Tony Calleja: “I think that organizations close to mud and dust have an important contribution to make”

EC: Why is the accompaniment so important to the JRS?

T.C.: People need hope, intelligent work and people who may be with them for hours to listen to their story and know them by their name. Those who hand out the food at the refugee camps hardly know their names and this is very hard. The JRS seeks and promotes the human dimension of the work at the camps and in this context it is very important to make friends. Inevitably, to be in contact with a refugee camp leaves one wounded but one realizes how much it means to accompany the people who live in it...although the Africans are impressive in the sense that they never loose hope, but they do need that support...

EC: Could you give us one example of this accompaniment?

T.C.: Yes, in Burundi. Nowadays, people are returning to their small lands already over populated. Families of eight or twelve have to live on three quarters of a hectare in a country that, if it rains, one eats and if it doesn't, one goes hungry. We are reproducing the model of the FAO projects, adding accompaniment which is very valuable to them.

The idea is to supply people with two goats. This leads to a double objective: first of all to give them hope, which is probably more valuable than the two goats- and secondly to teach them how to take care of the goats so that in three years they may be able to generate some income. Thus, approaching the daily problems, it is easier to get near the people and help to develop their self esteem that will lead them to their own development. This is our true pedagogy.

What is important is that we are accompanying where there is no one. Accompanying those same people that we accompanied when they were refugees in Tanzania. Accompanying those people who are now returning to their homes in Burundi and have nothing. And people are very much aware of this.

EC.: The JRS is promoting its work to impact on the structures that decide on the future of the refugees, but you also do advocacy work living day to day with them, is this so?

T.C.: I will give you another example. Now in Goma, four nuns have finished four months of work with vulnerable people. One day they found an elderly woman who was not receiving a plastic for her hut. One of the nuns stood firm in the distribution line without moving. Finally they had to giver the plastic. Apparently this is not so important but for this elderly woman it was very important. I think that the organizations that are close to the mud and dust have an important contribution to make.

EC.: And in this accompaniment, which do you think is the role of people that try to contribute to a fairer world from the North?

T.C.: To be aware of the support we have is extremely important, to know that we have people behind us so that we can carry out this accompaniment specially knowing what this means in this time of crisis. It is easy to be generous when everything goes well, but when everyone is a little shorter... This shows that there is a logical framework but also a lot of heart. One has to work like this, if you fall over to one side, you will be letting people down. And possibly, we owe our work to yours. I am aware that it is not easy for you to keep up revolutionary fervour from an office. But I tell you very clearly that you participate in this accompaniment, so don't forget this at low ebb moments.

EC.: Where do you find the energy for your work?

T.C.: From the people with whom we work, form our JRS colleagues who are deeply committed... and of course form the support we have from you and from all the people all over the world who help that this reality may slowly become fairer. So, keep up the flag, don't falter, because this is how you can help us.