The program in the Malmo Arena consists of several moments. Following the word of welcome, found individuals representing, India, Colombia, Burundi, and the Olympic Refugee Team will offer personal testimonies. These testimonies will be followed by by a “Call to Action” which consists of questions and answers led by Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis and Maria Immonen of of World Service. Then Bishop Audo of Aleppo, Syria and the Prime Minister of Sweden will speak.
Testimonies of Four individuals
1. Pranita Biswasi (India)
Tackling the injustice of climate change My name is Sunemia Pranita Biswasi. I am 26 years old. I come from the small town of Jeypore in India’s the southeastern State of Odisha. My country is often referred to as “rural India” because the majority of its population of nearly 1.3 billion people lives below the poverty line. It is a country of contrasts – extremely wealthy people and a fast growing middle class, living alongside millions struggling for a daily meal.
We often face relentless disasters due to the changing climate patterns. Severe storms and cyclones lead to flooding, and prolonged dry weather brings deadly heat waves and droughts. Hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers who depend on agriculture as their main livelihood are severely affected.
I have a Master’s in Environmental Science but before then I knew very little about climate and the environment. From my studies I learned that global warming is continuing, its causes and effects. Then in 2013 I saw my people drowning in flood waters, this was the super cyclone Phailin, which caused major devastation in my own province. Thousands were rendered homeless and lost their livestock, food and shelter. In December 2015, flooding again killed more than 500 people and displaced over 1.8 million others in cities in southern India. Damages and losses were estimated at between Indian rupees 200 billion to over 1 trillion (around USD 3 million to 14.9 billion) making it the costliest natural disaster.
I realized the injustice people were facing, and I became involved in the subject of climate justice. Today, my work as a young person in the Jeypore Evangelical Lutheran Church involves advocating with other youth on ecological and social justice issues.
In India climate change directly impacts a farmer’s life, his family, especially the woman. When drought and flooding reduce or wipe out crops, many farmers, mostly men, commit suicide out of the frustration of not being able to provide for their families and repay huge loans they had taken to boost productivity. Left behind, the wife struggles to pay the debt and feed the children. In addition, many of the rural homes lack basic services with most women walking long distances to fetch water and firewood. The smoke inhaled during cooking affects a woman’s health and can cause incurable diseases.
In the past few years I have had the privilege of being a member of The Lutheran World Federation all-youth delegation to the United Nations climate conferences in different world cities. In December 2015, I witnessed the negotiations that produced the historic Paris agreement. My hope since has not been disappointed, the threshold for the Paris Agreement was achieved earlier this month, and it will come into force this Friday, on 4 November. Thanks be to God!
Today, I, a young Indian woman, stand before you—Lutheran, Catholic, and other church leaders—who have had enormous influence as advocates for millions around the world who are victims of the reality of climate change. Despite important steps in the negotiations, there remains a significant gap between where we are today and where we need to be by the end of this decisive decade. The poorest and most vulnerable who have contributed least to the causes of the problem are already experiencing the impact of climate change. This is the injustice at the core of the problem: that those least responsible are the worst affected.
I urge you to increase pressure on the world’s political leaders to push for recognition of the legal rights to sustainable livelihoods for millions of vulnerable people being left on the wayside by climate change in India and other parts of the world. You have the power and responsibility to guarantee a well-planned future for my generation and generations to come. We cannot change the climate but we can change the system, so let us all work together to make a one better world for all.
2. Monsignor Heector Gaviria (Director of Caritas, Colombia)
Colombia is land blessed, thanks to its excellent location in South America, and its population with their tradition as hardworking people. Nevertheless, profound social divisions and serious political exclusion have caused waves of brutal violence. Sixty years ago, these led to the outbreak of an internal armed struggle with the emergence of the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC and other guerrilla groups. From the opposite end of the political spectrum, right wing armed para-military movements also emerged, plunging the country into one of the world’s most serious humanitarian crises.
One of the worst massacres in our history took place in 2002 in a territory of tropical rainforest, when in the midst of combat, the population sought refuge in a chapel when an improvised bomb exploded in the Church, killing around a hundred people. The parish priest and a group of people from the community survived and spent days walking through the forest. Caritas, hand in hand with the local Church, started the long task of rebuilding the lives, the hopes and the social fabric of this community and of so many others who lived alongside the rivers, whilst the war continued to be waged throughout the territory, leaving behind thousands of dead, disappeared and internally displaced communities. In December 2015, in an act which had been yearned for, and demanded by the Afro-descendant communities, a leader of the FARC guerrillas arrived in the region to celebrate a ceremony to recognize their responsibilities and to seek forgiveness from the victims.
More than three years ago, the process of dialogue between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas started in Cuba, and the final agreement was signed on the 26th September in Cartagena. One of the major tasks of Caritas in Colombia has been the support of the victims to ensure the restitution of their rights. In fact, it was Caritas and the Bishops’ Conference who raised their voice in 1994 to demand public policies to deal with a situation which affects more than six million people today, which means that we are one of the countries in the world most affected by this drama.
In another Colombian region on the border with Venezuela, the conflict has been extremely complex given the multiplicity of armed actors in the territory and the challenge of the border itself. Here we have been able to join forces with the Lutheran World Federation, to respond to the cry of the communities in need of protection. A leader of a Colombian Womens’ Association, described dramatically the litany of constant assassinations of the farmers in the region when she said “we women are being left alone with only our children”. This territory, like others in Colombia is scourged by the presence of anti-personnel mines which have been planted by illegal groups. Sadly, Colombia occupies the second place in the world of countries affected by anti-personnel mines, and even if progress is made in building peace after the signing of the accords with the FARC guerrillas, and if agreements are reached with other guerrilla groups, the impact of these mines will continue for at least a decade.
A survivor of the anti-personnel mines told us “Caritas and the Lutheran World Federation have been our right hand in social and community processes, they have been the driving force which has given life to the Association of Survivors of anti-personnel mines”.
We have high hopes in this period of implementation of the accords signed with the FARC guerrillas to end the armed conflict. Holy Father, we thank you wholeheartedly for your closeness to the process of peace-building in Colombia. Your prayers and messages insisting that we must not lose this opportunity have reached even the most remote communities in our country.
3. Marguerite Barankitse (Burundi)
"We are the builders of Hope”: When the civil war broke up in Burundi back in 1993, I decided to adopt 7 children and that was the beginning of a mission. When the genocide began I hid these and other 25 children orphaned by the genocide. “I didn’t know what to do,” “But then I heard a voice of hope.” We refused the fratricide hatred, to create compassion. We rejected fate, to create creativity. Yes, step by step, our organization Maison Shalom (House of Peace) built itself thanks to the faith and triumphant confidence in Providence. It was created to light a candle in the middle of the darkness; to console, reconcile and restore the hope to children who had lost everything. There is nothing utopian in that which was begun, but all was done in the conviction that " The hatred never has the last word.” I decided to gather the orphan children to love and educate them, to see them grow up and, through them, build a new generation that can break this cycle of violence.
Today, those children of 23 years ago, have grown up, raised their own families, and now we form a solid team to switch on this light of the hope. It is with this message that we broke indifference and dared to reconstruct our community and our country with various emergency programs, which later became community development programs. Thousands of children have passed through us, most of them have witnessed atrocities and many have lost their parents or became separated from them.
We were not able to keep silent when we saw a policeman firing at point-blank range on an innocent child who knelt down on the ground despite all the risks. Today, the situation has become very dangerous. There have been death threats and even attempted assassinations have become daily occurrences. We therefore took the path of exile in Rwanda where we accompany our brother and sister refugees. We try to encourage them to remain stand up as God has created us. “Everyone thinks I am mad and that I have lost my reason—even my family! I say yes, I am mad, but you are mad too because you have started to kill. Who has lost their reason more—someone who is killing or someone who is trying to save lives?” Allow me, before concluding my message to express to you my profound gratitude, especially those who understood that our sublime mission in this world " is to distribute HAPPINESS." Still, I dream. “With each of our dreams we advance humanity.” Thank you.
4. Rose Lokonyen – young refugee (Olympic Refugee Team)
“Together in Hope”: My name is Rose Nathike Lokonyen, I am 23 years old. I am a South Sudanese by nationality, and I now live in Kenya as a refugee. I became a refugee in 2002, when I was 8 years old. My family and I fled from our country because of war and started a new life in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. When I was 14 years old, my parents went back to South Sudan to look after my grandparents. I lost contact with them and began taking care of my siblings because I am the oldest. I am also the only girl, and according to our culture boys do not do housework. So I went to school, and when I came back I was doing everything even collecting firewood on the weekend. You have to be very careful, because sometimes women get raped in the forest. So you sneak around and cut, and when you see someone, you run. After doing the housework I would run to the football field and play. I like sports, and when we won I got awards to support my younger siblings.
One day we went to play in Nairobi, refugees against Kenyans. We won. LWF was organizing the games; they started the Kakuma football league where I played. That has given me a lot of opportunities, sports has taken me so far. I managed to finish high school, and after that, I joined computer training at the Don Bosco Center in Kakuma. After that I started working with the LWF. My job was to talk to the girls in the communities and to motivate them to go back to school. Many drop out because they are taking care of their parents or younger siblings. I know what that is like. When someone gets sick, you miss school looking after them and you risk failing school. Some also do not come because they do not have and shoes. Others think: I do not have a book and a pen to write, so I am not going. Some also do not know how important it is to have an education, so they do not go to school. I tell the girls how important it is to finish their education. We tell them about HIV and AIDS and about gender-based violence. Many of the young people take drugs, and drop out of school. That happens especially to the boys.
In Kakuma, the LWF is organizing football games and handing out balls so they can play rather than loitering around. When you are on the football field, you concentrate on the game, and when you go home in the evening, you are able to sleep. We are in a refugee camp, but you have to use the time well. In 2015 there was a race organized by the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation. It was a ten kilometer race, and we were running barefoot on a tarmac road. I came in second. A month later it was announced that I had been selected to go to the Olympic training camp in Nairobi. There five of us were selected to participate in the Olympic Games. I am now an Olympic athlete and I was selected to be the flag bearer for the team refugees at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this summer. We were very proud, because of all of us came from Kakuma. In the Olympic Stadium there was a very warm welcome. We felt that we are real people and there are people are supporting us all over the world. We were able to spread hope to the people because even as a refugee you are just a human being like any other.
I am very grateful for the support of LWF, who are running the schools and the cultural activities in Kakuma. It is not enough for a refugee to have food and shelter. We are human beings, we need opportunities to learn and to grow and to live instead of just surviving. What does hope mean to me? Hope gives me strength. It helps me achieve my goals in the future and make me a better person to be able to help our community and my fellow refugees, and of course my family. In a way sport means hope to me, because through sport I have learned so many things, it has given me a future. I am grateful to share this with you.
Please talk to the leaders of the world, because we need peace. We who are displaced from other countries need education so we can go back and help rebuild. We are the young generation now. If we cannot go back to our country, who will rebuild it? No one. The war will just continue. In South Sudan the blood is just flowing, like a river. Every day, I pray for peace. We are all human and we are all called before God, and it is not right to kill and to die like this. We need schools for the young generation, and to construct roads so we can visit our neighbor countries, and organize sports events. Give us the opportunity to come back and rebuild our country.
The questions (and answers) about the Declaration of Intent
Question 1. Can you tell us briefly about your co-operation so far.
Michel Roy (Caritas Internationalis)
Over the years, LWF world service and the CI family members have been working together mainly in welcoming and taking care of refugees in different parts of the world, as well as in working for peace and reconciliation. We come together in the major civil society humanitarian platform to discuss humanitarian policies and at international encounters, lobbying for a better world for all.
Beyond the LWF and Caritas Internationalis as organizations, a lot has been done between Lutheran and Catholic faith communities, with the main purpose of helping people in need recover their dignity and start a new life.
Maria Immonen (LWF World Service)
We have worked together over the decades in many big crises: after the second WW in Germany, Biafra in the 60s, Ethiopia in the 80s and Sudan and South Sudan in the 80s and 90s and most recently now in Colombia around the peace work in the communities. We have come together and worked well in the past, but it has not necessarily been deliberate or planned in advance. We have also worked successfully together on some advocacy issues on a global level, but again, not systematically or deliberately.
Today you are signing a Declaration of Intent where you promise to deepen your collaboration. What is the purpose and what are you hoping to achieve?
Michel Roy (Caritas Internationalis)
We will be looking at working together in a more systematic way when challenges arise. We want to strengthen the testimony we give as witnesses of Christ, as Church, in concrete situations where people are overwhelmed by extreme poverty and violence. People are expecting this engagement they see as deeper and responding better to their expectations, it brings them hope. We want to challenge the world leaders through advocacy especially on the realisation of this collective engagement that are the Sustainable Development Goals and on the promotion of peace in such situations as Syria or Iraq. We want to mobilise our communities so that they engage together more in making this world a better place to live for all.
Maria Immonen (LWF World Service)
Our collaboration is a new beginning of increased joint action among our communities, families and our organizations. It will extend our work to reach more people and enable lives in dignity for all. Our churches are expecting us. We will actively look for opportunities to work together increasingly in countries affected by conflict and war, and where large numbers of refugees are on the move. The poor are expecting us. The world is expecting us to work more closely together. We need to bring hope, inspiration and faith in humanity through our work together.