A mission to end poverty and oppression

By Shay Cullen
June 14, 2013

Muff, County Donegal, near Derry, Ireland - A gathering of returned missionaries at the Island of Saints and Scholars Centre (IOSAS) recalled the long tradition of Irish people leaving families and friends and going overseas, for life, to bring the Gospel message of God's love and to build up the community of justice and faith.

Hundreds of Irish missionaries lived and worked among the poor and oppressed and brought education and hope to countless people in the Philippines and countries all over the world. Many stayed with the people through war and pestilence and gave hope and help.

Several were like Jesus of Nazareth: reviled, betrayed, and imprisoned. Some were even murdered. Why did they do it?

Missionaries going to the developing nations during the past sixty years and more have been shocked and appalled at the extent of hunger and poor farming methods and the inequality and exploitation of the small farmers. Many saw the need to help the hungry to feed themselves. They began assisting with economic development projects, human rights advocacy for the oppressed, and bringing improved methods of food production. The goal was to help these communities to become self-sustaining, to produce more nutritious food and emerge from poverty. The Gospel calls all to share, and to bring equality and justice to all.

In the world today, there are one billion people suffering from a lack of food and going hungry. Early childhood hunger is the most damaging to any nation. The children are stunted and they suffer brain deficiency and cannot learn or do skilled work.

What is needed is a redirection of fund towards changing the priorities of governments, so that they will invest more public funds and resources in helping people to be empowered to help themselves. Many officials are irresponsible and seek to enrich themselves. A portion of development funds should be directed towards the human development and social education of local government officials, so that they are aware of the law and their duties to implement it. They need to be sensitised and dedicated to the dignity and rights of the people they are elected to serve.

All too often, under the noses of local officials, trafficking of people is rampant. Women and children are the people who are neglected and fall prey to the recruiters and pimps coming to traffic, lure and trap them into prostitution with false promises of providing jobs with high pay. Breaking the cycle of poverty and the trafficking of the poor is one of the mission goals of the Preda foundation, as I reminded the audience at the IOSAS Centre.

Mission involves striving in many ways to make this a more honest and just world for the poor. All Christians should be engaged in that mission. Everybody is called to be involved and to put faith into action alongside the poor. Otherwise, as St James writes in his New Testament epistle, “Faith remains dead without action”.

This also means changing the political, economic and even the military situation to bring peace, justice and the protection of children from traffickers, sex tourists and abusers. I began my own mission many years ago in Olongapo city, the port of the US Navy 7th fleet and the brothel capital of South East Asia. There were dozens of street children and prostituted children, with others struggling to survive, having been abandoned by their American fathers and left to a very uncertain future. The mission was to save as many as possible and change the cycle of poverty and exploitation.

The Preda foundation was set up to provide a home and education and therapy so women and children could have a life of dignity. Hundreds have been rescued from jails, brothels and abusers. Others have received an education and employment through the foundation. The work continues today. After a ten-year campaign to close the military bases and convert them into economic zones, they were finally closed, and today as many as 120,000 people are employed at Clarke and Subic.

Today, part of the mission is to change the negligent attitudes of local and national government and to establish more democratic ways to bring the people into the decision making process, so that policies are made and implemented to better their lives and to end corruption.

The G8 states and the smaller nations can help change this situation greatly by linking foreign aid to the people’s participation and the progress made by local government in respecting human rights, alleviating poverty and protecting women and children. We can all help in our own way.

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(c) Shay Cullen is a Columban priest and director of the human rights centre Preda, which is best known for its campaign work and investigations into syndicates and paedophile rings, its rescue and rehabilitation of children, and for bringing successful prosecutions against Filipino and foreign offenders. Visit www.preda.org for more related articles. Shay Cullen's columns are published in The Manila Times and in publications in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

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