DUNCAN MACLAREN reflects on this year’s SCIAF Lent campaign and its approach to development.
As we mourn the untimely death of Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, we remember, as Lent approaches, the way he spoke movingly of SCIAF’s mission in his homily during the special Mass last November to bring to mind those who had supported SCIAF and were now with God. He said:
‘The mission of SCIAF, born from and sustained by the love of Jesus Christ, is to seek to lift people across the world out of poverty and to help them to achieve the change that is necessary for families, communities and nations to live and to prosper according to their human dignity, in peace and in justice’.
The Archbishop summed up well the mission of SCIAF: born out of scripture and the Church’s teaching and praxis throughout the ages, its mission is to lift people out of a poverty that diminishes them as human beings created in the divine image; and to achieve transformation so that they can live in peace and justice and flourish according to their human dignity, possessing agency over their own lives.
Just as the pandemic reduced the effect of SCIAF’s Lenten Campaign last year, in terms of awareness-raising and funds, so the same is most likely about to happen this year. I want to suggest why readers and their families and colleagues should support SCIAF even more enthusiastically this Lent.
Integral human development
The reason is not just because the UK Government will double the income supporters contribute to SCIAF between 12th February and 11th May, but because of SCIAF’s adherence to Integral Human Development (IHD). This is a form of development, emerging out of the Catholic Social Justice Tradition, which brings real, durable, sustained change into the lives of the poorest, enhances their dignity and gives them the confidence and means not just to cope but to flourish as active participants in their own societies.
The programme the SCIAF team is focusing on this year is in South Sudan, the newest independent nation on earth, one of the poorest and wracked by conflict. In the UN’s 2020 Human Development Index, it is fourth from the bottom.
The project will be run by a trusted Sudanese partner organisation which will work with 400 disabled children, their communities and schools, in the region of Western Equatoria. This is an area where there is food insecurity, an illiteracy rate of 67 per cent and school enrolment is only 56 per cent of the total school-age population – and now there is COVID. Children who are disabled are, in the words of Pope Francis, the ‘abandoned… those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic’, children who lead hidden and impoverished lives. And, in South Sudan, children who suffer great stigma and discrimination.
Tackling a problem with such multifaceted elements calls for following the IHD framework. It takes into account all aspects of human life, including the spiritual and cultural; and all the stakeholders, including elites who may not want, for example, girls to be educated. This is a good example of a programme which, in the words of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, ‘leaves no one behind’. In South Sudan, a generation of disabled children who are locked out of education and trapped in a cycle of poverty have now been put at the top of SCIAF’s agenda.
The Lenten Campaign is about raising the necessary funds but even more about raising people’s awareness of the plight of others, an awareness which grows to make space for empathy. SCIAF provides an abundance of materials to introduce the children and their lives through video, images and information for schools, parishes, groups and individuals – and for those parents teaching their children from home during pandemic times.
Integral Human Development empowers the local people to say how they wish the development programme to shape and transform their lives. SCIAF’s role is more that of a facilitator, a friend acting out of solidarity. In the SCIAF materials, you will not find a group of happy South Sudanese with a ‘white saviour’ in the middle. You will not find pictures which demean in any way the people or display them as passive objects to prick our uninformed consciences. Even the cameraman/photographer is from South Sudan. Achuoth Deng has brought out the determination, ability and courage of disabled people, their friends and families, in his beautiful images of his fellow countrywomen and men. He gently holds all his subjects in frames of dignity and joy at the ‘lifting of suffering’.
It has been said of SCIAF’s work that it is too complex and its message is not simple, as in feeding children, or allowing Westerners to get on with the job of eradicating poverty. Those are strategies which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes as charity degenerating into sentimentality, not transformation. SCIAF recognises that, if you are intervening in the lives of some of the poorest people in the world, you are entering a complex reality with all sorts of facets. You are entering a sacred zone, the life of another person who has a family, a community, a culture and a belief system which must be held in esteem. Dealing with all this takes time and resources, but the result is to be found in sustainable programmes which work for the whole community, especially those who are left most behind, and where the people feel fulfilled.
And where the smiles of bettered lives are genuine.
This Lent, learn assiduously to change, pray with gritty intention, and give as you’ve never given before.
Dr Duncan MacLaren was SCIAF’s first Director and worked for the agency for thirteen years before being called to the Vatican as Director of Programmes of Caritas Internationalis. He was then elected as Secretary General of the global Confederation of 165 Catholic humanitarian, development and social service agencies. He served on the SCIAF Board from 2014 until 2020.