Talk of the Nation: How outsiders can help communities in crisis


Jesuit Refugee Service/USA’s National Director Fr. Ken Gavin was on Talk of the Nation (a nationally broadcast program on National Public Radio) yesterday to discuss his recent trip to Haiti. Listen to it here: How Can Outsiders Help Communities In Crisis?

Or you can download/listen to a podcast here:

Fr. Gavin on NPR: “… when we talk about our work in Jesuit Refugee Service, we say that what we do is accompany, serve and advocate or defend the rights of refugees or forcibly displaced people. And that term, accompaniment, as you say, Neal, is incredibly important, because I see it as the envelope out of which all our service and all our advocacy – however important they are – flow from that sense of accompaniment.

And what we mean by that, I think simply, is to be close to the people, to be in solidarity with them, to step into their shoes, to experience their hopes and losses. Our sense of accompaniment comes from that spark of the divine that we recognize in every human person. It comes from our believing that even in the greatest tragedies like Haiti, that our God stands present with people in their suffering.”

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Dispatches from Haiti II

JRS/USA National Director Fr. Ken Gavin is in Haiti, and shares the following:

Monday, February 8.

Much of my past week has been centered around the Jesuit novitiate in Haiti. The novitiate, located on a large piece of property minutes away from the Port-au-Prince airport, has served as the center for Jesuit relief activities in the capital.

Although not destroyed by the earthquake, the main building received substantial damage that made it dangerous to live in. Many of the Jesuit novices and staff moved into tents after the quake and are still living in a cam-like atmosphere.

Like many of their fellow Haitians, they have had an experience of displacement. These past weeks the large grassy area behind the house has become the home and staging ground for many JRS team members, Jesuit family members, and visiting emergency medical teams from the U.S., Brazil, France and Puerto Rico.

The normal tranquility of novitiate life was transformed overnight into a bustling, economy scale hotel atmosphere. In the evening, after a long day of caring for victims of the earthquake, volunteers would gather together in conversations that transcended the boundaries of language and culture.

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Dispatches from Haiti I

JRS/USA National Director Fr. Ken Gavin is in Haiti, and shares the following:

Thursday, February 4.

This morning we drove to Leogane, a city west of Port-au-Prince almost totally devastated by the January 12 earthquake. Some say the 90% of the town is either rubble or uninhabitable.

On the way there we saw crowds of people gathered at a food distribution center in the capital’s harbor area.

There are reports that many Haitians begin to queue up on food lines at 3 in the morning, waiting for the start of the distribution at 8 a.m. Other groups have been told by agencies that food will be distributed in their neighborhood the next day, only to find out the following morning that no food has been delivered. There are long lines of hungry people whenever trucks of food appear in the neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince.

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Dispatches from Sri Lanka, Day Four

Father Kenneth J. Gavin, S.J., the Regional Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, is in Sri Lanka this week for a meeting of JRS Regional Directors. He will be writing daily updates on what it is like in Sri Lanka, seven months after the end of a devastating civil war that left tens of thousands dead, and hundreds of thousands displaced. This is the fourth installment.

Wednesday, December 2. “Speak on our behalf,” a human rights activist in Trincomalee urged us today as we watched a short PowerPoint presentation on the history of injustice and violations of human rights endured by the Tamil people of the north and east of Sri Lanka over the past 60 years.

Victims of intense shelling during the war seek help at a hospital in Sri Lanka.

Victims of intense shelling during the war seek help at a hospital in Sri Lanka.

“Speak on our behalf because we have no voice,” he repeated. Many of us were shaken by the presentation’s photos of atrocities committed against the Tamil civilian population. One of the facilitators of our reconciliation workshop has lived through the brutal years of partisan bloodshed in Northern Ireland and has spent much of his life there in the difficult struggle for peace and reconciliation. Visibly shaken, he reflected on the photos of human slaughter by saying in a choked voice, “I had never seen a picture of a child hanged.”

In fact, as a Sri Lankan present explained, the harrowing photo was only a small piece of a larger, more brutal story. In 2006, a Tamil woman was raped and murdered while her husband and young children were forced to stand by and watch helplessly. Afterwards, the children themselves were slashed with machetes and hanged in front of their father who was then himself finally killed.

This story and so many others like it fill the pages of the sad history of Sri Lanka’s recent conflict — a conflict marked by inhumanities committed by all sides of the conflict. In a real way, these crimes against humanity force us to ask ourselves not simply what has become of the people of Sri Lanka, but what has become of humanity itself. How can we, as humankind, face and understand such brutality?
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Dispatches from Sri Lanka, Day Three – Reflections on Reconciliation

Father Kenneth J. Gavin, S.J., the Regional Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, is in Sri Lanka this week for a meeting of JRS Regional Directors.

Tuesday, December 1. How could Sri Lanka, a country still reeling after 25 years of civil conflict, be the right place for a workshop on reconciliation? The war here has just ended and its wounds on both sides are still fresh. The simple truth, however, is that Sri Lanka is a fine space — even a kind of sacred space — for the worldwide leadership of Jesuit Refugee Service to gather to discuss how reconciliation reveals the deepest mission of JRS. It is here that we have been invited to step into the heart of God and view through the eyes of the Trinity the broken world in which we live. How does JRS, with its mission to accompany, serve and advocate, help reconcile peoples whose lives have been so thoroughly broken and shattered?

This morning we listened to each other’s stories of both the power and the difficulty of reconciliation in the lives of refugees we have known. Many of them carry with them deep scars inflicted by callous and impersonal national and international responses to displacement that is an everyday occurrence for refugees and migrants. In today’s stories I was particularly moved by the work of JRS chaplains and pastoral visitors who work in detention centers throughout Europe and U.S., caring for the spiritual needs of detained migrants and asylum seekers. It is often there — in prisons and detention facilities — the need for and the call to reconciliation is experienced most deeply.

I will never forget the story of a 22-year old Mexican migrant, Francisco-Javier, who in early 2007 was killed by a U.S. border patrol agent while attempting to cross into southern Arizona from Mexico with his two younger brothers and a sister-in-law.
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Dispatches from Sri Lanka, Day Two

Father Kenneth J. Gavin, S.J., the Regional Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, is in Sri Lanka this week for a meeting of JRS Regional Directors. He will be writing daily updates on what it is like in Sri Lanka, seven months after the end of a devastating civil war that left tens of thousands dead, and hundreds of thousands displaced. This is the second installment.

Monday, November 30. The retreat house where our meeting is taking place is located in Trincomalee, on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka. Trinco, as the locals call it, is a six hour drive from Colombo, the capital, on a congested two-lane highway unceremoniously called A-9. Stretching from the south all the way to the northern tip of the island, A-9 is the main artery for trade, travel and military movement in the country. During much of the last phase of Sri Lanka’s recent conflict, travel along A-9 was severely restricted by dozens of checkpoints that caused great hardship for civilians and tradesmen visiting family members or moving produce and goods to markets in the south.

Trincomalee’s harbor is one of the finest in all of Southeast Asia. The gentle rolling waves cast a soothing calm over the long stretch of beach where generations of Tamil fishermen and their families have lived and worked. Both a Hindu temple and a small Catholic chapel face east on the shore just outside our retreat center, in testimony to the religious diversity of the Tamil people.

Fishing in Sri Lanka. (Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

Fishing in Sri Lanka. (Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

Walking along the beach today, Fr. Peter Balleis, S.J., the International Director of Jesuit Refugee Service, and I pass dozens of multi-colored fishing boats with crews of Tamil men unloading their morning’s catch. Many greet us in English or simply stare in surprise at their unexpected visitors. Some lift large fish in the air to show us their catch and cry out to us, “Where are you from?” Older children run from their families’ wooden shacks, waving and greeting us while the smaller kids just stand and stare in amazement.
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