|Reflections on the Governance of JRS|
(Washington, D.C.) June 14, 2011 — I have recently returned from spending three weeks at Jesuit Refugee Service headquarters in Rome. The first two were spent with the incoming Regional Director for Latin America, Ms. Merlys Mosquera, learning from the various different department heads of JRS/International the "ins-and-outs" of being a regional director.
This included training in the areas of advocacy, programs, finances, communications, personnel, and the systematic coordination of all data from our regions. While admittedly a bit dry and technical, the time was well spent and needed (who knew that so many things could change in the twenty some years since I was Regional Director of JRS/Eastern Africa).
Quality time was also set aside to spend time sharing with the International Director, Fr. Peter Baleis, S.J. about areas of mutual interest and concern (although I was quick to note that I gave Peter his first job with JRS when he joined the advance team working with Rwandan and Burundian refugees in Tanzania in the mid-1990's.) This was rounded out by meetings with Fr. Ken Gavin, S.J., my predecessor here in Washington, D.C., who is now in Rome assisting Peter in a myriad of ways.
Because the work with refugees, internally displaced people and migrants/detainees is a global problem, the response from JRS must also be one of a similar nature. There are ten JRS regions and JRS/USA has a strong relationship with all of them. This could take the form of joint advocacy on refugee issues (linking Washington with Geneva and Brussels), communication of issues in Sri Lanka, developing projects in Colombia or Haiti, or raising funds to build schools in Eastern Africa.
That is why I spent the final week in intensive discussions with the other nine regional directors, listening and discussing the numerous problems facing each one. This included a meeting with Father General Adolfo Nicolas, S.J., who encouraged each and every regional director to keep responding to the needs of the suffering poor — and that nothing should get in the way of our response.
There was much to learn from the other directors. I learned of the efforts of the new Middle East Region to respond to the political crisis in Syria, Libya and Tunisia, as the "Arab Spring" and its violent counter-attacks produces hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced. I listened as the regional director for West Africa described a very recent assessment tour of the countries of Liberia and Ivory Coast and JRS/WA’s decision to begin working in these war-torn areas. I nodded in understanding at how difficult it must be for JRS/Latin America to deal with some of the largest populations of refugees and internally displaced in the world in Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama — having once been a regional director for a region that held the largest numbers of displaced in my earlier days in Eastern Africa.
Some of the problems never change — chronic food shortages, and lack of clean water and sanitation; natural disasters and wars ripping millions from the homes and families; child soldiers fighting guerilla wars; urban refugees who fit no one’s definition or understanding; and the pastoral care and education needs of the most vulnerable. But some things have changed — land mines have now been joined by the insidious use of cluster bombs; the trafficking of women and children in a modern form of slavery; and the systematic use of rape against women, men and children as part of the arsenal of war. All of these "topics" — of course — can be linked to an individual with a name and a personal story.
Finally, it all boils down to finances — one cannot build schools in Congo, provide medical care in Tunisia, a tent for a family in Haiti, pastoral care to detainees in Malta, or defend the rights of refugees and migrants by advocacy in Washington, D.C., without money. And that is why we could not do what we do without the continuous, generous support of the many people like you. Too often when the large global problems are being discussed and analyzed, the very human element of financial and moral support gets lost in the shuffle.
I, personally, want to thank each and every one of you for you past and present support.
Fr. Mike Evans S.J.