因為你是你 | 那些跨越國界的努力
I Am Because You Are | Love beyond borders
七月中的紐約正值盛夏，聯合國廣場周邊人來人往，其中不乏參與聯合國永續發展高階政治論壇（High-level political forum）的非政府組織人員與各國代表。受世台基金會（STUF）之邀，愛女孩計畫也第一次進入聯合國總部，分享在烏干達翻轉女孩生命、透過布衛生棉執行婦女培力的經驗。除了透過周邊會議簡報分享，會議室外也有許多組織擺設靜態展覽，呈現世界各地對於實踐永續發展目標的努力，十分精彩。然而在整趟聯合國參訪的行程中，我印象最深的是在論壇之外，與明愛會聯合國常駐代表喬（Joseph Donnelly）對談的那一個小時。
It was midsummer in New York. The streets near UN headquarters were busy with constant flow of people. Among them, many were NGO workers and government officials who came for UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. Invited by STUF, Love Binti had also been presented in the UN for the first time, sharing the experience of empowering women through reusable sanitary pads making in Uganda. Aside from presentations in the side events, there were also exhibitions set up by a variety of organisations outside conference rooms. The forum was pretty informative and interactive, showing the efforts that had been made around the world to achieve sustainable development goals. Nevertheless, during the visit to the UN, what particularly struck me was the talk with Joe, Caritas Internationalis representative to the UN, outside the forum.
Opposite the headquarters, Joe’s office is in the UN Church Centre. In his small and exquisite office, all the walls are decorated with photos and posters. Each of them marks a soul-stirring journey that Joe has gone through for his belief and faith. When the CEO of STUF introduced us to Joe, he responded, “Uganda? I’d stayed there for a while.” He then shared his stories in Uganda, which would later on make us tear up with mixed feelings.
For many NGO workers who used to be stationed in Uganda, the civil war in North Uganda which had ceased ten years ago was a collective memory. Five months ago, I visited North Uganda for the first time. I could still see the difference in development between the North and the South. With lower literacy rate and poorer infrastructure, North Uganda remains more impoverished till now. These are the traces left by the war. During wartime, North Uganda lost a whole generation. Children were forced to leave schools for their safety. Even when they stayed at home, they were often abducted by LRA, the rebels, forced to become child soldiers and kill. At that time, many NGO workers went to Uganda for humanitarian aid in the north. After more than twenty years, the turning point of the war finally came with the great effort made by various parties. Joe was one of the unsung heroes. He constantly contacted Mkapa, the former president of Tanzania, soliciting his support to initiate peace talks. In the later on negotiation between the rebels and the Ugandan government, Mkapa was one of the mediator that the leader of LRA requested for. Eventually 800,000 children were rescued and sent back to schools. Joe put the story lightly. He stated humbly that he was just able to play a small role in the whole action and witness the miracle. He was not the one who sat at the negotiating table to save the kids. Nevertheless, despite Joe’s light tone, the weight of 800,000 was unbearable. Those 800,000 children could be anyone or any kid’s parent that we had met in North Uganda currently. It is also because of this history, Love Binti has joined the effort of rehabilitation by assisting the women to reach self-sufficiency. The project has gradually expanded in different parts of North Uganda.
Talking about women, Joe then shared another story that struck everyone in his office. This time, the story happened in Central African Republic. Back at then, Joe was in a local church meeting. In that occasion dominated by men, Joe spotted a decrepit old lady at the corner. When everyone was trying to have the floor, she quietly stayed aside. She was like a broken vase, deliberately ignored by the crowd. The men in power sometimes shot glances at her with contempt, as if the fact that she could stay inside was already an incredible grace given by them. Joe was confused by this absurd situation. At that time, he had not yet realised that women had lower social status in local culture and a widow like the old lady was even treated as torn shoes, being kicked out from husband’s family while not accepted by maternal home. Not just in Central African Republic, many tribes in Kenya and Uganda share similar culture. A friend in Kenya had also been driven out of home with his mother when his father died. Unable to ignore the lady’s situation, Joe decided to talk to her. He found that her name was Adele. Her identity in the community was deprived because of the death of her husband. Joe repeated her aching, bitter assertion, “I am first a woman, second a widow. I’m double nothing. Tell people that I don’t belong to anyone, not myself, not my husband. I only belong to God.” Joe kept her words in mind. After leaving the country, he shared Adele’s story with people all over the world in a meeting of the UN. A powerful man that he knew also couldn’t help but cry after knowing the story. The other day when the man’s wife met Joe, she told him gratefully, “thank you for telling my husband the story. He never listened to the women in Uganda. He only talked to men. But now he is willing to know women’s opinions.” Adele’s story has not only moved us deeply, but also changed people’s mind, even when they never met her in person.
“So educating and empowering women are important.” Joe affirmed the effort of Love Binti with this sentence. Women’s voice should be heard. Being the major family caregivers in sub Saharan Africa, women are like the roots of a big tree. It’s only when they can take root with a firm foundation that their families and even the whole communities can thrive and prosper. “It’s such a pity that less and less people are willing to care what happens outside their own country.” Joe switched the topic, saying that when he urges people to care for humanitarian affairs, more and more friends asked him, “why do you care about people who are not of our nation?” In this more and more divided world, people use a variety of labels, such as ethnic groups, religions, and nationalities, to fence off others, while each group may think that their benefit is the most important. We are building high walls. We only see our own needs while ignoring others’. However, as we live on the same planet, which big event of economy, culture, or environment would confine the influence within the virtual borders drawn by human? Who could really stay away from all the things happening on earth?
喬停頓了一會，看著我們微笑說：「然而我很高興還有人和我有著相同的理念。我很喜歡屠圖大主教經常提起的概念：烏班圖（Ubuntu）。我之所以為人，是因為你是你。（I am because you are.）」作為曼德拉之外，另一位來自南非的諾貝爾和平獎得主，屠圖大主教口中的烏班圖闡述的是非洲許多班圖語系部族的待人接物之道。烏班圖高舉人與人間不可切割的連結，事事與人共享，一個人的人性來自於認知到其他人也擁有同樣的人性，一個人的心與他人的生命緊緊相連。因著烏班圖精神作為基礎，屠圖主教在反種族隔離的抗爭中，呼籲不同種族間的和解和寬恕，也是因著這些努力他獲得和平獎。
Joe paused for a moment, looking at us with a smile and saying, “I’m happy that there are still people who share the same faith as I do. I really like the concept that archbishop Tutu often mentioned, Ubuntu. It means I am because you are.” As the other receiver of Nobel Peace Prize from South Africa, the archbishop values the spirit of Ubuntu that represents humanity. Ubuntu holds aloft the indivisible bonding between human, sharing with others everything you have. The humanity of a person comes from the acknowledgement that other people also acquire the very same humanity. A person’s life is tightly connected with others’ lives. Based on the Ubuntu spirit, the archbishop called for the reconciliation and forgiveness between different ethnic groups during and after the anti-apartheid movement. It was also because of this effort that he was awarded the Peace Prize.
Although the skin colours and languages are different, our lives are also connected with African girls, as how Adele’s story can move each of us who are thousands of miles away. Her story resonates with our feelings as humans, and we recognise her value as a human. In Uganda and Kenya, countless girls are still seeking this recognition and value. Will you be willing to reach out to her and listen to her stories?
Before leaving Joe’s office, we found that the photo right behind my seat was shot in Gulu, the last supply station in North Uganda before entering South Sudan. Kids are smiling joyfully in the photo. Even though we were in New York, everything we did and experienced had all linked back toward East Africa. It was also because of many people’s help that we could come to the U.S. to share the stories of Love Binti as well as hear others’ stories. Since the very first day, the achievements of Love Binti and Step30 have relied on the effort of countless people who share the same faith. Inadvertently, we are already on the way of fulfilling Ubuntu spirit:
I am because you are.
連怡涵 | NEW YORK July 2018