In November, Kate Walsh, Associate Director, traveled to Zambia to speak at conference co-sponsored by Catholic Relief Services and CAFOD on Extractives in Southern African. Here is her reflection on that experience:
“The first weekend, I went to Mongu in the Western Region. This is the poorest region of the country. After a 7 hour bus ride from the capital, I arrived and went to visit the Diocese of Mongu Development Centre (DMDC). When this opened in the early 70′s, its focus was to provide nutritional assistance to the local residents, specifically children. Today, it focuses on local food sustainability. To meet that goal, DMDC provides everything from farmer training; to running a distribution center for seeds and equipment; and operating a rice polishing machine, free for the community to use. DMDC is even exploring technologies with bio-diesel. One of the greatest benefits of all their work is how earnestly they commit to sustainability. They teach people how to grow rice for sustenance as well as for sale at the market. All the rice seeds sold to the local farmers are organic. Rice husks and residual powder are given purposes such as fertilizer for local crops and road cover. Trees are grown at the center and then planted to restore deforested areas.
Later that day, I met Fr. Michael, the finance director of the Mongu diocese. He gave me the greatest gift: the reminder of my purpose in this trip. He told me to share the story of Mongu. He did not ask me to take action; he did not ask me to find funders for their wonderful programs. He asked me to tell others of the poverty, but also the wonderful hope and programs that do exist. His message was wrapped up in his quick statement “Be a mouthpiece, Kate”. And I think that is what we are collectively called to do with this work- be a mouthpiece and lift up the stories.
So, as our work allows us to be a mouthpiece, the rest of my time allowed me to hone that ability. The rest of the week I spent In Lusaka at the CRS/CAFOD Conference, which was incredibly well run. There was such excitement over this work, and it brought over 100 people from 13 countries together to strategize on such a complex, yet crucial issue of extractives.
Africa is rich in natural minerals and resources. Yet, the local people do not always benefit from these resources. Our conference pulled together NGOs, CSOs, company representatives, and others to begin to talk through the issues. We learned about Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, and how to utilize it before an operation begins; we learned about international laws and remediation tactics; how to utilize social media, especially in the wake of Egypt’s example; we studied conflict resolution; and heard about great groups like EITI and Publish What you Pay.
What was difficult some of our differences US ownership of companies vs. Ownership in general, which is so incredibly dissimilar, and not what the organizers wished to spend time on. The good news is that conference participants did strongly appreciate how to engage companies, regardless of different securities laws- such as tactics when they aren't responding, knowing it takes time not a silver bullet, and how to build relationships for the benefit of communities. The CSO groups were very excited to take these strategies back and if there can be partnerships with ICCR, they will let us know!
All in all this was a great experience, getting to see some fantastic sustainable food production, as well as work with on the ground groups in the extractives industry as well as learn some critical life lessons".
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