40 years of accompaniment: Fr Jun Perez SVD
12 October 2020
Collaborating with JRS is not new to Fr Jun Perez SVD, of the Philippines. He first served in Liberia from 2005 to 2007 and most recently in the Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi from 2018 to January 2020. As he awaits his next placement, which has been put on hold due to COVID-19, he speaks about what originally led him to partner with JRS, and why he continues to do so.
Describe your life when you first became involved with JRS.
I first served with JRS as Project Coordinator in Liberia. It was a difficult assignment as we arrived right after the civil war and were in charge of setting up the office. Then, while working as a chaplain with the Filipino migrant community in South Korea, I saw an image of a boat crossing the Mediterranean in the Korean Times and thought what an honour it would be to work again with refugees.
I expressed my willingness to serve and found out that my placement would be in Malawi. This made me nervous because I had almost died from Malaria when in Liberia, but I said, if this is my time to leave this world, it’s my time. It was a tough mission, but I felt at home in Malawi with our refugee brothers and sisters.
Where are you in your life today?
My experiences in Russia, Liberia, South Korea, and more recently in Malawi, gave me perspective in life. To live among the poorest of the poor and to serve with the underprivileged on the peripheries of society. It takes a lot of understanding, just to be with them, to listen to them. I think this is where I am now. That’s why I said, “Take the chance to continue the refugee mission,” because this is my calling. It’s challenging, but fulfilling.
What difference did JRS make in your life?
In Liberia, JRS gave me the opportunity to connect with different NGOs working with refugees. It was the same in Malawi. A missionary and a member of the laity can work hand in hand to serve our common purpose. For me it’s very important because we are working as brothers, as a team. When we are working and interacting together, we are all equal.
JRS talks about walking with the people we serve and accompanying them on their journeys. What does accompaniment mean to you?
“Personal accompaniment” I call it. If they need some assistance, for them it will be difficult to approach a department or NGO directly. They ask me, “Father, can you help me?” First I ask them, “What is the problem?” Knowing what they need, only then can I say, “Ok let’s go to this NGO,” and I accompany them personally, serving as a bridge between the NGO and our refugee brother or sister. Accompaniment is giving your presence, your time and the opportunity for them to feel that they are special and to regain their feeling of humanity and dignity.