Stephanie Beech, former parishioner at St Vincent’s parish in Crookes, Sheffield, is running the London Marathon in April, 2019 for Jesuit Missions. For the last year she has been working for the London based charity as their Communications Officer and recently travelled to Guyana, where she visited some of the projects that they support.
Jesuit Missions is the International Development office for the Jesuits in Britain. For over 50 years it has supported vulnerable communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America. I recently had the opportunity to travel to Guyana, a small country on the north coast of South America where the Jesuits have been active for over 150 years.
Guyana has a small population of 775, 000 people, despite being a similar size geographically to the UK. Ninety percent of the population live in the coastal region and consider themselves part of the Caribbean, while the remaining ten percent live in the Amazon basin which covers over seventy five percent of the country and characterises an indigenous Amerindian culture.
Although English is the national language of Guyana, many of the people who live in the Amazonia region have their own indigenous languages such as Makushi and Wapishiana. Despite this, Guyanese education is completely taught in English, meaning that many children from this area have an immediate disadvantage when they begin school, having very little or no previous knowledge of the English language. Jesuit Missions is supporting a Quality Education Bilingual Programme which is currently being piloted in three schools. This programme encourages children to learn in Wapishiana simultaneously alongside English when they begin school. It is part of a campaign to preserve the local indigenous Amerindian culture which works closely with the protection of the Amazon.
Pope Francis states that, “The Amazon is a region with rich biodiversity; it is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. It is a mirror of all humanity which in defence of life, requires structural and personal changes by all human beings, by nations and by the church.” The culture of the indigenous people in Guyana, and their way of living in communion with nature, have never been as threatened than at present as large corporations try to take advantage of the resources and minerals found in the Amazon region, as well as the forced expansion of urban areas.
In response to this, the Pope has called all the Bishops of the Amazon together for a Pan-Amazonian synod in Rome in October, 2019 which is entitled ‘New paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology’. This is an opportunity for the Church to readdress and respond to some of the environmental injustices which are occurring across the Pan-Amazonian region.
Jesuit Missions also responds to emergency disasters such as the Kerala floods that affected over one million people in South India in August 2018. This is something that is very close to my heart after spending six months living and working in Kerala three years ago.
I decided to run the London Marathon for Jesuit Missions after having witnessed first-hand the work that Jesuit Missions is doing in Guyana. As a runner, the London Marathon has always been on my bucket list so I am very excited to have this opportunity to take part in April. I wanted to take on this challenge to raise money for something that is close to me and that I know can make a difference.
Please visit my fundraising page if you would like to support my efforts: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/StephanieBeech1.