Oyster Creek, Tex, Lawrenceville, Va and Murietta, Calif, are among the many localities that have strongly objected to having a shelter for the Central American children who need to be taken care of until their immigration status is clarified or they are deported. As past and future demonstrations remind us, possible locations in Connecticut, Iowa, North Carolina, New York along with several other states also have objected, some with extreme measures such as a demonstration complete with rifles. According to several reports including one by Sonia Nazario who has long studied the effects of illegal immigration on children, they are fleeing violence—usually from gangs—and most would be in harm’s way if they went back. I can’t help think that the more we take politics and ideology out of how we perceive this problem, the more we are able to see it as a humanitarian crisis, of minors trying to escape despair, poverty as well as violence. Maybe that’s why as I was reading about these shunned children, I remembered Holocaust survivors telling me about the instances of boats full of Jewish refugees who kept being denied access to port after port, until in at least one instance they went back to Germany where many of the passengers ended in concentration camps. I wasn’t surprised therefore when I read that Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, had the same idea when while speaking to the Boston Herald he made a comparison linking the children and the Holocaust. Yet, when asked by the White House if he could help with a location in his state, he did not say yes, but said he would be thinking through a practical solution. I was told by those same survivors that the Jewish refugees’ plight and fate eventually played a role in the establishment of the state of Israel, for many in the United States understood but too late that something had to be done. If Deval Patrick and I are correct and there is a link with what happened to Jewish refugees, then we need to ask ourselves, are we making the same mistake again? Will some of the children have to go back to harm and be killed in order for us to grasp our human responsibility?
Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan, home to 85,000 Syrians, is the world’s largest camp, and may be on its way to setting an example for the aid community because it’s becoming a city! Well, not a city like New York or London, or even like any smaller one, but a city in the sense it is organizing itself like an urban center. To an outsider it may still look like a slum or a Rio’s favella, but to those living there, there is a sort of address system, a barbershop, a flower shop, a rotisserie take out, a travel agency… some even have washing machines and can buy homemade ice cream. Much of what they have comes from the black market and from smugglers. They do steal electricity, and the UN officials at the camp are thinking of charging a monthly fee, making some low income Jordanians living nearby envious. Of course like any urban environment they have crime. And because it is a refugee camp, residents can each tell horror stories of what they have had to live through before and after they left Syria. There’s another camp, Azraq, located in a desert like area far from anything. The refugees there fight despair, while those living in Zaatari are feeling hope—making the human spirit so evident in the camp all the more striking for shining through the strife.
Berlin which as any WWII fan knows was divided into four sectors after the war, and which after that was divided by a wall separating East from West Berlin, is about to be the site of The House of One, a center with a central meeting place surrounded by a synagogue, a mosque and a church! Three religions in one space! The idea came from a priest who thought to build upon the site of St Petri’s church, which dated back to the 12th century, was badly damaged during the war, and which remains were later, after the Red Army liberated Berlin, destroyed by the East German authorities. The House of One is designed by architect Wilfried Kuehn, who actually won a competition. The project which has now begun fund raising will occupy Petriplatz in the heart of Berlin.
Kadir Sanci, the iman of the future mosque says that it will show the world that the great majority of Muslims are peaceful and hopes it shall be a place where different cultures can learn from each other. Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin feels that the city where so much Jewish suffering was planned can now be the city where all three monotheistic religions can show how they shaped European culture. And Pastor Gregor Hohberg looks for it to be a place for dialog and discussion even including people without faith, hoping Berlin will become an example of togetherness.
Since Muslims worship on Fridays, Jews on Saturdays and Christians on Sundays, it does not look there will be much chance for interaction, yet given today’s religious strife, the mere fact Jews, Muslims and Christians can worship within the same space is more than symbolic, it holds significance, meaning and promising implications.
We might remember the story of those two young cousins in India who were gang raped, killed and hung on a Mango tree. The investigation revealed they were looking for a toilet, more precisely a place to relieve themselves, since their house had none. Worldwide, 2.5 billion live without access to basic sanitation, and that’s why this practice of open defecation as it is called, is far more widespread than we generally realize. Having no toilet forces people, including women and young girls, to walk to dark and sometimes dangerous places to find the privacy they need, and too often those are the places where attackers can hide. Attacking or harassing women in this way is therefore a problem in other countries as well, Nigeria, for example.
2.5 billion people lacking access to basic sanitation means one in three in the world, and one billion of those, or 15% of the global population is currently forced to practice open defecation. Acknowledging that this is a topic we shun and feel embarrassed to even talk about, officials from the UN Millenium campaign said that it is a subject that should make us angry not embarrassed.
If we could use the two young girls’ ordeal as a wake up call, as a spur to expand efforts bringing sanitation to those without, maybe they did not die in vain,