Living Courage in South Brook, Newfoundland – Of Jigg’s dinner, Music, Laughter and Hope

I knew it was going to be an extraordinary event the minute we turned off the high

way into South Brook, a community of 500.   Hope Rowsell  was waiting for us in the parking lot of the convenience store and led us to South Brook United Church where were greeted by congregation members wearing aprons who were preparing a community meal. Later, we were treated to a full Newfoundland feast that included a Jigg’s dinner ( salt beef),,turkey stuffing and turnips.  About 50 people, roughly 10% of the population of South Brook, showed up for the community meal, and more arrived for the public event.  Both Lucy and Claudia said that although they were far from home and in an extremely different context, they immediately felt at home. The atmosphere, conversations and laughter all felt familiar. Claudia said it felt like a community meal served at one the OFP’s women’s centres. 

The event was characterized by laughter, music and a strong sense of community.  It began with a few musical numbers by Seeds of Hope, a local church band that gave us a genuine taste of the musical caliber in Newfoundland.   Ron, the percussionist, had played for a Newfoundland rock band, the Sea Buoys, for 36 years.  When Claudia asked him shyly if he would perform a couple of the songs he used to play, he paused for a minute, then his eyes lit up and he belted out some tunes by Elvis Presley and the Beatles.  By the time the event began the crowd had grown to about 70 people.  “We have already seen the courage of these women in their laughter,” said the former Minister in her introductory remarks. 

We felt welcomed and appreciated by the entire town of South Brook but especially by Hope Rowsell from the board of South Brook United Church who was the lead organizer of the event.  “ I have  been looking forward to this event for so long,” she began. “ Ever since I met Julie Graham at the networking event at the General Council Office of the United Church of Canada.  This event has taken a lot of faith, emails, and hope. And these are the results of this work.” 

Both Lucy and Claudia spoke about the realities experienced by communities in Palestine and Colombia, and how they contrast with the versions of reality that are promoted by the governments and the mainstream press.  Lucy spoke about the endless check points and the constant humiliation Palestinians face just to get to work and to go about their daily lives. “It is easier for me to go to the US or Canada than to get a permit to go to Jerusalem which is 15 minutes away,” she said.  Lucy only recently received a permit to travel to Jerusalem, but she said she can only dream of going to Jerusalem with her entire family to worship together.

 Claudia spoke of the ongoing violence, forced disappearances and paramilitary control that communities in Colombia continue to experience despite the government’s claims that Colombia is now a post-conflict country and that the paramilitary have been demobilized.  Although the Colombian government has promoted its programs for land restitution, in the last year 24 rural leaders have been assassinated while attempting to reclaim their land.  There have been many peace processes during the decades of conflict in Colombia, but none have brought peace and none have addressed the impact of the conflict and war on women – their lives, their bodies, their minds, and their families.

Both Lucy and Claudia highlighted community responses and alternatives.  Lucy spoke about the importance of women’s exchanges between communities, about Suhla , a traditional form of community-based mediation that takes place around a cup of coffee, and about citizenship diplomacy, a program in which Wi;am encourages people to visit Palestinian communities to see for themselves the reality in which they are living.

Claudia spoke of the programs that take place within the casa de mujeres (women’s centres) of the OFP including community meals, programs for youth, educational programs for women, programs that provide legal and psychological support.  She also talked about the development of Bancomunals, community-based banks that are an alternative to the illegal loan systems set up by loan sharks and the paramilitary that force community members, often women, to pay 20% interest and that threaten them with violence and death if they do not make the daily payments.  Claudia showed us the currency of these banks and asked the people of South Brook to become honorary members of Bancomunals.. 

For me, the experience in South Brook reaffirmed the importance of events in smaller communities – communities that are not often visited by international partners.  These visits have a lasting impact on partners and on the communities they visit.  Partners get to see a side of Canada that is rarely seen by international visitors, and the get to experience the warmth and generosity of a small community like South Brook.   In return for the hospitality, South Brook heard from two courageous women about the struggles and realities of communities in Palestine and Colombia, and its citizens were able to connect to Lucy and Claudia in a way only a small community can.   The visit broadened horizons and deepened relationships.   I don’t think South Brook or any of us will be quite the same after this visit, and that’s a good thing.

Filed in: Gender Justice/Women of Courage


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