Report on the final SICRIE Project Workshop held in Klaipeda, Lithuania. May 2011.
‘Faces of Life’s Autumn’
Report on the Lithuanian project for the SICRIE Workshop, May 2011
The Lithuanian partner reported that they are at the final stage of preparing a mobile exhibition with the title of 'Faces of Life's Autumn.' This is an exhibition of photos celebrating the dignity of human life in older age. The work on this exhibition consisted of setting the parameters for the appropriate photos, approaching the persons and getting permissions for photographing, and the 'photosessions'. The whole preparatory work took a considerably longer time than expected, as a number of those approached wanted to find out more about the project and to discuss how they feel in the Lithuanian society as older citizens. For those who were involved in the actual process of working with these persons, it has already proven to be a very meaningful part of the project.
The exhibition will be launched in Klaipeda on June 12th, during which two representatives from the Czech partner of SICRIE will also take part. The intention is to make this exhibition a 'travelling' one, and to take it to other settings in Lithuania.
'Faces of Life's Autumn' will be accompanied by a book in which those who will come to the exhibition will be able to leave a note of their own thoughts and reactions. The 'growing' collection of the reactions of the visitors represents another aspect of the project.
In addition to this, the group has embarked upon some stories representing oral history of people at the economic and social interfaces in Lithuania. It is hoped that such recording of oral histories might continue after the project as such ends. The stories already collected will be presented at the exhibition, but as a separate set of materials.
Refugees from Burma in the Czech Republic
Report on the Czech project for the SICRIE May 2011 meeting
Since the last SICRIE meeting in Sofia there have been several developments in our interaction with the refugees from Burma in the Czech Republic and with the an NGO facilitating their adaptation to the new environment.
On October 20th 2010 SICRIE volunteer group led by Peter Zvagulis visited the second group of refugees from Burma. As new arrivals all 40 refugees (eight families) were still living together as a community in a refugee housing facility in Czech Republic. Our involvement and advice with the first group apparently had helped the local NGO to better understand the religious needs of the refugees (most of whom are Baptist) and it appeared that there was better communication and less misunderstanding as of what their new life in the Czech Republic would look like. This second group seem very motivated to learn the Czech language (which for many was their first foreign language) therefore the SICRIE group leader communicated with them in Czech.
With the help of IBTS and SVCC the SICRIE team was able to organize on 9 January 2011 a bi-lingual worship service in Prague for the second group of refugees. The group was greeted by the pastoral team of SVCC and by the General Secretary of EBF, Tony Peck. The main worship service was followed by shared meal with the multi-cultural community of SVCC, and by a special Communion service for the refugees. As some of the refugees told the SICRIE team later during a guide tour of the Prague Castle area, this was very reassuring and encouraging experience for them. They were particularly glad to be acknowledged in the midst of European and Czech Baptists.
The engagement with refugees from Burma as part of the SICRIE project has heightened our awareness of the many ethnic and religious interface challenges involved in resettlement within a European context. Some of the conclusions we draw from our experience to date are:
- It seems that up until the arrival of the first group of refugees from Burma the Czech Government was unaware of their Christian and Baptist religious identity and the particular cultural context they were coming from therefore they were not able to ask for exert advice in the process of drawing their refugee resettlement program and the approach became less flexible in this sense. This situation in fact may be in part a result of insufficient information provided to the Czech side by the UN authorities or simply a lack of appreciation of the significance of religious identity within secular societies and institutions.
- The refugees coming from rural areas, having little or no schooling and having no experience with human and civil rights issues could not properly communicate their needs for having a proper religious life which also include religious fellowship and community life. The particularities of their spiritual needs as Baptists were unknown both to the government and to a local NGO. The advice the SICRIE group was able to provide seem to have brought certain improvement in the sense that there seem to be less misunderstanding between the refugees and the NGO which is assisting the refugees in their dealings with various government agencies.
- Ethnic and political and cultural sensitivities still make some aspects of relationships difficult. The refugees come mostly from various ethnic groups and some refugees are afraid (because of their relatives still living in Burma) to be seen as anything which the government of Burma regards as pro-opposition. Sometimes difficulties may arise also because of the patriarchal traditions clashing with the fact that those seeking to support the refugess may be female.
- The local Czech municipalities which have accepted the refugee families seem to be providing them with adequate support and are tolerance-minded and motivated people. However the distribution of the refugee families over a very large geographical area makes it difficult for the local municipalities to organize any events for the whole refugee community, without external financial assistance.
- The refugees expressed the wish to be visited by a Baptist pastor understanding their refugee experience. They also expressed their need to participate in Baptist Communion once a month, if possible. They said that they would appreciate if a visiting pastor could provide this service to them. The SICRIE group have a been able to make contact with a Baptist Pastor from Burma resettled in Norway who will visit the group later this year.
- The refugees and the NGO said that they would appreciate if the SICRIE team would help to communicate their problems and constructive experiences to the government institutions, international organizations and the larger public. They agreed for their experience to be shared publicly provided that particular political and other sensitivities are respected and they are consulted before the publication. They hope that their experiences can help to improve refugee integration process in other countries.
The SICRIE project has taken us into an area we had not anticipated but has left us empowered to make the following observations and recommendations in regard to addressing the issues that arise on the cultural and religious interface of resettlement of refugees within a European context:
- It could be advisable for the national government agencies in charge of refugee integration in their countries to request from the UN specific information about religious affiliation, ethnic and cultural context of the refugees before they come. For people coming from practicing religious communities this identity element should be moved higher up in the priority list when designing an integration program for them (secular authorities should not automatically presume that religious affiliation is only nominal). Local representatives of the denomination should be consulted while drawing the integration program. It seems that for better integration and improved inter-community relations there should be a built-in flexibility for various groups of refugees. One size fits all approach seem to not be advisable as it can lead to increased adaptation stress, frustrations on the refugee side and also to mutual resentment between the local inhabitants and the marginal refugee group.
- Local religious communities and denominations should be involved in advising the authorities and NGOs in the practicalities of the religious life after their arrival in the host country.
- Local religious communities and denominations can help in mediating some aspects of relationships with the refugees. For example, provide male presence in situations where patriarchal traditions make initiative from female activists a complicated matter.
- Local religious communities, denominations and international religious bodies, following EBF’s example, can help with raising moral, spiritual and financial support for particular events and projects facilitating the integration of refugees in their new home countries.
- Local religious communities can help with pastoral care and Communion. Although financial and other logistic considerations may limit such opportunities, the government agencies planning the distribution of the refugee families to particular municipalities should be advised to move them in more compact clusters, spreading them over not so large territories, if possible. This would potentially meet two objectives: it would both force the families to learn the Czech language and to integrate in the local society while also allowing them to live the religious life of their own community. This recommendation seems to be of particular relevance considering the highly secularized context of the Czech society.
The formation of Crosspaths
The report from the Northern Ireland group
Members of the Northern Ireland group presented images from the Northern Ireland context and told something of the story of the formation of Crosspaths and the lessons learned about crossing interfaces. A full report on Crosspaths can be found here. Images can be found in the Belfast presentations on the Toolkit Map page.
Exploring relationships in Bulgaria
The report from the Bulgarian group
A report was given on the work of the Bulgarian partner. Part of the presentation given by the Bulgarian group can be read here.