Global Justice Volunteers 2002
by Brenda Wilkinson
In August, the most recent class of Global Justice Volunteers (GJV’s) returned from their places of assignment and shared news of their experiences with staff of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), mission agency of the United Methodist Church. A program initiated by the Women Division’s International Committee on Ministries with Women, Children, and Youth, Global Justice Volunteers is a chance for young people to link their faith with justice as they live and work alongside GBGM partner churches and organizations throughout the world.
Four young adults made up the Summer class of 2002: Jake Waybright of Chicago, Illinois who was assigned to Japan; and Amanda Horton of Asheville, North Carolina, Diana Gaughan of Versailles, Missouri and Susan Zolezzi of Millbrae, California, each of whom served in the Republic of Georgia.
All of the volunteers spoke enthusiastically of their individual and collective experiences, and told of “ the mutuality” of their mission assignments. They said that it was a learning and enriching experience for them, not just a service project. “I was mission oriented prior to this assignment,” stated Susan Zolezzzi , “but am more so as a result of the time spent working with young people in Georgia.”
Amanda, Diana, and Susan who made up the Georgia team, worked in coordination with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) at the Tbilisi Youth House for young people affected by the country’s Civil War and ethnic conflict.
There are youth houses located in Zugdid, Sukhumi, Ochamchira, and Tbilisi, where children and youth can play, learn and work toward healing. Meals and counseling are also provided. A major objective of the youth houses is to promote increased understanding and dialogue among young people who have had to flee their homes and are some of the country’s internally displaced persons. Many of the youth have been displaced for most of their lives.
More than 9000 young people, many of them street children, have passed through the doors since the youth houses opened in 1998. The GJV team took part in “Youth House Live”, a time where the Georgian young people dealt with issues such as life after independence from the Soviet Union as well as skill-development and empowerment opportunities through journalism, publishing and video projects.
The latter half of their trip was spent gathering information about other issues UMCOR addresses in the region: social and economic conditions in rural areas; micro-credit; food security; health care services and public advocacy on HIV/AIDS and Breast Cancer.
The young women said that they and the Youth House leaders began working together on the development of a youth-to-youth mentoring program. The program will link young leaders from the Youth House with other youth and children who live in state-run orphanages. The idea is that the Youth House leaders will share their talents, skills and empowering relationships as they develop a support system among the young displaced people in Tblisi. “We saw a real desire on the part of young adults to reach out and be involved,” said Amanda Horton. “We envision something comparable to Big Brothers and Sisters in this country.”
Diana Gaughan added that the children and teenagers at the Youth House can be part of the empowerment of other young people. “They want to encourage the young children that there is hope for the future.”
Jake Waybright, who is studying at Chicago Theological Seminary, shared how his time at the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) has redefined his conception of poverty. “Where I previously measured wealth relative to material goods, I came to greater understanding of the extent that it goes beyond this as you consider gifts of the spirit.”
Jake noted that performing farm work and other manual labor alongside community leaders from varying backgrounds and cultures gave him plenty of time to listen closely to other people’s concept of wealth. He said, “I gained greater respect for indigenous people's knowledge and came to understand that there are different ways of approaching tasks. I learned to listen more respectfully and saw the power of quiet leadership.”
The Institute is a place where community organizers, teachers and other local leaders come to learn and to hone leadership skills, Waybright explained. “Most among our class were there for the first time, but there were those who returned for renewal. They came from Africa, Asia, and Europe. Our motto was That We May All Live Together. One returnee from India shared that since his initial experience at ARI, he returned to his village and organized a community-supported land redistribution project; and that he secured legal land rights for the community to prevent further encroachment of multi-national corporations. Much of the learning that took place at ARI was from hearing about one another’s stories and considering new perspectives.
“The ultimate lesson of my experience was seeing that we can find ways to co-exist-- and that we can learn from each other no matter how different our experiences,” Jake concluded. “My hope is that all people can come to know freedom and self-sufficiency as we are entitled--and that the earth will be able to sustain us so that we can all share in the resources of God’s abundance.”
You may contribute to the support of the Global Justice Volunteer Program by making a donation. Checks may be written to 'Advance GCFA' and placed in collection plates at United Methodist churches, or mailed directly to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Please note on your check that it is for 'Global Justice Volunteers Advance #982459-8.' Credit card donations may be made by calling (888) 252-6174.
Date posted: Aug 27, 2002