On International Day of the Disappeared, CAFOD’s Clare Dixon shares the story of people who worked at the height of the conflict in El Salvador to make sure people killed by death squads did not just disappear without a trace. Sadly, some of the details of this story are distressing.
The first time I visited El Salvador in 1981 the country was plunged in a brutal civil war. Thousands of ordinary men and women were being targeted by the army and death squads, just for demanding their basic human rights, a decent wage, and freedom of speech. Nobody ventured out after dark for fear of being arrested or just snatched off the streets and I felt an overwhelming sense of fear and dread.
Archbishop Romero, the “voice of the voiceless” who had espoused and defended the cause of the poor and oppressed, had been shot dead as he said Mass in 1980. A year later I was visiting El Salvador to meet with members of his Archdiocese who, with the support of CAFOD, had set up a human rights office. Its task was to provide legal aid to help and comfort the countless victims of violence who had nowhere else to turn when their loved ones had “disappeared” after being captured by the death squads.
Jess, a member of the Asia and Middle East team recently met with Pakhi * a former migrant worker from Bangladesh who now helps other migrants to protect their rights.
When I met Pakhi, she described her experience of migrating to Kuwait as a young woman to take up employment as a domestic worker.
Pakhi explained, “I went to Kuwait to start sending money back to my elderly mother in Bangladesh and save up for my future. I worked in Kuwait for more than 2 years and I was forced to work around 20 hours a day by my employer. I was paid for only 6 months work and my passport was confiscated. I was confined to my employer’s house and I wasn’t allowed to contact my family back home”.
Olwen Maynard has been at CAFOD for over thirty years. While reviewing project files to see what’s worked and what didn’t, she’s often amazed to see the difference that’s been made to people’s lives. On the International Day of Rural Women, Olwen shares Karima’s story.
Thumbing through CAFOD’s file on the Workers Advice Centre (WAC) in Israel, I was most surprised to see we’ve been supporting their work now for ten years. Roni Ben-Efrat, one of the amazing Israeli women who got WAC started back in the 1990s, argues convincingly that lasting peace in the Middle East is impossible until all the people living there can make a decent living. Many Arab families in the area known as the Triangle, a remote and largely rural part of northern Israel, live below the poverty line. It’s not easy to find jobs at all, and it’s especially hard for housewives and mothers, almost all of whom left school without any qualifications. WAC requested support from CAFOD to help them move into paid employment, and we agreed.
Karima Yahya was in her early forties, with six children old enough not to need her constantly around, and a husband who’d undergone heart surgery and was no longer able to work. With no money coming in, they were sinking further and further into debt. Then she met Wafa Tiara.
Today marks the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. CAFOD’s Programme Officer in Cambodia, Sorphoarn Sok meets indigenous land activist Hean Heak to find out more about how he is helping his indigenous community stand up for their rights in Cambodia and defend their land from land grabs by large companies.
Activist Hean Heak is from Ngorn, a remote village in Kampong Thom province in central Cambodia which is home to the Kuoy Indigenous Peoples.
Olwen Maynard is a member of the Asia and Middle East team. She tells us how bringing young people together in Lebanon is helping to build trust among local people and Syrian refugees.
There’s been a lot of heart-searching in this country about taking in Syrian refugees, and how many would be our ‘fair share’. Something we tend to forget is that most displaced Syrians are still in the Middle East region. Lebanon, a small country with a population of about four million (half that of Greater London), has taken in over a million. Just stop and think about that for a minute.