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In Zimbabwe: Empowering Communities to Fight Malaria

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Communities learn what they can do to fight malaria, with support from UMCOR and Imagine No Malaria. Photo credit: Margot Bokanga

By Margot Bokanga*

Against the backdrop of the green hills of Manicaland province, three villages of Ward 22 gathered recently to receive mosquito repellent to protect their loved ones from the current outbreak of malaria in Chimanimani District. This distribution happened during my first field visit to UMCOR’s country office in Zimbabwe. After formal introductions and welcomes by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and UMCOR staff, a prayer was said to bless the day.The prayer is a customary gesture to ask for protection upon the community, only after which the distribution began, headed by community health workers and supported by the Ward 22 Muchadziya Clinic staff.

These communities are currently above the malaria threshold set by the Ministry of Health, which indicates that there is an outbreak of malaria. The communities are aware of the exposure times and risks that malaria poses to their environment, to their ability to earn a living, and to their families’ health. Through conversations, they acknowledged the precautions they are taking. They demonstrated their understanding of how to apply the repellant in order to avoid health concerns, such as eye problems, and to maximize protection against mosquitos. This knowledge check before each distribution is critical as Manicaland is a malaria-burdened province. The anti-malaria lotion, MozLotion, provided by UMCOR is coupled with insecticide-treated bed nets to help families protect themselves both indoors and outdoors.

Mosquito repellant, together with insecticide-treated bed nets, help families ward off malaria. Photo credit: Margot Bokanga

I approached a young mother carrying a boy no older than five and asked if she was present during the UMCOR distribution last September, prior to the most recent outbreak. She said she was and that she had been using the MozLotion, which lasts a family of five about three months. “We diligently used the lotion, and no one in our household has fallen ill by malaria since September,” she said in the Shona language.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of dedicated community members, more than 100, who were present, some of them arriving at the very last minutes of the distribution to pick up the repellent for neighbors, friends, and the elderly. UMCOR Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani team had successfully mobilized the communities, relying on schools, clinics, and ward leaders to get the word out about the time and location of the distribution.

Since 2011, UMCOR Zimbabwe has worked in close partnership with local and community stakeholders to design programs that complement those of the Zimbabwe National Malaria Control Program. The aim is to eradicate the disease here by 2015. Through the training of community health workers, doctors, and nurses in district clinics, distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and repellent such as MozLotion, UMCOR is targeting communities burdened by malaria.

Margot Bokanga poses with a little child during a recent Zimbabwe field visit. Photo credit: James Rollins

This is where, in my humble observation, lies a key element of UMCOR’s malaria strategy in Chimanimani: share knowledge with the communities and support them through social marketing, which allows them to purchase mosquito repellant at low cost.

On this particular day, the community showed up in large numbers for the general distribution funded by Imagine No Malaria. As the rainy season will continue until the end of April, UMCOR, too, will continue to be present for these communities and to offer support to the clinics in the district.

*Margot Bokanga is UMCOR program manager covering Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan.

New Hope and Life

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan receive food packages from the United Methodist Committee on Relief during a distribution in Tacloban, Philippines. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

By Rev. J. Denise Honeycutt
Deputy General Secretary, United Methodist Committe on Relief (UMCOR)

As an international humanitarian relief and development agency, “UMCOR works to strengthen and transform people and communities.” I love our vision statement. And the way we do it is by being with people in the midst of their suffering, in the midst of their crisis, in the midst of their finding themselves on the margins, for whatever reason. We seek to walk alongside those persons, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, because we know that what Jesus often did was to bring healing and hope. What we see in the very symbol of what it means to be Christian—the symbol of the cross—is that out of death and destruction, God brings life and new hope. And that’s what we seek—to partner with God in that new hope and life for people.

A Blessing for the People of Chile

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A view of a waterfall in Chile. Photo: Linda Unger
When the ground shakes and the seas crash around you,

May you find firm footing in God’s strong love;

When the world wiggles and wobbles around you,

May you regain your balance through your care for others;

When the rumble and crash of disaster echoes in your ears,
May you listen and hear the still small voice of God.

When you start to rebuild your life,

May you know the presence of God,

In ways that are surprising, new, and real.

And, through the present and tangible love of others,

May you never forget that

Absolutely nothing,

Can separate you from

The love of God.

Rev. Jack Amick, Assistant General Secretary, International Disaster Response,
United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)

Faith, health, and peace

Friday, March 28, 2014
Shannon Trilli of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (front) visits with UMCOR volunteers in Kamina, Democratic Republic of the Congo. A UMNS photo by Lynne Dobson.

By Shannon Trilli*

I am honored and energized to be participating this weekend in the annual Lake Junaluska Peace Conference, an interreligious gathering at the retreat center in North Carolina. Since the peace conference was founded in 2008, it has been a place for dialogue, reflection, and sharing. This year, the theme is “Faith, Health, and Peace: Seeking the Basic Right to Good Health for All God’s Children.”

For United Methodists, and for me as director of UMCOR’s Global Health program, the conference is a great opportunity to discuss with others the basic human right to health for all. For UMCOR, that means abundant health for all. Our Global Health work takes place all along the continuum from disaster relief to recovery and development. So when we address health needs at any point on that continuum, we want to accompany communities so that they not only survive but, ultimately, thrive.

I’m excited to learn from the impressive international panel of experts speaking at the event, including Dr. Christoph Benn of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and Joshua Dubois, former White House spiritual advisor to President Obama. I’m happy to have the opportunity to lead a workshop and share UMCOR’s global health vision and talk about the role of the church and other faith communities at that intersection of faith, health, and peace.

Health and wholeness and the human body and spirit are interconnected. When natural or political disasters or chronic lack of access to food or clean water or nutrition impede communities from maximizing their health and wholeness, UMCOR works with them to identify solutions that promote stability, a thriving life, and peace. We help communities find their own solutions and tools.

As a faith-based organization, UMCOR is cognizant of the unique role the church and other faith communities play in promoting good health and peace. In the wake of disaster or turmoil, it is often the church—which was present before the disaster and remains present throughout and afterward—that can wrap the community in a unifying social fabric. And church networks not only facilitate UMCOR’s relief and development assistance but help communities sustain change that can make their lives more stable and fruitful.

Educated church pastors and congregational leaders can go a long way to break down stigma and inequality in their communities, especially the kind of inequality between men and women that is prejudicial to a woman’s health—and, in the process, denies God’s blessing all people. Pastors are thought leaders in their communities who can inspire practices that promote respectful and healthy relationships and help to ensure safe motherhood for more women. Faith-filled congregations can reach out and host hard conversations on the attitudes and outlooks that put the health of already vulnerable women and children more at risk and place obstacles like stones in the way of stability and peace.

I look forward to sharing with and learning from the presenters and participants at the 2014 Lake Junaluska Peace Conference, which runs through Sunday morning, March 30. Look for my tweets at: @ShannonUMCOR.

*Shannon Trilli is director of UMCOR Global Health.

Sacrament of Faith-filled Giving

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
The Rev. Jack Amick (center) and Ciony Ayo-Eduarte (left) join volunteers to load a truck at the offices of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in Manila with relief supplies for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Photo: A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

By Rev. Jack Amick
UMCOR Assistant General Secretary, International Disaster Response

Somebody said to me once, “Whenever I hear about a disaster, I know that UMCOR is there; somehow, some way UMCOR is there or UMCOR is going to do something.” That’s a pretty big responsibility to bear. But it’s one that makes me very proud, and I’m honored and privileged to share in this work in this way. It’s a burden and a privilege at the same time.

United Methodists can be proud of the history we have with UMCOR, getting involved to help those who are suffering in times of natural or civil disaster, whatever their beliefs. When we engage in this ministry, we are, as John Wesley said, “Shedding the light of Christ abroad.”

Every grant we make in response to a disaster somewhere in the world is a reflection of UMCOR. Every grant is a gift from people not just in the United States but around the world. It’s a gift from United Methodists—and more than a gift. It’s a sacrament—an outward sign of an inward, spiritual gift—because it’s saying, “We want to be with you; we want to be present as Christ is present to us. We can’t, and so we’re going to do that through UMCOR and through UMCOR’s relationships.”

I look at financial giving to UMCOR as a sacramental act that churches make. We, as the International Disaster Response unit, have a profound trust and stewardship role to see that those funds are used for their intended purpose; to see that they’re used in accordance with international standards; and to see that every grant made everywhere in the world is a grant that works with the poor, ministers with them (not to them or at them), and respects their human rights.

Thank you for giving to One Great Hour of Sharing. This special offering the fourth Sunday in Lent (March 30 this year) covers UMCOR’s costs of doing business and allows United Methodists, through UMCOR, to be present to disaster survivors and to struggling communities endeavoring to build a better life. When you make a gift to One Great Hour of Sharing at this time or any time throughout the year, you make it possible for 100 percent of every other gift made to a specific project to be used solely for that project.

Disaster Recovery: Promise of Abundant Life

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Deputy General Secretary Denise Honeycutt, UMCOR, speaks with Bishop Francisco during a visit to Typhoon-impacted Philippines in January. Photo: Ciony Eduarte

By Rev. J. Denise Honeycutt
Deputy General Secretary of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)

It’s absolutely important to respond as soon as possible to a disaster, to be present with the people. In some ways, that’s the easy part. We see the news, it stirs our hearts, and we want to make a difference, and I believe God creates in us that impulse toward kindness and compassion. But we know recovery isn’t done in one moment; it’s a long journey.

In the Philippines, for example, after Typhoon Haiyan last November, UMCOR identified the building of permanent housing as a focus of our long-term recovery work—the typhoon damaged or destroyed more than a million houses. We’ve also provided locally purchased emergency food relief and simple water filtration systems, and are beginning to provide psychosocial care to survivors.

I visited the Philippines in January and was invited into several storm-damaged homes that UMCOR had provided with water filtration systems. One woman kept drinking glasses and glasses of water to show me the water was good to drink. And she was so happy, first of all, because her children weren’t going to get sick. But she also was happy because the money her family had been spending on bottled water could now be spent to start to rebuild their home and put their life back in place.

A GlobalMedic Rapid Response Team representative shares how the water filtration systems works to UMCOR's Deputy General Secretary Denise Honeycutt and International Disaster Response executive Jack Amick in the Philippines.  Photo: Ciony Eduarte

I’m grateful for your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing. They make UMCOR’s immediate and long-term presence with disaster survivors possible. You can—and you are—making a difference, when you give to UMCOR. Thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing, 100 percent of every dollar given to our disaster response programs supports relief and recovery efforts and helps people reclaim the abundant life God intends for them.

In the Philippines, I walked with our in-country disaster response director, Ciony Ayo-Eduarte, and our International Disaster Response assistant general secretary, Rev. Jack Amick, through some of the communities where UMCOR had provided emergency food relief right after Typhoon Haiyan. And many of the residents recognized either Ciony or Jack, or they recognized the cross and flame imprinted on our truck, and they would stop us and say, “You’re UMCOR! You came to us when we most needed you!” UMCOR was there because of you; it was you the people recognized. Thank you, thank you.

UMCOR’s Return to Leyte

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Rev. David Cosmiano is a United Methodist district superintendent for Eastern Visayas, a region heavily impacted by Typhoon Haiyan last November. Photo: Jerome Mercado

By David D. Cosmiano
District Superintendent, United Methodist Church
Eastern Visayas District, Philippines

On December 5-6, 2013, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) returned to Leyte Province in the Philippines to distribute relief goods among survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, or Haiyan, as the storm is known outside of our country. UMCOR is an agency of the global United Methodist Church and is in charge of relief operations whenever there is a natural or a human-caused calamity.

Super Typhoon Yolanda hit Eastern, Central, and Western Visayas on November 8, 2013. It devastated the entire region. Thousands of lives were lost, and livelihoods were washed away. UMCOR staff and volunteers first came with a relief convoy to the region about a week after the storm.

When they came again in early December, they distributed relief goods in several communities, including where we have local United Methodist churches. UMCOR’s emergency food packages were distributed to many survivors in the communities who were in need. I accompanied the UMCOR staff and volunteers on this visit to Ormoc City, Isabel, and Tacloban City.

The families served by UMCOR on this relief trip expressed gratitude that our United Methodist Church remembered them in times of calamity. We saw an inspiring banner in Ormoc City that read: “Homeless, Roofless, But NOT HOPELESS!”

When I visited Methodist households just before Christmas, I also stopped in to see some of the neighbors who do not belong to the church and who had received UMCOR food packets.  Many of them had saved the bright yellow UMCOR bags that had contained rice, beans, and other food items. 

I was so surprised to see the bags hanging on walls in the homes. When I asked the families why they displayed the bags they said, “It reminds us that UMCOR gave us something different, something more than we would normally get.”  UMCOR fills the emergency food packages according to international humanitarian standards.

Some of the people also took pictures of the contents of the bags and kept the picture to help them remember. That made me happy, because our church, through UMCOR, responded to the survivors. “You are a church that remembers,” they said.

I personally, and on behalf of The United Methodist Church in the Eastern Visayas District, thank UMCOR. Indeed, UMCOR gave us their time and concern, for we too are survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda.