We recently took part in the Asia Pacific Humanitarian Leadership Conference in Melbourne. Two of our staff, along with Ethel George from our partner in Vanuatu, made significant contributions to the conference.
The first presentation we contributed was by our own Belinda Lauria and Ethel George. They spoke about respecting and strengthening local workers in our response to the Ambae volcano in Vanuatu over the last two years. This is what the term, ‘localisation’ means.
Our work on the Ambae response was done through our membership of CAN DO (Church Agencies Network Disaster Operations) and included gatherings of local leaders to see how their expertise can be used as we all work together to improve responses to future extreme events.
Some of the questions to be raised in the presentation were:
- How to enhance humanitarian response with long term development initiatives?
- How might CAN DO support churches to become more effective in their coordination and response efforts, when responding to humanitarian emergencies?
- Are the mechanisms for local partner involvement in decision-making sufficient and how could CAN DO ensure ongoing complementarity between churches and other humanitarian actors?
- How might CAN DO further improve on efforts to ensure the voice of marginalised groups are heard in a response?
Our own Nils von Kalm then gave a presentation on how we can best work in humanitarian responses with communities which have different religious beliefs. The presentation Nils gave was based on a survey that was carried out last year across Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands and PNG.
The survey revealed that there is a prevailing belief amongst Christians that disasters are a result of God’s judgment arising out of disobedience of the people. In terms of preparedness for disasters, prayer was a major component. This was combined with a sense of fatalism that the purposes of God cannot be thwarted. This leads to the belief that there is no point preparing practically but that there was a need to thank God for survival. The final main point to be revealed from the survey was the belief that we are living in the End Times and that therefore we have to expect events such as earthquakes and cyclones as this is what Scripture points to.
In working with communities which have these beliefs, it was agreed that the best way to work together is to find points of commonality. The main area where this could be done is in terms of preparedness.
Overall, the conference was a wonderful opportunity to hear the voices of people living in vulnerable areas as well as those who work with them. Constant learning is one of the main areas we need to be reminded of in this line of work.