May 18, 2009, 5:15 PM
Greetings of love and peace.
As I write this, a civil war is exploding in Pakistan that may displace 1.5 million innocent civilians fleeing in hopes of survival. There are over 30 URI Cooperation Circles in Pakistan, some of them working in the midst of great danger as they stand against violent extremism and the denial of rights to minorities and women and girls, and for interfaith cooperation for education, economic development and peace. Fr. James Channan, long-time URI Pakistan leader, and Maulana Abdul Kabir Azad, new Global Council Trustee, will lead a URI relief effort to provide material and spiritual support to refugees. In the process, they will be lighting a candle of hope for the future by modeling interfaith compassion and cooperation in the midst of the darkness of violent religious extremism.
Nearly 20,000 people in the past week alone are fleeing what the Sri Lankan government declares is the final battle in a 25-year civil war; though as we know all too well, a military victory is no guarantee of a lasting peace. URI Cooperation Circles in Sri Lanka are affiliated with Sarvodaya Shanti Sena, a powerful grassroots movement for peace in Sri Lanka. In addition to their ongoing work for peace, justice and healing, leaders from the Sri Lankan CCs will be participating in a five-day URI peacebuilding training in Kerala, India in September, led by Dr. Abraham Karickam, URI Coordinator for South India, and the team he led during URI’s two-year Moral Imagination Peacebuilding Pilot Project.
Though it seems largely to have vanished from the front pages, the crisis in Zimbabwe remains extreme. One estimate I saw says that 7,000 Zimbabweans a day are fleeing into South Africa. Cholera remains a major menace, as does starvation; both exacerbated by political violence. URI leader, Munetsi Ruzivo, and other CC members continue to work heroically to provide basic humanitarian relief, spiritual support and hope with a growing circle of local partners, supported by Ted Galante, a contact in Zimbabwe made through URI’s President’s Council.
As Mindanao in the southern Philippines continues to struggle with the aftermath of renewed violence this past August, the Pakigdait CC, headed by Global Council Trustee, Musa Sanguila, is central to a powerful coalition of NGOs that is providing humanitarian aid and spiritual and psychological support for those displaced and traumatized. Marites Africa, another Trustee, has been providing leadership for peacebuilding training in support of these efforts.
Finally, though rains have recently come to the drought-stricken area of Kenya, the situation there remains extreme – failed crops and starvation both for people and the livestock they depend on for survival. In the midst of this crisis, there is a small ray of hope and an example of URI’s global community at work in this exchange of emails about the launch of the Young Leaders Mentorship Program, shared by Sarah Talcott, Director of URI’s Young Leaders Program:
Deborah Moldow [former Global Council Trustee and leader of the URI UN CC] wrote to me the day we sent out the news of her partner:
“I can’t believe the miracle that you have matched me with a young woman in Nairobi…because my church wants to raise funds to help alleviate the famine there… AND I just met in New York on Sunday with my dear friend and longtime colleague Mr. Juma Assiago of Nairobi who works at the UN Habitat office on the Safer Cities Program, so it is quite likely that Margaret knows him from her work at UNEP. He organized the dedication of the Peace Pole in downtown Nairobi in honor of the victims of the U.S. Embassy bombing, and I was there to help with this deeply moving event.”
To which her partner, Margaret Koli from Kenya [who is a member of the President’s Council’s new Environment Satellite], responded:
“I am so excited, it feels like the perfect match. It’s really great that URI has started the mentorship programme promptly, especially at this time of my life, and I believe of many other youth which is very critical. Deborah, it’s great to see that you have been engaged in a couple of activities here in Kenya. Yes, we have been suffering famine from early this year, and everyone is trying to help in their own little way…I am currently doing my internship at the moment at UNEP and the UN Habitat offices are right next door. I have heard about the projects Mr. Juma has been involved in, however I haven’t met him, yet.”
There is so much unnecessary suffering in our world caused by hatred, violence and greed, so much of it having a religious dimension. Its magnitude seems to dwarf URI’s efforts. But as we approach the 9th Anniversary of the signing of URI’s Charter on 26 June 2000, which gave birth to the global URI, I am heartened that in each of the places I have mentioned, URI is at work, providing practical relief, shining the light of hope into the darkness of despair.
And we are doing it as a global community, knowing that what happens to anyone anywhere, happens to us. Martin Luther King frequently said that technology had enabled humanity to make of the world a neighborhood, but that we had failed to make of it a brotherhood. He would go on to say, we will either learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or we will perish together as fools.
URI is making of the world a brotherhood and a sisterhood. So, I urge you to be fervent in prayer and meditation for our sisters and brothers who are suffering. As you are able, I urge you to support humanitarian relief efforts. And I urge you, in the words of a song written for the URI charter signing, to “keep your hope alive,” by believing we that can change the world and by acting on your belief.