On January 27th a devastating market fire razed thousands of businesses in Bujumbura, Burundi, effectively straining the country’s economy for weeks, if not months to come. The minister of the Unitarian Church in Bujumbura, Rev. Fulgence Ndagijamana, shared the following information. People’s Church in Kalamazoo, MI is coordinating contributions to the church to support its response to the devastation: Update: The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) is now coordinating contributions. Contributions sent to the Kalamazoo church will be delivered to Burundi via ICUU. Online you can donate with credit cards or from your bank account via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org or checks may be sent to the ICUU Finance Department, att: Susan Greeberg, PO BOx 300, Hastings on Hudson, NY 10706 USA.
It’s 7 Am on Sunday morning (January 27, 2013). Many people are still sleeping and others are getting ready to go to different churches. I get a text message from Nepo, one of our church members. The text is very short “Pastor, the central market is burning”! Under chock, I made a few phone calls to check on the people I know who work in the market or who have relatives or parents working there. Some were not aware and others were already in town hoping against hope to save something!I kept working on the last details of my sermon and I left for church at 9am. As I was driving outside the gate, I could see a huge black cloud and people say it was over 20 meters high. I met neighbours who under chock were just watching the fire 6,5 kms away. (more…)
Great news from Rev. Khlur Mukhim! May the music be a blessing.
Being a member of the standing Hymnal Revision Committee (HRC), I feel lucky I could attend yesterday the special meeting of UUNEI officials and some other church members at Jowai. Graced by the President and the General Secretary of the Union, the occasion was led by Mr R Pariat and Mr L.Laloo (the Chairman & the Secretary of the HRC respectively) in which Rev Carleywell Lyngdoh, Seniormost Minister of the Union released the newly edited Khasi Unitarian Hymnal. I cannot think of any better time to have this much awaited edition completed and released now before we wind up our Quasquicentennial celebrations next month during our Annual General Conference. This edition has come after a long time and only few old copies are available in most churches. Our organizers should take note and be careful to avoid stampede in our hymnal counters when all our churches and fellowships meet at Jowai next month! (more…)
The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines’s (UUCP’s) Learning Center was inaugurated on December 18th, 2012. Now completed, the facility will serve as an educational center for pre-school children in a remote village in Canlaon City. Construction of the building was made possible by a grant from the Fund for International Unitarian Universalism, as well as support from the UU Funding Program and individual donors.
In partnership with the UUCP, the Bayanihan Program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s 11th Infantry Engineering Brigade constructed the school in approximately three months. During this time, the partnership has developed a peaceful relationship between the village residents, the UUCP, and the local military, fostering a spirit of love and trust in the area.
Military leaders, city, and village officials were invited to, and attended, the inauguration event, which featured a Christmas King & Queen Contest and a fundraising activity conducted by the school’s leaders. Approximately 10,000.00 ($250) was raised from this event which will be used towards finishing the school’s perimeter fencing.
The UUCP is thrilled to finally have a learning center that provides quality education to the pre-school children near Canlaon City. With the school facilities finally in operation, children that would normally be sent to work in village farms will instead be headed to the classroom.
Congratulations to the UUCP for this wonderful investment in child education and deep gratitude to those that supported the project’s successful completion!
The following post was written by Rev. Kathleen McTigue, director of the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ). She just finished coleading a service-learning trip to explore justice for rural India with the UU Holdeen India Program.
Our delegation just traveled to India’s western state of Gujarat, where we spent the day on Friday with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a UU Holdeen India Program partner.
Though we had read about SEWA’s work empowering some of India’s most impoverished women, nothing could have prepared us for the morning we spent with the rag pickers. We met with these workers in the place they labor each day: the municipal garbage dump of Ahmedabad, where they pick through fresh mounds of trash to glean the scraps of plastic, paper, and cloth that can still be sold for recycling. Standing high atop the literal mountains of garbage that stretched out on every side, we listened to the women talk about their lives and the difference it has made to have a union that helps them fight for their rights.
We heard Jasiben describe the ways she and her coworkers had been preyed upon by people who buy their gleanings — and how that changed when SEWA opened a competing scrap-buying stall that caters only to women. This stall actually paid market rates for their collections and forced others to raise their prices as well. We learned of SEWA’s tireless efforts to press the government to provide an education to the children of the rag pickers so that the next generation can find alternative employment and an easier life. Epitomizing the end of this particular cycle of poverty, Jasiben’s face shone with pride as she told us that her own daughter has just entered her first year of university. (more…)
Of all the things I’d imagined would seem welcoming about my return trip to India, the smell of the Mumbai airport had not been one of them. As soon I stepped out of the plane, though, there it was: a thick bank of turmeric and musk and damp. I felt a mix of recognition and surprise, of the familiar and the foreign, that would follow me through my time here.
Four years ago I came to India on a similar quest from my home congregation, Unity Church, tovolunteer for two months as an English teacher in the school run by Vidhayak Sansad (VS), a Holdeen partner in rural India. This trip was a return to the familiar VS campus with a service-learning group of 10 Unitarian Universalists, all connected through the UU College of Social Justice. I had initially agreed to the trip — a gift from my minister, who realized at the last moment that she would be unable to go — with no hesitation. As the departure date ticked closer, though, I grew more and more uncomfortable.
I’d returned from my initial time in Usgaon overflowing with admiration for the work of our Holdeen partner, ready to offer, as Dag Hammarskjöld says, “the chalice of [my] being to receive, to carry, and to give back.” Four years had passed since that trip, however, and in the interim I felt that my chalice had slowly emptied. The realities of my life had seemed much more pressing and had demanded so much of my attention. I’d lost pieces of that passion in the struggle to find a job, find a new job, find another job, balance three jobs, finish my bachelor’s degree, move to a new city. I worried that the girl who had gone to Usgaon years ago had become a stranger to me, and that my life would seem completely foreign to her. (more…)
Yesterday evening the UUA received news that Typhoon Pablo had impacted the UU Church of the Philippines headquarters in Dumaguette City. News from the UU congregations throughout Negros Island is still coming in, but so far most of the damage reported by them is to agricultural projects such as rice, corn and banana trees. In Siapo and Upper Nato some houses lost their roofs, and at least one UU family’s house, in Dumaguete, was wrecked.
Describing the situation, UUCP President Rev. Rebecca Sienes wrote: “There is so much damage in the city of Dumaguete. The pier was greatly damaged; storm surged occurred in the pier area; some of the pine trees by the boulevard were uprooted, the roof of some of the shops by the boulevard were blown away by the wind; the boulevard was filled by ocean water up to knee high. The wind was very strong.”
UUCP headquarters staff have already been hard at work clearing damaged trees, and they are making plans for necessary repairs.
UUA President Peter Morales offered words of support: “My caring thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been impacted by Typhoon Pablo, especially the leaders and members of our UU congregations in the Philippines. The UUA will partner with the UUCP in all recovery efforts.”
Further news will be posted as it arrives. Please hold our UU brothers and sisters, and everyone effected by Typhoon Pablo, in your thoughts and prayers.
Checks may be sent to the ICUU Finance Office, attn: Susan Greenberg, P.O. Box 300, Hastings on Hudson, NY 10706 USA
Be sure to indicate that your donation is for UUCP Pablo Relief
Update: The following UU congregations have reported that they were gladly not impacted by the typhoon: Doldol, Malingin, Calapayan, Aquino, Caican, Samaka, and Bicutan. News is still awaited from approximately 12 congregations.
Update 2: The UUA and the UU Partner Church Council have agreed to cover the costs of repair to the UUCP headquarters.
Update 3: Congregational impact -
Kalomoyan congregation – All’s well
Cansauro congregation – Some damage to member’s houses and agriculture
Nagbinlod congregation – Lost electricity, but UU families are fine and no building damage. The UU Mango farm has suffered.
Culipapa congregation: All’s well.
Samoyao congregation: Some damage to member’s houses, and agriculture damage.
Nataban, Bagong Silan, and Ulay congregations are doing fine.
Update 4: Banaybanay congregation - The congregation was hit severely. Seven (7) UU families evacuated to UU church to seek refuge. Their fruit trees were uprooted, banana plants were down, roofs & walls of several houses were blown away and GI sheets could not be retrieved. One house is no longer habitable. The Barangay/Village gave financial assistance at 500.00 ($12.50) to each family affected. About 20 UU families were affected by Pablo It was the strongest typhoon that they had experienced.
Photos from Dumaguete City and the UUCP headquarters:
Our November 3rd , the UU-UNO’s 50th anniversary celebration almost didn’t happen. Just days before, New York City and the surrounding area was hit by Hurricane Sandy. We had worked on this event for over a year. Scott Seale and Marilyn Mehr headed a 50th anniversary celebration committee that worked tirelessly for months to prepare for a New York City Gala event to celebrate the UU-UNO’s 50 years of service at the United Nations. We debuted a wonderful documentary film of our 50 years at the UN.
The film, like the event itself, was the product of a lot of volunteer help. Emmy Award winning actor Andre Braugher volunteered his exceptional narration skills for the film. Gavin Grace, who is not a UU, volunteered his talent as a videographer because he so admires the work the UU-UNO does for international LGBT rights. All our speakers on the video also volunteered their talent and time, as did All Souls NYC Archivist, Lorraine Allen. We benefited from a grant from the UU Funding Program to allow us to put the video together. LDJ Productions, volunteered their exceptional production skills to give us a flawless evening at the NY Times Center.
So with all this preparation and the volunteer support of so many wonderful people, we are more than prepared for biggest bash in the 50 year history of the UU-UNO.
People were flying in from all over the USA and Canada for the event; and then America’s most destructive storm hit New York and New Jersey doing some $70 billion worth of damage. While hurricane Katrina cost more lives, because of the built-up nature of the New York Metropolitan area, hurricane Sandy did far more damage. My husband and I hunkered down in our powerless apartment and wondered if all our planning would be destroyed along with so much else in New York City.
We worried that the NY Times Center might not have power. Senator Stevenson might not be able to fly in from Chicago. The catering firm might not be able to fulfill our food order. As New York City quickly began to restore infrastructure to many parts of Manhattan, we also picked up the pieces of our event and pulled it off in grand style. Some of our out-of-town friends decided not to brave post hurricane Sandy New York. However, all our speakers arrived from near and far. We had guests fly in from California, Canada, Texas and elsewhere to attend our event. Some of our staff had serious transportation problems and some volunteers left powerless or damaged residences to carry off a grand evening. Given the havoc of just days before, our grand gala was all the more special signaling the courage and persistence of the UU-UNO determined to weather all storms to, in the words of Rev. Peter Morales, “not just to survive, but to prevail.”
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
The Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament announced to cheers from parliamentarians that she would allow the infamous anti-homosexuality bill to come up for a vote before Christmas as her Christmas gift to the country. The international community with the UU-UNO playing a leading role has kept this bill at bay since 2009. It seems at long last, after so much effort, the Ugandan Parliament will ignore the best advice of human rights advocates from around the world and pass the bill. It is yet unclear what the bill will entail. In its original form, it called for the death penalty for homosexuality and for prison sentences for anyone who fails to report a homosexual to the police within three days. There are some rumors that some of these more egregious provisions will be modified. The death penalty might be reduced to life in a Ugandan prison at hard labor. It will likely remain impossible for health care workers to provide care to those who have same-gender relationships, thus eviscerating Uganda’s national HIV/AIDs strategy. With passage of the bill seemingly an inevitability, the only hope is that the Ugandan President may veto the bill. He has said that Uganda already has still laws which criminalize both homosexuality and the promotion of homosexuality. The latter law has been used recently to end any discussion of LGBT rights. Most societies, including our own, find it a long and difficult process to accept sexuality different from the majority. However, such change is possible in a society which guarantees the right of free speech. Laws in Uganda, Nigeria, Russia, Iran and elsewhere make it difficult or impossible even to discuss such matters making change that much more difficult. We are calling on people to pray for all those oppressed by all those regimes which oppress individual expression and speech. There are many petitions that we urge people to sign to convince the Ugandan President to veto the bill should it pass. My personal favorite is on AllOut.org. As it happens, Andre Banks, Executive Director and co-founder of AllOut.org will be one of our two keynote speakers at our April 4-6, 2013 Spring Seminar. Register online for the spring seminar using “trip code” HIP7061.
UU-UNO Spring Seminar
As you’ve just read, violence and oppression against the LGBT population in Uganda is getting worse. It’s also getting worse in Nigeria which also about to pass legislation against same-sex marriage, which is already illegal in Nigeria, but the new legislation will also include prison terms for anyone who performs a same-sex union, witnesses one, or advocates for one, whether this is done in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world. This and other global events will be discussed on our upcoming April 4-6 Intergenerational Spring Seminar entitled Sex, Love, and Violence: Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in a Globalized World. Youth arrive at the host congregation on the evening of April 3rd. Our keynote speakers are: Charles Radcliffe: Chief, Global Issues Section of The Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights Andre Banks: Co-Founder and Executive Director of AllOut, “Adding people power to the historic fight for LGBT issues”.
Early Bird Rates (until March 1st)
Senior (65+) $295
Young Adult $225
Day Rate $160
Rates after March 1st until March 15th Deadline
Senior (65+) $355
Young Adult $285
Day Rate $160
Online registration is now open. When you are asked for a “trip code”, please enter HIP7061. The UU College of Social Justice is collaborating with us and we are using their website, which is usually used for UU service learning trips, to register people for the seminar. They will pass your name on to us and we’ll send you registration materials. You can also send us an email (email@example.com) after you register and we’ll send you materials about our exciting seminar. Remember registration includes the cost of most of your meals at the seminar and also accommodations at 4thUniversalist Church NYC for youth.
Since disembarking from our plane in the Mumbai airport last Saturday evening, it feels as if I have been trying to drink from the proverbial fire hose of experience. The flow of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, and thoughts is at a rate that is completely impossible to imagine, must less take in.
From the seaside of one of the world’s immense cities, we came here, to the modest, bustling campus of Vidhayak Sansad, the center of such astounding activity in this area of such astounding need and opportunity. We were greeted at the gates by a procession of over 200 tribal schoolgirls clad in navy blue and white, and they enthusiastically paraded us in a pulsing procession to this remarkable place.
We’ve been learning from local tribal activists — union leaders — who have unpacked accounts of their decades of work. The depth of their clarity, conviction, and commitment easily transcends the barrier of language, which often requires translation from Marati, the state language, into Hindi, the national tongue, before making its way into English. Their accounts are of creative, powerful, often clever, and always strategic efforts to lift themselves and their people out of a complex web of oppression and exploitation.
Yesterday included a visit to a nearby small village where a centuries-old Hindu temple rises like a fortress above the swarm of the street. We were there not just to see that spectacle but to hear from other union activists about their work in organizing the temple staff to demand fair wages. Their actions included a hunger strike staged on the steep steps leading up to the temple. They also chose not to discard (as was their responsibility) the mounds of marigolds offered in homage to the deity but to fill the offices of the trust officials who employed them with the wilting blooms until the trustees agreed to negotiate.
The needs of the so-called adivasi — the “first people,” whose legal rights to these lands have been so abused — are as foreign as so much we’re encountering and as familiar as all struggles for justice and equity in which the members of our delegation are engaged. Our learning — and my learning — is taking place at the intersection of this way of strategizing for change and our individual and congregational efforts to work with immigrants, the economically deprived, the homeless, the incarcerated, and all those deprived of full equality and adequate opportunity.
Our learning continues, today with more activists, tomorrow in excursions into outlying villages to observe and document what we experience and understand about the work of these courageous agents of creative change. I’m profoundly grateful to be having this experience and look forward to unpacking it and exploring aspects of it with my congregation in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.
Cross-posted from the UU College of Social Justice blog.
On Tuesday we traveled from Mumbai to Usgaon, the village where partner organization Vidhayak Sansad is based and where it has organized a school for 254 tribal girls from 5 to 18 years old. We received an unforgettable welcome from the children, who had gathered at the gates to meet us. They offered each of us a traditional blessing, anointing our brows with yellow and red powder and greeting us with the words that mean, “I greet the light of the god within you.” Accompanied by drums, the girls then danced up the pathway and led us to the main center, where we learned about the power of collective action in rural India.
Vidhayak Sansad is a key partner of the UU Holdeen India program. We were privileged to meet throughout the afternoon with nearly a dozen women and men who are major leaders of the union associated with Vidhayak Sansad. Nearly all of them are adivasi, or tribal people, who still have to struggle and often risk grave violence in order to secure their most basic rights. Some of the leaders we met were among those who had been bonded laborers before the birth of the union in 1983.
Though it seems unthinkable in this modern era, the entrenched systems of power and privilege in rural India have made it frighteningly easy for the equivalent of slavery to persist. In so many areas, the laws that were meant to protect the adivasi people and their rights to land and water have been ignored; more powerful farmers from higher castes simply took the land and began planting it, hiring back the former owners for well below minimum wages.
The adivasis have undertaken recent efforts to recover land and water that has been stolen from them and, in some cases, to insist on minimum wage. Women play a key role in these struggles, and gender equality is one of the union’s principles.
Vidyulata Pandit, who founded the union with her husband, Vivek, and a group of former bonded laborers, lifted up a vivid example for us of the way women’s empowerment is linked to the entire struggle for justice. A meeting had been called to convince the workers that they had the right under the law to stand up and demand the landlord pay them the minimum wage (at the time the men were being paid 4 rupees a day and women just 3, but they were all legally entitled to 7). Both women and men attended the meeting but, as has been traditional, the women kept silent and only the men spoke. The men were unwilling to act, saying that nothing really could be done.
The meeting ran late into the night with no progress made, and then just as it was breaking up one woman finally stood and found her voice. Turning to the men of the village, she said, “You’re always saying that the men are the brave ones that have to go out there in the world and the women must keep silent and stay home. We have just heard of the way to find our freedom. If you men are afraid to do it, then take these bangles from my wrists, wear them yourselves, and go home!” Other women then stood with her, and the women walked out of the meeting and led a march — joined finally by the men — around the landlord’s home demanding fair pay. The next day a spontaneous strike began. The landlord buckled after two weeks and agreed to pay all farm workers the minimum wage.
This is just one of the dozen moving stories we have heard from people whose lives have been so changed by the power of collective action. We are deeply inspired by what we’ve heard and are so privileged to be among them.
Cross-posted from the UU College of Social Justice blog.
The following post was written by Rev. Kathleen McTigue, director of the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ). She is currently coleading a service-learning trip to explore justice for rural India with the UU Holdeen India Program.
The first of our UUCSJ journeys to India is now under way! Eleven of us, from all over the United States, are gathered in Mumbai for a day of orientation to this region of India and to our partner organizations here. We’ll spend five days in Maharashtra, where the union Vidhayak Sansad is centered, and learn about their work over the past 30 years empowering tribal peoples to reclaim land that has been taken from them. We’ll also travel to Ahmedabad to meet with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a union that has organized and empowered women who do piece work at home and work as street vendors. Both organizations are longtime partners of the UU Holdeen India Program.
There are several reasons for our pilgrimage to India. First, to learn from our Indian partner organizations about their important work empowering some of the most impoverished people in India to stand up for their rights to land and education. Second, to explore solidarity through this work, not only for the short duration of this journey but after our return to the United States, via work in our own regions and congregations. Third, as UUCSJ’s pilot delegation, we’re here to learn how a continuing program of exchange can mutually benefit our partners here and UUCSJ participants in pilgrimage, in the hope that we’ll send two delegations each year going forward. And fourth, we will further develop opportunities for long-term volunteers — especially young adults — who UUCSJ will help place with Vidhayak Sansad, SEWA, and other Holdeen partners for periods of 4–12 weeks.
It is a complicated political moment in India’s history. The country has been heavily impacted by the downturn in the global economy, and the stress of a slowing economy has brought issues of economic justice as well as political corruption to the forefront. We are immensely privileged to be guests here of the courageous people working for justice in India through Vidhayak Sansad and SEWA, and we’re looking forward to our time in this ancient, lovely, and complicated land.