Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Gully Sucker

Sam Dixon, deputy general secretary for UMCOR and Bharat Pathak, head of mission for UMCOR Sri Lanka stand before one of two "Gully Suckers" donated by UMCOR to the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services

Visiting the UMCOR NGO field office in Sri Lanka in late July, it was inspiring to experience the work of this amazing team of national and ex-patriot staff. The office was opened following the tsunami and has grown into one of UMCOR’s largest as it has engaged in rebuilding homes and restoring livelihoods for thousands of survivors who lost homes, family members and the means to make a living. As this work comes to a close, the need and likelihood for UMCOR to remain in the country continues. The end of the recent war with the Tamil LTTE forces challenges the government with the need to rebuild destroyed and damaged infrastructure, help internally displace people return to their communities and manage the refugee camps that are now housing almost 300,000 people.

One such camp is located at Menik Farms where 230,000 people are now living. One of the big challenges facing a suddenly formed “city” of such tremendous size is sanitation. Keeping latrines cleaned out and in service is a daily challenge. Recently UMCOR donated two large capacity Gully Suckers to the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, Rishad Bathiudeen for use at Menik Farms. The Gully Sucker, as it is called locally, is a familiar sight to many of us who have lived in rural areas where septic tanks are the norm. It is an interesting name and I expect many of you will remember your own favorite name for such a vehicle. Without it, in a refugee camp, cholera and other related diseases would soon likely become a mammoth challenge.

Clean water and adequate sanitation are important keys to good health. These daily necessities are at the top of the agenda for places where UMCOR is at work all around the world.

By Sam Dixon, Deputy General Secretary for UMCOR

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How a Home Helps

A woman and her grandchild stand on the porch of their newly-built UMCOR house.

Today as I sit behind my desk in the UMCOR home office in New York City, I find it hard to believe that just last week I was traveling through the lush but often troubled country side of Sri Lanka. A nation ravaged by a decades-long civil war and by the 2004 tsunami, Sri Lanka is taking fragile steps to peace and stability.

As we drive down dusty roads and cross waterways by ferry I am amazed at the beauty and resources of this island nation. UMCOR began working there in 2005 to help tsunami survivors recover and then we extended our scope to help people affected by the war, too. I spoke to people now living in permanent houses built by UMCOR and the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka who had been displaced by the war ten or more times in the last 15 years. They are so grateful for peace and for a permanent place to call home.

In many cases the home they now have is one they never would have dared to dream for. Shabbdhin, a man who lost his family’s home to war, tells me how the UMCOR house helped them. Before they lived in a thatched home and the maintenance of the thatch walls and roof actually cost him more than to maintain a house. The thatch home actually kept them in poverty because it prevented this shopkeeper’s family from being able to save enough to build a permanent house.

"We are very happy to be here," Shabbdhin says. "My children have stability and a study place." They’ve used their savings to purchase household goods, send their children to school and even purchase a TV which gives them a link to the outside world.

I never cease to be amazed at the simple things that keep people in poverty and the simple solutions that can help them to move beyond it.

By Michelle Scott, Executive Secretary for UMCOR Communications

Friday, July 17, 2009

UMCOR Supplies and Volunteers Give Hope to Migrants

Nogales, Mexico—The temperature was nearing 105 degrees, as we crossed on foot along the the Arizona-Mexico border in Nogales. We were a group of 5 including Max Cisneros, of Desert Ministries, friend Alvaro, volunteer Harry Smith, Natalie Sue Brown, intern for Global Ministries and myself. Harry pulled a cart of supplies as we trudged up the hill to El Comedor, a place of respite for immigrants who may have walked for miles in the desert several days prior. The smell of beans and tortillas was in the air.

We milled about the center and listened to migrants. We washed blistered feet and applied Neosporin and gauze to help heal the open wounds. The supplies, sent by UMCOR to Max Cisnerso of Desert Ministries were essential to a healthy recovery. UMCOR has been a supplier of ointment, gauze, and other dressing supplies for over three years as this ministry now spans over 20 points along the Texas, New Mexico and Arizona border.

Patricia Magyar, Executive Secretary for UMCOR Health

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cheers for Pencils!

While most of my friends and family were enjoying hotdogs and fireworks this 4th of July, I was helping to pass out school kits to over 400 children in the rural Mutumbami area of eastern Zimbabwe. I had already been in the country about a week to follow up on a variety of UMCOR relief activities, and finally had the opportunity to accompany a pastor from the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe to distribute the UMCOR school kits to children who lacked these necessary supplies. Driving several hours outside of Mutare along dirt roads, passing a few baboons and countless small villages along the way, we bumped along in a pickup truck carry dozens of boxes of the highly-prized commodity.

Currently recovering from one of the worst economic crises in history, Zimbabwe’s inflation had spiraled out of control, and resources had become scarce and expensive, particularly for those in more remote areas. This left many of the most vulnerable communities without access to basic necessities such as food or clean water, much less the “luxury” of such items as paper or a ruler. Often seen as a privilege, access to education and educational materials is highly valued and much appreciated by all, providing a foundation of hope for the future.

When we finally arrived to find several communities assembled in anticipation of the exciting distribution event, my Zimbabwean counterpart began to describe the contents of the kit to the crowd: notebooks (smiles, clapping), scissors (smiles, clapping), an eraser, a ruler, crayons (more smiles and clapping), pencils (LOUD CHEERS!!!!!!!), and a pencil sharpener (back to smiles and clapping). Never have I seen such excitement about 6 pencils!! In that moment, I suddenly and humbly realized that something most Americans consider so commonplace was valued so highly in this place… it actually brought tears to my eyes to know that I am part of an organization that is responsible for bringing so much joy and optimism into people’s lives.

While part of me may have missed eating hotdogs or seeing fireworks, I can’t say I was sorry to be away from home… because I got to spend America’s birthday by giving the gift of hope.

By Melissa Crutchfield, Assistant General Secretary for International Disaster Response, UMCOR