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Jan de Voogd’s legacy of compassion

Jan de Voogd was a Quaker peace activist, musician, teacher, sailor and boat builder who lived in Sydney. Born in Japan to Dutch parents, Jan spoke several languages. His work for peace spanned more than 50 years. He was active in a variety of ways against nuclear weapons, war and militarism, as well as in matters of wage and labour justice and the protection of refugees.

Jan died in 2021, leaving his estate for projects which foster peace and social justice. The Jan de Voogd Peace Fund is administered by the Quakers in NSW and funds a range of initiatives that reflect the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and earthcare/sustainability.

Jan practised and urged compassion for others throughout his life. Compassion, literally meaning to suffer with, is an embodied practice of solidarity. Jan’s father was a diplomat and played a key role in helping thousands of Jews to escape Europe during World War II. Jan’s prayer was that he would “accept strangers and outsiders with the same love and compassion as my father did”.

Jan’s activism was highly embodied. He accompanied a priest who was in danger of being “disappeared” due to his support for local fishermen in his Sri Lankan parish to form a cooperative and bypass middlemen. He was part of the Peace Squadron and sailed out to protest against boats which carried nuclear weapons. Towards the end of his life he was active in the Sanctuary movement, which offered places of refuge for asylum seekers at imminent risk of deportation.

The Koala Chaplaincy project, initiated by the Uniting Church and focused on the critical forests of the NSW Mid North Coast, is funded by Jan’s bequest.

After many years of community campaigning, a Great Koala National Park (GKNP) was promised by the present NSW government, but this has yet to be delivered. Indeed, industrial scale logging activity has increased within the proposed Park boundary. The Koala Chaplaincy project:

  1. Provides pastoral care (the offer of emotional, social and spiritual support through non-judgmental and confidential listening) to people of any belief system who are defending the forests, particularly within the GKNP area,
  2. Supports collaboration between groups who work to defend the forests, and
  3. Advocates for Aboriginal sovereignty within the context of the GKNP.

It is thanks to the persistence and resilience of forest defenders that forests are saved. The Koala Chaplaincy project offers them support through one-on-one listening; attendance at community gatherings, vigils, and even presiding at a “funeral for the forests”; and assistance with connection to professional support services as needed. The project also provides input to wider efforts for a rapid end to the industrial scale destruction of vital forest habitat and ecosystems across NSW.

The Koala Chaplaincy project furthers Jan’s legacy in that is an expression of compassion, love and care for the forests and their inhabitants and for those who defend them.

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