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Music and football do their bit for social justice

08 December 2010

Ed Thornton looks back over 25 years of the Amos Trust

AS A teenager in 1964, Canon Garth Hewitt heard Dr Martin Luther King preach at St Paul’s Cathedral. He recalls how Dr King preached on the vision of the New Jerusalem in the Revelation of St John.

“It had a huge impact on me. I was struggling with my own journey towards Christianity . . . and there was a man who put it all together for me. He was saying there wouldn’t be huge imbalances within this new community that was being built. He was talking about the way justice means we get rid of the imbalances, and that’s been a picture which has stayed with me all the time.”

This sermon was Canon Hewitt’s inspiration for founding the Amos Trust, which celebrated its 25th anniversary recently when it hosted a conference at All Hallows’ on the Wall, the church in the City of London where the charity has offices, and where Canon Hewitt is the Guild Vicar.

The diverse crowd of more than 100 who attended the “Let Justice Roll!” conference included represent­atives from the four main countries in which the charity has worked during the past quarter of a century: Nicaragua, South Africa, India, and Israel-Palestine.

The theme of the conference was a quotation from the Old Testament prophet after whom the charity was named in 1985: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

Amos was first set up as a trust to enable Canon Hewitt, by then a well-known singer-songwriter, to play concerts in poorer countries, such as Com­munist-era Poland. “All the growth that took place in the early days of Amos was through people coming to a concert and then be­coming supporters,” he says.

Raising awareness of issues of justice through music was par­ticu­larly effective: “You have to step be­yond the argument to the point where people feel it. That happens par­ticularly in art and music and storytelling.”

Towards the end of the 1980s, Amos began to establish firmer links with particular countries. The decision about which countries to focus the charity’s work on was, says Canon Hewitt, based on “friendship”.

For example, Canon Hewitt was asked by the Revd Elias Shakur, now the Archbishop of Akkra in the Greek Melkite Catholic Church, to visit Palestine. “It was life-transforming, seeing the nature of it [the occu­pation].”

Amos now works with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian partners in Israel-Palestine; its aim, Amos’s associate director, Chris Rose, says is “to raise awareness of the devastating impact of the wall, settlements blocks, and travel restrictions upon Pal­es­tinian life, particularly within the Bethlehem area.”

Amos has strong links with the Anglican diocese in Jerusalem; Canon Hewitt is an honorary canon of St George’s Cathedral.

In Nicaragua, where 45 per cent of the population live on less than $1 a day, Amos works with three partners: the Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua, which trains pastors in how to serve their com­munities; Amos Health and Hope, which trains people as “health pro­motion workers”; and Prestanic Microcredit, which provides loans to help people set up their own businesses.

In India, Amos campaigns on behalf of the country’s 250 million Dalits, those formerly known as “untouchables”, who are disad­vantaged by the surviving influence of the caste system.

In South Africa, Amos’s work among street children is led by Canon Hewitt’s son, Tom, and Tom’s wife, Mandi Ngantweni-Hewitt, herself a former street child. The Umthombo project, which the couple established in Durban, the South African city with the highest population of street children, is run mainly by street children.

Amos’s work among street chil­dren in South Africa spawned the charity’s highest-profile project to date: the Deloitte Street Child World Cup, which took place in March this year, in the run up to the FIFA World Cup. Eighty-five children (most of them street children) from eight countries — South Africa, Brazil, India, Nicaragua, Ukraine, the Philippines, Tanzania, and the UK — took part in the tournament at Durban University of Technology. The tournament was endorsed by high-profile figures from inside and outside the Church, including the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Dr Desmond Tutu, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and the footballer David Beckham.

Since the tournament (won by India) took place, the Durban Declaration has been launched, created by the street children who attended the tournament. Their recommendations include: “Listen to us: We have a right to be heard,” “Listen to us: home means family,” and “Listen to us: we know what’s needed.”

Mr Rose says the Street Child World Cup is “not a faith-based project”, although it is supported by many Churches.

Canon Hewitt has released a com­pact disc, Moonrise, to mark Amos’s 25th birthday, in which he tries “to reflect the theology of the Amos Trust”. The album, he says, includes songs that are prayers that “reflect the important spirituality that activists need”.

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