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September 30, 2014

Life in Yanoun, in the occupied West Bank

by Emmet Sheerin
 
The devastation caused by Israel’s latest military offensive in Gaza has rightly generated significant public outcry and attention. However, just 60 kilometres away, Palestinian communities are also suffering under Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. Emmet Sheerin writes about the situation in a Palestinian village in the West Bank called Yanoun. 
 
In 2012 I lived and worked in the small Palestinian village of Yanoun, in the north of the West Bank. Like many other Palestinian villages, Yanoun has lost vast amounts of its land and natural resources to the Israeli military and Israeli settlements. These settlements are illegal under international law, yet despite this, there are currently over 100 settlements in the West Bank with a combined population of well over 500,000 Israeli settlers. 
 
I was working in Yanoun with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) , one of Trócaire’s partner organisations.
 
EAPPI brings people to the West Bank to work in teams of human rights observers.  Our job in Yanoun was to document and report various human rights abuses against Palestinians stemming from Israel’s military occupation. On a day-to-day basis this might include the demolition of a Palestinian home or the violent dispersal of a peaceful Palestinian demonstration by the Israeli military. It could also be the arrest of a Palestinian child in the middle of the night, suspected of throwing a rock at an armoured military vehicle.
 
However, apart from responding to these types of incidents, there was another, and ultimately more pressing reason for our presence in Yanoun. Such is the level of violence posed by Israeli settlers living nearby, that without the constant and continual presence of international observers in the village, the local Palestinians would simply flee their homes. As Rashed, the village leader, explained to me, “if the internationals leave the village in the morning, we will leave in the afternoon”. 
 
WATCH: 'This is my land', a short film about life in Yanoun
 
There is good reason for Rashed and the other villagers to fear. In 2002 after a sustained campaign of violence and intimidation by Israeli settlers, almost the entire village was evacuated. Eventually the villagers returned to Yanoun, but only with the support of international and Israeli peace activists. Since then there have been teams of international observers living in Yanoun, providing a nonviolent protective presence in the village. 
 
For Israeli settlers, life in the West Bank is entirely different. Despite being illegal under international law, Israeli settlements expand and thrive off land and resources taken from Palestinian communities. In the Jordan Valley (close to Yanoun) Israeli settlers have used these resources to develop large scale agricultural operations, exporting produce abroad, including to the EU. Ultimately the production and trade of this produce is strongly linked to the dispossession of Palestinian communities, and serious breaches of international law. 
 
Here in Ireland it could be easy to think that we have no bearing on the situation in Palestine. Yanoun and other vulnerable villages in the West Bank are far away, and the crisis in Gaza is immense. The reality is though that the Irish Government can and should play a significant role in helping to bring about a just and lasting peace. This means seeking a long-term political solution based on an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
 
Furthermore, recognising the illegality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the human rights violations resulting from their continued expansion, our government can publicly support the introduction of an EU-wide trade ban on settlement produce and demonstrate leadership by implementing an individual member state ban here in Ireland.
 
At the end of the day, however, the Irish Government is unlikely to take such action in the absence of pressure from the Irish public. It is essential therefore that Irish citizens continue to demand an adequate and concrete response from the Government. For the villagers of Yanoun and other communities across the West Bank, as well as the besieged population in Gaza, our solidarity, and our actions can have a massive impact on their lives.
 
 
 

September 24, 2014

Climate change is no longer a stand-alone issue, it is the entire context in which the world exists

by Eithne McNulty, Trócaire's Director in Northern Ireland

Humans, along with every other species, depend totally on the proper functioning of the planet for the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. A small change to nature’s system can have the effect of knocking the entire basis of life on earth out of synch. 

Tragically, we are seeing one such change. It is called climate change and it cannot be described as small.

Fact: the earth’s average temperature is higher today than it was before mass industrialisation. Fact: each of the last three decades have been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850.

The scientific evidence is unequivocal: not only is our climate changing, it is changing as a direct result of carbon emissions from human activity. If emissions continue as they are, experts warn that by 2100 average global temperatures will be between 3.7-4.8°C higher than today.

Such a rise would have a profound impact on sea levels, rainfall patterns and the frequency of extreme weather events. These, in turn, would similarly have a profound impact on our ability to live. Crop yields across much of Africa are predicted to fall, including by up to 50 per cent by 2020 in some countries, as a direct consequence of climate change. Even optimistic predictions forecast that there could be an additional 86 million malnourished children in the world by 2050.

We do not have to look to the future to see the devastation of climate change, of course. Today, one in twelve people across the world is at risk of hunger. Through my work with Trócaire I have seen how drought, storms and floods are plunging people already on the edge into further poverty.

The reality is simple: climate change is no longer a stand-alone issue, it is the entire context in which the world exists.

Women walk to the market close to Chuka in the Tharaka district of central Kenya

Women walk to the market in an area seriously affected by climate change impacts in the Tharaka district of central Kenya. (Photo: Eoghan Rice)

 

When world leaders met in New York yesterday (Sept 23rd) at the UN Climate Summit, the urgency for genuine action has never been greater. The decisions we take this week and over the coming years will have huge implications on a wide range of issues, from food production to mass migration, for decades to come.

Despite dire predictions from experts who warn that we are running out of time to avoid a future of mass displacement and growing hunger, political leaders have until now chosen to ignore long-term issues in favour of short-term gains.

Collectively, the world has chosen to ignore a catastrophe that is heading straight towards us.

We have recently seen the impact of conflict in many countries around the world – Syria, Iraq and others. These conflicts have been driven by factors that are not linked to the changing environment. However, the UN has warned that the depletion of renewable natural resources, combined with environmental degradation and climate change, poses fundamental threats to human security. Disputes and grievances over natural resources can be a major contributing factor to violent conflict when they overlap with high levels of inequality, poverty, injustice and poor governance.

One of the greatest injustices in today’s world is that those who have done least to contribute to the planet’s changing climate are the very people who are suffering most from its effects.

The average person in Northern Ireland is responsible for emitting 8.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – 83 times the amount of the average Ethiopian. All industrialised countries need to cut carbon emissions as a matter of urgency.

We need changes to our economy and government policies. Each of us has a role to play, be it in our homes, our schools or our businesses.

Justine Greening, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, attended the UN Summit on Climate Change. They should be willing to seize the opportunity to become climate champions and push political decision-makers and the international community to agree fair and binding global targets to reduce emissions and support developing countries dealing with climate change. Closer to home, paramount to effecting change will be whether or not the Assembly has the courage to introduce a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act   with a legally binding regional target to reduce carbon emissions from 1990 levels by at least 40% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

This New York meeting will set the tone for the work that needs to be achieved in the coming months in advance of the new global climate deal which is expected to be agreed at talks in Paris next year. In the run up to this Summit people have taken to the streets in New York, in Belfast, in Dublin and around the world in the biggest ever mobilisation on climate change, and they are calling for responsible leadership: it is now up to our leaders to step up to the plate.

We need to respond to climate change before it’s too late. If we do not then what kind of legacy will we be leaving future generations?

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September 22, 2014

The day the world woke up to demand climate justice

Trócaire’s Lorna Gold reports from New York, where 310,000 people took to the streets ahead of Tuesday’s UN Climate Summit.

The 21st September was no ordinary day. I would even go so far as saying that it was one of the most extraordinary days in modern times. It was the day that the whole world woke up to global warming and the people said with one voice: we care, we want change, we want climate justice.

For sure there have been big marches before – but nothing on this scale. From Australia to Sri Lanka, from Jakarta to Nairobi, from Dublin to New York – people joined together in nearly 3000 coordinated events to say to world leaders that we demand action. On Tuesday, as the leaders gather at the UN they will have the eyes of the world on them as never before.

Never before has the full power of social media been harnessed to collectively organise diverse groups across the globe and to send one message to world leaders as one voice. It was a coming together of online and offline activism like never before.

I had the privilege of being at the New York march, which was carried off in true New Yorker style. Everyone was there: local neighbourhood groups, young families with babies, dancing polar bears, healthcare workers, rabbis, bishops, elderly people in wheelchairs, people dressed as mermaids, and thousands upon thousands of young people. The organisers estimated that 50,000 students joined the march – stretching for ten full blocks of the city. In total, around 310,000 people marched through New York.

The atmosphere was carnival like. Music, drums, dancing – reclaiming the streets of Manhattan for the people, at least for one day. The atmosphere was electric. There was a feeling of emotional release: finally, our voice is being heard. At one spine tingling point the entire 310,000 raised their hands in silence to think of those affected by climate change. You could have heard a pin drop. Then, from the back of the march, some four kilometres away, a Mexican wave roared all the way down to the front. 

The slogans on the thousands of hand painted banners said it all for me: “There is no planet B” “Keep the coal in the hole” “planets do not grown on trees” “Explain to future generations – ‘it was good for the economy’”. Meantime people chanted “this is what democracy looks like” “what do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now.”

Far from being an environmental lobby issue, this was about ordinary people and their lives. People came to the march for many reasons. For many it is about the future their children will inherit. The number of grandparents and young families bearing the heat and humidity to be there was striking. For some it was about their own homes which are at risk of flooding. For others it was about a moral purpose – saving the world.

People want radical change. No matter why they came, they can see the injustice of climate change around them. They came because they want the government to listen to the people and not to be beholden to the oil industry or other corporate forces. A common theme through the march was divestment from fossils fuels and other destructive industries such as fracking.

One of the best slogans at the march showed the World Wildlife Fund panda shouting “Save the Humans.” This summed up the change for me. People have finally realised that climate change is not just about polar bears. It is far more important than that. It is about our planet, our future as a species. It is about people and justice.

I left the march today with my heart full of hope. Change is most definitely in the air. The tipping point is near. The people have spoken up. World leaders now need to listen and make the change that is needed. They need to commit to divesting from fossil fuels, and commit to binding emissions targets. They need to put money on the table to help the poorest countries adapt.

One thing is absolutely certain – this mass movement is not going to stay quiet. It has taken some time, but like generations before them that ended apartheid and slavery, the people have finally found their voice. It will only get louder.

September 15, 2014

Join the largest climate mobilisation in history on September 21

September 21 is set to be the largest public mobilisation in history against climate change. Trócaire’s Emmet Sheerin writes about the reason for this, and calls on people here in Ireland to take part in the worldwide event.


On September 21, in towns, villages and cities across the world, people will be gathering to show that they care about climate change – that they demand a fair and adequate response to this global problem.


The international day of action is being held just 48 hours before world leaders, including our own Taoiseach Enda Kenny, meet in New York for a summit on climate change. The summit is being hosted by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and will be one of the most high-profile, global moments focused on climate change in years. It is hoped that the summit can generate the much needed political will and momentum towards agreeing a universal binding agreement on climate change in 2015.


In reality, however, without significant public pressure, it is highly unlikely that world leaders will take the necessary measures to adequately tackle climate change. The international day of action is therefore an opportunity to put pressure on world leaders to step up to the mark. It is a chance for Irish people to send a strong message to the Taoiseach demanding action on climate change, not simply words.


As part of the run up to the event, Trócaire went along to Electric Picnic, armed with a few trad musicians and a giant heart. We asked people to write on the giant heart the thing they love and want to protect against climate change. Take a look at the video below to see what people care about.  


Make your voice heard and join us for the People’s Climate Picnic, Sunday September 21

Dublin: The Bandstand, St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, 12-2pm

Belfast: The lawn outside the Whitla Hall at Queen's University Belfast, 1pm-3pm



Now is the time for us all to act on climate change for the love of everything we hold dear!

September 02, 2014

Life at Malmaley Primary School, Somalia

"It is my hope and prayer to see a stable Somalia where children can progress in their education and teachers are free to serve in any part of the country. Education is the only hope." - An interview with Sirad Mohamud Jilacow (50), Head Teacher at Malmaley Primary School, one of the 15 primary schools that Trócaire supports in the Gedo region of Somalia. 
 
Why did you decide to become a school teacher and do you like this profession?
 
I was an orphan but had the opportunity to go to school and complete my education. I became a teacher because I want to give children in my community the same opportunity, regardless of their backgrounds or situations. 
 
I enjoy teaching and hope to continue doing so until age catches up with me!
 
How long have you been teaching?
 
I have been teaching since 1984, in different parts of the country. 
 
Which subjects do you teach?
 
I mainly teach Science but as we have few teachers here I also teach other subjects like English and Maths. 
 
Which subject do the pupils like best and why?
 
I have noticed that they enjoy Science as it is mostly about the environment, what they learn in class, for example animals and plants, are things they see every day. 
 
What are the biggest challenges you face as a teacher in this environment?
 
There are not enough books for all the children. Sometimes teaching becomes difficult when you want to display a diagram or a picture yet there is only one book for everyone. The children end up scrambling just to get a glimpse.
 
For some subjects we do not have any reference books and we end up borrowing from neighbouring schools. If we can't get access to books we rely on and pull directly from our own teaching experience. We also have to write everything on the chalkboard for the students to copy into their books.
 
The other challenge is that during the dry season and the pastoralist nature of families here, parents move to areas where they can find pasture and water for their animals. This means that often children have to leave with their parents and hence cannot go to class. 
 
somalia education teacher interview
Left: soap is distributed to students at Malmaley Primary. Right: Sirad Mohamud Jilacow, Head Teacher
 
 
How do you encourage pupils to stay in school until the final grade?
 
During school holidays many children help their parents to look for pasture for their animals. Some end up spending long periods of time away from their homes and fail to come back to school.
 
I keep the contact list of parents or guardians and ask for the whereabouts of those students who fail to report back to school. I also receive support in doing this from parents and education committees. 
 
The school feeding programme with Trócaire also helps us encourage pupils to complete their education.
 
What are the biggest challenges facing the parents, and communities, in sending their children to school?
 
The biggest challenge is the lack of adequate knowledge of the importance of education. The nomadic way of life, where families migrate to other areas in search for pasture and water for their animals, denies many children the opportunity to attend school.
 
Cultural practices, such as girls’ early marriage, which is still practiced here in my village, continues to hinder enrolment of girls in school. Girls also lack female ‘role models’ from the community who they can look up to and seek advice from, on education matters.
 
However, a lady from the village who now works with a local organisation visited our home area, encouraging parents within the community on the importance of educating the girl child. As a result, 15 girls from that village were enrolled in a Trócaire supported school in Belet Hawa district. I’m glad the notion towards educating girls seems to be changing.
 
Good times are ahead of us!
 
If you were to make some changes in your community, what would they be?
 
I would change the main economic activity to agriculture because, unlike pastoralism, farming requires minimal movement or relocations of families. This will give children the space to enrol in schools and pursue their education until completion.
 
Lastly, it is my hope and prayer to see a stable Somalia where children can progress in their education and teachers are free to serve in any part of the country. Education is the only hope.
 
 

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