Eight-year-old Majd thought his family was going on a picnic. His mother, Lamya, said they would be back home in a week. But when ISIS attacked their home in northern Iraq, the family fled for good.
“What worried me the most were the kids,” Lamya says. “Our life was stable and we were doing well; we had a very big house. Our children had everything they needed. But when we fled, I was not able to bring anything for them—not even food.”
Fortunately, the family found an apartment to rent with other displaced families. It is much smaller than the home they had, but it’s safer. The children enrolled in a CRS-sponsored school, where the routine provides hope, stability and a sense of belonging. “Education is very important,” says Lamya, especially in Iraqi culture.
Lamya received training from CRS and became a teacher at the school. Now she has hope for the future. “I really love children, so when I go to class I feel like I am with my family,” she says.
Her son, Majd, also loves going to school. “Majd is so motivated to go to school. He just wants it to be morning so he can go,” Lamya says. “He is relaxed, having fun and more confident.” For Majd, school means a normal life—now and in the future.
LIFE AND DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON
We were made in God’s image and likeness. That means that every human being has special value and a purpose. We need to care for each other so we can be the people God calls us to be.
Cesia Lea Gomez is from the rural town of Somoto, Nicaragua, close to the Honduran border. Although it is a beautiful farming community, there are few job opportunities for young people, especially women. Many leave their communities to find work, but Cesia wanted to stay home with her parents and youngest sibling. With her mother’s encouragement, Cesia decided to pursue her dream of starting a business.
The CRS YouthBuild program helped her achieve that dream. YouthBuild’s core values—family, service, opportunity and leadership—guide what participants learn, and the kinds of relationships they build with one another. The program helps them build the confidence to pursue their goals.
Once very shy, Cesia is now a leader in her community. With what she learned in YouthBuild, she has built a thriving business making and selling cattle feed. She dreams of expanding her business throughout Nicaragua, and leads workshops in her community to help other young people.
THE DIGNITY OF WORK AND THE RIGHTS OF WORKERS
Jesus spent years working as a carpenter. Work is important to help people fulfill their potential. And everyone must receive a fair wage to provide for themselves and their families.
The dry and dusty climate of Burkina Faso means farming can be difficult. It means water can be hard to come by. And it means Safiata and her family often face hunger. Even though she had two plots of land to farm, the many months each year without rain made feeding her 9 children and 16 grandchildren a real challenge.
That’s why Catholic Relief Services is providing farmers like Safiata with more land to grow crops—like onions—that thrive in dry climates. And thanks to a CRS-sponsored irrigation system, she knows she’ll have access to water year-round. That means her crops will grow, and she’ll be able to sell some at the market. “I pay school fees thanks to selling the vegetables. The vegetables help solve the problems my family faces,” Safiata says.
Moreover, she can prepare for the future. Together with others, Safiata is putting a little of the income she earns from selling her crops at the market into a community savings pool. “If you face difficulties, the community will help you,” she says. Those who contribute can borrow money from the fund for emergencies, school fees for their children, or to build businesses.
CARE FOR GOD’S CREATION
God created every plant, every mountaintop, every animal—everything. And God said that these things are good. We find God in these good things, and so we must take care of creation—for ourselves and for our entire human family.
“Education is the foundation of everything,” says Andrise, who’s been a first-grade teacher at a small Catholic school for 11 years. It’s the same school she attended from first through sixth grade, in the community she calls home in northern Haiti.
Andrise says the opportunities at Notre Dame set the course for her life. But a lot has changed since she was a student. New teaching techniques and resources are changing how students learn— and how teachers teach. “We use poems, dances, songs—all sorts of activities to help the students improve their literacy,” she says.
And Catholic Relief Services—working with the Catholic Education Commission in Haiti—is leading the way. Every student receives a new workbook to practice their reading and writing. This is a big change from before, when students had to copy notes from the board. “Now, all the students are able to learn at the same time,” Andrise says. And she benefits too—from ongoing teacher training. Last year, the parish priest named her Teacher of the Year.
The new techniques are working: Andrise’s classroom is a high-energy place, and the students love school—and her. “They call me ‘my mother,’ and I call them ‘my son, my daughter,” she says. “They’ve already promised that next year, when they’re in second grade, they’ll take time out of their recess to come and visit me.” For a teacher like Andrise, seeing the children grow not just as students, but as people, is the reason she goes to work each day.
CALL TO FAMILY, COMMUNITY AND PARTICIPATION
Humans are social by nature. We need each other. Like the early disciples, we are called to come together and grow as a community—in our classrooms, church and families.
Alefa is a mother, grandmother and farmer. She provides for her three children, three grandchildren and husband by selling her crops. If they fail during one of Malawi’s rainy seasons—or in a drought— her family goes hungry. One particularly difficult year, Alefa was forced to sell some of her land to make ends meet.
She knew she had to start planting crops that could withstand Malawi’s changing climate. So, she attended a CRS-sponsored seed fair, where farmers learn the best crops to plant for the upcoming year, and receive vouchers so they can choose the seeds and supplies they need. Besides rice, Alefa bought corn, cabbage and tomato seeds. This way, she can continue farming rice but also feel confident that, even if her rice fails, she will have other crops to sell.
“This harvest will provide food, shelter and education for my family,” she says. In a few short months, Alefa will be growing corn and harvesting hope.
OPTION FOR THE POOR AND VULNERABLE
Jesus tells us to give special care to those who are most in need. He reminds us of our Christian duty to give a voice to those who are unheard and to help those most vulnerable.
This weekend, we look at a story much closer to home, because a part of the Rice Bowl collection goes to support local programming. We look today at our neighbors to the south, Chicago. Last year, over 650 people were killed in the city of Chicago (which is actually down 15% from 2016). Gangs are an ever-present part of the landscape of the city, contributing not only to homicides, but also drug trafficking, guns and prostitution, and the crime is all tied to poverty, joblessness, segregation and neglect.
Fr. Dave Kelly works in a neighborhood that is ravaged by violence and poverty. Through the work of his organization, Previous Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, he and his team are able to work with young people and families who have been affected by violence and incarceration. CRS supports their efforts, enabling Precious Blood to do work in mentoring, reconciliation, skill development and job placement. Their goal is to give back to their neighborhood, strengthening roots and making peace. As one sign says, “Putting the neighbor back in the hood.”
The organization also does work in peace building and restorative justice, and it’s all centered around the dignity of the human person. Every person, regardless of what they’ve done or who they’ve hurt, is still loved by God, and Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation strives to honor that and rebuild community around that truth.
As we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, let us celebrate also the lives that are being changed through this and many other CRS supported programs.