Monday, 12 October 2015 10:50

Our Diocese - November 2015

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I am writing this just after getting back from a visit to Angola. It was my third time in the extraordinary capital, Luanda, said to be the most expensive city in the world, where some of Africa’s richest people live cheek by jowl with some of the world’s poorest – half of Angola’s citizens live on less than $2 a day. It is sobering to see the smart new Jaguar showroom just along the road from a hospital where patients and their families sleep on the street as they wait for admission. Luanda had an infrastructure designed to accommodate half a million people. Over forty years of war – a war of independence and then a bitter civil war, with its consequential population movement – means that about six million people live there today.

One of the highlights of the visit was a trip to one of the poorest settlements in Luanda, to see the ‘Girls Building Bridges’ project run by UCF, the Angolan version of YWCA. The project is the focus of the Bishop of Derby’s Harvest Appeal this year, in partnership with Christian Aid. The project has been running for ten years and provides a one-year programme for about two hundred girls, in groups of thirty, meeting in either the morning or afternoon, depending on their school commitments. They are taught practical skills, such as sewing and cooking, as well as developing their capabilities in maths and language skills. But the most important part of the programme is the work to develop life skills and self-esteem in a society where gender stereotypes are still ingrained and girls are disproportionately affected by poverty, violence, and lack of access to education and healthcare. Domestic violence against women and children is endemic; and teenage pregnancy prevalent. During our stay we met the Director of Community Health for the Anglican diocese, a surgeon who, in the previous week, had performed hysterectomies on two 15-year olds and a 13-year old girl.

It was a moving experience to meet some of the girls on the programme. I was struck by their poise, self-confidence and articulacy as they answered questions about what the course meant to them – one of them even showing off her English! Not only do the young women become better able to cope with the pressures of daily life but they also become advocates and role models for a more just and equal society. Many of them go on to university and 70% have gone on to become peer educators, being activists in their schools, churches and communities, volunteering at local HIV clinics, and supporting women victims of domestic violence.

As I commend ‘Girls Building Bridges’ to your prayer and generosity, I do so reflecting that November gets under way with the twin feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Saints are not necessarily particularly holy or particularly good. They are people who try to take God seriously, who try to help people whenever they can, who show the power of love in their lives, often in gentle and not immediately obvious ways. Saints are models of what human life ought to embody – integrity, compassion, self-forgetfulness, love, and numerous other expressions of beauty, truth, and goodness – and they include believers, half-believers, and unbelievers. Saints are ordinary people, you and me and countless others, whom God has set free to build his kingdom, a kingdom which takes seriously all aspects of human life. It has been said that saints are the sinners who keep on trying. I think I met quite a lot of them in Angola.

Archdeacon Christoper

For more information about Archdeacon Christopher’s visit to Angola please watch our video

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Last modified on Thursday, 05 November 2015 14:22