Easter blessings from UCAN
There is no more important week in the year for Christians than this Holy Week. We call it Holy because of the mystery we celebrate - God's gift of His son who loves us to his death on Calvary and beyond.
Because of that love, we wish each other Happy Easter even when we know there is a lot of tragedy about it - Good Friday. As Christians, we know that what we see happening with and in Jesus goes to the heart of what we know from our own experience of life.
At the Second Vatican Council, the Christian lives we all lead were described as being shares in the Paschal Mystery. We have our share in the death and resurrection of Jesus every day. Our lives are part of the Paschal Mystery.
At UCAN, we work to describe that mystery in the unfolding tragedies and astonishing blessings of the people we seek out and report, feature and comment on.
While at times deeply distressing work, this effort of ours gets its coherence in the same way the death of Jesus did - because of the astonishing grace of a God who never gives up on life and love.
Because of that, we can wish you Happy Easter.
Fr. Michael Kelly SJ
Seeing through others' eyes
Asylum seekers in Bangkok tell their stories with photosOne of the photos in the exhibition
- Philip Bader and Joe Torres, Bangkok
- April 17, 2012
Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific (JRSAP) has for three decades ministered to the needs of a steady stream of refugees from across the region seeking freedom and opportunity denied to them at home.
To cap its commemoration of 30 years of service, JRS enlisted eight asylum seekers from Cambodia, China, Iran, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to participate in a project that would give them an opportunity to tell their stories in their own way and in their own voice.
They were given point-and-shoot cameras, two hours of training and two months to put into pictures a narrative of their lives in the Thai capital.
Molly Mullen, regional communications assistant at JRSAP, spearheaded the project by bringing some cameras donated during a trip home to the United States.
‚ÄúWe want people in Bangkok and in the region to understand that refugees and asylum seekers ‚Ä¶ are completely capable of telling their own stories,‚ÄĚ she said.
‚ÄúPeople hear the word refugee a lot and they don‚Äôt really know what we‚Äôre talking about,‚ÄĚ she said, adding that ‚Äúthere are people here from all over the world trying to save their lives and find safety in Bangkok.‚ÄĚ
She said that photography offered an accessible and effective medium for asylum seekers to connect with others and share their experiences.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no language barrier with photography. People can really get across what they want to say with one photo and they‚Äôve done that with this photo exhibition, and I think that it‚Äôs worked really well for them.
Phea, a former freelance journalist from Cambodia and member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, ran foul of the government after publishing two books about political corruption and human rights abuses in his country.
The Ministry of Education banned the books and announced that it was seeking the author for questioning. Phea fled to Bangkok in July 2010.
‚ÄúI am very happy with this project because I think it is the history of my life. I can take a picture and keep it for a long time for my wife, for my children, when I have a family,‚ÄĚ he said.
‚ÄúI want somebody, especially the human rights organization in Thailand or in the world, to know the life of an asylum seeker.‚ÄĚ
Yi, a school teacher and mother from northeast China, endured years of harassment, emotional trauma and physical torture by Chinese authorities bent on forcing her to renounce her practice of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong began in China in 1992 as a spiritual tradition combining moral teachings, meditation and physical exercise similar to qigong. It was banned by the Chinese government in 1999 and many practitioners have been imprisoned and tortured.
Abandoned by her husband, who also took custody of their child, Yi came to Bangkok in 2007. The photo project offered her the opportunity to speak on behalf of those who were not able to escape as she did.
‚ÄúWith these pictures, I just want to tell others what is the daily life of a Falun Gong refugee,‚ÄĚ she said.
Now in Bangkok awaiting official recognition by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Phea and Yi, along with six other asylum seekers from Iran, Sri Lanka and Pakistan who took part in the photography program, struggle to find their way in a foreign city where they have no legal status, few resources and face daily fears of arrest and deportation.
JRSAP is no stranger to the issue of refugees.
For three decades they have served those in need, following the principles of founder Father Pedro Arrupe SJ, who saw refugees as ‚Äúa challenge we cannot ignore‚ÄĚ and the mission of the organization to ‚Äúaccompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees.‚ÄĚ
Fr Bernard Hyacinth Arputhasamy SJ, regional director of JRSAP, said the refugee issue has become more political in recent years, and that he understood the importance of a nation‚Äôs sovereignty and security.
‚ÄúThailand has been very hospitable, playing host to refugees for more than four decades. So how can we balance the legality with an ethic of hospitality?‚ÄĚ he said.
‚ÄúThe refugees come, we should never forget, with their human dignity still intact. How do we respect that? They have resources, cultural resources. Their history, their tradition. How can we listen to their stories and welcome them as equal human beings?‚ÄĚ
It is this dignity that Mullen sees as a fundamental issue for the photography program, and for the thousands of other asylum seekers living in Bangkok.
She says that many refugees have described themselves as ghosts in Bangkok, ‚Äúthat they live in hiding‚ÄĚ and are not able to play a substantial part in Thai society.
‚ÄúI feel like these photos are a really great way for them to push their way into Bangkok at large,‚ÄĚ she said.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm hoping that through this project the idea of ghosts can slowly start to diminish in the refugee community in Bangkok.‚ÄĚ
Photographs from Phea, Yi and fellow participants will be on display in the exhibition See What I See: Photographs by and about urban asylum seekers in Bangkok, at Toot Yung Gallery on January 28 at 6pm.