Sometimes I have days in this job which stand out among many other great days. Days in which I am reminded of the depth and reach of the work carried out by diaconal organisations in Europe. On a recent visit to Spain, I spent much of a day in a prison, meeting prisoners who are supported by one of our members to handle their time in prison positively but also to be supported in their return to mainstream society through rehabilitation and inclusion activities. The respect shown to our member by the prison authorities was authentic and upheld the approach of a clear partnership between both. I also spent time at a safe house for women who have been trafficked and was moved both by the stories and by the care and support given by the staff in the project who showed compassion as well as professionalism. Additionally, I spent time at a project where some of the most vulnerable people in our societies – victims of gender-based violence, broken families, people experiencing homelessness, are welcomed, cherished and supported to return to the labour market, reconnect with friends and families and find new purpose in life. All three of these experiences have left an indelible impression both on my heart and my mind.
Yet what struck me was that all of these activities, absolutely essential, are not initiatives of the Member States but of local churches and diaconal organisations who have seen a need and have addressed it. Many professional and volunteer staff are involved and much of the work is done using innovative approaches and few tangible resources. These services receive very little, if any, statutory funding from local, regional, national or European levels. Why not?
In current political debates, there can be increasing rhetoric about who has deserved or earned support or services. Why should ‘they’ get help and ‘them’ not? ‘Surely their situation is their own fault?’ Or.. ‘voters won’t like us if we help ‘them’… Sometimes our valuing of people is defined by what we believe others responses and perceptions will be rather than what is right. As a result, some of the most excluded and vulnerable in our society are falling through cracks in our social safety nets. This is where organisations like our members in Spain step in. Unfunded, often unrecognised, they are not just patching up our safety nets but creating parallel safety nets that ensure no one is left behind. They should be commended, recognised, financially supported and listened too as we develop both policies and practices that address marginalisation and exclusion. Most of all, they remind us that no one is devoid of values, rights, and potential – I am inspired.
Have a good weekend,