Special to the Nor’Wester
KAIROS Women of Courage Tour rolled into South Brook on the afternoon of Thursday, June 14th. Right from the beginning the warmth and courage of those amazing women radiated from their beautiful smiles and magnetic personalities and touched everyone they met.
They were met at the entrance to South Brook, and escorted to South Brook United Church. We were able to organize this event with loads of support from our church, South Brook United, who hosted the event in the good old Newfoundland way.
The tour consisted of two extra-ordinary and courageous women who are human rights defenders in their countries. Lucy Talgieh, Women’s Project Coordinator at Wi’am, Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem, and Claudia Castellanos Roncancio, a human rights lawyer and advocate from the popular Feminist Organization in Columbia. Sara Stratton, a 15 year employee of Kairos and Rachel Warden, a Kairos employee and translator also accompanied the tour. A translator was necessary because Claudia only spoke Spanish.
Women of Courage Tour is a project of KAIROS Canada and is ecumenical. KAIROS is partners with eleven Canadian churches.
Upon arrival in South Brook the ladies, along with 40 invited guests, were treated to a Newfoundland turkey and salt beef dinner with Newfoundland berry pudding and sauce for dessert. Lucy asked why the salt beef was red. Claudia said what she liked best about the dinner was the bread (dressing) and gravy.
After the meal there was time to mingle and chat with Lucy and Claudia before the public forum started.
The public forum, with 70 people in attendance, opened with music by Seeds of Hope and words of welcome from Emcee, Barbara Noble and myself. Councilor Don Higdon brought greetings on behalf of The Town of South Brook.
Lucy and Claudia told their stories and talked about the daily struggles they face and ways in which they are resisting violence. Claudia said that her organization, OFP, in Columbia offers legal advice and accompaniment, training, youth programs, and provides a safe space. The OFP in Columbia have organized the first international women’s courts of truth, justice, and reparation, with the first one scheduled for 2013. Claudia also said that her people have called on Canada to make human rights a higher priority in the Canada-Columbia free trade agreement which was passed last year despite significant opposition from civil society in Canada and Columbia. Lucy remarked that it is easier to get a visa to come to Canada than it is to obtain a permit to go to another town in her own country. When she is lucky enough to obtain a permit, and when she leaves her home town of Bethlehem she is given a curfew. Upon return, if she is one minute over the curfew she is fined and put in jail. Bethlehem is almost surrounded by the separation wall and expanding Israeli settlements and its economy is being choked off.
Both Lucy and Claudia spoke about how difficult it is for them to obtain visas to travel. They have to prove that they will return and one requirement is that they have to show the government their bank statements for the last six months.
These women are not asking for hand outs or special treatment. They only want justice and peace for themselves and their people and they are asking us to stand in solidarity with them to help them achieve their mission through peaceful resistance. By inviting Lucy and Claudia to come and tell their stories we are taking a step toward justice in our world.
The public forum ended with music and presentation of gifts. Lucy and Claudia were presented with NL pitcher plant wall hangings and Sara and Rachel received tulip wall hangings.
After the public forum, participants shared fellowship with Lucy and Claudia over coffee and dessert.
Many people came from Springdale and surrounding areas to attend the event.
We felt honored and privileged to have the opportunity to rub shoulders with Lucy and Claudia. They are an inspiration and their stories, their commitment to justice, and their courage touched my very core. They made an imprint on my heart that will last forever.
South Brook United Church would like to say a big thank you to all who helped make this event such a great success. Thank you to all the people who came. A special thank you to Seeds of Hope for their inspirational music, Barbara Noble for being a great emcee, and Donna Budgell for taking pictures, to all who helped with the food, and to all who helped in any way. Whatever part you played, thank you, and we really appreciated it.
We only met Lucy, Claudia, Sara, and Rachel for a few hours but by the time they left it felt like we had known them forever and it was sad to see them go.
South Brook United Church sends prayers and best wishes with Lucy and Claudia as they continue their journey for peace and justice. We stand in solidarity with them! May the God of peace & justice go with them and bless them and their people now and always.