Noel Mifsud’s International Relief visit to the Philippines & Thailand
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see a stranger invite you in or need clothes to clothe us? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? ‘ Matthew 25:37-39
In late September, I took annual leave to accept an International Relief agency, Malteser International, invitation to be part of an 8-person global delegation to visit their work standing shoulder to shoulder with the poor in the Philippines and Thailand. Delegates included diplomats, UN observers and leaders in Christ-centred global humanitarian relief from Germany, Australia, Singapore, and the US.
Malteser International is the Church based worldwide relief agency. For over 60 years, they have provided relief and recovery during and following conflicts and disasters. They also collaborate with vulnerable communities on long-term programs to deliver lasting change. Christian values and humanitarian principles form the foundations of our work: bringing aid to people regardless of their religion, background, or political convictions at over one hundred Projects in more than twenty countries.
In the Philippines, I assisted with a project distributing food to 930 temporary settlers who travel bi-weekly from all over Metro Manila and surrounding provinces to receive simple meals. Food items such as spaghetti, rice, noodles, tinned fish, and bread were provided to recipients.
I was deeply moved by the poverty of the people I encountered. Seeing children with body sores, soiled clothing, and emaciated hollow looks reinforced the need to reach out ‘direct’ to the poor. One old man was so happy with the other food that he said, ‘Merry Christmas’, his simple yet profound way of reaching out to me in English to say thank you.
A colleague delegate reflected:
As I stood, overcome by sadness at their plight, I was reminded that these are the ones who are given the seats of honour in the kingdom: those who cannot return the invitations and are hungry for food.
The delegation visited Mae Ra Ma Luang and Mae La Oon, Thai Myanmar refugee camps in Thailand. For more than 20 years, residents from Myanmar, mainly from the Karen ethnic group, have been fleeing to Thailand to seek refuge from human rights abuses and conflict between armed opposition groups and the Myanmar military. The delegation met with camp leaders to ascertain their needs and listen to their concerns. We visited camp projects such as post-natal clinics, water sanitation projects, waste disposal and psychological counselling.
At the camp leaders’ meeting, I asked what gives joy and happiness to the residents. I was not expecting the response- ‘we live day by day’. His eyes and tears, as he responded, believed the message that there could be no joy in living in the camps. I felt an overwhelming sadness. I wondered if to live without hope is not to live at all.
Only 40km across the border from where we met, aerial bombing and land mines were preventing any return home. Thai law prevented residents from leaving the camps, working outside the camp checkpoints, or mixing with the local Thai people. I have visited similar camps in India and Africa over the years-a recurring theme is the shell-shocked (literally and metaphorically) look in the eyes of the people. Their eyes convey deep trauma. The anguish and upheaval are written in the eyes, especially the children.
The delegation returned to our respective countries. We are completing reports for United Nations, Church and Government consideration and meeting with key staff from Malteser International to discuss further funding, project priorities and strategic directions.
As I reflect on the Gospel of Matthew, I ask myself:
Who are the poor and sick in Australia, our local community or our neighbour?
In what way can I be the eyes, heart, and hands of Christ in responding?
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
Noel Mifsud Principal