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rights in humanitarian crises
Submitted by Jessica Atcheson on Wed, 04/13/2011 - 1:16pm.
HaitiTec inspectors at the construction site of Camp Oasis
Last week, we got a great progress report from our partner the Oasis Institute in Haiti — construction at Camp Oasis is moving along! Created with support from UUSC, Camp Oasis is a secure home and school that will be a safe haven for 40 girls who were orphaned after the earthquake. Construction is going well, and even the girls are helping out with the process!
Step by step, the cottages that will serve as shelter are going up — framing, hurricane ties, floors, walls. HaitiTec inspectors are ensuring that the structures are safe and well made. The septic tank arrived, and plumbing for the showers and toilets are being installed. And this week, they are getting ready to put the roofs on!
A roof over their heads is not the only thing that these girls will get from Camp Oasis. With a secure place to live, they are less likely to be the victim of gender-based violence, which is rampant in the camps for internally displaced earthquake survivors. And through the school, they will have educational opportunities they might not have had otherwise. All of this together means that the girls will have a better chance at a brighter future.
Moving forward, once the initial plans for Camp Oasis have been implemented, the project will scale up to include a boys' camp and eventually transition into a long-term boarding school. We're sure to hear more from Camp Oasis soon — especially since they'll be visited this week by the participants on our first medical trip to Haiti, who will be there to offer vital medical services. I'm excited to hear how construction is progressing — and how the girls are doing!
Submitted by Bill Schulz on Wed, 04/13/2011 - 11:04am.
UUSC President William F. Schulz (Photo by David Vita)
The following post, "The Libya Intervention: 'Dying the Truth Along,'" by UUSC President William F. Schulz, was published in the Huffington Post on April 13, 2011.
As we enter the third week of U.N.-authorized military action in Libya, it behooves us to reflect on the larger implications of unfolding events there. I have been watching those events with a combination of trepidation and restrained applause — trepidation, of course, because people are losing their lives and one of the world's most maniacal autocrats remains in power, and applause because what has happened represents a milestone in the worldwide struggle for human rights. But this applause is restrained because trying to do good almost always risks dirty hands, and we rarely know the full consequences of our soiled beneficence ahead of time.
When the United Nations was founded in 1945, it affirmed in its charter the sovereign authority of every member state and pledged that it would not interfere with how governments dealt with their own residents. The United Nations was designed to stop wars between nations, not within them.
But in 2005 the United Nations did a remarkable thing. Thanks in part to their failure to act in 1994 to stop the Rwandan genocide, the U.N. General Assembly voted to adopt the principle of the "responsibility to protect," popularly known as R2P. What R2P says is that if a government is committing mass atrocities against its own people, the international community has a responsibility, a positive moral obligation, to intervene. Such intervention must meet certain conditions: it must come as a last resort; it must not reflect ulterior motives; it must use force proportional to the humanitarian goals to be achieved — but it must happen.
Not surprisingly, since 2005 the United Nations has repeatedly managed to ignore or give short shrift to its self-proclaimed responsibility in places like Somalia, Darfur and Congo. Moreover, the U.S. intervention in Iraq, with all its misdirection and suspect motives, effectively sidelined the country best equipped to conduct humanitarian military interventions from shouldering its duty.
But now comes Libya and — thanks to political cover provided by the Arab League; successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt; the fact that Libya is not vital to the national interests of either Russia and China, who therefore withheld their vetoes in the Security Council; and the fact that no one on the international stage likes Muammar Gaddafi — the United Nations has managed for the first time to act decisively to enforce R2P.
Will this set a precedent? Probably not. The international community and the United States itself are adept at figuring out reasons why R2P does not apply in places like Yemen or Bahrain or Syria. But will this Libya action be a warning to other tyrants who may be inclined to commit mass atrocities against their own people? Even if Gaddafi is not removed from power — and, after all, it is the responsibility to protect, not to overthrow; it does not require that all governments be transformed into Norway — Gaddafi has suffered grievous blows, to his military, to his prestige and to the aura of respectability he had worked so hard to polish. That sends a clear signal to others to think twice before following his path.
Let's put all this, then, in a larger context. Human rights do not depend upon consistent enforcement for their effectiveness, because there is no international sheriff to ensure that human rights laws are abided by. They depend upon gradually shifting values, shifting standards of what constitutes civilized behavior. Whether it is an end to slavery, the abandonment of foot-binding of girls and women, or the outlawing of child soldiers, international norms always proceed in fits and starts. But over the past five years we have seen remarkable evidence of shifts in the right direction.
In 2006, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was elected president of Liberia, one of the most grievously impoverished and conflict-prone countries in the world. She is the first woman to be a president in Africa. Last year, peaceful elections were held in Kenya, two years after vicious communal violence had marred the previous elections there. This past December, South Sudan voted to secede from Sudan, thus far with a minimum of bloodshed. With the help of the French (and, sadly, some human violations along the way), Cote d'Ivoire now has the president it elected. Kosovo is independent, having itself been subject to humanitarian intervention in 1999. The International Criminal Court is finally flexing its muscles. And demands for democracy and human rights are sweeping the Middle East. It is no wonder that dictators in China, Burma, Zimbabwe and Belarus are nervous — they are right to be. For what all this means is that, jagged as the path may be and soiled as our hands, some things, like stealing elections and brutalizing your people, are slowly being transformed from routine behavior to the realm of the unacceptable.
At the end of the day, that is the significance of the intervention in Libya — it is one more intentional, if imperfect, step toward the creation of world that is more respectful of human rights. Do we all wish it could have happened without warfare? Of course, and when international judicial accountability is finally in place someday, it may. But in the meantime, we can take comfort in those fits and starts — the slow and agonizing but relentless process of what someone once called "dying the truth along."
William F. Schulz is president of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and former executive director of Amnesty International USA.
Submitted by Nichole Cirillo. on Thu, 04/07/2011 - 1:58pm.
Assisting new mothers and their babies with their health care needs will be the focus at the clinic of UUSC program partner APROSIFA.
This Sunday, seven Unitarian Universalists from across the country will arrive at the tiny Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti to begin a week of medical service with three of UUSC's partners. We're excited to embark on what is the first of many experiential learning trips we're organizing through the Haiti Volunteer Program.
Our week will begin at the clinic of the Association for the Promotion of Integral Family Healthcare (APROSIFA), a sanctuary in the middle of the city where new moms can come for information on nutrition and child care or just a few hours of conversation with other new moms. Midweek, we will be working with the brave women of the Commission of Women Victims for Victims (known by its Haitian acronym KOFAVIV). These women are among my top-10 list of heros — they've stood up to sexual violence and abuse because they didn't want to see their sisters, daughters, and friends go through what had happened to them. By week's end, we will be at Camp Oasis, a home and school for 40 girls who were orphaned after the earthquake.
I began thinking about this trip last fall, when I visited our partners in Haiti and learned that many of them needed the service of medical volunteers to assist in the daily health-care needs of the communities they serve.
So, in late December, just before the holidays, I sent an e-mail asking UUs if they might be interested in performing such a service. I didn't know what to expect — it was a week before Christmas and I couldn't provide much information, just a basic idea of what participants might be doing. And the need to at least come close to covering our costs meant the trip was going to be expensive. Then, there was also a cholera epidemic raging in Haiti at the time (still is) and post-election riots that were further fueling the nation's tumult and creating even greater despair. "No one will respond to this," I told my coworkers as I walked out the door for the Christmas holidays.
What awaited me when I came back to my office in January was — and continues to be — a source of incredible inspiration. There were scores of e-mails crowding my in-box, from UUs all across the country writing to say, "Sign me up."
I've repeated this story many times, and I always end it with the same question: what type of person would do this, would abandon family and friends, take personal risks, and pay hard-earned money to help people they've never met, and may never see again, in a place they have no good reason to be? In the weeks we've spent preparing for this trip, meeting all of them, I now have a better idea of this — and I hope soon, through the blog posts we will send in the coming week, that you will, too.
But one thing I can say now is that all seven of the nurses and doctors coming on this trip are the type of people who put their faith in action. They see a need and answer a call not because they have to, not because anybody's watching, certainly not for the money, but simply because have been asked. They are people who see themselves as inextricably linked to the humanity of others and believe that in serving others, they too will be served.
I hope you will stay tuned this week and over the months ahead to hear the stories of the people who have answered this call.
Submitted by Jessica Atcheson on Fri, 03/11/2011 - 12:17pm.
Last weekend, in preparation for this Sunday's Get-Together — Conversation of Hope: Stories for Haiti — I picked up Edwidge Danticat's captivating collection of stories Krik? Krak! I was struck by so many things in the collection, one being the healing power of storytelling in the face of cycles of oppression and resistance throughout the generations in Haiti.
In "Children of the Sea," one of the characters — fleeing the country on a boat in fear of political persecution and physical danger that comes with it — writes, "We spent most of yesterday telling stories. Someone says, Krik? You answer, Krak! And they say, I have many stories I could tell you, and then they go on and tell these stories to you, but mostly to themselves."
This character illuminates the sustaining power of telling the stories of who we are and how we've survived. In this case, it touches on the power that has sustained the Haitian people in the midst of decades of struggle — against political oppression, against racism, against the marginalization of women, against occupation.
These stories are told and passed down from generation to generation, which shows up in several of Danticat's pieces. It even is echoed in the very structure of her collection, in which the stories are set in successive generations as the book progresses. In "Nineteen Thirty-Seven," we hear the story of the 1937 Dominican slaughter of Haitians that is revisited in pilgrimages to the Massacre River that the narrator — a woman whose mother survived the carnage — is brought on.
In "A Wall of Fire Rising" (which was Manager of Experiential Learning and Youth Services Nichole Cirillo's favorite story), the young boy Little Guy takes on the role of Haitian slave revolutionary Dutty Boukman in a school play. The youth embodiment of Boukman's historical resistance to oppression speaks to the hope that is inherent in the promise of future generations — and to the importance of sharing these stories with young people.
This Sunday's Get-Together — which will feature discussion about the stories in Krik? Krak! with their author as well as an update on UUSC's work in Haiti — promises to be a rich and compelling conversation. If you haven't already, register today and join us this Sunday, March 13, 3:00–5:00 p.m. EST.
Submitted by Martha Thompson on Fri, 03/11/2011 - 9:52am.
UPDATE (Tuesday, March 15, 10:30 a.m.): After weekend developments and careful consultation with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), this post has been updated.
As you know, an 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northeastern Japan on Friday afternoon (keep in mind the time difference). The earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami that has killed scores of people, leveled buildings in several cities, and inundated farmland. The full extent of the casualties and damage is not yet known. Japan, which has an excellent disaster-response infrastructure, is already mobilizing rescue and relief efforts.
In response to the earthquake — the strongest in Japan's recorded history — and the tsunami, the International Federation of the Red Cross has deployed 11 emergency assessment teams and is providing first aid and health care. The Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance has 62 international search-and-rescue teams ready to go, and various countries have already pledged support (including the United States, which President Obama has said "stands ready to help").
Our hearts and thoughts go out to the people of Japan in this difficult time of loss and destruction. UUSC is engaging with the UUA to determine the most effective way that Unitarian Universalists can support the Japanese people, and how UUSC can best use its expertise in disaster response. If you would like to donate to the relief effort, please give to the UUA-UUSC Japan Relief Fund.
Submitted by Nichole Cirillo. on Tue, 03/08/2011 - 7:13am.
As I read Edwidge Danticat's Krik? Krak! — and look forward to talking with her during this weekend's Get-Together — my favorite story in the collection is "The Wall of Fire Rising." The story is elemental, a haunting tale of a father's shame, a mother's love, and child's innocent belief, all centered around the impossibly hopeful subject of a classroom play about a hero of Haitian independence and a hot air balloon.
At the start of the story we learn that the son Little Guy has been selected to star in his school play about Boukman, the slave revolutionary. Excitedly, he practices his lines for his mother and father, who listen with faces wet from tears of pride.
Danticat so expertly paints the realities of the young family's life, indeed of nearly every Haitian life: perpetual unemployment, starvation, crushing poverty. Yet in the character of Lili, the mother, there is hope and a parent's eternal desire to achieve a better life for her son through education. Even the name of the child represents the father's hope that the life of his child will better than his, that there is always generational improvement. Lili is proud of her husband; "a man is judged by his deeds," she tells him. "The boy never goes to bed hungry".
But Guy is unconvinced. He is frustrated with his inability to give his family security and ashamed of the menial work he does. While Guy loves his family, they only serve to remind him of him of his own failure. In fact, he sees a cycle of despair and remembers his own father as a low-income struggling man all his life. "I remember him as a man I would never want to be," he tells Lili.
In the hot air balloon owned by the rich son of the sugar refinery, Guy sees freedom. "Can't you see yourself up there? Up in the clouds somewhere like some kind of bird?" he asks Lili. For him, the drudgery of life is suspended momentarily by the miracle of flight and escape.
What Guy decides to do next will leave Lili and Little Guy forever changed. Yet, with the constant enslavement of poverty and no hope of relief (and to the encouraging shouts below of "Go beautiful, go!"), Guy chooses, perhaps for the first time in his life, a kind of freedom.
Danticat's thoroughly engrossing stories represent the lives of many of UUSC's partners in Haiti. Through them, we can begin to understand the difficulties they face — and moreover, the heroic lives they lead, forever hopeful of achieving freedom.
Sign up to be a part of our conversation with Edwidge Danticat on Sunday, March 13, 3:00-5:00 p.m. EST, by registering at www.uusc.org/readytalk.
Submitted by Daniel Karp. on Wed, 03/02/2011 - 12:49pm.
Thanks to more than 11,000 individual supporters, UUSC has surpassed the goal for the "3 for 1 for Haiti" matching challenge grant from our friends at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, N.Y.
It is impossible to adequately express our gratitude for all the support we received. We just hope that every individual that contributed to the UUSC-UUA Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund knows how much they mean to survivors living in Haiti today.
It is also important to note that UUSC met the goal a full 18 months before the deadline to raise $166,000 alongside Shelter Rock's pledge of $500,000 — a truly outstanding achievement. Now UUSC has the necessary funds to help our grassroots partners rebuild communities, protect those at risk, offer employment and hope, and keep the promise of a new Haiti alive.
Meeting our goal with so much time left in the challenge is as sure a sign as any that UUSC's family of supporters will not be deterred when human suffering can be prevented.
As UUSC President and CEO Bill Schulz recently wrote in a letter to our members, "UUSC cannot sit back on its laurels. The impact of the recession on our work outside of Haiti has been considerable. At a time when our partners in over 20 other countries are in heightened need, nearly half of all American donors recently reported giving less in 2010 than the year before. Just as fires scorch forests at their driest moments, humanitarian crises often seem to strike when resources are most stretched."
Bill has hit the nail on the head. The generosity of our donors to help those in dire straits is something to admire. Now UUSC needs you to reach into your wallet and send contributions to support the thousands of grassroots organizers working to promote social justice and the hundreds of communities struggling against unjust power structures in places like Guatemala, Uganda, Kenya, Afghanistan, and many other places around the world where UUSC is working to uphold the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Please take a minute right now to make a contribution to ensure that our partners around the world confronting unjust power structures are afforded every chance to claim their full measure of human rights.
Submitted by Gretchen Alther. on Wed, 01/26/2011 - 1:10pm.
UUSC’s partners share the uses of a detailed report on home repairs from a humanitarian perspective with a group in international organizations in Gaza.
Adham Khalil, a young social worker in Gaza, shares his experiences helping families make small-scale repairs to their homes.
Thousands of homes and buildings were damaged and destroyed in Israel's 2008-9 attack on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. The majority remain in ruins due to a severe Israeli-imposed blockade that keeps out most of the materials needed for large-scale construction.
In response, UUSC began working with youth in Gaza to reconstruct their communities and homes. This small-scale repair project grew into a detailed evaluation of the most common and critical damage to residential homes, followed by suggestions for viable, safe, and dignified repair options using locally available tools and resources.
On Monday, January 24, we presented our evaluation — Gaza Repair Strategies — to a gathering of international organizations working on shelter solutions. This group, the U.N. Shelter Cluster, heard about our focus on dignity, rather than simply on the costs of damages and repairs, and discussed how to prioritize repairs from a humanitarian perspective.
We continue to share our information and experiences with organizations that have the resources to support this work on the ground. We are also exploring partnerships that will continue to positively engage young people in the recovery of their communities.
Submitted by Anonymous on Wed, 01/26/2011 - 8:58am.
Last week, we were excited to hear from Gary D. Nissembaum, chair of the Social Action Committee at the Unitarian Church in Summit, N.J., about his congregation's work in joining UUSC to support a just recovery in Haiti. Read his statement below.
Sunday, January 23, the Social Action Committee of the Unitarian Church in Summit will launch its offertory plate collection for UUSC's project with Camp Oasis in Haiti. Our congregation has set the ambitious goal of raising $8,520 over four Sundays. This will allow Camp Oasis to feed, clothe, house, and provide education for five girls for one year.
The offertory collection will be matched 3 to 1 by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, N.Y., so the ultimate amount collected through both the offertory and the match is anticipated to be a total of $34,080. That is far more than our congregation has ever raised for a UUSC project, and it is a tangible expression of our congregation's commitment to living boldly.
We also trust it will make a significant difference in the lives of those children. It demonstrates the vitality of the partnership between our congregation and UUSC. It was through this partnership that our offertory plate collection was utilized in 2009 to fund the construction of a women's shelter in Darfur and in 2010 to fund a farming initiative involving the purchase of oxen in Uganda.
—Gary D. Nissenbaum, chair of the Social Action Committee, The Unitarian Church in Summit, N.J.
Submitted by Gretchen Alther. on Thu, 01/20/2011 - 8:21am.
UUSC’s Gretchen Alther meets with Turkmen Afghan refugees in Attock, Pakistan, to discuss the impact of the flooding on their families and the importance of sending their children — boys and girls — to school.
It took mere hours to destroy the homes of nearly 22,200 people. When monsoon floodwaters ripped through the Azakhel refugee camp in northwest Pakistan this past August, 6,000 Afghan refugee families were made instantly homeless. With no place to go and hearing that the camp would not be rebuilt, survivors began to displace to other camps, made the heart-wrenching decision to return to Afghanistan, or sought out options in cities and towns throughout Pakistan.
For a group of 74 families, the decision to try to settle in the town of Attock — a couple hours west on the Grand Trunk Road — was motivated by the fact that they knew people there. These families are Turkmen Afghans, and many Turkmen already live in Attock town. Attock is also the home of one of UUSC's partner organizations, Barakat, which helps Afghan refugee families get quality education.
I visited the flood-affected Afghan refugees in Attock in December. I went to Barakat schools and met the students. I spoke with their fathers, and then with their mothers. I visited their rented homes, including the home of the Murad family, which left the devastated Azakhel camp in the aftermath of the flooding.
Mr. Murad, in his late 30s and the father of seven children — one in the womb — fled to Attock with his wife, their children, and his elderly father. Life is bittersweet for Mr. Murad and his family right now. On the one hand, he is among a larger community that is doing what it can to look after his welfare. His Turkmen Afghan neighbors have helped his family find a small place to rent for about $30 a month and work as a subcontracted carpet weaver. Barakat has given Mr. Murad's family, and all of the other 74 flood-displaced families, two small disbursals of cash to help meet their daily housing, food, and health-care needs. Barakat has encouraged the newcomers to send their children to Barakat schools, free of charge.
On the other hand, their recovery is arduous. Back in the Azakhel camp, all of the Murad children attended school. Mr. Murad worked as a carpenter, and that was enough to support his family. But in Attock, making ends meet means that the Murad kids, along with Mrs. Murad, have to stay home to help weave carpets. Mr. Murad goes out in search of daily labor jobs. If he's lucky, he'll earn about $2.40 a day, but a recent injury to his hand has kept him home of late. The Murads are worried about their situation. They want their kids to attend school, and Mr. Murad's father's health is failing.
The Murads' situation — and others like it — reinforces the importance of the partnership that UUSC and Barakat have formed to help flood-affected Afghan refugee families in Attock reestablish their livelihoods and become proprietors of their own businesses. With support for capital investments, the newly arrived families from Azakhel camp will be able to use their existing expertise to reestablish their lives in Attock and send their kids back to school.