Thursday, July 30, 2015

Aliza Stands Up for Her Education

Aliza Aluat, 19, is a proud participant in UMCOR’s Girls’ Education in South Sudan program.
Photo: UMCOR South Sudan

Two years ago, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) initiated its Girls’ Education in South Sudan program in collaboration with the Government of South Sudan and the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom. You can read about it here. The program, which uses mentoring sessions and other tools, to encourage girls to stay in school, has made strides. They include spurring the courage a young woman named Aliza Aluat, who, despite her fears, convinced her father to allow her to continue her education. Here, Aliza tells her story:

I am by name Aliza Aluat. I am 19 years old and in class 8 at Maper East Primary School here in Aweil town. I felt lucky during a mentoring session this month because it was conducted by a female staff member of UMCOR. She told me that with education I could compete with men and they would respect me, because I can do anything they can do.

Before I attended the mentoring sessions, I would shy away from expressing myself. Even in class, I did not have the courage to challenge my fellow male students. I had this belief that as a woman I am not supposed to compete with men as we are not equals. During the mentoring sessions I gained courage to face my fears; I got the freedom to share my troubles with the mentors and my fellow girls. We realized that sharing our difficulties brings us together and enables us to find solutions amongst ourselves. 
Two months ago my father told me someone had asked for my hand in marriage. I was shocked, troubled, and scared. I went to the house and cried and cried. I tried to talk to my mother. I asked her to help me talk to my father [and convince him] to allow me to complete school, but she was scared. In our culture, as women we are not allowed to defy or question our fathers.

I don’t know where I gathered the courage—but maybe it is because of the mentoring sessions. I asked to talk to my father and he agreed. I told my father I did not want to defy him; I wanted him to just listen to me and then make a decision. I told him that I did not have a problem with getting married, but that I felt it was not the right time for me. He told me that I was old enough and reminded me that my mother was much younger when he married her. I told him I wanted to finish school first and explained to him that if he allowed me to finish school, he would get more cows for my hand in marriage because I will be more knowledgeable and rich men will be interested in marrying me. He said that was a good thought, but he did not have the money to pay for my education. I told him that should not bother him as my education was being paid for by the government through the GESS project and that I received money to buy books and my uniform.

He looked at me and asked me where I got the courage to talk to him. I just laughed and told him that we are taught so many things in school nowadays. I don’t know if he pretended to be okay with my idea or if he [really understood]; all I know is that for now I am not getting married. My mother did not believe how I made my father change his mind.

*This blog is based on an interview by UMCOR South Sudan staff with Aliza Aluat, a participant in UMCOR’s Girls’ Education in South Sudan program in Aweil, South Sudan. Read more about UMCOR’s work in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In Italy, A Migrant’s Story

Waving her UMCOR food vouchers, Mariama praises God: “He will surely provide for me,” she told Graziella of Pellegrino della Terra. Photo: Pelegrino della Terra

By Pellegrino della Terra*

The rough journey of so many migrants to Italy is hard to describe. Earlier this month one survivor, Mariama, a migrant from Nigeria, spoke to Pellegrino della Terra about her ordeal.

The ship Mariama voyaged in was destroyed at sea during a storm; she and her two small children were among the survivors. She described the shipwreck as “God’s intervention to save lives.” Mariama said the storm had felt like an epic battle between God and the devil.

“I saw how the sea can engulf many people at a time whenever there is storm,” she said. “People were shouting and calling on the name of God.”

Mariama explained, “I was travelling with my two children. They were crying because they hadn’t eaten for two days. I gave them only water to drink; the sea took all our belongings.I lost everything except these children that the Lord gave me,” said Mariama.

“We faced a lot of difficulties passing through the desert, but the Lord was with us,” she continued. “That was the only hope that kept me alive through the storm: The Lord would bring me out of this storm and save my children. And really he is faithful!”

Mariama told us this story as confirmation of her faith that the living God never abandons us in the midst of danger. And she continues to rely on her faith, as her present situation in Italy is full of challenges. The reception center where she lives cannot provide adequately for her and the children as available resources are tight. There are thousands of migrants in this region, and unemployment is high here, so there is little to share.

Mariama visited our office earlier this month and told us she has not even been able to buy milk and pampers for the children. She is a single parent, and we really understood her situation and how she struggles to make ends meet.

When we told her about the Temidire project, which is sponsored by UMCOR [United Methodist Committee on Relief] to assist recent migrants in Italy, her face lit up. As she received the UMCOR food vouchers Mariama started singing: “He is my provider; He is my sustainer; He will surely provide for me.”

Surely, UMCOR has changed the situation of many people, and they are giving a living testimony.

* Pellegrino della Terra is a Sicilian voluntary organization that is partnering with UMCOR to provide food relief for recently arrived migrants in Sicily, Italy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Youths Support Flood Recovery in Rocky Mountain Conference

In mid-June, Mike Moore, flood recovery director for the United Methodist Rocky Mountain Annual Conference, reported on the excellent volunteer work accomplished in Colorado by the youth group from First United Methodist Church of Lawrence, Kansas. The group split up and worked on various projects, he said:
One group worked on a home out in Kersey which had been hit hard by the flood. The group tore out damaged fencing and put in new fencing. They painted, cleaned up debris and weeds. The other half of the group worked out at a ranch, painting the bunk house and cleaning debris. They also cleaned a garage and shop for homeowners who live in the same neighborhood. The homeowners they worked for were amazed at the amount of work they accomplished. 
On Thursday, Deb got word that the homeowners from Kersey were evacuating due to impending flooding. Melinda was looking for volunteers to help them move everything from their house, which had just been restored this spring. Deb passed the information onto the Lawrence, Kansas, group. It was late afternoon by the time we got the information to them and I didn’t expect them to be able to provide much help as they had been working all day on other projects. BUT, when these kids learned that this client needed help, they told their youth leader that they needed to go help “save “Flip and Michelle.” This group of teens went and worked until 8:00 p.m., loading household items and moving them out of the home. They helped round up the goats so they could be taken to safety. They passed up their evening showers and dinner to go out to the farm, which was swarming with mosquitoes (due to all the flood waters nearby), and work in the wet and mud to help the family move out.
Tami Clark, the youth leader, said they had been on many mission trips before, to Katrina and Sandy and others. This was the first time that they had ever had homeowners work along beside them and as hard as they worked. The appreciation and caring they received from the three homeowners they worked with was amazing to them and made the week very meaningful.