Blog

Image: “They would point their guns in the doorway of our house”

24/05/2019

Philippa Bonella has spent three months living and working as an Ecumenical Accompanier in the Occupied West Bank and this week Philippa writes about her experiences in our blog.


A few months ago, I got back home to Edinburgh after a three month stint as an Ecumenical Accompanier with the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI programme in the occupied West Bank.  Over autumn 2018 I was living with three other ‘internationals’ in a tiny village just south of Nablus.  We spent our days visiting Palestinian communities, reporting on human rights abuses and acting as protective presence to help Palestinian families go about their lives under occupation.

I met so many wonderful people who asked me to tell their stories back home.  One I’ll never forget is Yara (not her real name).  Yara is 54, with 6 children, and has lived in the same village all her life except for two years from 2002.  Then all the villagers were forced to flee after threats from the Israeli settlers who live in an illegal settlement outpost a few yards further up the hill.

“The evacuation was very difficult and sad for everyone,” she told me.  “We went to the next town to live with my husband’s family.  We were very cramped and the children were unhappy.  But we couldn’t stay here.  My children were very small then.  Every Saturday the settlers came down on horses with dogs.  They would point their guns in the doorway of our house where my children were watching.  They would stone the windows.  Their dogs ate our chickens and they would set our sheep loose on the hill.”

The family came back home once an international presence had been established to protect the villagers.  “My children still remember those days.  If the [Israeli] army or settlers came, everyone was afraid.  But now that has changed because they see international people coming to help.  They are not afraid anymore.

“Life here now is good – for me anyway. We have had no problems with the settlers since March last year. I have my goats and sheep, chickens and bees.  We still have 30 olive trees in our field – the rest are up the mountain behind the settlement.  We can’t reach those ones most days because the settlers will come.  But we can be free here and the village families work together to run small businesses.” 

Yara worries about the future, though. 

“In the future only old women and old men will stay here.  There are no jobs here and we cannot sell our produce.  We cannot build in the village so our children have to move to the town when they get married.”

This situation exists because this area is under military rule and building permits are rarely granted to Palestinians by the Israeli administration. 

As I travel around Scotland now, telling Yara’s story as she asked, it is hard not to worry about her future, too.  But we can all contribute to creating the conditions for peace.  Please help me repay the debt of hospitality I owe Yara and so many others, by reading the blogs of Ecumenical Accompaniers working in the West Bank today and taking whatever action you can.
 



Image: My name is Mahdi

17/05/2019

Community engagement coordinator for the Refugee Survival Trust (RST), Mahdii, tells us about his journey from asylum seeker to talk ambassador with RST in this week's blog.


I am Mahdi, community engagement coordinator for the Refugee Survival Trust (RST) since December 2018, but a volunteer since 2011 as a talk ambassador.
 
I converted to Christianity from Islam in my home country, Iran. I left Iran for exile in the UK in December 2008, when I claimed asylum.
 
In November 2012 I was granted refugee status, went to university and gained a BA Business degree. I know very well the problems which asylum seekers are facing every day. I am honoured to work with asylum seekers and refugees, and do everything I can to support them and help them to establish a new life in UK.
 
Refugee Survival Trust was set up in 1996 by a number of concerned individuals as a reaction to the problem of refugees and people claiming asylum being made destitute in Scotland. RST is a small organisation and can only exist with the continued support and expertise of its board of directors, its small team of dedicated staff, and the help of a committed team of volunteers.
 
The vision of RST is that all refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland receive just and respectful treatment and support appropriate to their needs. RST’s mission is to do everything within our available resources and powers to achieve that vision by enabling and supporting asylum seekers and refugees in need.
 
Our destitution grants programme provides small one-off payments to asylum seekers and refugees who do not receive support from the government or other sources and are at real risk of destitution. These ‘last resort’ grants are available to people seeking asylum and refugees for up to six months after they are granted refugee status. Our grants can make the difference between having somewhere to stay and sleeping rough; eating properly and begging for help. They offer brief respite from shocking hardship and emotional distress.
 
The Destitute Asylum Seeker Service (DASS) is a partnership project led by RST with the Scottish Refugee Council, British Red Cross, University of Strathclyde Law Clinic, Glasgow Night Shelter, Fasgadh and Rehoboth Nissi Ministries. Using a model of holistic support, DASS assists refused asylum seekers who are Appeal Rights Exhausted (ARE) and NRPF (with no recourse to public funds) to find a route out of destitution and resolve their situation.
 
We have three programmes that support refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland to integrate:

• Our Access to Education and Employment Grants help to overcome barriers that might otherwise prevent asylum seekers and refugees from study and work opportunities.

• Glasgow Welcome, our befriending programme, links up people who are new to Glasgow with those who are well-established, in order to explore the city, share cultural understanding, and build social networks.

• Our Office Internship programme gives refugees their first experience of working in a UK office environment.
 
RST has participated in the national policy debate on asylum in Scotland. Our ‘From Pillar to Post’ report reveals the barriers people face when they try to exercise their rights, including accessing education, health and social care services. The research also highlights the need for a national action plan to tackle asylum and migrant destitution in Scotland.
 
It is fulfilling to bring about changes in procedures affecting refugees and asylum seekers.
 


Image: Faith-based Investing

10/05/2019


This week in our blog, Dr Quintin Rayer, reflects on why people choose ethical fincance.


Introduction
 
A range of reasons leads investors to invest ethically.  Backgrounds can form a part, perhaps individuals want to “give something back” or are concerned about social or environmental issues.  For many, their moral framework is set by religious beliefs.
 
How faith-based investing differs from other motivations.
 
Faith-based ethical investing is motivated by moral tenets based on a body of religious thought that has been developed over many years, centuries or even millennia. Pope John Paul wrote that the “decision to invest in one place rather than another, in one productive sector rather than another, is always a moral and cultural choice”.
 
Comparing faith-based versus secular motivations, investors may decide to invest sustainably by different routes.  Secular scientific thought has concluded that sustainable investing is necessary to preserve global climate, protect ecosystems and the long-term viability of species, societies and livelihoods.  Based on the religious principle of humankind’s divinely-appointed role of stewardship for the earth, and of care for fellow-people; faith-based investors also conclude the necessity of sustainable investing.
 
Financially motivated investors may use sustainability to identify long-term risks that they believe financial markets have not adequately responded to. 
 
Consider fossil divestment:
 
• Faith-based investors may feel that carbon emissions generate unacceptable climate damage as part of their stewardship role.

• For secular investors, fossil divestment may help address unacceptable global warming.

• Financially motivated investors may feel that fossil firms’ valuations reflect fossil reserves that they will be unable to exploit, making them over-valued.
 
For different reasons, all these investors might feel they should avoid fossil companies.  They have different motivations but share a common community across both secular and faith-based backgrounds. 
 
Elements of agreement between faiths
 
Many faiths share similarities in their teaching.  Care for others, supporting the weak, and respect for the environment, for example.  Popes Jon Paul II and Benedict both spoke of the Christian requirement to “tend the garden” and protect the poorest. Caring for creation is one of the seven tenants of Catholic Social Teaching.  Many principles are encapsulated in the ‘golden rule’ of “do as you would be done by”. 
 
Religions often share prohibitions, such as bans on alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs.  The principle of “not harming your neighbour” identifies areas such as arms, and not selling alcohol or tobacco in business.
 
Several religions, either historically or currently have included bans on the practice of lending money for interest.  This is prohibited in Islamic finance and historically in medieval Christian tradition.
 
The development of the Faith in Finance movement
 
In 2017, the faith leaders’ Zug conference in Switzerland, sought to address challenges and opportunities presented by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
 
Delegates represented more than 30 different faiths, with trillions of dollars in assets, United Nations figures and leading impact investment funds.  The organisers believed it should enable faith groups to share information and resources to put their investments into initiatives to help create a better world for all.  Promoting a proactive policy ensuring that faith investments have a positive “faith-consistent” impact.  Aiming to make money work for good, while still generating the returns they need to fund activities. 
 
 
Dr Quintin Rayer
DPhil, FInstP, Chartered FCSI, SIPC, Chartered Wealth Manager
Head of Research and Ethical Investing at P1 Investment Management



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