by Ricardo da Silva SJ

What breaks your heart? I have asked this question innumerable times over the past few weeks. I’ve been posing it to others; but also — and perhaps more so — I’ve been whispering it to myself in the depths of my heart.

I have been travelling for much of this month. First at a conference on tax justice in Kenya, reflecting on how many developed world countries ‘steal’ the profits gained from the poorest countries of the developing world. Now, in Cape Town, I am working on various projects, but mainly looking at the tragic cycles of poverty in some of the poorest and most violent parts of the Mother City. This question has been very present during this time. This breaks my heart!

A post from a friend on Facebook saying something to the effect, “Where are all the profile pictures bearing the words ‘Pray for Mozambique?’”, made me aware of this growing sentiment within me.

This stumped me, as I contemplated his question and looked at the top left-hand-side of my Facebook profile. Indeed, he was right to ask. I hadn’t updated my profile picture. “Why?” I whispered to myself, haunted by the question that my friend had posed.

I remembered changing my profile picture countless times in the past to reflect the “Pray For …” sentiment. Why hadn’t I done that now — as if changing my profile picture was going to do anything to better the situation?

The latest reports of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Idai — which ravaged its way through the coastal city of Beira, Mozambique, and annihilating also parts of Zimbabwe and Malawi — is that 700 people are now confirmed dead. This number is set to rise sharply, as the waters recede and reveal the devastation left in its wake. And they will keep rising, as the effects of the cyclone persist bringing dreaded deadly disease: malaria and cholera and leaving more than a million hungry and struggling for survival.

The UN disaster and humanitarian relief agency, UN OCHA estimate that over 1.85 million people are in desperate need of help and emergency rescue, 500 000 hectares of land have been flooded, some 72 260 homes swept away and families separated. Added to this 45 health centres were destroyed and “Cyclone Idai has damaged at least 3 140 classrooms, affecting more than 90 700 students.”

These numbers numb me — especially as I become aware of the lasting impact of the destruction that’ll take years-upon-years to rebuild.

However, we can offer help in some form. Trite as it may actually sound, you and I can contribute to the rebuilding of affected peoples and nations. It really isn’t about changing our profile pictures to show that we care but, especially in this time of Lent, we are called to consider how to help those less fortunate and find concrete ways to assist.

The Relief Fund of the Jesuit Province of Zimbabwe-Mozambique has appealed for donations to aid with humanitarian relief for the victims of Cyclone Idai. We are asking for donations in cash and in-kind (clothes, blankets, non-perishable food). For more information, read all the details here. Or contact us: library@jesuitinstitute.org.za

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