Tag Archive: poverty


AMDG

2 of our students with a representative of the myriad foundation

2 of our students with a representative of the myriad foundation

One of the beautiful things to see emerging the last few months is how students of different faiths are helping us with the foodbank. Every few weeks or so a couple of Muslim lads drop by with a car full of food that they have collected from various mosques.  The same day when they paid their last visit we received a cheque for £250 from the local synagogue.  Neither donations had been solicited from either faith community and they were gladly received.  The Muslims run an excellent charity called the Myriad Foundation which aims ‘ To make a positive impact on society and a significant contribution to the community’.  

Another story which was heart-warming  was when two young ladies turned up with two boxes of cakes.  I gratefully received them and asked them what had motivated them to donate them. It turned out that their mother had recently used the foodbank.  She was so grateful that now that she had got out of her temporary crisis, she had held a cake sale to raise money for our foodbank, and so the next week a cheque arrived for a few hundred pounds.

At the recent National Conference of the Trussel Trust – I attended a workshop on how to receive the stories of our clients.  At first we were reluctant to ‘pry’ into the reasons why people were coming for the foodbank.  However we have since learnt that we actually have a duty to give people the option to tell their stories.  It seems that about 80% of the users are all to keen to tell their stories (we have had been able to help over 1,300 people so far).  The Trussel Trust are keen to get their stories’out there’ in order to challenge the negative stereotypes and myths of ‘scroungers’ that seems to poison the public debate about poverty in this country.  The stories initially are taken anonymously and will be posted up on our blog (link), and then the majority of clients give permission to use them with media outlets / or journalists who get in touch – this time with some independent verification.

Reintegrating Prisoners

AMDG

1376142163There has been a very interesting development with our Foodbank the last couple of weeks.  We are suddenly receiving a lot of referrals from the Probation Service.  As they attempt to reintegrate former prisoners back in to civilian life, it is famously hard for those used to an institutional life to cope on their own again.  We know that the recidivism rate is a source of concern (the rate of ex-prisoners re-offending on release), and that there are many strategies attempting to reduce this.  So it is great if the Foodbank can assist in anyway.  Our ‘front of house’ students are trained to be non-judgmental of anyone who is referred to the Foodbank.  It is the job of our referral agencies to decide who is in genuine need, not our job.  We just assist in giving out the food and offering advice about where else to go.  Usually people are incredibly grateful for the help they get, and the students do a great job at welcoming them, making them feel relaxed, helping to ‘signpost’ them on to other support.  

National Probation Service (1)However last week there was interesting development.  One guy, referred by the probation service,  came in and was very angry at being given a bag of Tesco-value tea-bags.  ‘I’m not an animal’ he said angrily to the students.  Another guy came in and rejected half of the food that was given to him.  The emergency food provision – is carefully measured out, nutritionally balanced, under guidelines given by the Trussell Trust.  So having half of it thrown back in their faces, because the guy didn’t like tomato sauce or couldn’t be bothered to carry cans was a bit galling.  However they all kept their cool, and today we all got together and had a brief reflection on the experience.  It was  interesting to consider the issue facing ex-prisoners as they attempt to reintegrate, maybe they are a bit institutionalized after years locked up, used to the same menu.  Another possibility is perhaps a ‘chip on their shoulder’ about being locked up – and how they feel civvies view them.  Also with the first chance to exercise choice in a long time it maybe that their reactions are a bit exaggerated. 

It also more evidence that as the state rolls back it support, and there is no strong family unit in place to takes is place – more and more pressure is being put on voluntary groups, often faith-based ones to fill in the gap.

Storms & Solidarity

AMDG

Two years ago – as part of my  ‘tertianship’ (last year of Jesuit formation) in the Philippines, I lived for a few weeks in Navotas, one of the shanty towns in Manila.  Some of the families lived in very simple houses on stilts in Manila Bay.  We arrived during the aftermath of a strong typhoon.  Two things struck me, firstly the incredible resilience the people had in the face of these frequent storms.  Secondly, because they had so little – how quickly they were able to rebuild their lives.   We made a small video to appeal for help.

I spent a wonderful 6 month in the Philippines, fell in love with country and the people. It was also fascinating to hear how it was the Jesuits who were the first to track typhoons in Asia from the Manila Observatory (click here to read more about that).  It is very sad to hear the effects of the recent Typhoon. In a county which seems sadly used to frequent disasters, this one is at a higher level. When I was there –  I was very impressed by how the network of Jesuit education institutions coordinated disaster relief  (click here).  So when the Jesuits received a letter from the Provincial  requesting help today – I thought I would it worth posting his letter here. You have to click on the link to open the PDF.

Philippines Appeal

Link to donate online  Indicate ‘for the Philippines Appeal’ in text box

Unblocking Romero

AMDG

Statue of Oscar Romero outside Westminster Abbey

Statue of Oscar Romero outside Westminster Abbey

We had a special night last Thursday here in Manchester hosting the Romero Trust and Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP. Fr Timothy gave an engrossing talk entitled the Disturbing Truth, Oscar Romero, The Church & the Poor – he spoke with a compassion and authority that kept the packed church of 400+ gripped. Oscar Romero was the Bishop of El Salvador who was killed in 1980 for his commitment to the poor.  We were reminded how this quiet, ‘bookish’ bishop was ‘converted’ to the cause of the poor, when he looked on the bullet ridden body of his friend the Jesuit Rutilio Grande who had been assassinated by right wing paramilitaries.  Romero spoke out fearlessly against the repression of the poor from that point on – till it became inevitable that he would have to be silenced.  He was shot dead during mass in his Cathedral, and it was shocking to find out that when they prepared his body for burial they discovered that the inside of his trousers was coated with salt.  It is probable that he saw the assassin at the back of the cathedral before he was shot – and that the anxiety caused an excessive sweating – but he would not abandon the prayer of the mass.

 Timothy Radcliffe lecture 31 10 2013 (6)People came from all over the North of England to hear Fr Radcliffe – and it was clear that there is a great love for Romero. So it is heartening to hear that Pope Francis has unblocked his cause for canonisation.   Timothy argued that for Romero, the fundamental moral choice was between dialogue and violence. Patient dialogue is not about negotiation but transformation. The deepest truths are only attainable through patient exchange, building friendship, transforming our hearts and minds. It is the very opposite of violence. Britain at one level is more tolerant than El Salvador was in the 80’s however a more subtle dynamic of violence is at work.  In modern Britain, the contempt for the poor often takes the form of contrasting the so-called good, hard-working poor, and the imagined multitude of ‘skivers’, parasites devouring benefits.  The uncomfortable truth is that the vast majority of poor people in this country work but simply are not paid enough.  Romero had to be assassinated because he refused to collude in the myth of the wickedness of the poor.

Timothy Radcliffe lecture 31 10 2013 (105) In giving a vote of thanks, Eammon O’Brien, the president of the Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy, commended Timothy for inspiring a new generation of Catholics.  He pointed out that the Chaplaincy has just opened the first student-run foodbank in the country, and that his words would inspire them to deepen their commitment to the poor through the regular soup runs, and supporting a breakfast club at a local primary school.  They would challenge the globalisation of indifference and the denigrating language of the poor. It was great to have Bishop Brain of Salford & Bishop Rawsthorne of Hallam with us for the talk.

Widow’s Mite & Spiritual Wounds

AMDG

currencyTwo lovely stories today from the adventure that is the Catholic Chaplaincy at Manchester.  It has been widely reported about the great scandal of loneliness amongst the elderly in our country, ia great shame.  It is alarming the growing intolerance of the old – often seen as a nuisance, slowing our consumerist society down.  Coupled with this is the growing scandal of heating bills and the greed of the energy companies, to which the old are particularly vulnerable. An Old Lady came in this morning – who regularly attends mass.  Very frail, hunched over but with a real spark in her eyes.  I look forward to our weekly conversation.  She told me with tears in her eyes that she was moving back to Newcastle – because she couldn’t afford to heat her flat in Manchester.  According to her the council had ripped out the night storage heaters and updated the radiators.  She has found a smaller flat in Newcastle which is more efficiently heated.  And then stooping down she pulled out a huge jam jar full of 10ps and copper she had been collecting for years!  She wanted me to take it for the church. The widows mite indeed.

images (5)Also we had the foodbank open this morning and an emaciated young man was referred to us.  An essential part of the foodbank is that people are welcomed and sit down and treated to tea and homemade cakes (from the students).  Whilst the food parcels are being prepared, they tell us a bit of their story and we find out more about the nature of their crisis.  This helps us to ‘signpost’ them to other support services they might not be aware of. Talking to one of our students he said how he was struggling to cope with the aftermath of his fathers death.  Evidently a pentecostal  ‘pastor’ had told him that as he was gay he was to never go into a church.  For some reason he had obeyed this idiot  (millstones round necks come to mind) .  The young man  really wanted someone to pray with him for his father.  So to his great relief and delight our student took him into the chapel and they prayed together.  A case of spiritual wounds being harder to cure then the physical wounds of hunger.

Historic Day in Manchester

AMDG

David Cameron visits NuneatonTwo important things happened yesterday in Manchester which offer a contrast that maybe worth reflecting on.  The Prime Minister gave his speech about his vision of ‘ a land of opportunity for all’, whilst just down the road (to be precise Oxford Rd)  we are opening the first student-run foodbank in the country (link to BBC website).   All around Manchester you can see the Conservative Party banners – with their conference slogan proclaiming ‘For Hard Working People‘.  The implication is that we are not the party of scroungers, lazy welfare dependent – ‘feckless’ poor.  The embarrassing truth is that according to foodbank usage statistics (collated by the excellent Trussell Trust), the crisis food provision is increasingly being used by the ‘working poor‘.   The sad fact is that many hard working people seem to be getting poorer, especially those not protected by proper contracts.

The Conservative Party seem to have a schizophrenic relationship with Foodbanks, on one hand they are held up as being a great example of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ on the other hand there is considerable embarrassment about the incredible growth of the foodbank network.  This is embarrassing for the government as it makes visible what was hidden before, food poverty.   Food Poverty is something that teachers have noticed as alarming levels of students arrive at school with empty stomachs, here in Central Manchester we have the highest indices of child poverty in the country.  It was sad to see a meeting between MP’s and foodbank managers was cancelled this week here in Manchester for lack of interest by the Conservative MP’s.  We also had the same problem attracting Catholic Mp’s to speak to the students – none were interested in coming. Last year at the Labour conference a few Mp’s came – including the impressive Jim Murphy, who still came and talked to the students even though he had lost his voice.

Even if the government wasn’t interested – the media were – this report went out nationwide on ITV yesterday

Foodbanks – Hope & Scandal

AMDG

This is a scheduled blog – posted automatically – I’m on a silent retreat at the moment so will only be able to moderate or reply to comments at the end of next week 

 1376142163Here in Manchester – we are about to open the first student-run foodbank in the country.  We have been working with the Trussel Trust (TTT), a Christian charity who currently support the biggest network of foodbanks in the country.  The alarming rate of growth of foodbanks is a direct response to two conflicting trends in British life.  The growth of ‘food poverty’ : as globally food prices rise, energy prices rise, but locally wages stay still or decrease, those with a basic income are finding it harder and harder to put food on the table.  The second trend is the cutting of benefits, and the dismantling of a bloated welfare state.  With pressure on local agencies to withhold benefits for the slightest misdemeanour, those accustomed to relying on this are finding themselves in emergency situations, where they may have to wait a few weeks before any income resumes.   So foodbanks are popping up all over the place, often but not exclusively in churches – to provide short-term emergency assistance. 
Picture1The TT model that we are following,  provides a referral service, where those in crisis can be referred to us for food parcels by a variety of front-line agencies.  People don’t just walk-in off the streets, it is not a drop-in centre they must be referred with vouchers.  These are also limited to three per six months, so it is not creating dependency but rather providing an emergency – short term crisis service.  The vouchers also ensure that a sophisticated monitoring process can go on to find out the causes of these crises, and spot any patterns emerging.  It was interesting to see that TTT was able to identify a spike in demand during the summer holidays as free-school-dinners were not available to struggling families.  Present at yesterdays training day – here at the chaplaincy – were representatives from the council, the huge local hospital, schools, churches, sure-start centres,  job-centers, charities etc.  It was a an impressive kaleidoscope of civil society,  the ill-fated ‘Big-Society’.

download (2)The scandal of food-poverty in such a wealthy society – for me points more towards the breakdown of the extended family rather than free-market politics.  Like many post-industrial societies we are in a much-needed reform of the welfare state, but when the family is not there to pick up the pieces – more strain is put on civil-society as big-government withdraws.  However dirty politics also reared its head yesterday.  It turns out that the job-centres, who are enthusiastic referrers to food banks, at times verging on the irresponsible, using us an excuse to meet quotas, cut corners.  The job centres refuse to use the voucher scheme as sanctioned by TTT.  Why – because much of this food poverty is hidden – but the monitoring system TTT uses allows for the identification of the cause of the crisis and this is an embarrassment for the Dept of Work and Pensions (DWP).  On the voucher it is indicated why someone is in crisis, e.g sickness, benefit delays, domestic violence, debt etc.   It seems that although there was an agreement with TTT and DWP back in 2011, DWP have acted unilaterally and changed it – refusing to use TTT’s vouchers.  It may be that the TTT network is so extensive and successful now, but also they are so good at data gathering that this is embarrassing the government.  They are happy to dump people on the TTT, but not happy for statistics to get out about how the changes are effecting people – now that is Scandalous!

Why We should Help

AMDG

When chatting to people about the experiences of the last year, a depressingly common response is Why should we help? We have our own problems?  This I call the ‘Little Englander’ response but on the surface also it seems very reasonable.  The UK has the 6th biggest economy in the world according to the World Bank, India the 9th.  Surely this will change soon.  There have been criticism from both countries about the UK sending Aid to India.  Some Indians saying it is an insult, some British saying we should concentrate closer to home. Both are completely wrong in my opinion.  The British International Development Secretary, sensitive to such criticisms has said recently. “India itself has got 60 million children into school in recent years with its own money but more than 30 per cent of the world’s poorest people live there. There are states the size of Britain where half of all children suffer from malnutrition. We will not be in India for ever but now is not the time to end the programme.”  That is an incredible fact….. Of India’s 28 states, 10 have populations greater than 60 million.

The church punches above its weight in India particularly in its education initiatives and healthcare provision. However at times there can also be a siege mentality with the inter-religious balance so delicate. Catholics are regularly attacked and killed a terrible crime which is not well reported. Hostility, often due to forces of nationalism and fundamentalism, present warped representations of the church. Protestant fundamentalists do not help at times – with all Christians often viewed as the same by the Hindu majority.   Many communities may also be jealous because of the funding that comes from Catholics abroad.  The Indian Bishops at a recent conference released a statement on ‘The Church’s Role for a Better India’.However in this delicate climate – the church has already accomplished a lot, running 788 hospitals, many of them caring for HIV patients, a vast network of over 15,000 schools and colleges of which 54% of students are girls and 71%  are non-Catholics. It is clear that the Church’s network is doing a lot of good and unsung work for the people India. Catholic schools are the most prestigious regularly filling out the list of top performing schools. Because education is still a business in many places people are setting up schools to imitate Catholic schools. I heard  of schools called St Christs and St Jesus’s, of directors of schools insisting that all the female teachers wear habits like nuns. You regularly see in the matchmaking column of the newspapers, boasting of a girls credentials under the proud title of Convent Educated, or the prospective husbands having been Jesuit educated.  However theses works only thrive because of a woeful lack of quality and consistent provision by the state.

Philanthropy and giving by wealthy people is undergoing a bit of a revolution, courtesy of billionaires such as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates (left). Warren Buffet has designed the ‘giving pledge‘ in an attempt to get billionaires to commit to giving the majority of their wealth away to charitable efforts. So far 81 have signed it including, laudably, the youngest Mark Zuckerberg and the great Elon Musk. Sadly, a wise and experienced Indian told me that philanthropy does not have the same status in Hindu thinking, echoed by this report in the Hindustan Times.  The philosophy of reincarnation dictates that your status in life, rich or poor  is deserved and there is little you should do to change it. In fact this meanness is reportedly also evident in Chinese billionaires who recently ducked a meal with Buffet in case they were asked to sign up to the giving pledge.   In my experience the happiest people I meet are the most generous, whether it be with their money or their time. The new generation of philanthropist lead by Buffet, Gates and Musk should be copied!

AMDG

In my opinion the transformative power of hope is not given enough credit . The population of India is an incredible 1.2billion and growing by 17 million a year.  The majority of Indians (70%) live in rural villages.  The recent census showed that majority of these rural dwellers survive on less than 35 rupees a day (or 40pence / 60cents).    Talking to some of the families in the villages here, and students and teachers it is very clear that an absence of optimism is one of the most debilitating factors in peoples lives.  Of course it understandable – rates of malnutriton, illiteracy, infant mortality and a lack of clean water are all at shameful levels in rural India. The biggest ministry in India’s Government is that for Rural Development, and to their credit they have instigated important schemes such as subsidised grain and a guaranteed programme of 100 days paid work a year for unskilled labour.

Both schemes, well meant, are crippled by corruption.  Many of the grain is pocketed by middle men, and much of the Public Works Scheme money is siphoned off by ‘ghost workers’ – invented by corrupt local officials in order to pocket their wages. This is the biggest flaw in India’s politics – that so many see it as legitimate to exploit the state in order to redistribute patronage to their kin.  Plundering the state is terrible for development.  So those worst effected, at the bottom of the pile,  feel hopeless and helpless. When you have no mental space to see beyond day-to day-survival it can lead to a certain listlessness, lack of motivation and depression. This also manifests itself in a kind of chronic conservatism, often culturally expressed, and jealousy of anyone who dares to be too successful from your village.

However there is hope…. just the witness of our children when they go back to their villages, speaking English, clean, confident, well fed seems to be having a big impact on changing this mindset.  This week many parents are bringing their children in to seek for admission for the next school year. The Jesuits are giving priority to those from the poorest families, the Dalits, the Devadasis.  At the early stages of the mission, much time and energy was put into forming womens groups in the villages, with the belief that they value education more, and more likely to ensure that the girls will not lose out.  The picture on the right shows the leaders from a womens group in a local village who brought in a large group of children to register for admission this year. Maybe they wouldn’t have come had it just been left to their families. The dynamic leaders of the women’s cooperative are ensuring that education is starting to be valued more. However this is on a macro level –  I believe change is also coming to India at a macro level.

The worlds biggest biometric database is being set up in India.  This is based on the realisation that the rural poor have no identity – no drivers licence, no passport,no bank account,  many live in villages shared by so many people with the same surname.  This makes it impossible for them to open a bank account.  If they want to migrate to work in another state, in the dead time between harvest and replanting,  they have to spend hours queuing in the sun, to pay bribes to get papers.

Things are changing: the UID (Universal Id) or Aadhar number is drastically improving rural welfare.  With iris, fingerprint and face scanners, their identity is robust, it means that they can open bank accounts, state support goes straight to them, cutting out the middleman and the loss of so much due to corruption.  Their medical and school records can become mobile. As a voluntary scheme it has been embraced enthusiastically by the poor with already 400 million enrolled into it. Observers have suggested the changes are already evident with more land coming under cultivation, dietary habits slowly changing. Sadly we have not seen this in Karnataka, when I ask the villages here they shrug and shake their heads. The sad truth is that the schemes spread is being blocked by powerful forces including the Home Minister. Why? some claim arguments that would be more familiar in the developed world, data protection, civil liberties, privacy – these all seem out of place when you share a one roomed hut with 10 others!! I suspect the real reason it is being blocked is because it is so effective at cutting out the middle man and reducing corruption.

Water for All – Appeal

AMDG

Installing a 1000 litre rainwater harvesting tank.....

In the last year I have found myself living in three of four places where I wash out of a bucket. One thing I have noticed is that it makes you much more careful about how you use water. Every drop becomes precious, especially filtered or good drinking water.  I still remember the shanty town in Manila and the small home where I was staying. There were about fifteen buckets and tubs of water stacked around.  All possible rain water was collected and stored, a very precious commodity!  Here in India this is also the case – the newspapers are filled with stories of drought at the moment.  Officially on summer holiday, many of the government schools are staying open for lunchtime to ensure that the children receive at least one good meal a day (although my fellow Jesuits tell me that many of that money and food will make its way into the wrong hands).    In these conditions it is a really important service that the school serves by teaching the children – who will the teach their families  – about how to use, store and capture water wisely.

I am showing the science students the excellent BBC ‘Human Planet‘ series at the moment. Last week we watched an episode about living in the desert. As part of my preparation for the class, I looked at the annual rainfall figures here in Manvi and Pannur.  What is very clear is that all the regions in the district have seen a drop in average rainfall, thus bringing them into the category of semi-arid or semi-desers (anything under 500 mms a year).  This focuses the mind!

The Monsoon rains supply over 50% of India’s precipitation in 15 days so when they fail it is problematic.  Trapping and storing water is very important.  We have been teaching the children about rainwater harvesting – so that they will take this knowledge back to the villages.  Exacerbating the situation here in India is the rapid melting of Himalayan Glaciers which is depriving the great rivers the Indus and the Ganges of their summertime source, thus extending the long dry season.   Here in Karnataka the lifeline of the great river Krishna also flows through neighbouring Andrah Pradesh and also Maharashtra.  The rapid building of Dams in all states and diverting parts of the river has politicized water to such an extent that conflict can easily develop. In fact it is striking that India’s extremes of hydrology, population and poverty presents large difficulties for water management. Agreement to release dam water down stream and across state boundaries makes the front page of the newspapers.  As always it is the poorest who are hit the hardest by water politics and the corrupt water mafias.

Building pipes would help these children spend more time in school - Please help see link below. Even £10 can make a big difference.

Here in Manvi and Pannur  there are two different sources of water – surface water and ground water. Climate change is making surface water less reliable, so there is more stress on ground water. India is the biggest user of ground water in the world with over 2 million boreholes providing 60% of water for irrigation.  Ground Water is much more efficient for agriculture and cheaper pumps and electricity have changed the life of many of the farmers but the groundwater is finite – and shrinking – over exploitation means that bore holes run dry. Much of it is is also not drinkable and illness is common due to contaminated water and parasitic worms.  The result is that in Pannur the villagers have to walk 6 kms a day to get safe water from the river. It always seems to be the women and children who have to carry out this arduous task.  We have been asked to help – the villagers are proposing to lay a pipeline from the river to the village – which will have  a big impact on the peoples lives.  The land has been donated and the labour of digging and laying the pipeline will be free – what they are asking for are 960 20ft pipes (6inch diameter) and two 20-horsepower pumps.   If you are interested in helping! Please do…. check out this facebook page and also you can donate a small amount online by clicking on the link below.

Click here to make an online donation. 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,161 other followers