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.”

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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Children’s Blessing

Volunteers and staff set up the church’s gym with tables loaded with washcloths, toothbrushes, combs and various other supplies needed for the health kits. Photo: Jo Swayne.

By Jo Swayne*

October 14, 2014—Since January of this year, the children of First United Methodist Church (FUMC) in Hays, Kansas, have been “Feeding the Fish” during offertory. Their donated change was designated to help purchase supplies for health kits for UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). On August 24, all their faithful giving paid off!

Volunteers and staff set up the church’s gym with tables loaded with washcloths, toothbrushes, combs and various other supplies needed for the health kits. Because FUMC has sent members on several mission trips to UMCOR Sager Brown Depot, there were volunteers present who had firsthand knowledge of how to assemble the kits. UMCOR Sager Brown is one of UMCOR’s two relief-supply depots, and one of eight in the United Methodist relief-supply system.

Since January, the children of First United Methodist Church in Hays, Kansas, have been “Feeding the Fish” during offertory. Photo: Jo Swayne. 

In all, 28 children, who range in age from kindergarten through sixth grade, listened to LaVaughn Hull and Ruth Mullen, FUMC members and UMCOR volunteers, as they talked about their mission team’s trips from Hays to Baldwin, Louisiana. They shared that the team traveled more than 1,000 miles to get to UMCOR Sager Brown Depot, showed the kids pictures of the kit-assembly process, and talked about how the kits are packaged and shipped all over the world. 

LaVaughn and Ruth went into detail, explaining how precise the contents of each of the health kits need to be to ensure that the correct number of every item is properly included. Then 15 adult volunteers, half of whom had been to UMCOR Sager Brown Depot, supervised the children as they each made a health kit. After wrapping the towel carefully around all the supplies and putting them into a gallon-size baggie, the kids learned that leaning on the baggie lets out as much air as possible!

In the end, when all the towels were folded and Band-aids counted, we had assembled 60 health kits!

During the worship service, children who had been seated throughout the sanctuary were invited to come forward and place their health kit on the altar for a special blessing.  It was a very moving experience for everyone!

*Jo Swayne is the Children’s Ministry director at First United Methodist Church in Hays, Kansas. You can learn more about how relief-supply kits help provide care for the most vulnerable people during times of crisis by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Prayer for New College Bird Rededication

New College Bird is a 175-year-old Methodist academic institution that was severely damaged during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It has been rebuilt and today, September 9, 2014, it is being rededicated. The Rev. James Gulley, an UMCOR and Global Ministries consultant, offers a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!
Today we remember with thanks those who came to Haiti in your mission and shared the vision of education for a newly liberated people!

When African people were captured, sold and enslaved in Hispaniola for 300 years, you, O Lord, suffered with them.
When your African people rose up and cast off the shackles of their enslavement, you, O Lord, empowered them to cry out: "Enough!"  
When your African people struggled to understand each other, you gave them the Creole language.

When your Haitian people strove for knowledge, you provided the first missionary teachers, Catts and Brown.
When your people needed schools, you sent them Rev. Mark Bird and other teachers to found the first Methodist College.
For more than 175 years, (New) College Bird has been a beacon of light, providing education to thousands.

Withstanding the constant onslaught of seasonal storms,
(New) College Bird has risen twice from the ashes of two destructive fires,
and now rises again from an earthquake which shattered its structures
but did not snuff out the desire for learning.
Once again you have enlivened the spirit, imagination and determination of your Methodist people in Haiti and their partners to rebuild.

As New College Bird is rededicated once again,
may your Spirit of Truth continue to bring light and hope
to students, teachers, administrators and all
who work to bring knowledge, skill and wisdom to those who must build Haiti anew.

As you continue to walk with your people in Haiti, together we proclaim:
“O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!”

James L. Gulley
September 10, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Young Children Raise UMCOR Awareness

Children at The Chapel’s KaBoom Camp raised $1,000 to purchase UMCOR cleaning buckets.

By Anne Bosarge*

This summer, children at The Chapel’s KaBoom Camp Vacation Bible School are exploring Jesus’ love through science and raising awareness about the disaster relief efforts of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) around the globe.

During this four-day adventure, the children focus on how high, deep, long, and wide is Christ’s love for us, while exploring science concepts like explosions, light, wild weather, and chemical transformation. Each night they heard how UMCOR expresses that love to others by responding to national and international disasters as they watched a video that explored UMCOR’s cleanup and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, the Oklahoma tornados, Hurricane Sandy, and the earthquake in Haiti.

So far this summer, the children at the elementary camp have raised $1,000 to purchase cleaning buckets for disaster survivors, and later this month, the preschoolers will have another chance to raise even more! The children were also excited to see five-gallon buckets line the stage as they displayed one bucket for every $55 raised—the cost of filling one bucket with cleanup supplies.

*Anne Bosarge is the Director of Discipleship at The Chapel.

The Chapel is a growing United Methodist Congregation in Brunswick, Georgia. Under the leadership of Jay Hanson, Senior Pastor, The Chapel seeks to provide environments where people can encounter God and fall in love with Jesus. They do this through innovative and creative programs like KaBoom Camp Vacation Bible School. Visit The Chapel’s resource page for more information.  

If you’d like to learn how you can do KaBoom Camp Vacation Bible School at your church, contact anne@thechapelbrunswick.com for curriculum and implementation instructions.