Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Community meeting in Tanzania (Sara Butterfield, Tearfund)
Would you invite someone with Down Syndrome to a community meeting?  Perhaps we'd be worried that they would disrupt the meeting or not have anything to add.  Yet the humbling truth is that people with Down Syndrome need to be treated with love and honour and have more to teach us than we may realise.  So Jané writes: I thought I'd take this opportunity to share some videos with you:

"We are all frightened by the ugly, the dirty.  We all want to turn away from anything that reveals the failure, pain, sickness and death beneath the brightly painted surface of our ordered lives.  Civilisation, is at least in part, about pretending that things are better than they are.  We all want to be in a happy place, where everyone is nice and good and can fend for themselves.  We shun our own weakness and the weakness in others.  We refuse to listen to the cry of the needy.  How easy is it to fall into the illusion of a beautiful world when we have lost trust in our capacity to make our broken world a place that can become more beautiful?" (Jean Vanier).

I think people with Down Syndrome, like anyone when given the space to be heard and welcomed, make our world more beautiful. 

Friday, 10 March 2017

Do you ever get angry and then feel embarrassed? I do. I remember driving with four church and community transformation (CCT) facilitators through lush, green countryside in a West African country. It had been an encouraging trip seeing the changes that CCT was bringing - that day we’d witnessed a new health clinic, school and borehole. We stopped for an enjoyable lunch of boiled eggs and bread. So far, so good. As we finished our last mouthfuls the other facilitators threw the Styrofoam containers into the bush. I was horrified and angry.

I then felt embarrassed for getting angry with such nice people. But the fact is that Styrofoam is not biodegradable and it would still be there in hundreds of years. We picked up the containers and I learned something.

Environment is often a blindspot in CCT. We work to restore relationship with self, with others and with God. But what about our other key relationship - with his creation? This is often overlooked. And we often neglect to help people think about God’s call to care for the world around us. People’s individual actions can seem small and insignificant but they add up. For instance, we were stood in a country that treats its forests as disposable - 19,300 hectares are lost every year.

CCT is all about caring for people living in poverty, but when we don’t care for the environment it’s those living in poverty who suffer most. It’s time to change our approach. Perhaps we need to reflect on what God says about the Earth in the Bible. This short Bible study helps us explore our responsibility to care for God’s Earth.

And perhaps we need to join a group of people who feel a responsibility to bring about change. Renew our World launched earlier this month and is a global movement of Christians united for a more just and sustainable world for all. I've joined this movement - will you?

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Here's a picture of...... oh no, Mary* wasn't there. 

I met Mary in South Sudan.  She was an elderly lady living in her daughter's homestead. When we arrived I saw her crawling on her knees.  She couldn't walk because her right foot was missing and her left foot had no toes.  It was poignantly sad to see her reduced to moving like this.

People like Mary are often missed out in our church work.  Maybe not deliberately but just because it is more difficult for some people with disabilities to travel to meetings.  So their voices aren't heard in decisions.

And they need to be heard.  As people made in the image of God (Genesis 1v27) their opinions are important.  They also have particular perspectives to add.  For instance I was shocked to think for the first time about what it is like for a person with such disabilities to use a pit latrine.  Most pit latrines have no space for access with a wheelchair.  As a result people people like Mary would have to crawl into them getting their hands and knees covered with the remains of urine or faeces from when people missed the hole. Shocking but true.

Image result for photo inclusive pit latrine

It's comparatively simple to build pit latrines that are 'inclusive' and therefore suitable for people with disabilities or the elderly (for example see 'Washplus' advice page 7 or the more comprehensive Compendium of Accessibility).  Changes needed include enlarging the door and using a raised seat.

However sometimes the reason why people with disability are not included is stigma.  This Bible study from Tearfund's REVEAL toolkit explores knowing our true value and this activity helps people understand how disability can lead to vulnerability and exclusion.  

What do you and I need to do to ensure that people like Mary are valued and included?  

*Name changed to protect privacy.