After more than two years working for an aid agency you would have thought I’d be used to bad news. But, do you know, the emphasis of CAFOD’s work is about the solution – the good stuff that can and will be done to make difficult situations better, to push against injustice, to offer people the tools to get themselves and their families further away from the red lines of poverty and abuse.
But the past few weeks I have felt overwhelmed by the external bad stuff – from the increasingly desperate fighting in Cote d’Ivoire and the displacement of nigh on one million people, the worrying military watching brief over Libya, the violence in Syria, the aftermath of earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the deployment of Israel’s new “Iron Dome” anti-rocket defence system, the disappearance of activists in China, the accusation from Israel that Argentina offered to halt investigations into terror attacks on Israeli targets in Buenos Aires in return for better trade relations with Iran, the trial of Italian PM Berlusconi for corruption, the UK’s flat refusal of the EU plan to cut carbon emissions from transport by banning petrol and diesel cars from city centres, and so on until it feels like there’s no corner of the world where good news is flourishing.
Recently, I called Father Cyprien Ahoure, a Catholic priest who supports the work of our sister agency Caritas. I dialed up his number, it rang a couple of times, and we spoke for 10 minutes in French. When I put the telephone down I sat quietly at my desk and tried to digest what had just happened. You see, Father Cyprien was talking to me from his mission in the west Ivorian town of Duékoué. This is the town where 40,000 refugees have arrived to find sanctuary from the civil war engulfing their country.
Father Cyprien has been trying to hold the fort at his mission compound for weeks. He has been sheltering thousands upon thousands of people while the UN set up patrols in Duékoué to protect the church and its refugees.
As far back as January 2011, Father Cyprien told people – the UN and journalists – that the number of displaced people arriving in his parish was out of control. He has spoken of having no water, no food, no power. And he has even spoken to the BBC from under a table as bullets cut the air outside his church. In the past week fierce fighting spread to Duékoué itself and more than 800 bodies were discovered in mass graves.
And yet when I called, in the midst of all this, Father Cyprien took the time to answer my questions. He took the time to update me on what was happening all around, the severity of the fighting, an estimate of the refugee numbers and so on. He even said he thought there would be a solution. He thought this because of the work of the Caritas organisation, and because of God. And then he had to go.
And I had to put down the phone.
As I went back to my working day in London, Father Cyprien went back to the chaos and fear and worsening conflict around him. I haven’t been able to get through to Duékoué since then, but I can’t shake the hope Father Cyprien expressed in the face of massively unpleasant odds.
Out of incredible respect for the courage of Father Cyprien and his belief that that there will be a solution, that there is always hope, that in amongst what can seem overwhelmingly bad stuff, you can find something positive - here is the (good) news:
Amnesty International has released a report that indicates the use of the death penalty is declining worldwide; thousands of people took a day off work in Macedonia to plant 3 million trees to replace those lost to forest fires; a teenager and his grandmother survived nine days in the wreckage of the Japanese tsunami; organic farming groups in the US are taking agro-giant Monsanto to court over claims the company is illegally suing small farmers over patent violations; the UK Bribery Act will be implemented on July 1, 2011; a homeless man in Pennsylvania found and then handed in $1,440 in cash; Germany is considering abandoning nuclear power; a Gurkha soldier was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for single-handedly fighting off 30 armed attackers in Helmand Province, Afghanistan; volunteers in Oxfordshire have spent 20 years rebuilding and restoring a steam train to its former glory; four orders of US nuns are demanding Goldman Sachs overhauls its bonus culture; Barack Obama will stand for re-election and in his next term have the opportunity to prove his mettle.
(c) Pascale Palmer is CAFOD's Policy Media Officer. www.cafod.org.uk