Kairos executive says support has increased from individual doncations after government cuts
By James Buchok
Jennifer Henry. James Buchok / Prairie Messenger / CCN
When Kairos, the Canadian faith-based ecumenical group working for social justice, suddenly lost half its funding, $7 million, after 34 years of support from the Canadian International Development Agency, the battered and bewildered organization returned to its roots, re-examined its purpose and moved forward.
"Worse than losing your CIDA money is losing your soul," said Kairos executive director Jennifer Henry in Winnipeg May 11, speaking at the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace Manitoba Regional Assembly. "In the first days we thought, 'How will we put together a budget?' But it was more important to ask who we are; a faithful ecumenical justice organization, because if we lose that we lose everything and we were reminded of that by our partners. People told us that even without CIDA we were still Kairos with an important mandate, a response to Micah 6:8."
Kairos works to effect social change through advocacy, education and research programs in ecological justice, economic justice, human rights, just and sustainable livelihoods, and indigenous peoples. These programs are informed by, and networked with, approximately 21 partner organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and about 80 grassroots groups across Canada and many other organizations, churches and individuals.
Henry is based at the Kairos office in Toronto but is originally from Winnipeg where she attended Fort Richmond Collegiate, the University of Manitoba and was a parishioner at Fort Garry Anglican Church. She said Kairos believed the CIDA funding would always be there. "We didn't think the government would cut off seven Canadian churches."
In December 2010 CIDA had in fact provided a document to the federal Minister for International Co-operation, Bev Oda, recommending continued support for Kairos, but in a now infamous turn of events the word "not" was somehow inserted, changing it to a rejection. The incident resulted in national media coverage.
"We were able to reach communities who had never heard of us because of that 'not.' As we told our story we became reinspired," Henry said. "Donations from individuals increased dramatically, not $7 million, but some people told us 'I really got mad.' It's taxpayers' money and we have the right to decide how it is spent."
Kairos is not going away," Henry said. "We're not just surviving; we are thriving due to a change that has pressed us into renewal."
Henry likened the experience to the Gospel of Mark, which she recommends should be read straight through "for the story that it is. The humanity of Jesus really comes through, his suffering and his anguish. Friend after friend leaves him or betrays him. It's a story about abandonment, a community bewildered, traumatized and scattered. But there are clear instructions to 'go back to Galilee, he will be there.' Go to where it started. Go home to what you know is true, regather your community, start again renewed."
Henry said there have been yet further cuts to foreign aid, to groups such as the Mennonite Central Committee and D&P. She said the recent federal budget "says scary things" for the future of charities.
"It feels harder now to work for justice in Canada than it has for the 20 years I have been doing this," she said.
Henry said advocacy "has become a bad word and so has radical. I love those words. Radical means to get to the root of things, not use band-aid solutions. Advocacy is just raising your voice and that is how all good things happen. Everything that we love about Canada is because somebody raised their voice. Change happens by raising your voice respectfully and constructively. It takes tenacity to bring about change, it's about democracy."
Henry told the D&P assembly, "In this crisis, what is most important is who you are. You have a broad network of friends in this country and around the world. We exist to dry the tears and tend to the wounds of the victims of injustice. When we act in justice we are met on the road by the risen God.