Helping refugees to help themselves

2012-11-22 Vatican Radio

Pope Benedict XVIth's special papal envoy, Cardinal Robert Sarah, recently returned to the Vatican from a mission to Lebanon to coordinate humanitarian response to the increasing Syrian refugee crisis in the region.
Reporting on his mission during which he visited refugee camps for Syrians who have fled the bloodshed in their country, Cardinal Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, said he was deeply affected by the despair and the conditions of the refugees whom, he says are in need not only of basic necessities, but also of regaining dignity and respect as human beings.
Vatican Radio's Linda Bordoni spoke to Cafod’s Catherine Mahony, an emergency response officer In the Yusuf Batil refugee camp in South Sudan, home to more than 35,000 people who have fled fighting in Blue Nile State in Sudan.
She says that although life is tough in refugee camps and providing basic needs is a top priority, one of Cafod’s aims is to help people become productive and in the long run, help them to help themselves.
listen to the interview...
Mahony says that very often life in refugee camps is misrepresented as the worst perspective is often the only one shown. It is imporatant - she says - to understand how difficult it is for people living in refugee camps, but the side of it that we don't see is how much people are doing for themselves even though they have very little. And how much ordinary life continues to go on within the camps. She says that even though the people have struggled and suffered terribly, they are picking themselves up and moving forward and trying to be positive. It is terribly important -she says- to recognise that.
Mahony explains that what CAFOD is doing is to identify the productivy of these people and help them become stronger and better at what they do and help them become autonomous and build on their skills for their futures..
Mahony explains that Yusuf Batil Refugee Camp is home to people who have fled violence in Blue Nile State in Sudan. It offers refuge to some 35.000 people, many of them women, children and elderly people. They live in tents and are assisted by various aid organizations.
Cafod is helping these people regain their livelihoods by setting up kitchen gardens; by supporting agriculture in the host community because the receiving population is also under pressure; by providing vocational training for people who want to trade and sell their services. And Cafod is also aimint to prevent the spread of disease by improving hygiene conditions in the communities.
Unfortunately, Mahony says, humanitarian organizations are preparing themselves for a worsening situation because if fighting continues across the border and people remain unsafe, they are going to continue coming in. Analists foresee more people coming over - anything between 15.000 to 30.000 people coming before Christmas. Next year estimates are closer to 90.000. Mahony says they are expecting to provide support for possibly two yearsw - for as long people need support.
Mahony speaks of how striking it is to come face to face with "this indomitable will to survive, the strength of the human spirit". It is uplifting - she says - to witness the ingenuity and enthusiasm as people turn resources into something productive. These people - she says - "need our respect as well as our support and we need to recognise how they are already helping themselves and how strong and capable they are".