United Methodist Women at World Social Forum in Kenya
United Methodist Women's delegation to World Social Forum.
by CAROL BARTON*
When the World Social Forum opened Jan. 20, in Nairobi, Kenya, thousands – including representatives of United Methodist Women organizations in the United States, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – gathered to celebrate the first time this global event took place in Africa.
A delegation of five United Methodist Women members from the United States and one of their mission partners and six members of autonomous United Methodist Women organizations in Kenya and Democratic Republic of the Congo joined the ecumenical community in a march to worship together then walk to the forum. Some 500 Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians gathered at the Holy Family Basilica in downtown Nairobi in the first major ecumenical presence at a World Social Forum. The worship service featured two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Kenyan environmental activist, Wangari Maathai.
United Methodist Women from the United States, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo gathered to learn from each other and participate in the World Social Forum as part of United Methodist Women’s Christian witness to social justice.
They attended workshops for education and action strategy on such themes as war, trade, global debt, water rights, women’s rights, youth concerns, and rights to health and housing. The World Social Forum provides an opportunity to learn from people most affected by these issues, including urban squatters, street children, people with HIV/AIDS, and those living amidst war and under occupation.
The World Social Forum was first held in 2001 as a people’s response to the annual World Economic Forum, which gathers corporate leaders. Since then, it has grown from some 20,000 to more than 100,000 women, youth, workers, farmers, non-governmental organizations, churches and others, gathering under the slogan, “Another World is Possible.”
The forum does not make declarations or action plans. It serves as an open space for dialogue and development of concrete strategy on how to transform policies that deny people of rights, dignity, livelihoods, even life. It is a teach-in, a festival, an action of hope, a time for networking and a place to plan action for transformation.
“We are bound together,” Archbishop Tutu said. “The only way we can ever be free is together. The only way we can ever be human is together.”
Archbishop Tutu challenged churches to continue their work:
“You, the churches who work to support God’s children, go out of here to work for a new and just economic order. We do not want the burden of impossible debt. Cancel the debt. It is in the interest of the rich to share.
Wangari Maathai, who received the Nobel prize for her work in the Green Belt Movement, called on the crowd to extend her work of planting trees to help the earth clean itself, and to address the climate crisis. In collaboration with the U.N. Environment Programme, she recently launched a campaign for the world to plant 1 billion trees.
Ms. Maathai was instrumental in saving the central downtown Uhuru Park from developers. The forum’s opening ceremonies were in the park. Uhuru means freedom.
Gladys Kihara, Central District President for United Methodist Women in Kenya, said of Ms. Maathai’s effort:
Without Wangari Maathai, we would not have Uhuru Park today, and would not be gathered here to inaugurate the World Social Forum.”
The United Methodist Women-supported delegation included:
- Women’s Division Directors Carol Gaston and Kathleen Conrad;
- Angela Lauver, a member of the division’s college consultative group;
- Regional missionaries Elmira Sellu, based in Kenya, and Shimba Mulunda, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
- Beatrice Asyago, president of Kenyan United Methodist Women;
- Gladys Kihara, president of United Methodist Women in Kenya’s Central District;
- Bonne Annee Ombaku, a United Methodist law student from the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
- Tufara Mohammed Waller of the Highlander Center in New Market, Tenn., a Women’s Division partner organization; and
- Women’s Division executives Carol Barton and Paulette Kim.
*Carol Barton is an executive secretary for racial justice with the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Ministries.