Looking closer, taking action

PATRICK GRADY

SCIAF (The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund) campaigns for change to the causes of poverty and supports some of the poorest people in the world in their struggle to make a living. SCIAF’s advocacy manager explains the focus of this year’s Lent campaign.

We know that poverty and hunger don’t happen by accident. They are injustices created by people. Across the world millions are kept hungry and locked in poverty by global economic and social systems, rules and behaviour which only benefit the few. But because these systems are made by people, they can be changed by people.

In this year’s WEE BOX, BIG CHANGE Lent campaign we are asking people not only to raise money for SCIAF’s work overseas, but also take action in our own lives to help create a more just world for all. SCIAF has a strong track record in campaigning to make sure that politicians and businesses make decisions that don’t keep people poor. But we also need to look closer at our own lives to see how we contribute to maintaining the current global economic system which keeps so many people in poverty.

Pope Francis’ Lenten message advises us that in addition to addressing the needs of the world’s poor with practical aid, our efforts should be ‘directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for they are also the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth’.

We need political change to create a more just world, but it will never happen unless we bring about change in ourselves and how we contribute to the current system.

Traditional campaigning has and will continue to bring about substantial changes to help people living in poverty. Small groups of committed citizens really can change the world. Time and again SCIAF supporters have been part of campaigns that have made great strides in overcoming global poverty.

In the 1990s, Jubilee campaigners helped reduce the massive burden of debt owed by developing countries. In the 2000s, the Trade Justice Movement and Make Poverty History united millions of people around the world in calls for a fairer balance of power between rich and poor nations. More recently, we’ve campaigned with Stop Climate Chaos to tackle the causes and effects of man-made climate change. And in 2013, we worked with over 150 other groups representing millions of people across the UK as part of the Enough Food For Everyone… IF campaign.

The IF campaign capped a decades- long effort to ensure the UK spends 0.7% of its national income on development aid. It got G8 leaders talking seriously about tax dodging and land-grabbing for the first time, and major commitments were made on efforts to tackle child nutrition and support small-scale farmers. In Scotland, the Government pledged to double the Climate Justice Fund to £6million and invest more in Development Education Centres, which will help to nurture a new generation of global citizens.

For anyone who shares the Gospel vision which inspires SCIAF of a just world where everyone can ‘have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10), campaigning for change is not an optional extra. It is an urgent and necessary part of, in the words of SCIAF’s mission statement, ‘our common struggle for human dignity’.

SCIAF’s WEE BOX, BIG CHANGE campaign this Lent focusses on Colombia, a country characterised by huge inequalities between rich and poor, violence and a long-standing war. Here, the needs of the wealthy and big business are often put ahead of communities. Many poor families are forced from their land to make way for mining and cattle farms.

Criseria Bailarin, who belongs to the native American Emberá community, and is pictured with her family on this year’s WEE BOX, told SCIAF staff about the huge impact business is having on her community and the environment upon which they depend. ‘I’ve lived here my whole life. I’ve seen many changes in that time. Before we had an abundance of food, we had fish, armadillos and iguanas – now they’re gone because there’s no space for them. Now it’s very difficult.’

The encroachment of cattle farms into Emberá territory means that communities go hungry as land is set aside to grow food for animals. ‘They don’t care about it,’ Criseria continued. ‘They go into our territories and leave little space to grow food. They don’t want the territory to grow crops, they want it for cattle and that’s a big problem’.

SCIAF will continue to lobby governments and big companies. With their huge economic power and political influence we believe that it is only right for companies to be open and held to account for their activities. Governments must ensure that business is assessing its impact on poor communities and that action is taken to reduce risks and address problems when they occur.

We believe that a major shift is urgently needed – away from vested interests and the market, in favour of the common good of one human family.

But we need to think about our role in the economic system, even though this can be uncomfortable. We might all want companies to behave ethically and responsibly but at the same time there is a growing demand for cheap clothes and new products. We must begin to acknowledge how our own actions, lifestyles choices and consumption contribute to the unequal system we have created.

Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, challenges us to think about our priorities: ‘To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalisation of indifference has developed… we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us’. [EG, n54]

This Lent, SCIAF’s campaign challenges us all to Look Closer at our lifestyles and consider how we can live more simply, so that, as the saying goes, others can simply live. Eating less meat, using less energy, and cutting down on food waste are three suggested options for personal lifestyle changes that could help make a difference. The campaign looks beyond the 40 days of Lent to a more sustained and sustainable way of living in solidarity with people, and indeed the planet.

Many other members of the global Caritas family of Catholic development charities are adopting similar calls, under the banner of ‘One human family: Food for all’. This initiative received the blessing of Pope Francis recently, who described it as ‘an invitation to all of us to become more conscious in our food choices, which often lead to waste and a poor use of the resources available to us. It is also a reminder to stop thinking that our daily actions do not have an impact on the lives of those who suffer from hunger first hand’.
It is important to take stock of the substantial progress that has been made due to campaigning in helping many millions of people to overcome poverty and injustice. Now we must consider the next steps on the journey, and the role our own behaviour plays in maintaining the current system which traps millions more in poverty. This Lent and beyond, we can all look for ways, to paraphrase the prophet Mica, of ‘acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God’.

To find out more visit www.theweebox.org or call SCIAF on 0141 354 5555.

CURRENT ISSUE
April/May 2019

April/May 2019

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Open House held a conference on the role of lay people in the governance of the Catholic Church in November 2013. See conference papers.