In this section we will bring you stories of people and how important their faith is in the fight for social justice.
In April this year I felt honoured and not a little daunted to be asked to succeed Stephen Rand as Chair of Jubilee Debt Campaign’s Multifaith Project. Honoured to follow someone to whom the term “living legend” can genuinely be applied in debt campaigning circles, and daunted both by the responsibility of filling his footprints and also because I am a relative newcomer to both Jubilee Debt Campaign and interfaith work. So let me introduce myself:
Born into a loosely Christian farming family in Somerset, I qualified as a veterinary surgeon in 1975 and spent most of my professional career in the cattle breeding industry, working with the Milk Marketing Board and its successor bodies. Whatever religious faith I may have had as a child, I lost in my late teens and for most of my adult life I believed that humanity’s fate was in our own hands, whilst organised religion had been and continued to be responsible for more harm than good in the world.
My journey back to a Christian faith took place over a long time and by small but significant steps. In the year 2000, I joined a pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine as the resident agnostic in a party of 80 Christians and was amazed to find that I could finally say “I believe” and not feel a hypocrite. For the previous 30 years I had not engaged with Christianity in any depth and had given little or no attention to other faiths, but as soon as I started to study the Bible, I realised that this was a call to action in support of the downtrodden, the weak and the excluded. The question was – and remains – how could I align my mission with God’s mission.
An enforced career break gave me the opportunity to reassess my priorities and I trained as a mediator, working in both commercial and family mediation. I have always been interested in what unites people and find it makes a great place to start to explore what divides them. I took on the voluntary role of World Development Representative for the (Anglican) Diocese of Bath and Wells and subsequently became Chair of the World Mission Group, where we have two major foci; the Diocese’s link with the 5 Anglican Dioceses of Zambia, which has continued for more than 30 years, and a campaign to get Christians within and beyond the Diocese engaged with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In 2008 I was asked to become a Trustee of Jubilee Debt Campaign, where I represent the Somerset Regional Group. I was immediately impressed with the dedication of the Board and staff of JDC and their determination to make a difference to lives of millions of the world’s poorest people. Furthermore, this is an organisation that punches well above its weight, fired by a passion for social justice and a can do attitude to addressing seemingly overwhelming odds and changing lives for the better. Through my MDG work I came across an African proverb which says “Anyone who thinks they are too small to make a difference has obviously never spent a night with a mosquito”. JDC is such a mosquito to the world’s governments and financial institutions.
I attended the JDC Multifaith Conference in Birmingham in March 2010, where I was asked to chair one of the breakout groups. I asked members of my group to introduce themselves to each other and describe what their faith meant to them in terms of the issues which JDC is addressing. I was astonished and delighted to find such common ground between people of very different backgrounds and faiths. The whole conference was inspiring and moving and I was delighted when I was invited to join and subsequently to chair the Multifaith Steering Group.
Which brings me back to my starting point - people of all faiths (and none) united by a passion for social justice and a commitment to take action on behalf of those least able to take on powerful organisations and financial institutions. I am delighted that the Multifaith Project’s next major event is the Youth/Student Conference on November 3rd, not least because I first became involved in development issues through a student campaign which resulted in my becoming a lifelong supporter of Oxfam.
I look forward to continuing to work with such a diverse group of people united by a common vision to lift the burden of debt and help to ensure that our abundance is not at the expense of the world’s poorest people.Click to add text, images, and other content
It is my pleasure to be a recent member of the Jubilee Debt Campaign group and as a recent graduate of Politics and East European Studies from University College London I’ve been able to meet many other passionate activists who inspire me in this work.
I currently work for the international NGO Islamic Relief as the Development Education Coordinator raising awareness amongst the UK on global poverty issues and have always been driven by social justice issues. Debt in particular I feel is a significant issue and a barrier to growth and development in many countries. I feel working as part of the multifaith group there is also a great deal of change that we can make as individuals from faith and non-faith backgrounds in order to campaign for the poorest not to suffer as a result of debt in many countries. My own belief in the Islamic faith has guided me to high moral principles and teachings of treating every life with dignity which are also at the heart of our work at Islamic Relief where we firmly believe in the verse that: "Whoever saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind" [Qur'an 5:32], it is with this vision of saving lives and inspiration from Islamic teachings that I represent the organisation on the group.
In the past I have also been involved in campaigning and raising awareness on development related issues including women and gender, poverty and charity week for orphans and needy children in the UK. Having completed the Uprising Leadership Programme in 2011 with The Young Foundation and worked within the education sector I am passionate about addressing global citizenship issues and educational disadvantage amongst others. I have also been a committee member of Education Without Borders in the UAE and hope to embark on a journey of learning in Jubilee Debt Campaign in the near future as well as work in government at an international level in the future. My inspiration comes from various historical figures and contemporary leaders which continue to drive me forward to make a difference where I can every day.
I have been a debt campaigner for many years and active in Birmingham and West Midlands since 1997. I was a board member of Jubilee 2000 and helped to organise the G8 Birmingham Human Chain of 1998. I have been involved with a range of educational, speaking and media promotions such as the G8 Debt Marches of 1999 and 2005, all designed to highlight the call for cancellation of debts of the world’s poorest countries.
I would trace my involvement in JDC back to my childhood. My father was an overseas administrator which has given me a dangerous tendency of trying to put the world right! But I was also conscious of vulnerability, whether my own isolation in UK, my sister’s terminal illness or, as I became a student in 1960, the plight of millions below the breadline. “The price of a drink for Oxfam” I remember saying as we shook our collecting tins on Christmas Eve in Brighton pubs. Then, as now, we met the retorts of “I’m hungry myself” or “charity begins at home”.
My family was divided between religious faith and doubt; I am glad that I had to make a decision to follow Jesus. But part of that involves his command to feed the hungry. In the 1960s I studied development economics. I became aware of how much poor countries have been helped or hindered by the behaviour of rich countries like the UK, though I never foresaw the problems of international debt and the environment. In 1998 my wife and I took part in the Human Chain around Birmingham, together with other members of our church. Next year, she raised money for the Jubilee Campaign when, with terminal cancer, she walked along the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela; so did my two children and I as we completed her walk after her death.
Since I retired from being a parish priest four years ago I have had the time to be involved in the Birmingham JDC group which I chair and to study where the campaign has got to now. It is wonderful that some £120 billions of poor country debt have been cancelled with visible effects, for example in the form of more primary education and better maternity and child health or several poor African countries. However that is only a start, and in some ways the world financial crisis has made things worse. It’s not just a matter of ironing out the glitches; the whole system needs to be reformed. We had this problem once in our own country. Debtors were put into prison or worse, which helped nobody. Now we have a relatively fair insolvency procedure, where an independent third party arbitrates between creditors over the money available and the bankrupt individual is left with enough resources to get working again. If some of the loans are found to have been illegal or grossly immoral then they are disregarded. Currently there is no such procedure internationally. Creditors have the whip hand even when some loans are so dodgy they should never have been made in the first place.
Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple two thousand years ago because they were exploiting the poor. He also showed appreciation for people of other ethnic backgrounds and faiths who were trying to be helpful – one has only to think of his story of the Good Samaritan. I ask myself what that means for me now.
I am married with three adult children and two small grandsons.
As a life long Christian I have always been convinced that faith has to be universal, inclusive and that loving our neighbour means breaking down the barriers, both philosophical and economic, which so often divide people. So I went to Kenya as a young teacher and came back to work for racial justice in the churches in Britain. I have taught English as a second language in Britain and Bulgaria. I spent 6 years preparing people to work overseas, as a tutor at the United College of the Ascension in Selly Oak, Birmingham and more recently have been training people of all faiths to be Faith Guides, interpreting their faith to visitors to places of worship throughout the West Midlands.
I have always been involved in campaigning for global justice, through the World Development Movement, Traidcraft, CND, Friends of the Earth etc. Since the 1980's I have been involved in working for better relations between people of different faiths in Birmingham, through One World Week, the Birmingham Council of Faiths and the Faith Encounter Programme.
The JDC multifaith project brings together all these areas of concern and is, I believe, a small positive sign in a threatened world.
I am honoured to serve and be associated with the Jubilee Debt Campaign. As Centre Director of the Nishkam Centre I am privileged to work with people from all faiths and denominations and I find that people of faith are united on many things – in particular social justice, welfare of all, equity and peace. It is paramount that those who have a voice, have capacity, have a sense of moral duty, have the ability to protect the rights and responsibilities of those unable to represent themselves do so with vigour.
Our Chairman Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh often says that justice delayed is justice denied and also, if we don’t see God in all we don’t see God at all. How can we then stand by and watch injustice? How do we accept that countries burdened with crippling, immoral, illegal debt are bullied and held to ransom to repay or driven to take on more debt just to survive? By raising awareness about global poverty issues and mobilising people one by one; a small step at a time we can help change the lives of those in many countries. As a person of faith, working within a multi-faith context is not alien or strange, it is empowering to work with other traditions on a common theme whilst understanding their perspectives on debt, justice, borrowing and empowering others.
Meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) set at the United Nations Millennium summit will only be achieved if we give them a chance to work. The eight goals will not happen if the very resources to address them are being illegally siphoned off by richer unscrupulous nations. How will a poor nation:
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Achieve universal primary education
Promote gender equality and empower women
Reduce child mortality
Improve maternal health
Combat HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development.
Faith imparts values and all of humanity’s sacred scriptures contain a vast, inexhaustible ocean of universal wisdom that should be harnessed. We need to accord religion the respect it deserves. Sikhs are required, for example, not only to earn an honest livelihood, but to make work worship, through constantly acknowledging His presence, which ensures consistent self-control, accountability, a sense of responsibility, and gratitude. We talk about global poverty – its roots are in spiritual poverty, our lack of spiritual values. For Sikhs, dharam (faith) involves living in God’s presence, within the divine reality and universal law, with a profound sense of loving duty to Creator and creation. It means being God-centred and not ego-centred. It emphasises responsibility and action in the world, inspired by spiritual values. Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh dharam, departed from the social norm by emphasising that one’s spiritual self is galvanised, not through contemplation in the mountains and caves, but through living proactively, through the practice of values, in families, communities, societies, through a life of service, raising a voice against injustice and seeking the welfare of all.
It is obligatory for a Sikh to share their honest earnings for the welfare of humanity (Sarbatt Da Bhalla) without want of reward for your charitable deed (Nishkam Sewa – Selfless Service to Humanity). Desire and greed lead to sorrow and pain and ultimately to mental and physical distortions within the mind whereas contentment brings peace and calmness. The Sikh Dharam teaches us to feel the suffering and pain of others and act to help and alleviate this suffering and pain. It is a moral duty bestowed upon all Sikhs. I hope I can continue to support the project and collectively we are able to make a difference to the lives of many around the world.