Category Archives: COP17

Exposure Visits

Yesterday was the day we all went on exposure visits to areas surrounding Durban. I went to Inanda, where local women started support groups for the community, and later youth support groups also formed. This project was initiated by the Diakonia Council of Churches; there are approximately 5 support groups of 100 people each.

It’s the Youth for Eco-Justice Group!

Our bus was quite late, so we had some fun at the Glenmore Pastoral Centre before leaving.

Funny Poses!

This took forever to assemble, but I think it’s pretty cool:

Spelling out COP 17

We headed off to Inanda, traveling into rural Kwazulu Natal, where we would meet those involved with the support groups.

Driving through Mzinyathi, a rural area near Durban

On our way, we stopped by a large dam that had been build by the Afrikaan population 20 years previously. In order to build the dam, 500 families (representing approximately 5000 people) were forcibly displaced. This includes the family of one of the participants in the Youth for Eco-Justice program. The land they lived on is now under water. 20 years on, they are still waiting for compensation.

Njideka (Nigeria), Ra’ed (Palestine) and Kaitlin

We all got out to see the dam and started taking pictures with each other and the scenery around us. I didn’t think about this at the time, but now that I see the photos, I realize how odd (and even awful) it was to essentially turn a human rights situation into a tourist stop. It’s not what any of us consciously did, but we were there to see the dam, and photos like the one above, while very nice, were perhaps inappropriate at the time.

Zanele, leader of a youth support group, at the dam

On this visit, it was also evident that racial tensions are still part of the narrative of South Africa. As one unemployed youth said, “I’ve never seen a white person give me a salary.”

We arrived at a public building where the support groups meet. It was in Emaphephetheni and also housed a clinic, which was built in 2003. Previously, there was no clinic for the residents in this area.

The women we met with talked about the community garden they plant seasonally, taking many of the vegetables to those who are sick with HIV/AIDS. We were unable to visit the garden due to flooding on the roads from the intense rain two days previously. It made me wonder how often this happens, and what that means for the food supply.

HIV/AIDS is a big problem in South Africa. This was not helped by the South African government’s denial, until 2009, about the disease. Until then, the Health Minister publicly said that drinking lots of water and eating beet root could treat HIV/AIDS, while the former President said to take a shower.

In Emaphephetheni, the clinic there can give out ARVs, but couldn’t in the past. We were told that many people in this area don’t come to the clinic if they are HIV+ (or suspect that they are) because of a lack of education around the issue, denial of their status, and stigmatization. In some cases, people refuse to go to their local clinic but will go elsewhere so that no one in their community knows that they are HIV+. However, while it is good that they are getting treatment, traveling so far poses its own problems.

Goods for sale, made by youth in the support groups

We were told that the biggest problem here is unemployment. And since the population is relatively poor, youth don’t have the option of going to university – “We just sit at home doing nothing.”

Also, people in the area don’t really know about COP 17. In its abstract form, COP 17 doesn’t appear to affect these people and their lives. We were told that the support groups try to break it down for the local people, by explaining the links between the changes in local weather conditions and the larger problem of global warming and climate change.

Great sign!

I asked about violence against women and whether the support groups deal with that. There have been studies showing that rape is correlated with HIV/AIDS contraction; rape is generally more violent than consensual sex, which makes HIV/AIDS more likely to be transmitted through blood and tearing. While not commenting specifically on this correlation, the women we met with did say that they have had Stress and Trauma sessions, which were very intense but helpful for the women involved.

George and Thandi (support group leader from the Diakonia Council of Churches and also a local resident) outside the clinic

There are also community health workers, and condoms are distributed freely by the government and are not opposed by churches. This was surprising to me, since I’ve dealt with the Catholic Church’s position on condoms in the past (in the Canadian context), and personally feel that I would never work for an organization that refuses to use condoms in its HIV/AIDS prevention program. But, it makes sense in an area (Kwazulu Natal) where the HIV/AIDS rate is 65%. However, the government condoms are not exactly good, as a I was told, because they are stapled to the information paper, rendering them pretty much ineffective. And, the empowerment of women and girls is a huge issue that is being addressed so that they can insist on using a condom.

It was a lot to take in, but was a great day. We spent the rest of the day at the beach, having some R&R and checking out the grassroots environmental projects along the water.

In other news, check out an interview with Bill Phipps, former UCC Moderator, about his fast for Durban.


We Need Some Eco-Sanity: First Impressions of Durban

I arrived in Durban on Saturday, after an early morning flight from Cape Town. The Durban airport was all decked out for COP 17, welcoming everyone to the conference. Some of the advertisements seemed slightly less sincere, however.

Really?!? There’s ethical mining now?

We were dropped off at our accommodation, which is experiencing some serious Internet issues at the moment so I apologize for the lower quality photos in the next few posts.

Sunday was the Interfaith Rally, which I wrote about in my last post. On Monday, the Youth for Eco-Justice program officially began. Joy Kennedy, Program Coordinator for the Poverty, Wealth & Ecology program at The United Church of Canada (and who happens to be my supervisor) came by in the morning to present “The Triple Crisis”: Global Perspectives on Finance, Development and Environment.

Joy Kennedy speaking to the youth

Joy talked about how the Earth Community is in crisis, and how we need to globalize resistance. She inspired us and challenged us to live faithfully in the midst of Empire. “What’s on your placard?” she asked us, after telling us about an awesome placard that said “Fossil Fuels are SO Last Century!” I haven’t thought of anything yet, but I liked Joy’s phrase that “we need some eco-sanity.”

Joy was a big hit – everyone loved her and told me I was lucky to work with her. Of course, I heartily agreed! 😉

Joy and I after her presentation

We also spent some more time getting to know each other – there are over 30 participants in this program, from all over the world, so we bring many different contexts to the table. I heard about subsistence farmers in South Africa, eco-feminism and eco-theology in the South Korean context, and sustainability issues for youth in Brazil, among others.

I truly feel privileged to be part of this program, learning from so many different people from so many different countries. I feel like I’m making some really good friends, and I’ve already been invited to Palestine, Nigeria and Brazil – the travel budget’s going to be tight next year!! 🙂

There’s a monkey in our garden!!

Interfaith Rally in Durban

Caroline and I arrived in Durban on Saturday, for the Youth for Eco-Justice Program. This is a transformational training program for young Christians aged 18-30 years. Addressing the links between environmental and socio-economic justice, it is jointly organized by the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation in the context of UN climate negotiations in the latter part of 2011.  It starts with a two-week training and immersion in the context of the international climate change negotiations (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa. In the months following the seminar, the participants will initiate and implement projects in their home context on a volunteer basis.

There are about 30 of us from all around the world, representing 6 continents (poor Antarctica…). I’m loving meeting everyone and (hopefully) making some lifelong friends! Yesterday was our first COP17 event – the big Interfaith Climate Justice Rally at ABSA Kingspark Rugby stadium in Durban.

Painting one of our banners

At the Glenmore Pastoral Centre, which will be our home for the next 2 weeks, we started painting two large banners to take with us to the rally.

Mike Langa Lulanga, from Malawi, painting the world

One read “Youth 4 Eco-Justice” and the other said “Desmond’s Durban Deal-Makers.”

Our two banners

And look – we were on local TV this morning! (near the end – with the Desmond’s Durban Deal-Makers banner)

The turn-out for the rally was frankly pretty disappointing. They were expecting (or maybe “hoping for” is a better word) 40,000 people, but it looked like there were only about 5000 people there. The stadium was pretty empty, but it was still a deeply moving, amazing event.

Faith leaders enter the stadium

It was so inspiring to see faith leaders from around the world, from so many different faiths, coming together to act for climate justice. I especially loved what a Buddhist leader from South African said: “Let’s start changing ourselves and stop changing the climate.”

Faith leaders at the rally

I was particularly excited to see Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Especially after everything we saw and learned in Cape Town about Apartheid, I couldn’t wait to hear from one of the men and women who brought down that horrible, awful, racist system. He’s treated a bit like a rock star, which was funny to see, for a faith leader. But his speech was amazing! Some of my favourite quotes from his speech are:

“God wants us to live in a garden, not a desert.”

“We’re meant to live together as harmoniously as one family.”

“Whether you are rich or poor, this is your only home.” He expanded on this by saying that maybe the poor will be wiped out first, but then they’ll be on the other side, beckoning the rich over as well.

200,000 petitions were inside Noah’s Second Ark

After Tutu’s speech, the Climate Justice Africa Youth Caravan presented 200,000 petitions inside a second Noah’s Ark. During their journey, the travelers collected “signed Multi Faith Rally and Concert petitions from the people of Africa calling on negotiators to treat the Earth with respect and embrace a legally binding climate treaty.”

Cyclists who road for 17 days with the Ark

The final number of signed petitions was presented to Tutu, who then presented it to the President of the COP, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is also South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu presenting the petition to COP President Maite Nkoana-Mashabane

Caroline and I ran into The United Church of Canada’s Moderator Mardi Tindal on the green.

Me and Caroline with The United Church of Canada’s Moderator Mardi Tindal

She had this to say about what she was experiencing at the Rally:

I then followed the Moderator around the green, documenting some of her meetings with other faith leaders.

Moderator Mardi Tindal meeting faith leaders – I love this photo!!

Moderator Mardi Tindal meeting faith leaders

Moderator Mardi Tindal meeting faith leaders

AND, the Moderator and I met Mary Robinson! This was seriously one of the most exciting moments for me. Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland AND was also the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002. She’s one of my human rights heroines!

Moderator Mardi Tindal meeting Mary Robinson

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu came back onstage to greet some of the other speakers, including Mary Robinson, who is a member of The Elders along with Tutu himself. I knew that Tutu had a great sense of humour, and a great laugh, but seeing him and hearing him in person was just an amazing experience. I think all faith leaders, all activists, all people, can learn a lot from him.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

And some last words from this Great Man: “You are members of one family – the human race. The only race on Earth.”