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Off to Indonesia

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The consequences of the earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi island of Indonesia are grave. It appears that over 1.000 died and thousands are injured. I am off to Indonesia tomorrow to check how we can contribute to the ongoing relief operations. 

I will be reporting here soon!

Earthquake and tsunami in Palu of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia

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A very powerful earthquake magnitude 7.5 RS (with number of aftershocks) hit the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia last night. Sadly, the quake resulted in a tsunami that produced waves of 3 meters high and hit the town of Palu and its vicinities. 

The calamity, so far claimed over 400 lives (the number will increase, as the search and rescue teams send in their reports) and injured thousands of people. The tsunami waves resulted in severe damages to private and public infrastructure. 

The Indonesian authorities are now rolling out the search and rescue operations, as well as started delivering the relief to the survivors. My own organisation is now considering how we should support the people in need.

I will be reporting on how the situation develops. In the meanwhile, here comes the link to the images of Palu and surroundings after the disaster.

Refugees in Mega Cities of South East Asia

UNHCR has published a movie on struggle of refugees living in South East Asia’s mega-cities of Bangkok, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur. I have been personally involved in the project featured in the movie. As some of you may suspect, I got interested in fate of ‘urban refugees’ after meeting Tahir. 

I hope that you enjoy this beautiful presentation. It can be accessed by clicking this link

Gender based violence in humanitarian crisis

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Promote resilience = strengthen systems to prevent and mitigate – and ensure access to support. Aid recovery = support capacities to create lasting solutions.

I have just finished the training dealing with issues around gender based violence in humanitarian crisis. A very interesting and inspiring workshop - exposing complexities of humanitarian work. Delivering aid is not only sustaining and potentially saving lives, but also very much about doing it in a way that minimises exposure to abuse of the most vulnerable by the stronger ones and really powerful ones. 

Not surprisingly, but sadly, women and girls are often those who are the vulnerable ones. They experience threats and abuse from their family members, from religious leaders, community members, from police officers, aid workers, gang/mafia members, administration officers, soldiers… you name it. The threats are essentially everywhere, on the way to get food rations, on the way to and inside the community shower/toilet, while collecting firewood for cooking, on the way to fetch water, on the way to a clinic… you name it. You may be harassed/assaulted brutally by soldiers, police in a very brutal and organised manner, but also in situation that you do not expect… while trying to walk on a less attended area to fetch water, by a sick-minded officer who would only let you pass a check-point, if you ‘return a favour’ at the back room, or by someone who would tell you that you need to pay in nature for getting your life-sustaining goods (food or medicines). Tragically, sometimes you are forced to sacrifice your child daughter into marriage, even if you know that this is the biggest evil that you can do to her, just because if you do not do it, your daughter, yourself and the rest of the family will be severely punished/beaten/refused a right to exist. I could go on and on with countless of other examples. 

Although I know that there are good reasons for why this happens; it is clear that vast majority of these crimes against fellow humans (women) are committed by men. Yes, not all men have sick and criminal minds, yes men are subjected to inhumane suffering too - no doubt about it… There is however the uncomfortable truth here too: we, men, are mostly responsible for additional suffering of millions of girls and women on daily basis. This is true during humanitarian crises, but also in other situations - essentially in every part of the world, in every village, town and city.

When you genuinely realise the extent and severity of the suffering that we cause to women, it becomes overwhelming and unbearable. I actually am finding it very difficult to deal with it, as a man. I do not know where to start and how to make it up… Perhaps, the best way is to admit that I am sorry. I am genuinely sorry and I beg you, ladies, for forgiveness.

‘Kler’: a movie that will shake the Polish Catholic Church

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I am sorry not to be in Poland next week. The country is preparing for the premiere of the latest movie by Wojciech Smarzowski called ‘Kler’ (Clergy) that is meant to be extremely critical of the Catholic Church in Poland - pointing out at ills and wrong-doings of the priests in the country. What I understand from the reviews, the movie talks about various pathologies within the institution in a very harsh way. Clearly the critics of the movie claim that the movie distorts the real pictures and is out of balance. Some people view the movie as an attack on traditional values of Poland and would like the film to be banned from the cinemas. 

I wish I had a chance to view the movie to see for myself how the author presents his views, and I would be really interested to follow the debates that are likely to become very heated. I will certainly follow all of this on the internet. 

For those interested, here is a link to the synopsis of the movie in English language (surely, the movie will be available with English subtitles sooner rather than later).

Returned safely home

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After travelling extensively for work and for holidays, I am finally back home in Bangkok. I am extremely tired and jet-lagged, so there will not be much of the update this time around, except a short a friendly ‘hello’ on my part. 

The trips to visit Mum in Krakow and Tahir in Toronto went extremely well. I had lots of fun spending time with folks that are dear to me, and even if the visits were very hectic, I managed to recharge my batteries to the fullest. 

The reflections from the trips will follow in this blog soon, so please watch this space!

Setting off For the trip to Poland and Canada

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After a busy August and beginning of September, I am starting my holiday. Today, I am spending my day packing, so that I will set off for the trip to Krakow tomorrow. I will be with my mother for a few days, and then I will travel further to Toronto to see Tahir and friends! Very exciting indeed!

As I start my trip, I am confronted with a new challenge. Someone appears to have stolen my identity and uses it to take bank credits on my name in Poland. Considerable amount of money has been stolen from me… Scary thing is that credits were taken long time ago, but I only found out yesterday. The lawyer is on it, and she has started taking steps to fix the mess, but it is extremely stressful, and completely ruined my finances for now. The lesson is, never trust your banks - they seem to be able to sell your personal details, which are then misused. 

Although setting off for holidays, I am not very happy at all. 

Supporting the people of Mindanao

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Mindanao, the southern part of the Philippines is the poorest in the country, and is ravaged by conflicts and multiple natural disasters. As you can imagine, this translates into various humanitarian crises, which the local communities suffer from. Essentially millions are affected in one or another way, and hundreds of thousands people lives are threatened. 

In order to ease the situation at least a bit, together with my colleagues we were looking at projects that we could support and aim at helping people cope with poor access to water, food, sanitation, shelter and education. While we realise that our support is a drop in the ocean, I am glad that we will be able to work with the affected communities in coming months! We are moving ahead with giving financial support to two projects for the displaced by the conflict - so that they have minimal life sustaining services available until the fighting stops and they can safely return to their homes.

Extensive travels in August and September

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Yesterday I returned to Bangkok from Tonga and Fiji but I am already packing to travel for Manila tomorrow morning. It is just one day at home - enough time to catch up with sleeping, re-pack, call Mum and friends, as well as reflect on the experiences from last few days. 

As usual, my trip to Tonga was related to a humanitarian catastrophe - this time caused by the cyclone (Rita) which hit the country around 6 months ago. Together with a colleague of mine, we went to visit the emergency and recovery projects that our organisation funded, but were implemented by Tonga Red Cross and local NGOs, and to understand how helpful our intervention might have been to the survivors of the cyclone.

The trip was very interesting, but involved some mixed feelings. On one side, our partners clearly did a good job and were clearly able to help thousands of people to stand back on their feet (rebuilding private houses, family rain-water catchment systems and restoring livelihoods of the family farmers), but on the other side, we realised that the overall system failed many of the residents too. The authorities may have restored electricity grids, fixed the roads, but let down some of the poorest families and many individuals to overcome their existential hurdles. Altogether we saw some families (supported by our partners) receiving decent boost to help them recover and thrive, but also learnt that the communities which were supposed to be reached by the authorities, were more often than not, neglected. Tragically six months since the calamity, some people still live in plastic sheeting tents, and literally struggle to find means to buy food. 

Like in many other occasions of this sort, the trip to Tonga prompted a great deal of doubts in my mind. Trying to rationalise why we chose a group of people over other group of people (given that there was no funds to help everyone) is a difficult process. Yet even worse is that we (the whole system, rather than just my organisation) was certainly able to help everyone, if all agencies responsible had acted in a more responsible manner (essentially, deliver on their promises and commitments). 

Now, as I prepare to travel to the Philippines tomorrow where I will be visiting projects meant to help the recovery from the devastating floods which hit Luzon, I am fearing that I may experience an uncomfortable deja-vu, with some individuals receiving help and others less so. 

In terms of ‘lessons learnt’, the most challenging task for us comes later: we all need to figure out how we do a better job in a future. Lots can be done with relatively little money - the trick is to work together with as little ego as possible. Wish us luck!

And here comes the link to the pictures from the trip to the Pacific.

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