Caritas Asia to focus on empowering communities

posted 11 Jun 2009, 08:35 by CCI Media   [ updated 11 Jun 2009, 08:40 ]
BANGKOK (UCAN) -- Caritas Asia has stressed its commitment to "a paradigm shift," from providing only disaster relief to engaging communities in long-term human development.
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When dealing with disasters in the past, intervention was "short-term" and "status-quo oriented," said Indian Bishop Yvon Ambroise of Tuticorin, president of Caritas Asia. "Now we are going for change-oriented" action, he said on the sidelines of the Caritas Asia Forum and Conference held June 9-10 in Bangkok.

He also stressed this point to the forum's 60 participants, who included leaders of all Caritas national agencies in Asia and representatives of Western partner organizations.

Caritas Asia is a regional body of Caritas Internationalis, a worldwide confederation of Catholic relief, development and social service organizations in 162 countries.

Elaborating on the paradigm shift, Bishop Ambroise said that though Caritas will continue to give relief aid in the aftermath of a disaster, after a few weeks of doing so it will shift to empowering the affected communities to start livelihood programs. In these programs, people must make their own decisions and lobby their own government to help them, he added. "We have to prepare the communities to help themselves," he stressed.

This paradigm shift that started several years ago, he continued, is a result of the collective experience of Caritas Asia, which became a formal body in 1999.

However, Bishop Ambroise clarified that in some countries, Caritas will continue to give relief aid. He said that in central Asian countries, for example, Caritas runs soup kitchens because it just started operations there.

Lida Jacob, a guest speaker at the forum, also spoke on this new paradigm for human development. The former adviser to the Kerala state government in India on gender and women empowerment urged Caritas organizations to work in partnership with government, non-government and civil society organizations in pro-poor projects.

She said all efforts should result in corruption-free scheme, investments on employment-intensive projects such as housing for the poor, and strong domestic markets. She also called for the lobbying of governments for free or subsidized food, health care and education; for liberal credit conditions for small industries; and for crop insurance to limit the effects of price fluctuations.

She also cited what is already being done in her own area in Kerala, where a massive network of self-help groups involving the poor, especially women, has generated projects such as day-care centers, housing schemes for the poor, training to upgrade skills and micro-financing by banks. She also stressed the importance of local self-governing bodies getting involved in these activities.

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Caritas members distributing relief items to Pakistani
Christians displaced by the conflict in the Swat Valley

Nicanor Perlas, a Filipino global consultant on integral sustainable development, gave an overview of the widespread poverty the world faces and the potential consequences of climate change, issues that directly impact Caritas' work. In India, for example, 79 percent of the population survive on US$2 or less daily, he noted.

Tony Wee, executive secretary of the Archdiocesan Office for Human Development in Kuala Lumpur, or Caritas Malaysia, told UCA News that his organization works with all parishes in people empowerment projects. It also runs the country's biggest AIDS hospice outside the capital in collaboration with a government hospital, as well as a "feeding center" that provides food for poor people five times a week near the Kuala Lumpur cathedral.

Most of the beneficiaries of these two projects are Muslims.

Yormahmad Kholov, deputy director of Caritas Tajikistan, said Caritas is only a small NGO in his country that has just 300 Catholics. It has a center for elderly people and a medical center for children. "Now, we are looking into disaster preparedness," he said, due to landslide problems in the country.

CCI congratulates Bishop Yvon Ambroise for his bold initiative. Bishop Ambroise was a dynamic Chaplain of the YCW in India. He was instrumental in starting YCS and YCW in Puducherry, India.

(Source: UCAN Asia)

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