My experience at the Pre-Forum

1 02 2009

By Karen Monteiro, Regional Advocacy and Policy Officer, Jesuit Refugee Service Eastern Africa region

When I was first invited to attend the Pre-Forum and World Social Forum in Brazil, I knew very little about the event and how it would benefit my work in advocacy in the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) Eastern Africa region. The theme for the Pre-Forum has been about indigenous peoples in the Amazon region. My work involves working for refugees and forcibly displaced persons. Could my experiences of working in human rights and with refugees add anything to these encounters? The answer is a plain and simple YES.

Karen (on the left) during the March of the WSF

Karen (on the left) during the March of the WSF

The Pre-Forum provided a great opportunity for networking with like-minded persons from various organizations and also with Jesuit Institutions I never knew existed, but which have the potential of being a powerful advocacy network, which can add value to my work in advocacy. I have learnt that the problems faced by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region are not unique to them or to indigenous persons in other parts of the world. They are problems experienced also by refugees and displaced persons that I work with in my region. I was surprised by the fact that not many people were aware of the work undertaken by JRS. I therefore felt that the JRS-East African representation to the Pre-Forum has ensured that a wider audience, both within the various institutions of the Society of Jesus and external to it, will become aware of the work undertaken by JRS.

There was a great opportunity for sharing best practices and lessons learnt. During one of the coffee breaks, I was introduced to a Brasilian lady working with indigenous people along the Brasilian border. She described the hardships faced by the indigenous people that make them resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as drugs, alcohol and even suicide. I discussed the psychosocial work undertaken by JRS in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya for refugees who were thirsty for more than just water, medicines, food and shelter. Refugees are trained to become counselors and they then provide counseling services to other refugees as well as training in counseling to ensure the sustainability of the programme. I promised to send the counseling training manuals and they can be translated into Portuguese as well as indigenous languages.

I personally feel that this event has helped to strengthen my faith and also my commitment to the work I am doing. The Ignatian Day and reflection on GC35 ‘Reconciliation with Creation´ has stirred up great interest within me to learn more about environmental issues and how they link with human rights. This is especially important when working with refugees and seeing the environmental degradation caused by refugee camps. We need to be involved in the research that is already being carried out on refugees and the environment.

I believe that this meeting would only be a disappointment if we leave Brasil and do not carry out or follow through on the great ideas that have come about from the meeting. I am very eager to enlist the contacts I have made for advocacy purposes which benefit my region. I am eager to ensure that people learn more about the work of JRS. I am also very eager to ensure that I maintain the good friends – from all corners of the world, of all languages and ages – that I have made in this beautiful region of the world.

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