Tag Archive: Service


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

l_arche_logo_with_titleExciting news from Manchester is that L’arche are opening a new community in Manchester.  The leader of the group, Kevin Coogan, came and gave a fascinating and engaging talk about his experience with L’arche and his passion for living with adults with learning disabilities.  He explained how L’arche, set up by the Canadian Catholic Jean Vanier, had pioneered the model of ‘care in the community’ in the 50’s and 60’s when those with serious mental or physical disability had been confined to large institutions and kept out of sight and mind.

He was so honest and open about the challenges of living with people who had often been abandoned at birth, confined to institutions which may have provided a safe but often not a caring environment.  So the psychological damage of  this experience created another level of difficulties. The power of L’arche is that these people become friends.  And it was fascinating to me to hear how an emotional co-dependence can actually be healing rather than destructive or limiting.  The Community is being part funded by the local authority as they are providing a quality of care for vulnerable adults that is unlikely to be matched. But that relationship has a very interesting tension – for instance where do you draw the lines between a true life-giving healing relationship and safe professional distance.

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Kevin Coogan and his brother Steve raising money for L’arche

A fascinating example Kevin gave was his experience of going on holiday with his wife and kids and bringing two community members with them.  From a faith perspective this is a wonderful and inclusive act of generosity, an unforgettable experience that is priceless.  As a priest I am often grateful for the hospitality of being received into families whether for dinner or a brief break.  However from the cold hard gaze of the local authority – often the funding agency – it would be tempting to be cynical and say, this is a sneaky way of subsidising a family holiday.  Of course this is open to abuse, but when you see the compassion and the generosity with which they are received into the family environment you have to applaud the vision behind this, and bemoan the short-sightedness of the limited vision that comes from a cynical administrative approach.  It was a meeting that has left me much to ponder!

 

Amazing Dedication to Education

When I was at school – one of the most inspiring teachers was a sports teacher Jimmy Highton who at the age of 70 lead us on a training run.  He had been a teacher at the school for 50 years, had a great attitude and in his mind was younger than many of the others!  Any way I stumbled upon some great news from Australia this week which I share below.

St Aloysius’ College‘s Father Geoffrey Schneider, who turns 100 on December 23, is the world’s oldest serving teacher. The Australian representative for Guinness World Records Chris Sheedy ,who is a former Aloysius’ student (1980-88), presented the world record certificate at the school in Kirribilli tonight. Father Schneider featured on the front page of the Mosman Daily as Australia’s oldest teacher but this world record will give him global fame. Eight hundred members of the school community including parents, past parents and students gathered at the college for a Celebration of a Century to honour Father Schneider’s life. He grew up in Melbourne and came to live at the college in 1965. The children have nicknamed him Father Schnitzel and both a classroom and trophy are named in his honour.  He takes 15-minute religious instruction classes at the college and is chaplain of the junior school. The Jesuit priest has no intention of retiring from his teaching career. “I’ve been gifted with strengths,” Father Schneider said.Of the fuss being made, Father Schneider said he “lets it all flow by” while he awaits his telegram from the queen for turning 100.

 

AMDG

Jim Murphy at Manchester Universities Catholic Chaplaincy

In Britain it is the Political Parties conference season.  The Labour party is just finishing its conference here in Manchester.  I was very struck with the Scottish MP Jim Murphy who took an hour out of his busy schedule yesterday to talk to the students here at the Catholic Chaplaincy. Currently the shadow defence minister, and heavily involved in the Labour Party policy review, it was great to have him opening our ‘Faith and Politics’ season.  The stock of politicians at the moment in the UK is quite low, especially after the expenses scandal a few years ago, when widespread corruption and greed was exposed. Having sat in on a Fringe event earlier on in the week, it is very clear that net-working and self-promotion seems to be rife at these conferences.  Sometimes the self promotion seems stronger that the desire to serve for the common good, and this is probably why the public attitude to politicians has become, sadly, so jaded.

When Jim Murphy arrived it was clear he had lost his voice.  It was a real strain to hear him speak.  He had had two breakfasts that morning.  He refused any money for the taxi fare – and spoke gently but with passion about how faith and politics can be complementary.  I was quite struck by him – he didn’t need to come and talk to 35 students in the Catholic Chaplaincy, I’m sure it has done nothing for his political profile, there were probably more prestigious and more high-profile events he could have attended.  But he was faithful to his booking, even though his voice was giving out.  We were able to give him some throat lozenges as a thankyou gift, ‘I’ll have to declare these’ he said grinning.  I was fortunate to be able to tell him afterwards, that he had done a great thing,  as these students – some aspiring politicians , many Catholic, others not, had been really encouraged by him coming, and speaking openly about the tensions of faith and religion.  He is a role model for them.  He looked genuinely taken aback when I said that.  If only we had more politicians like him.

 

Inspiring Commitment

AMDG

When I reflect on different places I have worked in my life, the greatest memories I have are when I have worked alongside people who inspire me, whether it was my boss or colleagues.  It is great to be involved in something that you believe in, and that you go into work every day with people who share that same passion, especially if they are more intelligent than you or more creative, and you learn so much of them. Sadly the opposite is also true, how sad it is to hear so many people who go into a job where cynicism, selfishness, power or greed become the dominant values. It drags you down. Even worse if your boss is a bully, or you are lead by someone who is less talented than you, knows this and it makes them insecure and vindictive. Luckily in my life I have experienced more of the former that the latter, or at least I remember more of the former energy rather than the latter.  I have fond memories of  St Igs in Enfield.  As I come to my final couple of weeks here in India, I am beginning to reflect on what it has meant to me living and working alongside the Jesuits here.

There is something about the mission here in Manvi that epitomises for me something very important to Saint Ignatius, it is what we call the ‘Magis’.  Magis means simply ‘the more’ . doing more for others because you believe what you are doing is what Christ has asked you to do.  Magis is about choosing wisely, discerning, what we do, how we use our energy.  As Jesuits it is taken for granted we all (at least most of us) want to do good, the magis is choosing between different ‘goods’ to doing what is the best.

Walking to work in the fields – lunch carried on the head!

I will share one example of where I see the Magis at work in this mission.  After 9 or 10 years work here in Manvi the school is established, it is thriving, all the locals rich and poor want to send their children, we have Hindus, Muslims and Christians in the school.  But are resources are limited, so we have to turn away someone, who? The wealthy, the higher castes… their wealth and influence means they can choose to go to other local schools. So the poorest, the Dalits, the Devadasi, and girls always get priority here.  Now with the establishment of the School, the PUC and the soon the University, you could forgive the Jesuits for relaxing, consolidating the institutions, and staying here in Manvi.  It is a very poor area, the locals themselves admit it is ‘backward’, but a town of 40,000 affords certain luxuries, there is a cinema, we get electricity here maybe for 14 hours a day, water is available, there are shops, doctors etc.  But no, what has inspired me recently is how, the students, social workers, our Slovak Doctor and Fr Eric, keep going out into the villages. The temperature is reaching the mid 40’s here regularly at the moment, the villages are hot and dusty, when you come back you are covered in sweat, grit, sand. People are often  late, don’t show up for meetings or appointments. But they still go, to monitor and extend the malnutrition programme, and to convince those in more remote villages to bring their children to our schools.

Now school can come to them – courtesy of Jessica from Switzerland

In the villages there are now a network of 12 kindergartens and a few primary schools that have been built or in planning.  A few weeks ago a very generous donor from Switzerland bought the mission two new school buses.  This means that Eric and some hand-picked students  go regularly to the remoter villages and invite families to send their children to school.  The villagers are very impressed by the students  but they still need some persuasion. How much will it cost – as much as you can pay is the answer, which is usually rupees a year (just over a pound!).  But how will they get there?  Now we have two buses we can come and pick them up every day – for free!  The school comes to them.  This dedication and commitment of Eric and the students is inspiring for me…. refusing to rest on their laurels, they are reaching out for more and more marginalized children.   However this intensity of work also needs to be balanced with good rest, and a good community and prayer life.  Because I have been inspired – I would like to share that inspiration with you too!  Thanks for reading, don’t forget to leave a comment if you have a few minutes – the Jesuits and children here are delighted when I pass on your comments.

Proud of our Ambassadors

AMDG

Today many of the children are heading home.  It is the start of the summer holidays in India (April -May) school will begin in again in June.  I will miss them being around, especially in the evenings as when their exams had finished we had began a tradition of open-air cinemas.  500 sitting under a starry sky, with a warm night breeze blowing as we projected films like ‘UP’, ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘The Karate Kid’ onto the wall.  They are a wonderful audience cheering, booing, and getting very excited if there is a kiss on the lips (very raunchy here!).   When they go back to their remote villages I have been told they will be pampered as the people are very proud that they are going to an ‘English Language’ school.  I told them at mass last night that they are ambassadors – so they must teach the other children in the villages when they go back.  Already they perform this role well – on the left is a picture of a student giving out school books and school bags to children who were most affected by the terrible floods last year.  This girl was grazing cows a few years ago – now she is distributing aid!  Like any school the most important asset is not the building or the facilities but the students themselves.  And we are very proud of them!

Alarmingly I have also been told that when they come back in May they will be a lot thinner.  The sad fact is that the food they get whilst they are in school is much more nutritional then what they can get in the villages. Malnutrition is a huge problem in rural India. Two Fifths of Indian children are still stunted by hunger according to the Economist.  To get a sense of how things can change – a recent study  in the National Medical Journal of India of wealthier Indians, found at the age of 18 boys are 4.5 inches taller and 4kgs heavier than they were in 1992, due to better food and a lack of disease.  That is an incredible change.  Living with the Jesuit community at the moment is Lenka, a social worker from Slovakia. She is doing great work travelling into the villages every day and measuring and weighing the children. She is working on behalf of St Elizabeths University in Slovakia – who with the Jesuits are running an anti-malnutrition programme.  They identify babies who according to a WHO scale are at risk of malnutrition and provide food supplements or sometimes even milk powder if the mother cannot breastfeed them.  Hopefully in the future the government, which passes a bill last November declaring everyones ‘right for food’ click, will be able to fulfill this duty, rather than relying on generous (and often religious) NGO’s.

AMDG

No Ambulance, No Doctor but a photographer on hand…….. “He was taken aside and given a key to hold as we felt he had an attack of fits. There was no ambulance around but we gave him some basic first aid.’’ Mahesh (Physio) From Deccan Herald

The news this morning from Bangalore was a sharp contrast from the weekend’s news in England. A young footballer yesterday died on the pitch of a cardiac arrest (click here). In England everybody has been relieved to see Fabrice Muamba begin his recovery, with the incongruous sight of Premiership footballers calling people to prayer. Here in India the family of Venkatesh Dhanraj are mourning and stunned that he died so suddenly and with no medical facilities to resuscitate him. His father said “After he collapsed on the ground, I knew something was wrong. The referee noticed it and called for medical attention. But, I saw no one. Forget an ambulance, it’s a luxury for football players in Bangalore, there was no stretcher and no doctor.” The league has been suspended with the Karnataka State Football Association accusing Bangalore District of breaking rules on medical provision. Shockingly it is the second death at the stadium in 8 years, after the Brazilian striker Cristiano Junior. Perspective is so often lost with sport…. but these tragedies out it right back into perspective. I was reading Alex Ferguson praising the rapid reaction of the medical staff at the Tottenham / Bolton game where Muamba collapsed. Money is clearly the difference.

the call to prayer……

Unfortunately not all medically trained understand their work as vocation but more as a career. Fr Eric the Jesuit director here in Manvi trapped a nerve in his leg two days ago. In great pain he rushed to the nearest hospital in Raichur (80kms away) and the doctor after a cursory inspection suggested an operation which would cost 50,000Rupees ($700). This seemed ridiculous so Eric went to Mangalore (200kms away) to the Catholic Hospital where his sister works – he had an MRI scan for 2000 rupees and was discharged after the nerve had slipped back in to place. As long as unscrupulous doctors are just working to get as much money as quickly as possible then the idea of public service takes a backseat. This is why an education system that inculcates the values of service, especially for the least is so important and the only way to transform a country. Two of the Dalit children here told me that their dream is to become doctors…. I hope they make it and remember the love and care they have experienced here at the Xavier High School in Manvi.

AMDG

Solar Bottle

Last weekend I went back to stay with the family who had kindly hosted me in October in Navotas.  We had a great time singing karaoke till 3am – lots  of Beatles of course!  Navotas is a ‘squatter area’ i.e. what might be referred to as a slum area in Manila – overcrowded and under-served with utilities.  Over the years it has become better established with electricity and running water in some areas, but there are still many areas where there is none.

That is why I was very excited to find out about this Philippino initiative – called ‘a litre of light‘.   Fantastic!   Just by getting an empty plastic bottle and filling it with water and household chemicals – and placing half of it so that it catches the sun.   This ‘solar bottle’ could make a big difference to the life of many people around the world. It is also recycling waste products.  I can’t wait to see it  being installed in Navotas.  The video below shows you how it works.  You can also find more about it by clicking on their website – click here.

This wonderful project reminds me of another story i have just posted on my other storytelling blog – click here.  A wealthy Chinese businessman was now old and wanted to retire. He called his three sons too him and said to them, ‘ I have decided not to divide the business into three, but will give it to the one of you who proves himself to be the best businessman. You can prove this to me by passing a simple test.’  Each son was given $10 and instructed to use the money to purchase something that would fill a big empty room.

The first son went and bought a big tree, after cutting it down, he dragged it to the room, it filled up about half the room with its leaves and branches. The second son went and bought the kunai grass that some of the farmers were cutting in their fields, this filled up most of the room. The third son went and bought a small candle for 25 cents, and in the evening after dark, he called his father over to the large empty room. He put the small candle down in the middle of the floor and lit it. After a minute he turned to his father and said, ‘Dad can you see any corner of this little room which is not filled by the light of the candle?’.  He won the business.

The Davos Test

English: Paul Polman (WEF 2010)

Mr Polman - Image via Wikipedia

AMDG              It is said that the annual meeting at Davos (starting today) of the World Economic Forum is where the most important networking takes place of a transnational elite, politicians and business leaders. There is a lot of anger around at the moment towards this elite, the decisions and greed of the few seem to have created suffering for the many.  As the Oscars has its counterpart ‘the Raspberries’ – Davos has ‘Public Eye’ where you can choose to vote for the most damaging company.  So if you want to let off some steam and vote for the worst company click here.

 

 

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 27JAN07 - Impression of the...

I hope so.....

6 ‘luminaries’ have been chosen to co-chair the meeting. After a very brief investigation it seems at least three of them have passed through Catholic Educational Institutions. Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever was even in a seminary at one point.  Vikram Pandit (Citi) left India as a 16 year old and studied for his first formative degree at Gannon University a private Catholic University in the US.  Then there is the Mexican Alejandro Ramirez CEO of Cineopolis. With the other three – Peter Voser (Shell), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) and Yasuchika Hesegawa (Takeda Pharmeucitical) it was not clear where their schooling was.     So it made me wonder how many of the 2000+ delegates have also spent part of their Education in Catholic Institutions? Probably a surprising amount.

Many Catholic (and other faith) schools justify themselves by forming students to serve the common good and the wider community and generally are very successful at it (to the annoyance of secularists). Even if the students are not Catholics – the hope is that some of that ethos will rub off. These are excerpts from the British Jesuit School Leavers Profile  (the vision and hopes we have for our leavers) – That they are:

    • Seen to have a generosity of spirit and a readiness to place their talents at the disposal of others, especially the most needy;
    • Well prepared to take their place in wider society unmotivated by prestige or selfish ambition and aware of how fully they can contribute to the common good;

Catholic Social Teaching is sometimes referred to as the best kept secret of the Church. I know from first hand experience that in Jesuits schools we try and weave these values into lessons across the syllabus.  The principles of using our gifts and talents for the service of the poor is constantly reinforced. A big question for Jesuits is often – how can we justify prestigious schools which seem to be for the elite when we profess to be commited and motivated by social justice?  Maybe we need to think of a Davos Test.  Keep in close contact with our alumni – and remind them of the values of their school days. Perhaps Catholic Schools should make an audit – or a questionnaire – to try and measure the impact their alumni are having on the world.  Are our alumni really committed to improving the state of the world as they profess?

The Captain and the Chaplain

AMDG

 There are not many European stories that break into the Phillipino press – let alone talked about here over breakfast or lunch. There is currently an impeachment trial for the chief justice which is getting a lot of column inches. Foreign stories are often dominated by the US or China.   So it has been of note to see how the tragic sinking of the liner in Italy has broken into the news – and the table discussions.  A death toll in single figures, sadly, is unlikely to garner much attention here, it seems to be the focus on the reckless captain that is generating interest.

What has caught my attention is in comparing the stories of the captain and the chaplain. The Captain has been criticised for abandoning ship after his reckless maneuver, saving his own skin rather than his passengers safety. As you might have seen they have released the recorded conversation of the coastguard and the captain.

Coastguard (De Falco): “Listen there are people going down from the prow using the rope ladder; you take that rope ladder on the opposite side, you go aboard and you tell me the number of people and what they have on board. Is that clear? You tell me whether there are children, women or people needing assistance. And you tell me the number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I’ll make you pay for sure. Go aboard.”

Captain (Schettino): “Commander, please?”

De Falco: “Please, now you go aboard.”

Schettino: “I am on the life boat, under the ship, I haven’t gone anywhere, I’m here.”

De Falco: “What are you doing, commander?”

Schettino: “I’m here to coordinate rescues.”

De Falco: “What are you coordinating there? Go on board and coordinate rescues from on board. Do you refuse?”

Schettino: “No, no I’m not refusing.”

De Falco: “You’re refusing to go aboard, commander, tell me why you’re not going.”

Schettino: “I’m not going because there is another lifeboat stopped there.”

De Falco: “Go aboard: it’s an order. You have no evaluation to make, you declared abandon ship, now I give orders: go aboard. Is it clear?”

Compare this with the accounts coming from the Apostleship of the Sea in Italy, of how the 70 year old chaplain Fr. Raffaele 
Mallena came to the aid of passengers and crew members. According to Fr Mallena said that during dinner he felt immediately that something was very, very wrong. He went to the chapel to pray and  when he realised the “abandon ship” alarm was sounding, he consumed the Eucharist and locked the staff’s valuables, including jewellery and money, in a safe. During the chaos that followed, the priest tried to stay aboard with the crew but was persuaded it would be better if he boarded a lifeboat and left the sinking ship. Thousands of passengers at the Savona cruise terminal where the local Apostleship of the Sea joined other agencies to distribute clothing and food. It is also providing spiritual and emotional support. Fr Mallena and parishioners on the island of Giglio, where the ship sank, worked during the night to assist those leaving the ship.

Women and Children first on the HMS Birkenhead

Of course none of us know how we will react when faced with such tragic circumstances.  But the comparison is stark and telling. Just a historical note of interest – a matter of pride for us Scousers (from Liverpool) is the account of the sinking of the HMS Birkenhead (taken from here clicky) . The heroic actions of the men on this boat established the protocol of  ‘women and children first’ .  In 1852 after hitting rocks the Birkenhead was rapidly sinking in the shark-infested waters of South Africa. While about sixty men were sent to the pumps, the other men were commanded to stand drawn up in line and to await orders. The teams who were in charge of the boats were frustrated to find that most of the lowering equipment would not function, as a result of a lack of maintenance and the thick layer of paint that clogged the mechanisms. Eventually two cutters and a gig were launched and the women and children were rowed away from the wreck to safety. The horses were cut loose and thrown overboard. Only then did Captain Salmond shout to the men that everyone who could swim must save himself by jumping into the sea and making for the boats.

The soldier’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Seton, knew to rush the lifeboats might mean that the boats would be swamped and this would further endanger the lives of the women and children already aboard the boats. He drew his sword and ordered his men to stand fast. The soldiers did not budge even as the ship split in two and the main mast crashed on to the deck.
The Birkenhead went down rapidly for only twenty-five minutes after she had struck the rocks, only the topmast and topsail yard were visible above the water. There were about fifty men still clinging to them. The sea was full of men desperately clawing for anything that could float. Death by drowning came quickly to most of them, but some of the men – and the horses – were taken by Great White sharks.

(taken from the website http://www.birkenhead.za.net/)


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