruments at weddings, funerals and during communal farming. But they’re more than that: as a group of marginalised people, they pool their resources, forming something between a credit union and a community insurance policy. They work on each other’s land and help out when someone is sick or dies.
Vilia is incredibly grateful for the help she’s received, and she’s used her new home to help others. But she knows there are still many others in her neighbourhood who are struggling. She wishes we could help them too.
Faced with incredibly difficult challenges, Vilia finds her strength in God. She says:
‘I stay connected with God, I pray. I pray every time something like this happens. You have to put your knees on the ground, pray and call out to God. Only God can do anything in these situations. There’s nothing that our God cannot do.’
Could you give this Christian Aid Week, so that we could help more people like Marcelin and Vilia?
- £210 would be enough to train a local builder in Haiti, meaning they could build secure, comfortable homes for people like Marcelin and their families, giving them a fighting chance to build a better life
- £25 could buy a hygiene kit to prevent disease after a disaster
- Even £5 is enough for a jar of seeds, so that someone like Marcelin can grow beans to feed his family
In Haitian Creole there is a phrase ‘Mwen santi mwen an vi. Mwen santi mwen egziste’, which directly translates as ‘I feel like I am alive. I feel like I am part of existence.’ It means more than merely breathing and surviving; it describes feeling truly alive.
Or, as we would say at Christian Aid, it’s about having life before death. It’s what we believe in. Together, we can be stronger than storms.