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Image: The Ababa Project in Ethiopia

24/08/2018

This week in our blog Beatrice Gardner of the Ababa Project reflects on the fruits of a journey some feared would be risky for Dumfries parishioners.


Sometimes seeking social justice needs shock tactics, and you might say that’s what we used to bring home to our parish of St Theresa’s in Dumfries the on-going difficulties experienced by a community in Ethiopia that we have been supporting for more than three decades. Visiting that community and being able to share our experiences in our own and other parishes means we are now able to share the burden of that support through the wonderful generosity of parishes and friends. 
 
St Teresa’s has had an association with the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady in Ethiopia since 1985 when we offered help to those dying in the drought that hit the country so badly then. At that time the Order ran a nursing home in Langholm, so the connection to the Ethiopian sisters was easy. An Irish Sister, Sr Colette, paid us a visit and the friendship was sealed. We have been supporting them ever since.
 
In turn each parish priest encouraged us in the work, but it wasn’t until Fr Jim Hayes came to us that we made our first visit. A group of 12 parishioners, including three secondary school pupils, made the eye-opener of a journey in 2012.
 
There were those who weren’t too sure about us making the visit. Some were wary of our safety, particularly close family and friends.  But to meet and get to know so many of the Ethiopian people we had been supporting for such a long time completely changed the mind set of our whole parish when we returned with stories of our experiences.
 
Who could fail to be impressed when we told them of the care and consideration we were each shown? More importantly, however, was being able to explain, through our enthusiastic talks and photographs, what was really needed in the community we’ve been supporting.
 
We had always sent funds without really knowing what was actually required by the sisters. They were so polite and meek, that whatever we wanted them to do with our donations they did. Going there and seeing the situation first hand meant we discovered that of course, they knew best where the funds were needed. Now we send funds and let them decide how best to use the cash. They are such hard workers and great organisers, very frugal and can stretch a pound like elastic. They are also great fun and never without a smile for long.
 
When we got back, an education project - TEACh Programme (Teresa Educating A Child) - was born Success has bred success and in this last school year we have sent 113 children to school in Nazret, Buccama and Addis Ababa. Leaning that Addis Ababa means New Flower in Amharic, and St Teresa being the Little Flower, we renamed our mission The Ababa Project.
 
Travelling to Ethiopia may have shocked folk, but now we have groups of supporters who sponsor a child for £20 per month, which pays fees, and provides the uniform, shoes, a daily meal, stationery and hygiene items. The journey was worth it.


Image: The Niqab - A genuine 'concern' or political fodder?

17/08/2018

This week Marian Pallister, Vice chair of Justice and Peace Scotland, reflects on Boris Johnson's recent offensive comments about women in muslim dress. 


Movies for kids are not my territory, but I couldn’t help noticing publicity for Batwoman, following the announcement that actor Ruby Rose is to play the character in the next movie. Posters show a young woman thrusting through the air dressed only in what seems to be spray-on paint and an eye mask that covers most of her neck and face. Only red lips and a pair of nostrils are revealed – even the character’s eyes are a blank.
 
Here is a character we are supposed to celebrate, for a whole raft of reasons, and presumably that we are to encourage our girls to follow.  Batwoman is a wealthy heiress inspired by the superhero Batman to use her wealth and resources to fight crime as a masked vigilante in Gotham City.
 
It would be interesting to hear Boris Johnson’s take on Batwoman. Does that mask threaten his emotional stability? Would he demand that she remove it as she speeds through the Gotham City night to battle with evil forces? Does her uncovered and glistening letterbox red mouth pose a threat or a promise? Would he mistake her for a bank robber instead of a crime buster?
 
Why is it acceptable in our society for a woman to reveal every feature of her body (whether in the costume of a comic character or in the supermarket during a heatwave) but deemed threatening to dress modestly?
 
The insulting language of Boris Johnson and the alarming support of his apologists makes me far more afraid for our society than seeing women wearing the niqab on our streets.
 
In her criticism of Johnson, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson compared the wearing of the niqab to wearing a Crucifix. I may be very wrong, but my understanding of the veil adopted by some Muslim women is that it is worn for modesty, even for protection, and not as a symbol of religion.
 
I would be willing to bet two free tickets to the premiere of the next Batwoman movie that Boris Johnson has only one agenda when it comes to expressing ‘concern’ about women wearing burqas and niqabs – and Sayeeda Warsi expressed that perfectly in The Guardian in the wake of his extraordinary column in The Telegraph – ‘…what really disgusts me in this whole episode is that Muslim women are simply political fodder’.  In other words, Boris wants a shot at the Tory leadership and he will exploit any ‘populist’ idea to achieve that.
 
I’m privileged to represent Justice and Peace Scotland on the Scottish Bishops’ Conference Committee on Interreligious Dialogue. The work done by that committee brings together people of all faiths in Scotland. Talking, respecting, sharing – that’s how communities integrate and become as one.
 
Last year in Cairo, Pope Francis asked Christian and Muslim religious leaders to join in building ‘a new civilization of peace’ by rejecting ‘every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion and in the name of God’. I hope we can close our ears to Boris’s plotting nonsense and follow Pope Francis’ advice.


Image: Glasgow Arms Fair

10/08/2018

Activist Brian Quail offers a personal reflection on the recent arms fair in Glasgow and his involvement in a nuclear weapons protest in London.
 


UDT - these unfamiliar letters stand for Undersea Defence Technology, the name given to the huge arms fair that was held in Glasgow from June 26 to 28. This event promoted Trident, the Israeli military, and companies that sell to human rights-abusing regimes in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Babcock and BAE are leading the Trident renewal. They were also the lead sponsors for the UDT event.
 
BAE Systems, UDT’s lead sponsor, is the UK’s biggest seller of arms to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime is currently leading bombing runs on Yemen. The UN says Yemen is the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.
 
UDT exhibitors Lockheed Martin are “proud of the significant role” they play in the Israeli armed force. They are a major supplier of fighter jets. The current Israeli government has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations.
 
Israeli arms firm DSIT Solutions Ltd was also exhibiting and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) linked media outlet, Israel Defence, is a UDT partner. Several of DSIT’s directors are ex-Israeli military.
 
The aerospace company Leonardo also sponsored UDT. Leonardo supplies the same kind of jets to Turkey that were used to bomb the formerly peaceful Kurdish region of Afrin in northern Syria. Tens of thousands were forced to flee their homes and hundreds died as a result of the attacks.
 
Sustained pressure from campaigners led Glasgow City Council to drop the logo ‘People Make Glasgow’ from this arms fair, although it continued to give practical support.
 
So much for the technical details.
 
I found it difficult to focus on this event as I was concentrating on another action I was involved in. This was on June 20, when along with some 50 Trident Ploughshares supporters I chained myself to the railing round the Westminster Parliament. We did this in protest at the UK government’s refusal to support the international treaty to ban nuclear weapons signed by 122 states on July 7 last year at the UN in New York.
 
Normally, this sort of action would be an arrestable offence, so I went to London expecting to be detained there as a guest of her majesty.  Never having been arrested in London before, I was unhappy about the prospect of having to return there for the consequent trial.
 
As it happens, the Met adopted a “softly softly” approach and simply stood by while we chained ourselves to the railings, like the Suffragettes of 100 years ago. So I was able to return to Scotland a free man, ready to concentrate on action against the UDT extravaganza. But it did mean we missed a chance to raise the illegality of Trident in an English court.
 
What particularly incensed me about the UDT event was that the SNP/Green controlled Council was supporting this arms fair. Both parties have a strong anti-Trident position and a powerful anti-military record. Indeed, Glasgow is a city with a proud history of standing up against war and militarism.
 
It seems that the mouth-watering prospect of lots of lovely money coming into the city swayed their judgement. This shame will endure for long after the junketing is over.
 
 



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