Networking with those passionate about humanitarian work

The Humanitarian Forum and Fair (HFF). a biennial event organised by CHARIS (Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives Singapore), was held at the Catholic Junior College recently.

Jul 21, 2023

Dr Noeleen Heyzer

SINGAPORE: The Humanitarian Forum and Fair (HFF). a biennial event organised by CHARIS (Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives Singapore), was held at the Catholic Junior College recently.

Representing the Kuala Lumpur Archdiocesan Office for Human Development (AOHD) were director Dr Gary Liew, coordinator for the Ministry of the Poor (MOP) Aaron Koh, coordinator for the Ministry for Migrants & Itinerants under AOHD Josephine Tey and administrator Cheryl Danasamy. The full-day programme began with Mass, presided over by Fr Colin Tan SJ.

Former United Nations Special Envoy, Dr Noeleen Heyzer (pic) was the keynote speaker. The 75-year-old was the first woman to serve as Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and continues to play an active role in the UN, despite her advanced age. From her presentation, the attendees witnessed her genuine care and affection toward the less fortunate in the world. Aaron said, “From her, I learnt age didn’t matter, but attitude does.”

The Plenary speakers were the Regional Superior for Order of Friars Minor (OFM) in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, Friar Derrick Yap and the co-director for the Focolare Movement in the Indian Subcontinent and Philippines, Fr Andrew Camilleri. Friar Derrick spoke about the spiritual focus on Laudato Si’, a contemplative eye on creation and the change of heart/change of mind.

We connected with individuals and witnessed the accomplishments of CHARIS’ diverse partners through their exhibition booths located outside the main hall.

The setup provided a great platform to engage potential volunteers for their numerous projects and initiatives.

The welcome goodie bag contained a book on a group study guide tailored for Catholics going on overseas mission trips. That book encompassed the Catholic Social Teachings (CST) which are relevant to the work done in the archdiocese or parish.

At lunchtime, the volunteers diligently collected and recycled the empty food packages. Not only did they preach the principles outlined in Laudato Si’, they actively put them into practice.

Break-Out Sessions
Three break-out tracks ran simultaneously. The members split up to gain the best out of all the sessions. Josephine, who attended the breakout group titled: Responding in the Moment of Crisis, was touched by how different countries play their part in times of crisis, reaching out to the vulnerable. She was struck by how the Philippines remains strong and resilient despite enduring natural disasters often. She believed there was a wealth of knowledge we could gain from them. Josephine also learnt that we could mobilise churches and network with the local communities to assist in reaching out to affected areas. She also understood the significance of connecting with supply chains in advance to be better prepared in the wake of a crisis.

From the perspective of supply chains, a speaker said, during a crisis, it is important not to ignore local businesses. Donors engaging local businesses during a crisis will help them too. The speaker felt everyone has a role to play regardless if they are from the church, local partners, supply chain or government agency. It is important to engage the local communities as we should not take over what they can do for themselves. This is what the Principle of Solidarity in the Catholic Social Teaching is all about.

Cheryl attended the session on sustaining people titled Building up Livelihoods; Starting Afresh. She learnt that when there was a crisis in Sri Lanka, the founder of the Dimuthu Foundation in Sri Lanka, Fr Jude Nicolas Fernando, and the team could not afford to wait for funds. Instead, they started a self-sustaining farm where they grew vegetables and gave it to the needy. The balance was sold to purchase more seeds to help more people. This self-sustaining project helped many who were struggling to put food on their table.

Caroline Seow, from Jesuit Refugee Services shared statistics on the growing number of refugees and how they may remain in detention centres for a long time due to placement issues. Christopher from the Fishing Rod Society spoke about refugee children needing a safe learning space. He runs Zutong Refugee Catholic Learning Centre in Malaysia to cater to refugee children who cannot enrol in the local schools. He proposed that each school or centre provide a place or two for refugee children to study. Christopher shared that sometimes some children spare an hour or two online, to teach the refugee children.

Moderators at the third session Nurturing Communities in Knowledge and Strength, spoke about their work with the poor communities in Cambodia and Indonesia. After the session, Dr Gary reminded the AOHD staff to be sensitive and do their best to maintain the dignity of those they are helping. When we do something for them, we should make them feel invested in their growth/journey. It also means they do not just receive handouts but they are part and parcel of Nurturing the Community.

Overall, it was a great experience as we were also able to network with many people who are passionate about the course, including Caritas and CHARIS. We hope more individuals involved in humanitarian work will make it a point to attend the next session to gain more exposure and expand their network for future collaborations. — AOHD

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