SGI Representatives Attend 2011 UNHCR Consultations with NGOs
From June 28-30, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, held its Annual Consultations with NGOs at the International Conference Center in Geneva, Switzerland.
SGI representatives participated in the consultations, which focused on the growing challenges faced by relief agencies amid persisting and multiplying crises related to refugees and the forced displacement of people around the world. Participants from over 210 NGOs, representing 72 countries, discussed issues related to the assistance and protection of such peoples.
Following the opening plenary, a thematic session titled "Strengthening protection: The role of faith-based organizations" was held, with Rebecca Larson from the ACT Alliance, which links over 100 churches, as moderator.
This session aimed to cast a spotlight on the role of faith-based organizations (FBO) in the protection of conflict- and disaster-affected communities in complex and insecure environments. It examined the challenges faced by local and national FBOs in providing protection, and the opportunities that exist to strengthen the protection role they play both within communities and at the national level through stronger, more effective partnerships with UNHCR and international NGOs.
Representatives from Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist groups gave presentations, including Kediende Mapuor Akec Chong of the Sudan Council of Churches; Enrique Burbinsky of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; Kimiaki Kawai of the Soka Gakkai Peace Committee; and Hening Parlan Purwati of the Humanitarian Forum Indonesia
Mr. Kawai gave an overview of how civil society groups in Japan had responded to the March 11 earthquake and subsequent crisis, taking Soka Gakkai's relief and post-disaster recovery support activities as an example.
He said 42 Soka Gakkai centers throughout the affected areas--including the Tohoku region and Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures--served as evacuation centers, housing up to 5,000 people in total. He introduced Soka Gakkai members' efforts to deliver food, water and relief supplies to evacuation centers, as well as to those seeking shelter in their homes.
Mr. Kawai also mentioned that Soka Gakkai provided memorial and prayer services in terms of psychological support. Buddhist prayer services were dedicated to the swift recovery of affected areas at 50 venues in total, with participation of approximately 9,000 members and their friends.
He gave accounts of individual Soka Gakkai members, themselves victims, who took the initiative to provide help to others in need. Referring to several factors which made this possible, he pointed out that "the fact that evacuees themselves could help provide relief to others is an example of humanitarian relief that is 'self-help' and participatory."
Mr. Kawai concluded by stressing that it is empowerment of survivors which can make humanitarian relief effective and sustainable, and that faith-based organizations can play a key role in this regard. He quoted the words of Mr. Akihiko Morishima, leader of Soka Gakkai in Miyagi Prefecture, who stated, "Disaster victims are not weak people . . . I know that they have strength within themselves. They have the potential to engage in relief activities."
[Report and photos courtesy of the SGI Office of Public Information]