Life Is Justice to the Global Justice Volunteers
by Mary Beth Coudal
“Little things I can do will make a difference. My presence will make a difference,” stated Nedra Scott from Texarkana, Texas, who along with Erin Castillo from El Paso, Texas, worked at the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge in Hong Kong as a United Methodist Global Justice Volunteer.
The two stood alongside abused migrant women who fought for their legal rights in courthouses. They joined the displaced migrant women in the streets of Hong Kong to protest the lowering of migrant workers’ minimum wage.
Because of her summer justice experience, Scott plans to continue college at Philander Smith College with an emphasis on human and civil rights.
Global Justice Volunteers
In the middle of August, Scott and Castillo were two of nine Global Justice Volunteers, a program of the Global Ministries office, to share insights from their work with four international grassroots groups that advocate for justice.
In addition to the Bethune House in Hong Kong, the young people volunteered with the Projeto Meninos e Meninas de Rua in Brazil, the Grenada Community Development Agency (GRENCODA) in Grenada, and the Acción Médica Cristiana in Nicaragua
The street children’s project, located in São Bernardo de Campo, has been steadily improving the lives of children and the community for 23 years. Emily Everett from Houston, Texas, worked with Abigail Rios from San Diego, California there.
Everett reported that the street kid’s project give the children a childhood. “They play with them -– whether they live or work in the street. The educators walk the same paths everyday to help build trust.”
Everett was impressed by the dedication of educators who themselves had grown up homeless and neglected, but were able to turn their lives around and now help others.
“My family used to be pig farmers but were forced to sell because of free trade,” reported Hanks, who likened the South Dakota plight of farmers to the farmers in Grenada. In Grenada, “they import 80 percent of their chicken. They now try to raise their own meats and get away from trade dependencies,” said Eliot Hanks from Mitchell, South Dakota.
Through her work with GRENCODA in Grenada, Stephanie Powell learned, “Life is justice. Justice is life. You can’t separate life from justice.”
Powell, from Lexington, South Carolina, thanked the strong GRENCODA leadership of Judy Williams for serving as a mentor. “She lives and breathes justice,” said Powell. Williams’ model of taking time to build relationships with community members inspired Powell.
Jessica Lopez, from Yuca, Arizona, served with Acción Médica Cristiana in Nicaragua, along with Keren Talamantes who is studying at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas and is originally from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
“The major thing we did was survey over 350 people in 11 indigenous communities on HIV/AIDS – their beliefs, what they know, what they don’t know,” reported Talamantes. A challenge for the surveying team was that many women were shy to disclose their knowledge.
“The process of justice takes a long time. Ten years ago, the infant and maternal mortality rate was very high. In one area, there is now no maternal mortality. They’re really making a difference in the life of the community,” said Talamantes.
An Eye-Opening Experience
The young people all agreed that one’s sense of time changed from punctuality and efficiency to a more relaxed attitude of taking time to build friendships. All nine volunteers also agreed language barriers, anti-Iraq War rallies, and fast-food availability were other surprises.
“The experience opened my eyes. I also learned about God’s love for everyone in the world,” said Castillo.
Kim Lehmann, the coordinator of the Global Justice Volunteers (GJVs) program, and a member of the first group of Global Justice Volunteers in 1999, calls the time of regrouping and sharing experiences, “a time of hope. The challenge is: How do we keep up the enthusiasm? There have been just over 100 GJVs. So we’re a pretty strong force.”
Global Justice Volunteers Program, one of the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission programs of the Global Ministries, is designed to give 18 to 25 year olds an opportunity to serve from two to three months in justice work internationally.
Global Ministries supports the program’s administrative costs and finds the United Methodist-related assignment site. However, the volunteers are required to provide their own funding, approximately $2,000 per person.
Applications are accepted year-round into the Global Justice Volunteer Program. For more information or an application, visit http://new.gbgm-umc.org/about/us/mv/programs/gjv/
Date posted: Sep 19, 2006