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May 29, 2015

Is Sierra Leone on the verge of being declared Ebola-free?

Update: Since this blog was written, five new cases of Ebola have been confirmed in Sierra Leone.

By Joanne O'Flannagan, Trócaire's Humanitarian Coordinator in Sierra Leone

Is Sierra Leone on the verge of being declared Ebola-free?

With no new cases having been reported in a week, hopes are high that the country has finally consigned Ebola to its past. However, in order to be officially declared Ebola-free a country must go 42 consecutive days without a new infection so Sierra Leone has a long way to go before the nightmare of Ebola can be declared to be over. 

People here are still haunted by the dark months when Ebola moved from house to house; a silent and invisible killer that left over 10,000 people across West Africa dead.

Even if Ebola finally has been defeated, people in Sierra Leone face enormous challenges over the coming months. 

The restrictions on movement during the height of the Ebola crisis meant that many farmers were unable to plant their crops. In the towns and cities, thousands of people lost their jobs due to businesses closing down. 

People are planting now and the rains are due to come over the coming weeks. However, it will be August before those crops can be harvested and many people face a summer of hunger. June and July will be very lean months in Sierra Leone and people here will need support to get through the summer until the fresh harvest. 

Trócaire is supporting programmes in affected communities to provide people in an income to help them get over the summer months. By operating ‘cash-for-work’ schemes in these communities, people will earn money that will allow them to purchase food at local markets while they are waiting for their own harvests. 

Sierra Leone Ebola

People from the village of Rothomgboi who are taking part in Trócaire's project aimed at tackling hunger during the summer months (Photo: Joanne O'Flannagan / Trócaire)

 

The months ahead will not be easy for the people of Sierra Leone. The darkest days of this crisis are hopefully at an end but it will be quite some time before normality is restored. 

Even prior to the outbreak of Ebola, Sierra Leone was one of the poorest countries in the world. The decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002, decimated the country. Sierra Leone had made enormous strides since the end of that conflict but Ebola has knocked the country back. 

People here are all praying that they will reach the magic number of 42 days without a new infection. That day will be a very joyous one and will be a major step on the road to recovery. 

But that road will be a long one, and people here will need continued support along it. 

This crisis is far from over. 

Trócaire is working with local partners in Sierra Leone to help overcome hunger this summer. Please support our work by contributing to our Ebola fund.

May 27, 2015

Trócaire staff evacuated from district in South Sudan

Trócaire has been forced to evacuate three staff members from an area of South Sudan as a result of heavy fighting. Three staff members, who are all South Sudan nationals, spent three days taking shelter in a UN compound before being evacuated. 

Our office in Melut, which is in the north of the country, has been broken into and badly looted as government and anti-government forces fight for control of the region. We have been forced to suspend our humanitarian programmes in the region, which had been delivering aid to 20,000 people in two towns. 

The staff members spent three days bunkered inside the UN compound in Melut before we were able to evacuate them to Juba. They reported constant shelling – believed to be mortar fire – while they were in the compound. 

The UN has reported that four displaced people sheltering in the 'Protection' section of the compound were killed and eight people injured.

Until the outbreak of this recent fighting the joint programme between Trócaire and CAFOD, Trócaire’s sister organisation in England and Wales, was delivering humanitarian aid to more than 20,000 people through our partner Caritas Malakal.

Ordinary people are bearing the brunt of this renewed fighting, which only serves to deepen and prolong their suffering, as they flee to escape attacks by government and opposition forces.

Beleaguered communities must be protected, and not become military targets. It is essential that we are able to continue our work with vulnerable communities providing vital food, clean water, shelter and other essential items they urgently need.

Fighting broke out between the government of President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar in December 2013, first on the streets of the capital Juba, before quickly spreading across the country. The conflict has forced an estimated one million people from their homes, and thousands have been killed.

The international community and all parties to the conflict must redouble their efforts towards securing a sustainable, negotiated, peaceful solution to the conflict. Now is not the time for the world to walk away from South Sudan. The people more than ever deserve our concerted attention and efforts; inaction is not an option.

May 22, 2015

Archbishop Romero: A hero who died for the liberation of the poor

By Jose Adan Cuadra

On the 24th of March 1980, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, was shot and killed as he said mass at the altar of the Hospital of Divine Providence in El Salvador. 

Earlier this year, almost 35 years after his death, Monsignor Romero was declared a martyr of the Catholic Church, paving the way for his beatification, which will take place on Saturday (May 23rd) in the Holy Saviour’s Square in San Salvador. 

This event has filled those of us who have been inspired by the life and martyrdom of Monsignor Romero with great joy. It strengthens our faith and our belonging to a church that has demonstrated closeness to and solidarity with the poor, the weak, the excluded and the forgotten of this world.    

To understand the importance of Monsignor Romero’s legacy and the significance of his martyrdom, one must understand the context under which he practiced his pastoral duties. Monsignor Romero was named as Bishop for the Diocese of Santiago de María in October 1974. During his ministry there he began to witness and experience the harsh reality of poverty and exploitation in which the vast majority of the peasants in his diocese lived. He began to realize how the poverty and social injustice suffered by so many of his parishioners contrasted with the ostentatious lifestyle of a very few rich and powerful families. These rich families who attended church and gave money for works of charity were the same ones who denied the peasant farmers access to land, better wages and an improved standard of living.  

Monsignor Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador in February 1977 in the midst of a growing climate of injustice, social protest, insecurity, repression and political assassinations and disappearances. The military regime, which had come to power as a result of electoral fraud, was ruling the country through a reign of terror and repression as a means of defending its own interests and the interests of major financial and agricultural exportation industries of the time. 

The repressive state apparatus of the military regime was increasing its use of executions, murders, massacres, disappearances and torture against peasant leaders and workers who were organizing to defend their human rights. Certain sectors of the Catholic Church, including priests, nuns and lay people, were also targeted as a result of their devotion to the needs of the poor and the oppressed in El Salvador. 

Monsignor Romero was profoundly affected by the misery and injustice that were so evident in El Salvador, the constant violations of human rights of the most vulnerable people and the killings of innocent people, many of whom were close to him. He was converted to the struggle for peace and justice and throughout his ministry as Archbishop of San Salvador he was a great defender of the poor, as well as a harsh critic of social injustice. 

Letter from Archbishop Romero to Trócaire

A letter written by Archbishop Romero to Trócaire just two weeks before he was assassinated. Trócaire funded the Archbishop's work in El Salvador.

 

Monsignor Romero preached from the pulpit about the events taking place in El Salvador. He denounced the violations of human rights, he defended victims of the regime and urged the aggressors to choose peace over violence. He also called for an end to the violence and repression. Monsignor Romero put the Archdiocese at the service of the truth, justice and reconciliation. 

As a result of his activism, the powerful Salvadoran economic, political and military elites came to perceive Romero as a dangerous enemy. They feared the power of his discourse and his public denunciations of human rights violations, and they resented his closeness to and solidarity with the poor. For these reasons, they defamed him, harassed him and eventually plotted his murder.  

If those who murdered him thought that with his death they would silence his voice and thus end the commitment of the Catholic Church in El Salvador to the struggle for the liberation of the poor, they were wrong. His martyrdom sparked a fresh wave of enthusiasm, commitment and hope among the people of El Salvador. They were filled with the conviction that a different El Salvador was possible, one free of misery, injustice, repression, exploitation and oppression of the many by the few. 

Following his martyrdom, support for Monsignor Romero’s vision inside and outside of El Salvador only grew. I was one of many of the people who recognized Monsignor Romero as a man of God; a good man, an honest man, with a large heart and a man who died while working towards a better world. More of us recognized his deep spirituality, his love for the poor, his bravery in defending life and his exceptional saintliness.  

Since the moment of his death, the majority of Salvadorans and many people of good will throughout the world have recognized Monsignor Romero as a saint. 

The official recognition of Monsignor Romero’s martyrdom by the Catholic Church and his beatification is, without doubt, wonderful news. It provides both the Salvadoran and the Universal Church with a contemporary role model who, by his actions, demonstrated to us the path to God and how to build His kingdom of justice and love on earth.   

Jose Adan Cuadra works for Trócaire's El Salvador office.

May 21, 2015

My friends in Susiya should not have their homes destroyed

By Emmet Sheerin, Trócaire Campaigns Officer

If your home was set to be demolished and your village wiped-off the map, what would you do? Where would you go? How would you live? 

These are the questions being asked right now in Susiya, a rural Palestinian community in the West Bank. The village of Susiya, with a population of around 340, is in imminent threat of demolition by the Israeli military. 

In 2012, I spent five months working in the West Bank with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), documenting and reporting human rights abuses against vulnerable Palestinian communities stemming from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. On numerous occasions during this period I visited Susiya, where I got to know many of the people living there and to experience daily-life under the control of an occupying military force. 

In many ways Susiya is on the front line of the Palestinians’ struggle to exist on their own land and to resist the suffocating expansion of Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank. Like many Palestinian communities in the West Bank, Susiya has lost much of its land and water resources to Israeli settlements (which are illegal under international law), impacting greatly on people’s ability to live with dignity and to provide for their families. 

Susiya village, West Bank

The people of Susiya have lived in constant fear of their village and homes being demolished. Photo: Eoghan Rice / Trócaire.

 

In addition to the loss of vital natural resources, the people of Susiya live in constant fear of violence and harassment, not only from the Israeli military but also from Israeli settlers living nearby. The most vivid memory of my time in Susiya is interviewing a local woman who had recently been released from hospital after being severely beaten by Israeli settlers. She had been herding sheep on her family’s land close to the village when she was attacked by seven men armed with metal bars. 

What stuck with me most from this interview weren’t the bruises on her face or the strain in her voice, but the sight of her young daughter sitting in the corner of the tent, examining the fractures in her mother’s X-Ray.

If you are not familiar with the ongoing situation in the West Bank, you could be excused for thinking that incidences of land seizure or violence against Palestinians are isolated or random acts.  However, the hard reality is that the ongoing harassment, discrimination and human rights abuses against Palestinian communities are inextricably linked to a campaign to forcibly displace Palestinians from their land. 

This is being done in order to further expand and entrench Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and therefore strengthen Israel’s grip on the territory. Over 200 Israeli settlements have been established on Palestinian land in the West Bank since 1967, with over 500,000 Israeli settlers living in these illegal settlements.

From my experience working in the West Bank, Israel’s policy of mass demolition against Palestinian homes is perhaps the most obvious ploy in this campaign of forced displacement. Susiya, like many other Palestinian villages, lies in ‘Area C’ of the West Bank – an area controlled completely by the Israeli military, and comprising roughly 60 percent of the entire territory. Here, Palestinian communities must apply to the Israeli Civil Administration (i.e. the Israeli military) for permits to carry out any type of physical construction. However, the fact is that in almost all cases, applications made by Palestinians are rejected by the Israeli authorities. Nevertheless in order to meet the needs of their families and communities, Palestinians are forced to build in their villages without Israeli permission, leading to the mass demolition of homes, schools, medical tents, animal shelters and water cisterns. 

Sadly, the village of Susiya now faces imminent demolition. Last week the Israeli High Court gave the military the go ahead to demolish the village, despite an injunction request being made on behalf of the community by Trócaire’s Israeli partner organisation Rabbis for Human Rights. 

Having already witnessed the devastation caused by home demolitions in the West Bank, it is immensely troubling to think about the impact this will have on the lives of the residents of Susiya – a number of whom I consider my friends. I can only imagine the feeling of fear, frustration and helplessness the residents feel at this very moment - not knowing when the bulldozers will come, not knowing when they will see their lives torn down around them, not knowing where they will go. 

While the demolition of Susiya seems highly likely, we cannot let it be an inevitability. Now more than ever, international diplomatic pressure on Israel is essential – particularly given that legal avenues to stop the demolition appear exhausted. 

Many EU diplomats have already visited the village in solidarity. This is a really positive development. EU diplomatic representatives to Israel, including Ireland, should continue to make every effort to help stop the destruction of this Palestinian community.

Please tweet with the hashtag #SaveSusiya to show your support.

May 19, 2015

Archbishop Oscar Romero - ‘This outspoken champion for the poor guides Trócaire today’

By Éamonn Meehan

Since Trócaire’s foundation in 1973, human rights in Central America has been at the core of our work. Highlighting the repression of those trying to make a living off the land and the brutality which often claims the lives ordinary people has been the cornerstone of what we do.

In the 1970s Trócaire was funding many different projects in El Salvador. Grants were given to its Commission for Justice and Peace to help its small staff investigate injustices; a grant was given to set up a Socorro Juridico, a legal aid office for the Archdiocese of San Salvador; funds were provided to relations trying to trace missing family members and to the Association of Women who found themselves alone as main breadwinners with no means to feed their families.

In 1977 Monsignor Oscar Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. While the General of the country was determined to uphold the privileges of a select few, the Archbishop quickly became known as a champion of human rights.

In a report he issued on 5 March 1977, he noted that the recent election in El Salvador had been followed “by a wave of violence which included the killing of peasants and the torture of political dissidents.”  He added, “The Church cannot do anything less than raise its voice when injustice has overpowered society.  It cannot remain quiet when human rights are trampled.”

In 1979 we began funding the El Salvador Human Rights Commission, which had been founded by the Archbishop, in response to the unlawful killing of 8,000 people.  

Archbishop Romero consistently denounced the terrorisation of the people, advocating for social and economic reforms. He used archdiocesan radio to inform the largely illiterate population of their rights. Following the bombing of the station’s radio transmitter, Bishop Eamon Casey, our founding Chairman, received a letter from Monsignor Romero dated 1 March 1980 asking for funding to restore the broadcasting unit.  

“Not having the radio,” he wrote, “deprives us of a means so important here.”  He also said to Bishop Casey: “I would like once more to thank your kindness and preoccupation for our country and our Church and the kindness of the Irish Bishop’s Conference and Trócaire’s.”  

Two weeks after writing this letter, Archbishop Romero was brutally murdered while saying mass in San Salvador. His murder was a reprisal for his unflinching defence of human rights. Bishop Casey attended his funeral and narrowly escaped injury when members of a death squad opened fire on the huge crowds that had gathered outside the Cathedral. Bishop Casey tried to bring people to safety inside the Cathedral, spending almost two hours with the sick and injured.

In a statement issued following the assassination, the late Brian McKeown, Trócaire’s Director, said: “Archbishop Romero has emerged as one of the most courageous and leading churchmen in all of Latin America. He will remain an inspiration for all those involved in the struggle for human dignity and social justice.”

Bishop Casey said he was appalled by the killing: “In every sense, he is a true, present day martyr of the Church. He was a champion of the powerless and the poor.”

The bloody civil war that followed Archbishop Romero’s killing claimed at least 75,000 lives. Many villages were wiped out. Trócaire funded humanitarian work, helping families with shelter, food and clothing. Before the Salvadoran Peace Accords were signed in 1992, more than 180 of Trócaire’s close partners had lost their lives.

Today, Trócaire aims to continue the vision of this outspoken champion of the poor – for people to live in dignity, to feed themselves and their families and to speak the truth without fear.

Archbishop Romero was a dear friend to Trócaire. The news of his beatification has been greeted with enormous joy by our staff around the world, particularly in El Salvador. His leadership, conviction, compassion and solidarity guide Trócaire’s values and our work today.

Éamonn Meehan is the Executive Director of Trócaire. his article was originally published in the Irish Catholic on 21st May 2015.

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