The 63rd Annual DPI/NGO Conference entitled Advance Global Health: Achieve the Millennium Development Goals took place in Melbourne 30 August – 1 September, 2010. Being a member of the Australia-New Zealand Province, I attended the conference as a representative of the Society of the Sacred Heart.
My first aim was to soak up the atmosphere of this international gathering of 1600 attendees from 70 countries representing 350 NGOs. My other aims were to learn what I could about the role of partnerships in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to be open to personal change, and to keep the 2008 Chapter Priorities in my mind as the background to all of the above.
A sense of urgency was impressed from the start. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, welcomed the gathering to the multicultural city of Melbourne via video. He said that the United Nations is falling behind on the health goals, especially women’s and children’s health.
Also, even though the theme of the conference was ‘health’, the point was made throughout this conference that health refers to mental, spiritual, social and systemic health, - not just the absence of illness.
One of the speakers said that it is very easy to feel overwhelmed by the great needs of the MDGs. She noted however, that it is very empowering to stand up at a local individual level. For myself, I noted how empowering it is to be part of an international Congregation committed to the same goals through its tradition, wisdom, spirituality and ongoing reflection, - as well as standing up at a local level. Health in its broadest sense is indeed a concern for the mission of the Society.
These are some examples of where I recognized the 2008 Chapter Priorities.
Dialogue toward Communion: Walking with Humanity
We recognize dialogue as the way to a more human world, a life with the Spirit.
I heard this call for dialogue from an Aboriginal woman, Barbara Flick Nichols. “We indigenous Australians are the oldest living culture in history. We are fighting for survival. Two things are necessary to survive: one is our inner strength (and that is the most important); the other is that we need our government to work with our people. Look into our hearts and minds. Try to understand the lore of our ancestors, our traditional teachings, the connection to our tribal lands. Create strong, real partnerships. These things are at the heart of us achieving the MDGs.”
Our contemplation allows us to hear the cry for relationships that reflect human dignity.
The question was raised how to create a culture of peace, - a culture of healing? An answer was offered by a physician on the panel from Bangalore, India. She said that within every human being there is a desire for peace and healing. Prayer and meditation opens a person to this reality and leads one to action, - to challenge the processes of conflict and power.
Recognizing that we are part of the universe, of creation in all its abundance and of a fragmented humanity that yearns for new ways of relating ...
There was a call in the conference that was identified as ‘Justice for climate change’. The Polynesian speaker on this subject referred to the Pacific Islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu as the ‘drowning islands’. We were told that big land-mass countries must prepare for climate refugees. He concludes simply by saying “Help us!”
JPIC in Solidarity with those who are most Vulnerable
In whatever apostolic activity we may be engaged, our educative mission makes visible our solidarity with those who are excluded.
I was reminded of Madeleine Sophie Barat and her response to the needs of post-Revolutionary France as I listened to this next speaker from Afghanistan. “Education is the key infrastructure that Afghanistan needs ... Afghan women can be catalysts for change in Afghanistan. Girls’ education has been lost to years of war and conflict in Afghanistan.” I found myself sitting near her the next day and we had a conversation. She is warm, focused and passionate about education. Just like Sophie.
Our Priority for Young People
Young people are the agents of change in their own lives and we can learn from each other.
A young woman asked the panel at an open session, ‘What role do young people and girls in particular have in progressing the MDGs?’ Several answers are offered including: – “Bring your energy and new ideas to local organizations”; “NGOs need to make space for that.”
Anne Corry, rscj
Province of ANZ