Thursday, July 30, 2015

Aliza Stands Up for Her Education

Aliza Aluat, 19, is a proud participant in UMCOR’s Girls’ Education in South Sudan program.
Photo: UMCOR South Sudan

Two years ago, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) initiated its Girls’ Education in South Sudan program in collaboration with the Government of South Sudan and the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom. You can read about it here. The program, which uses mentoring sessions and other tools, to encourage girls to stay in school, has made strides. They include spurring the courage a young woman named Aliza Aluat, who, despite her fears, convinced her father to allow her to continue her education. Here, Aliza tells her story:

I am by name Aliza Aluat. I am 19 years old and in class 8 at Maper East Primary School here in Aweil town. I felt lucky during a mentoring session this month because it was conducted by a female staff member of UMCOR. She told me that with education I could compete with men and they would respect me, because I can do anything they can do.

Before I attended the mentoring sessions, I would shy away from expressing myself. Even in class, I did not have the courage to challenge my fellow male students. I had this belief that as a woman I am not supposed to compete with men as we are not equals. During the mentoring sessions I gained courage to face my fears; I got the freedom to share my troubles with the mentors and my fellow girls. We realized that sharing our difficulties brings us together and enables us to find solutions amongst ourselves. 
Two months ago my father told me someone had asked for my hand in marriage. I was shocked, troubled, and scared. I went to the house and cried and cried. I tried to talk to my mother. I asked her to help me talk to my father [and convince him] to allow me to complete school, but she was scared. In our culture, as women we are not allowed to defy or question our fathers.

I don’t know where I gathered the courage—but maybe it is because of the mentoring sessions. I asked to talk to my father and he agreed. I told my father I did not want to defy him; I wanted him to just listen to me and then make a decision. I told him that I did not have a problem with getting married, but that I felt it was not the right time for me. He told me that I was old enough and reminded me that my mother was much younger when he married her. I told him I wanted to finish school first and explained to him that if he allowed me to finish school, he would get more cows for my hand in marriage because I will be more knowledgeable and rich men will be interested in marrying me. He said that was a good thought, but he did not have the money to pay for my education. I told him that should not bother him as my education was being paid for by the government through the GESS project and that I received money to buy books and my uniform.

He looked at me and asked me where I got the courage to talk to him. I just laughed and told him that we are taught so many things in school nowadays. I don’t know if he pretended to be okay with my idea or if he [really understood]; all I know is that for now I am not getting married. My mother did not believe how I made my father change his mind.


*This blog is based on an interview by UMCOR South Sudan staff with Aliza Aluat, a participant in UMCOR’s Girls’ Education in South Sudan program in Aweil, South Sudan. Read more about UMCOR’s work in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In Italy, A Migrant’s Story

Waving her UMCOR food vouchers, Mariama praises God: “He will surely provide for me,” she told Graziella of Pellegrino della Terra. Photo: Pelegrino della Terra

By Pellegrino della Terra*

The rough journey of so many migrants to Italy is hard to describe. Earlier this month one survivor, Mariama, a migrant from Nigeria, spoke to Pellegrino della Terra about her ordeal.

The ship Mariama voyaged in was destroyed at sea during a storm; she and her two small children were among the survivors. She described the shipwreck as “God’s intervention to save lives.” Mariama said the storm had felt like an epic battle between God and the devil.

“I saw how the sea can engulf many people at a time whenever there is storm,” she said. “People were shouting and calling on the name of God.”

Mariama explained, “I was travelling with my two children. They were crying because they hadn’t eaten for two days. I gave them only water to drink; the sea took all our belongings.I lost everything except these children that the Lord gave me,” said Mariama.

“We faced a lot of difficulties passing through the desert, but the Lord was with us,” she continued. “That was the only hope that kept me alive through the storm: The Lord would bring me out of this storm and save my children. And really he is faithful!”

Mariama told us this story as confirmation of her faith that the living God never abandons us in the midst of danger. And she continues to rely on her faith, as her present situation in Italy is full of challenges. The reception center where she lives cannot provide adequately for her and the children as available resources are tight. There are thousands of migrants in this region, and unemployment is high here, so there is little to share.

Mariama visited our office earlier this month and told us she has not even been able to buy milk and pampers for the children. She is a single parent, and we really understood her situation and how she struggles to make ends meet.

When we told her about the Temidire project, which is sponsored by UMCOR [United Methodist Committee on Relief] to assist recent migrants in Italy, her face lit up. As she received the UMCOR food vouchers Mariama started singing: “He is my provider; He is my sustainer; He will surely provide for me.”

Surely, UMCOR has changed the situation of many people, and they are giving a living testimony.



* Pellegrino della Terra is a Sicilian voluntary organization that is partnering with UMCOR to provide food relief for recently arrived migrants in Sicily, Italy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Youths Support Flood Recovery in Rocky Mountain Conference

In mid-June, Mike Moore, flood recovery director for the United Methodist Rocky Mountain Annual Conference, reported on the excellent volunteer work accomplished in Colorado by the youth group from First United Methodist Church of Lawrence, Kansas. The group split up and worked on various projects, he said:
One group worked on a home out in Kersey which had been hit hard by the flood. The group tore out damaged fencing and put in new fencing. They painted, cleaned up debris and weeds. The other half of the group worked out at a ranch, painting the bunk house and cleaning debris. They also cleaned a garage and shop for homeowners who live in the same neighborhood. The homeowners they worked for were amazed at the amount of work they accomplished. 
On Thursday, Deb got word that the homeowners from Kersey were evacuating due to impending flooding. Melinda was looking for volunteers to help them move everything from their house, which had just been restored this spring. Deb passed the information onto the Lawrence, Kansas, group. It was late afternoon by the time we got the information to them and I didn’t expect them to be able to provide much help as they had been working all day on other projects. BUT, when these kids learned that this client needed help, they told their youth leader that they needed to go help “save “Flip and Michelle.” This group of teens went and worked until 8:00 p.m., loading household items and moving them out of the home. They helped round up the goats so they could be taken to safety. They passed up their evening showers and dinner to go out to the farm, which was swarming with mosquitoes (due to all the flood waters nearby), and work in the wet and mud to help the family move out.
Tami Clark, the youth leader, said they had been on many mission trips before, to Katrina and Sandy and others. This was the first time that they had ever had homeowners work along beside them and as hard as they worked. The appreciation and caring they received from the three homeowners they worked with was amazing to them and made the week very meaningful.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

In Liberia, helping vulnerable people fight Ebola

By Nyamah Dunbar*
Tienii is a small community (pop. about 4,100) in Liberia, a short walk from Bo Waterside, at the border with neighboring Sierra Leone. The average family size, due to polygamy, ranges between 16 and 25 persons. The vast majority of residents, about 95 percent, are Muslims.Tienii was selected within the fourth Liberian county to benefit from the Ebola Response project of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), targeting the elderly and persons living with disabilities in Liberia.

Clarence D. Fahnbulleh, 68, retired district commissioner, is a lifelong resident of Tienii. He shared the horror of what the onset of Ebola meant for his tiny community, but also praised the quick responses and efforts of residents to confront the virus. “A stranger came to visit a family in early March 2014. He complained of being sick. As the news of Ebola was already on the rise, we quarantined him in the empty school house. He died two days later, and soon, so did the eight individuals in the household he visited,” recalls Mr. Fahnbulleh. The community, already on high alert due to its proximity to the border and the easy flow of people across it, increased its vigilance.

Villagers pick up supplies during the height of the Ebola pandemic, now in steep decline.
Photo: Rev. Jerry Kandea

The response by the community and nongovernmental development agencies was rapid. People were equipped with the necessary health messaging and provided with basic sanitation skills and supplies. However, a key component remained lacking.

“When someone is hungry, they can’t really listen [to a health message],” said Mr. Fahbulleh. “People had stopped going to their farms because gatherings were prohibited due to the onset of Ebola.” Because this is a predominantly farming community, it significantly impacted hunger in the area. Although an earlier food ration had been delivered to certain individuals in the village at the onset of the crisis, nearly half the village did not benefit.

Mr. Fahnbulleh and other residents shared that UMCOR was the first and only agency to focus on groups that frequently are overlooked: the elderly and persons living with disabilities. Musu Gaya, 89, recalls that, “The day the UMCOR food ration arrived, I had no food left in my house, and there are eight persons that must be fed. UMCOR is the only group that has ever given me my own bag of rice and food supplies, and I want to thank them.”

The Ebola response to the elderly and persons living with disabilities was an initiative of the Ministries to the Aged and the Hope for the Deaf at the Liberia Annual Conference. Rev. Anna Kpaan, who heads the work with the elderly, noted, “We may not realize it, but this distribution, in a predominantly Muslim area, is the strongest testament of Christ’s love and the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

Residents received a 50 pound bag of rice, fish, beans and seasoning supplies, along with soap and bleach for their sanitation kits. Manbu Freeman, 80, who usually relies on his adult children in Monrovia, the capital, for his sustenance, applauded the distribution efforts. “I urge UMCOR and the church to continue to keep the disabled community at heart—particularly the elderly who suffer from disability issues,” he said.

Kula Sherif, 85, who also shared his rations with his household of 13 persons, praised the distribution process for its fairness. “At times, during other distributions, people register, but do not receive, or people receive rations by paying bribes to the distributors, or because they are family or friends. But with this distribution, all of us who were registered received the promised allotment of rations,” he said.

As the Ebola crisis in Liberia continues to diminish, the people of Tienii are proud that they were able to contain the virus from spreading beyond the initial contact family. They remain vigilant that their personal efforts, combined with those of partners such as UMCOR and The United Methodist Church, will reinforce their ability to overcome any challenge.


*Nyamah Dunbar is a consultant supporting UMCOR’s work to confront Ebola in Liberia.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why the Church is Visible in the Midst of Cholera

By Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau*

There has been an urgent response and action taken in Bukama Health Zone in Katanga province, Democratic Republic of Congo, since cholera was reported in the region in February 2014. The church has supported the government’s effort to create a space for cholera treatment in Bukama, which is located along the Congo River. The church, through UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), decided to be present at the local level to heal and save lives. It responded by being visible. To be effective in healthcare, it rehabilitated the cholera treatment center that will accommodate not only Bukama residents but also those who come to Bukama from surrounding villages to work at their small businesses.

 Odette Malondo, former nurse and midwife, recalls the dire situation of cholera patients before the Cholera Treatment Center was rehabilitated. Photo credit: Betty Kazadi Musau

Ready to light the household fire and prepare lunch, Odette Malondo looked at the people coming towards her. Her house is located close to the Cholera Treatment Center. Odette works at the central office as a cleaner, but for 35 years, she was a midwife and nurse at Bukama General Hospital.
 
“I can say that the new Cholera Treatment Center is really a space of grace,” she says. Last year, before it was rehabilitated, she recalls, “patients were sleeping on the ground in tents when getting cholera treatment, but now this center is a safe space not only for patients but also for me. Cholera outbreak does not choose patients—even I can fall sick,” she says.

Malondo remembers how the tents were resistant to damage for an entire year, but later gave in during the rainy season, when they oozed water with the slightest breeze. “They got torn as we continued to admit cholera patients. Within those tents, I could see children and women dying in front of me. [The new center] is an opportunity for patients to be valued and get well quickly,” she says. “This center with beds, curtains, mattresses and buckets will help not only cholera patients but also me as a former midwife and a cleaner now at the administrative office. The CTC structure now holds the beauty of the hospital.”

It is a well-designed structure for urgent response for patients as they will sleep on beds, within a permanent building with doors, beds and bed sheets, a functioning water system, an incinerator and functioning and clean latrines. The building’s rooms are assigned according to gender and age.

Malondo comments, “We are happy to see beds and the bed sheets that cover them. I can picture cholera patients in this clean place with curtains, with nurses and medical doctors, and I am sure that all this will reduce cholera deaths.”

Dr. Ngoie Manyamba comments that Bukama has never had a space so well-equipped for cholera treatment over the past ten years. “The space is quite assuring, even to patients, and facilitates healing,” he says. “We were abandoned, and no one thought of rehabilitating an old building to provide a suitable space to treat cholera cases, and people were simply treated in tents on the grounds of Bukama General Hospital. Now, medical staff in Bukama can speak up and thank the church that, through UMCOR, is saving lives in Bukama.”

“This equipped center is an unforgettable legacy. May God bless the donors,” Malondo says. “Within this center, you see healing on the way, and lives will be saved.”

#BeUMCOR 
This year UMCOR celebrates 75 years of being with those in need. UMCOR’s country office in DRC was instrumental in the rehabilitation of the Cholera Treatment Center, having coordinated and managed funds, procured and transported building materials, and hired the company that did the rehabilitation work, in partnership with Bukama General Hospital.

Katanga is currently experiencing a new cholera outbreak since the start of the new year, affecting 16 of 68 health zones in the province. UMCOR’s International Disaster Response unit, Advance #982450, has provided funds to help meet the challenge.

Your gift to Congo (DRC) Development Projects, Advance #198400, will support UMCOR’s ongoing work with the Congolese people.

*Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau chairs the North Katanga Health Board of the North Katanga Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ripple Effect of UMCOR Support

By Mary Zigbuo*

After 27 hours of travel (and three breakdowns!!) from Liberia’s capital into its dense southeastern forest region, we finally arrived in the town of Zwedru. I am privileged to be part of the United Methodist Church of Liberia’s team leading an UMCOR-sponsored response to address Ebola awareness and food scarcity in three vulnerable communities in Liberia’s southeastern region. A targeted training-of-trainers will allow more than 25,000 people in three counties to receive Ebola awareness and sensitization training.

The southeast is Liberia’s most challenging region to access due to poor and/or non-existent road infrastructure. Eighty percent of its inhabitants survive off subsistence farming, earning less than $800 annually. The region experiences the highest rate of poverty and the lowest rate of access to health facilities, employment opportunities, education and commerce. It escaped the brunt of the Ebola disease largely because of its isolated situation; thus, its vulnerability lies in the potential for an outbreak. Though the prevalence of Ebola is decreasing, it still lingers as a threat; especially for those communities that received limited or no awareness.

Restricted movement within the country has compromised subsistence farmers’ ability to plant their gardens; there is no harvest to reap! Nine hundred beneficiaries, comprising vulnerable elderly, persons with disabilities, pregnant women and single mothers, will receive a one-month food package comprising: eight pounds of beans, 25 kg of rice, 25 pieces of dried fish, 1.5 liters of vegetable oil, salt and 60 bouillon cubes.

Marpu explained that the profit from her sudden sale of fifty 1.5 liter vegetable-oil bottles enabled her pay registration fees so her children can enroll in school. Photo: Courtesy of Mary Zigbuo

For the past six months, Ebola has precariously slowed down an already fragile, postwar economy. Purchasing the food items locally boosts the local economy and brings smiles to the faces and hope to the hearts of dozens of market women such as Marpu, whose family income is totally dependent upon her sales! Marpu explained that the profit from her sudden sale of fifty 1.5 liter vegetable-oil bottles enabled her pay registration fees so her children can enroll in school. A few weeks ago, the government announced the re-opening of schools in February after a six month closure due to the Ebola disease. Though happy and excited by the announcement, children and parents also worry about raising funds to pay school registration and tuition fees. Marpu said, “a little profit can go a long way for us, our ma” (our ma is a local term of endearment).

Thank you God for your blessings for the work you are doing in the lives of your people. Only your grace can turn victims into victors!

*Mary Zigbuo is a Global Ministries missionary assigned to Liberia’s Ebola response effort. You can support her by giving to Advance #10721Z. You can also support UMCOR’s international disaster relief efforts by giving to Advance #982450

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Recovery to Preparedness in North Alabama

Nineteen above-ground storm shelters already have been constructed.
Photos courtesy of Lori Feist, North Alabama Conference.

From April 25 to 28, 2011, the U.S. South, Midwest and Northeast experienced one of the severest tornado outbreaks ever recorded. The National Weather Service confirmed a total of 355 tornadoes across 21 states in that time period. Alabama, along with Mississippi, was hardest hit. Lori Feist, disaster recovery volunteer coordinator for the North Alabama Conference, reports on the completed recovery process and next steps.

The recovery effort from the April 2011 tornadoes is complete. We were blessed to receive $2.15 million in grants from UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). That money was used to help fund 191 repairs, 70 rebuilds, and the purchase of 16 mobile homes. More than 274 families were touched during this effort. Many more families were helped by the more than 240 volunteer teams that came in from across the country, serving as the hands and feet of Christ.

As we approached the end of this project, we realized there would be funds remaining. Greg Forrester, assistant general secretary for U.S. Disaster Response for UMCOR, encouraged us to apply for an additional grant to be combined with the remaining funds to start a "Storm Survivor Resiliency Project." We now have enough funds to provide at least 70 storm shelters to families who were affected by the 2011 storms. We are working with "Survive-A-Storm Shelters" from Thomasville, Georgia, to install these above-ground shelters.

Included here are a few photos of some of the first 19 shelters that were installed in the Central and Southwest districts. We placed three in Alberta, one in Cottondale and one in Fosters. Three more were installed in Lamar County and one in Pickens County. Ten have been installed in Walker County. Installation begins soon on 12 shelters in the Northwest District.



We will continue to post pictures as we work our way through the Conference. Please keep all those involved in this work in your prayers as we continue this worthwhile project.