Small, but Important Steps
Around this time of year 11 years ago, I found myself standing in a field with a beautiful family just outside a city called Poipet, in Cambodia.
The trip was organised by an organisation called Tearfund, one of the partners of the Church of Ireland Bishop’s Appeal. I was invited to go and visit some projects that the Bishop’s Appeal had funded in partnership with a local organisation called the Cambodia Hope Organisation.
The then Bishop of Down and Dromore, Harold Miller, was part of the delegation, as he was a vice president of Tearfund. There were representatives from some churches in England and a person from Northern Ireland who had set up a charity to rescue children who were being trafficked between Cambodia and Thailand.
I remember meeting this beautiful family and the key element in their story was the blue irrigation pipe which you see running along the field in the photograph. The Cambodia Hope Organisation had been supplying local farmers with these pipes funded by the Bishop’s Appeal to help drainage and irrigation for their crops and it had been a gamechanger.
The rise in global temperatures at that point 11 years ago meant that farmers were finding their fields were getting too dry to grow crops and, then, at other times of the year, they were flooded with torrential rain. This family had repeatedly found themselves in this heartbreaking cycle where, despite their best endeavours and hours of toil, the crops kept either failing or being destroyed.
New techniques for growing crops were taught by the Cambodia Hope Organisation and this, coupled with some simple irrigation pipes, made a massive difference to the local farmers. This family spoke about their children being the first in their family to attend school and this was only possible because the new improved crops could be sold in the local market. As their crops stabilised and income was increased, they were saving for more pipes for the local community.
It was a simple project, but it was incredibly powerful to see the difference it made in the lives of this family.
I have thought about that family a bit over the years and, in recent weeks, they came to my mind again with the COP26 Climate Change Conference happening in Glasgow at the present time.
They were incredibly hard working, humble people and all they wanted was to see their children get this opportunity to have an education.
At that time, I had one small child, with a second on the way. I had so many opportunities open to me that this family couldn’t dream of. They were so polite as they spoke through an interpreter about the difference this pipe had made. They no longer had to replant the ground multiple times because they could regulate the water and they tended their fields with such devotion and concentration. The children helped after school and spoke about how marvellous it was to be learning to read and write. They did not take this opportunity for granted and walked a couple of miles each day to and from school and then worked in the stifling heat to help their parents weed the crops and water them and arrange them for sale in the market.
This week, world leaders are in discussion about the climate crisis, trying to get the wealthier nations to reduce our emissions and seeking to invest in infrastructure to tackle this crisis.
What struck me as I spoke with the family all those years ago from my privileged position, was how much I took for granted. When I turn on the tap or the shower in the morning, I expect hot water to come out. I can jump in the car and drive my children to school where they will find facilities to help them learn and develop to their maximum potential. Without any manual labour, I can go to the supermarket and lift food for our table and pay for it with the income generated by steady employment.
These are huge things that so many people don’t have and the decisions and choices I make can have a huge impact on families, like the one I had the privilege of meeting all those years ago. At the time, I felt quite overwhelmed to be confronted with the inequality of the world.
These people just aspired to the same things as I did. They wanted their children to be healthy and happy, to have an education. They wanted to work hard and receive a fair income for their produce. They needed a steady climate, or knowledge of the best techniques, to grow their crops.
I was lucky enough to meet them, hear their story and learn about small things I could do to make a difference. I could try not to be so wasteful and recycle things. I could try to shop for local produce rather than things that needed to be transported across the world. I could try to use less plastic and packaging in the goods I bought. I started to use soap again in the shower rather than another plastic bottle of shower gel. I try to use shampoo bars rather than bottles. If I’m going to meetings, I could try to offer colleagues a lift rather than take loads of cars. As I look to the future, I need to consider an electric car rather than one running on fossil fuels. If it’s cold, can I stay warm by putting on more layers rather than automatically turning on the heating? If I’m ordering groceries online, can I encourage the supermarket to use less bags and packaging?
All these little choices add up and if enough of us make them, they can make a very real difference in the lives of those who contribute least yet pay the highest cost in regards to climate change.
Another organisation with which we have a close partnership in St. Finnian’s is Fields of Life. They work with children and communities in Uganda and across East and Southern Africa to provide education and clean water and hope. They extend a warm invitation to their ‘Inspire’ conference on Thursday 18th November at 8pm live on Facebook and YouTube. To register just visit www.fieldsoflife.org or call 02892636200.
The Church of Ireland Gazette contacted me this week inviting people to avail of a complimentary copy online of their latest edition. There are interesting articles about faith and church life from right across the Church of Ireland and the details of logging in are below.
What’s the one small step you can make in response to this climate crisis and bring hope for the future to our brothers and sisters across the world?
Looking forward to speaking again soon.
Much love to everyone,
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