Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dark and Rainy Night

UMCOR Staff Ciony Eduarte and volunteers prepare to distribute blankets and mats.  

Cold winds of December nights give us chills and excitement on the coming Christmas day. But on the 22 night of December while UMCOR staff responds to the disaster brought about by Sendong (Washi), a different kind of ‘chill’ melted our hearts. While the rain was pouring in the middle of the night, survivors take their shelter in makeshift tents, under bridges and overpasses and park shelters. The streets of Cagayan De Oro are filled with survivors sleeping wherever they can find a little warmth and shelter. Their situation moved us to distribute blankets and mats in the wee hours of that dark and rainy day.

The disaster in southern Mindanao brought us to a deeper reflection on how we can celebrate Christmas in the middle of despair. Contrary to a commercialized and festive celebration, the story of Jesus’ birth shows us death of many children because of the desire of a leader to stay in power and a pregnant Mary without a place to stay in the night and to give birth. Just like the story of the first Christmas, the entire Filipino people and the world are grieving with the high number of deaths in Cagayan De Oro and Iligan City. And, like Mary, survivors will spend their Christmas in the makeshift homes in the streets.

Like the angels announcing hope for humankind, we can give hope to our people in southern Mindanao. Let us continue praying for them and let us do our share to help them in their situation. UMCOR will continue to BE THERE AND BE HOPE.

Ciony Eduarte is the manager of the UMCOR Philippines office in Manilla. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Comes Early to Nigerian Village

In rural Nigeria, mothers await monthly medical attention for their children, many of whom are ill with malaria.
Photo: Nyamah Dunbar/UMCOR

By Nyamah Dunbar

Recently, I spent seven days with the Nigeria Rural Health Program, visiting remote villages in the northeastern region of Nigeria. It was enough to humble me to the challenges and to what it means to deliver services “where the road ends.” The health professionals who provide outreach and clinical services under extremely difficult conditions left me inspired by their sacrifice and recharged to continue working towards the targets set by the Imagine No Malaria Campaign.

The Nigeria Rural Health Program operates under the auspices of The United Methodist Church in Nigeria. It is located in Zing, a small, remote village in a large country that is home to nearly 120 million people. As the most populated nation in Africa, with nearly a third of the continent’s people, most of Africa’s malaria burden and the majority of its deaths occur in this West African country.

Nigeria is enormous in size, and any government would find it challenging to deliver services to these most rural of places that lack even basic roads, drinking water, or electricity. People still live in huts built in the mountains and drink from creeks.

In Zing, which is located in Taraba State, the effects of the Sahara desert and global warming can be felt directly through sweltering days, dust storms, and cool nights. During visits with the health outreach team, I watched mothers forge through a scorching day simply to make the one opportunity they would have in a month to meet with a health-care professional regarding their children’s illnesses.

Most of the women crammed into the village hall were pregnant or had young children. The main illness plaguing their children was malaria, or “high fever,” as they commonly refer to the killer disease.

Dickens, the outreach team’s nurse, expertly vaccinated and evaluated each pregnant woman and counseled the young mothers on the importance of taking children to the health center at the onset of fevers.

But there were other issues of concern to the parents, such as the cost of medication. Many rely on subsistence farming which translates into a loss of productivity if the mother has to travel the day’s journey to the health center. She may also have to sleep over with the sick baby—which again translates into more money that the family already lacks.

One mother explained to me with tears of frustration how she had visited another health center during her pregnancy, only to learn that they were out of medicines and supplies to properly treat her.

The story does end with good news. The Rural Health Program was the first to submit an application to the Imagine No Malaria campaign, which officially launched its call for proposals last October. Now it can obtain funds to purchase critical anti-malaria drugs; expand the overcrowded hospital ward, which houses men, women, and children together; and expand community outreach efforts to not simply screen mothers and babies within the rural villages, but train traditional midwives to serve as a link between the community and the health center.

As the villagers and staff, including the outreach nurse Dickens, heard the news, their faces lit up so brightly that you would have thought Christmas had already arrived three weeks early. Sure, the road ahead will be filled with great challenges as the denomination works to eliminate deaths due to malaria, but if I could have bottled up the sunshine on each of those faces and handed it to you as a Christmas present, I would not have hesitated for an instant. Merry Christmas!! May the journey begin!

Nyamah Dunbar is grants manager for UMCOR’s Malaria Initiative.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Helping Survivors of Tropical Storm Sendong

Photo of damage from Typhoon Sendong captured by an UMCOR volunteer yesterday.  Photo: UMCOR Philippines

A Student Volunteer's Reflection from the Philippines

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I am not from Cagayan de Oro nor do I live near that city, but I still cannot help being affected emotionally by what happened to our sisters and brothers in Cagayan De Oro City and Iligan City. Watching the news really breaks my heart and I am grieving for these people.

It happened during the weekend while everyone was busy preparing for the coming holidays. Students were excited, it being the last day of classes. Parents were probably busy planning what gifts they would buy for their children. Families were busy planning for their Christmas break. Even offices and schools were busy planning for their Christmas parties. No one, not a soul, was prepared for a calamity that would surpass the death toll of Typhoon Ondoy two years ago.

The first image that I saw of the aftermath of the typhoon was when I logged into my Facebook account and a photo of a car on top of a gate caught my attention. Then streams of photos were shown online: of young children, young men, and old people meeting their cruel end because of the unexpected flash flood. A photo of a young father hugging his children until the hour of death really tugged at my heart.

Then came the day when I travelled to Cagayan de Oro, helping survivors of the calamity. My personal experience is nothing compared to the suffering the Kagayanons and people from some parts of Iligan suffered, including the loss of water--even in hotels. I became more aware of the impact of the typhoon when I joined the United Methodist Committee on Relief as a volunteer at Cagayan. Twenty-three barangays [villages] were reportedly affected by the typhoon due to the overflowing Cagayan River putting Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City in a state of disaster. Nine families in Barangay Lambaguhon died because of the overflowing and fusing of two rivers. Indeed, the stories of death are simply terrifying and beyond comprehension, the devastation so shocking, and the grief so deep--especially in a time when we were supposed to have festivities. It is truly ironic.

But just as Noah’s rainbow from the Bible story, we have also seen rainbows after tropical storm Sendong. They come in the form of the immediate response of individuals, companies, advocacy groups, civic organizations, government institutions, churches, and more that have responded in many different ways. Help was not isolated from Mindanao, but came from the entire nation, from people of different walks of life.

How gratifying it is to know that we, as a nation, are ready to help our affected sisters and brothers instantly. Many organizations and offices have even donated their budgets for their Christmas parties to help the survivors, for they believe that the true meaning of Christmas is giving love to our sisters and brethren!

It is my fervent hope that we as Filipinos will continue to stand together and be united in helping each other, especially in times of calamities.

As of this moment, the survivors still need our help. They need water, food, clothing, and shelter. They need our support, so let us continue praying for them and responding to their needs. You can help by donating through UMCOR Philippines: UMCOR Advance #240235.

By Clinton Dy, an UMCOR Volunteer from PCU Soccer Team Varsity at Philippine Christian University.

Earlier this year, volunteers for UMCOR Philippines wade through Typhoon Negat flood waters to deliver relief supplies to affected families. Photo: UMCOR Philippines

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marking World AIDS Day 2011

The following is an excerpt from a talk given by UMCOR head, Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, during a World AIDS Day commemoration at Travis Park United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Texas.

I wound my way around Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston. I found myself in a corner room of the hospital reserved for needy patients. The room was bare, sterile, and cold. In the bed was a withered young man, who appeared so small and frail. It was my friend Steve—alone, dying of AIDS.

We talked for several hours. He gasped for every other breath, but there was so much he wanted to tell. I reached across the bed and took his hand. He pulled back. It startled me. “Are you sure you want to touch me?” he said. “Most people don’t want to even get close to me, much less touch me.”

I didn’t say a word; I just took his hand again as he continued to tell me the stories of his life. It was a sacramental moment for both of us, as we made eye contact, and he smiled…. Steve died a few days later.

Friends, there are millions of Steves in our world. And they need a hand to hold, a heart that cares. If we, the church, are not going to respond, then who will?

For I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you welcomed me; I was naked, and you gave me clothing; I was sick, and you took care of me; I was in prison, and you visited me….

The Center for Disease Control estimates that about 1.2 million people currently live with HIV/AIDS in the US; 240,000 of them do not even know they are infected! Roughly 50,000 people are diagnosed each year in the US.

In 2009, African Americans continued to experience the most severe burden of HIV, accounting for 44 percent of the new HIV diagnoses. According to the CDC, at some point in life, one of 16 black men will be diagnosed with HIV, as will one in 32 black women.

These are startling statistics, friends, and, frankly, overwhelming, but when we put a human face on those numbers, the story becomes even more real. We are compelled to respond with a great sense of urgency.

The numbers on the global stage are equally startling: 34 million people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS; 2.7 million people were infected for the first time last year. Since the beginning of the epidemic, nearly 30 million people have died from AIDS-related causes.

Around 68 percent of all people living with HIV in 2010 resided in sub-Saharan Africa; about 70 percent of all new HIV infections in 2010 were in sub-Saharan Africa.

As of 2009, it was estimated that more than 16.5 million children were orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS. I remember visiting Zimbabwe in 2008 and meeting an alarming number of children raising children because their parents had both died of complications of HIV/AIDS. I remember Patience, whose mother died just days after we interviewed her.

But there is a bit of good news—while not acceptable, last year, 15 percent fewer people were infected for the first time compared to 2001. That is 21 percent fewer than in 1997, the peak of the pandemic; 1.8 million people died from the disease in 2010, down from a peak of 2.2 million in the 2000s.

So there is progress, albeit slow.

Whether in the US or abroad, HIV/AIDS remains an issue that reaches beyond infection and being sick to intersecting with complex issues of poverty, gender equality, prevention, education, and sexuality.

When we are brave enough to call our church to action—to show compassion to persons stigmatized and living with the disease; when we invest our gifts and resources in a real way to stop the spread of this dreaded disease that debilitates families and entire communities and leaves the poor and weak even more vulnerable; when we dispel misunderstanding and when we demand on behalf of the millions of silenced voices that it is no longer acceptable for those with AIDS to die alienated and ashamed—only then do we stand for change and have a chance to destroy HIV/AIDS.

As I have said, there is some positive news and hope, which we lift up to celebrate this day.

The annual number of new HIV infections has steadily declined each year since 1990, primarily due to an increase in [the number of] people receiving anti-retroviral therapy. Significant education and awareness efforts have also positively impacted the efforts to slow the HIV/AIDS infection rate.

Another mark of hope for us as a denomination has been the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has the privilege to take part in the denomination’s effort to combat this disease of poverty.

The Global AIDS Fund has received more than $3.4 million in gifts from around the world. Because of the extravagant generosity of congregations, we have distributed $2.3 million in grants to 213 projects in 36 countries.

Globally, UMGAF-funded programs range from educational seminars for pastors in India, to purchasing diagnostic tests and training AIDS counselors in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The majority of UMGAF funds distributed internationally go to Africa, where the disease burden is the heaviest.

A highlight of the domestic focus included co-sponsorship earlier this year of the first HIV/AIDS summit for African American women held in Columbia, South Carolina, a region with some of the highest HIV/AIDS rates among African Americans in the US.

As much as we are doing—it is not enough. Too many continue to be infected with the disease. Too many do not have access to the life-saving drugs that can provide a more abundant life, even when infected; too many infants are born with AIDS even when prophylaxes to inhibit mother-to-child transmission exist; and as United Methodists, we should be aware that there are some do not see the church as a place for love and care.

For I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you welcomed me; I was naked, and you gave me clothing; I was sick, and you took care of me….

Friday, December 2, 2011

Touching lives in the Philippines

UMCOR staff and volunteers bring food supplies to submerged communities in the Philippines after a series of typhoons struck the country this fall. Credit: UMCOR Philippines


UMCOR. Be There. Be Hope
UMCOR’s mission is to alleviate
Human suffering, whether caused by
war, conflict, or natural disaster, with
hearts and minds open to all people.

As a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, I am well aware of the various problems the country faces. I grew up near the sea, where the waves were my playmates and typhoons just “part of the season.”

As a typhoon gets nearer, the community grows apprehensive. Even with the forecasts and all the warnings, residents have learned to “expect the unexpected.” One typhoon may cause more or less damage than what was foretold, and this is just natural anticipation by Filipino citizens. The Philippines expects around 20 – 25 typhoons per year, besides other calamities such as landslides, floods, and earthquakes—enough disasters to be worried about.

When I first volunteered with UMCOR, I learned basic preparedness and response. When I finally got the chance to join the field work in various communities, I came to realize that typhoons and calamities are not just “part of the season.” Communities are immersed in water, houses are destroyed, properties are damaged, people go hunger and are injured, and the worst: lives are lost. These are the inevitable problems of my country, and being an UMCOR volunteer enabled me to be part of the solution.

Recently, I attended a mission in Isabela, where people were having food shortages after three consecutive typhoons hit their province. One strong typhoon after another was enough to clean their fields of long-awaited crops. Their agricultural products turned into a sea of ruin, where very little could be collected for food. Crops the people planted with their bare hands, under the heat of the sun, where swept away by those three typhoons.

UMCOR learned about this situation through the help of the local churches and prepared to respond to the situation. Goods were packed, and the 10-hours journey by land to Isabela followed. When we reached the people, all our body aches, fatigue, and sleepless nights vanished. Just the sight of our needy sisters and brothers made personal discomforts seem small. The people were given food supplies, which they received with gratitude. On our way back home, we were blanketed with the ultimate joy of sharing.

I think the sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters is the primary thing that keeps UMCOR going. The goods that we pack for distribution are packed in the hope that these will not only ease the hungry stomach but, also, give hope to the recipients. These goods remind them that they are not alone in their situation and that there is a God who commanded His children to love others as themselves. The survivors of calamities may not fully understand why such disasters have happened in their lives, but their smiles tell us they are glad we’ve come in solidarity.

It doesn’t matter how hard it was to reach their places. It doesn’t matter much body ache we have to endure. At the end of the day, our hearts are filled with uncontainable happiness. We may not even know all the names of the people we meet in a day of mission; there’s just the ringing truth that lives have been touched.

By Archelaus Joseph Q. Laudes, a volunteer with UMCOR Philippines.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cry in the Wilderness

Bondo Marceline was among targeted beneficiaries invited by UMCOR-SA&D program staff to participate in upcoming agriculture training. Photo: June H. Kim/UMCOR

“Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I cry to you all day long.” Psalm 86:3
Last month, UMCOR SA&D staff in partnership with Child Action Initiative conducted house-to-house surveys of some of the participants who attended a needs assessment meeting and Moringa introduction in Kasumgami, DRC.

Walking from home to home and meeting with individual families, a silent cry seemed to echo throughout the wilderness-like conditions of Kasungami. Most of the people we met had an average of 11 family members, all living in one, small, locally made clay brick house. Most could only afford to eat one meal a day, and though some farmed, they only grew enough produce to barely sustain them. In some of the homes we visited, most, if not all, were visibly malnourished, and some were very ill. From house to house, the stories did not differ much: Not enough adequate food, little or no income, many mouths to feed, and only one, not-so-nutritious meal a day.

During the UMCOR survey, we learned that before the assessment meeting, many people had not heard of Moringa. The meeting turned out to be an opportunity to emphasize the nutritional benefits of Moringa and its role in reducing malnutrition.

One woman, named Bondo Marceline, ended up in Kasungami after fleeing the war in North Katanga. Bondo has five children between the ages of 1 ½ and 11. She sells cassava leaves to earn an income.  On good days she can earn approximately 2,000 francs ($2.00), which helps pay her rent (more than $8.00 per month). But that income is not always reliable and clearly not sufficient to sustain her family. Looking at Bondo, I saw the years of struggle and pain on her face, which have completely weighed down her countenance. Without a husband to support her, Bondo is left to raise her children on her own.

In some way, UMCOR responded to Bondo’s cry by inspiring hope through agricultural training that will help shape and transform her life in years to come, if she commits herself to it. Testimonies of other beneficiaries were shared with families like Bondo’s, who are now successful farmers and homeowners with improved livelihoods.

Upon our departure from Bondo's home, a smile broke through her years of suffering.

On that same day, UMCOR held an impromptu meeting with the DRC food security program manager from World Vision, at his request, to discuss possible future collaborative efforts. He shared that the model of input and fertilizer distribution World Vision had been using for many years did not result in lasting food security. He said UMCOR-SA&D’s model of investing in people’s knowledge through training rather than inputs was the best approach to sustainable food security. He hopes to work with UMCOR to replicate UMCOR SA&D’s methodology.

World Vision and UMCOR also are talking about UMCOR holding a special training on the use of Moringa for World Vision’s community health workers to help them improve nutrition in the communities where they work.

June Kim, UMCOR executive, stated, “This initial meeting with World Vision affirmed that UMCOR-SA&D’s philosophy of investing in people’s knowledge, using an asset-based, community-development approach, results in community ownership that puts the achievement of a more prosperous future for individuals and families in their own hands. This is the first step to ensuring lasting and sustainable improvements in food security and a reduction in malnutrition.”

Judith Santiago is Media Communications Associate for UMCOR

Thursday, November 17, 2011

UMCOR, UMVIM and the Methodist Church of Haiti Support Habitat for Humanity

President of Haiti Michel Martelly and former US President Jimmy Carter attend the Habitat for Humanity event  in Leogane, Haiti, Nov. 8.  Photo: Bill Borah

Colleagues from the Methodist Church of Haiti (Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti-EMH), United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), and UMCOR Haiti support a Habitat for Humanity build in Leogane, Haiti, on November 8.  President of Haiti Michel Martelly and former US President Jimmy Carter attended the event. EMH, UMVIM, and UMCOR team members are pictured with the beneficiary of the home and Susie Webb of Habitat for Humanity.

Photo: Habitat for Humanity

UMCOR Haiti and Habitat for Humanity Haiti partnered on another project in earthquake-affected areas of Haiti, providing transitional and upgradeable shelters. In September, 3,000 transitional and upgradeable shelters were completed in accordance with international SPHERE standards in Cabaret, Leogane, and Port-au-Prince. This project helped some 15,000 individuals restart their lives after the earthquake.

See more pictures from the event below:

Photo: Elizabeth Petheo/UMCOR Haiti

Photo: Elizabeth Petheo/UMCOR Haiti

Photo: Elizabeth Petheo/UMCOR Haiti

Photo: Elizabeth Petheo/UMCOR Haiti

Photo: Elizabeth Petheo/UMCOR Haiti

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

To whom much is given, much is required.

(L to R) Mozart Adevu, Africa regional coordinator for UMCOR-SA&D program, June H. Kim, UMCOR’s Hunger and Poverty executive, and Isaiah Chot of Child Action Initiative, address more than 100 Kasumgami, DRC community members on the importance of growing food for themselves and the nutritional benefits of Moringa. Photo: J. Santiago/UMCOR

October 19, 2011

Traveling with UMCOR’s Sustainable Agriculture and Development (UMCOR-SA&D) staff and local partner Isaiah Chot of Child Action Initiative, to Kasungami, Democratic Republic of Congo, brought to my mind some of Jesus’ words.

In Luke 12:48, Jesus recites a parable about the Master’s return, saying, “Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.”

UMCOR staff was traveling to Kasungami to assess the needs of the community. (At the end of the assessment, it was determined that UMCOR would begin agricultural trainings there before the end of the year.)

On our drive to Kasungami, we witnessed escalating poverty from one community to another, including makeshift homes, less-than-quality foods at the markets, and visibly malnourished children. I greatly admired UMCOR for fulfilling its part in this scripture to alleviate suffering, empower communities, and provide sustainable solutions to severe malnutrition and hunger. A lot has been entrusted to UMCOR, and this visit was a reminder that many lives may be waiting to be reached with a piece of good news, as it was with Jesus in spreading the good news of the Kingdom. 

My visit to DR Congo reiterated for me the ongoing responsibility we have for knowledge-sharing. This is also the UMCOR-SA&D model, and it is embraced by UMCOR staff and passionately communicated to rural communities throughout Africa: Share what you have learned with others. The responsibility is required from each one of us.

According to a 2009 census, the population of Kasungami is 42,772. Most of the people residing in the eight villages that make up Kasungami are living in extreme poverty, and they have little or no access to adequate food supplies. Families are forced to take on various small, odd jobs to help put food on the table. Education is another luxury that cannot be afforded. School fees run about 7,000 francs (approximately $9 per child, according to Chot).

In addition, while some of the people grow vegetables like corn and beans, soybean powder is purchased from the local market as the key source of protein in their diets. We learned that most of the large families consumed about one meal a day. All cited bukari, a popular dish made of corn meal, as their main meal of the day.  Unfortunately, bukari is not enough to sustain them nutritionally.

During the assessment and introduction to Moringa, a plant that provides a nutritional supplement and a special component of UMCOR-SA&D’s work, Mozart Adevu, UMCOR-SA&D’ Africa regional coordinator, and June H. Kim, executive for UMCOR’s World Hunger and Poverty unit, charged the community to take action and ownership of agricultural training that will teach them new methods of growing quality food for themselves, with the potential for future income-generating opportunities. The challenge brought upon Kasungami, in my opinion, wasn’t just the new training provided by UMCOR, but rather the challenge to join the fight against malnutrition for themselves, and against the bigger mountain of hunger in their families’ lives that could impact future generations. 

What was required of them? In a similar vein to the Gospel, commitment, action, share what they learn, engage with others, and spread the word about adequate nutrition.

I pray that Kasungami captures the vision of health and well-being for themselves and their future generations, and that the foundation of the root causes of hunger and poverty be violently shaken through shared knowledge, community engagement, vision, and hope for a more viable, prosperous future.

Judith Santiago is the Media Communications Associate for UMCOR.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Living Below Zero in Van

Earthquake survivors in Van, in eastern Turkey, try to keep warm as snow falls and temperatures drop around their tents. UMCOR is partnering with International Blue Crescent and GlobalMedic to assist.
International Blue Crescent, UMCOR partner in Turkey and elsewhere

Living conditions among earthquake survivors in the eastern Turkey city of Van are becoming increasingly harsh, as snow falls and temperatures dip below minus 8 degrees Celsius (about 17 degrees Fahrenheit).

Some 600 people died and 3,700 buildings were rendered uninhabitable after the October 23 earthquake near Van. Then last week’s 5.6-magnitude aftershock in the same area caused the collapse of an additional 25 buildings in the city and another 26 deaths.

Buses and trains are full of people leaving Van because of the lack of safe shelters and the loss of property and belongings.

The city begins to look like a ghost town, with the only sounds of life coming from the temporary camps established for those who lost their homes in the disaster. Schools are closed in the entire province until December 5.

Those whose homes were damaged do not want to enter them because of cracks in the structures and the expectation of further damage as a result of new aftershocks. For them, there are no temporary homes or systematic official response, and many have gone to stay with relatives in the villages, where they feel conditions are safer.

Meanwhile, snow is falling, covering the tents, and harsh winter winds pound the camps, making people more desperate. Because of sporadic electricity cuts, electrical heaters provide little solace, and blankets and sleeping bags remain in short supply.

In the villages around Van and the town of Ercis, survivors seek both to protect their families in tents and makeshift shelters and to protect their livestock, on which they rely for income. There is an emerging need for safe shelter for the animals as well as for feed.

The prefabricated homes some have received from the state are susceptible to the cold and are small for the typically large families of the region. But those who have secured a temporary home or tent feel fortunate compared to those who have not, as bitter complaints grow.

Despite the cold and harsh conditions in and around Van, children can be seen playing soccer in the open areas of the temporary camps. Their ability to find joy in the midst of adversity is a sign of hope to their parents and neighbors.

You can help the people of Van with your gift to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450. Please earmark your check “Turkey earthquake.”

International Blue Crescent, UMCOR partner in Turkey and elsewhere

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Unseen Faces

From left to right, Julie Warren, a pediatric nurse from the Virginia Annual Conference, explains the contents of the UMCOR clean birthing kit to Nurse Grace and Dr. Tendai Menyeza of Old Mutare Hospital in Zimbabwe. Dr. Menyeza is a General Board of Global Ministries missionary.
Photo: Kathy Kraiza/UMCOR

This morning at UMCOR Sager Brown, about 40 volunteers from all across the United States rolled up their sleeves and loaded 31,584 health kits on a shipping container bound for Ukraine. This was the 18th international shipment of relief kits from an UMCOR depot this year. Volunteers loaded the container by hand and, at the conclusion, laid hands on the loaded boxes and said a prayer of blessing—for the hands that gave the kits, the hands that packed them, and the hands that will receive them. Then, a song of praise was lifted up to the Lord. I still get goose bumps each time we close the doors of a full container, attach the seal, and watch as the truck carrying those boxes of blessings begins its journey to a faraway place and to unseen faces.

Recently, I had the unique opportunity to actually see some of those faces when I traveled to Zimbabwe and received a shipment of 15,000 clean birthing kits that had left UMCOR Sager Brown five months earlier. The kits were delivered to three United Methodist hospitals, in Nyadire, Mutambara, and Old Mutare. I was at Old Mutare when the birthing kits arrived.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 60 million women give birth each year with the help of an untrained traditional birth attendant, a family member, or with no help at all. The UMCOR clean birthing kits follow WHO principles for clean delivery. They are designed to reduce the number of deaths attributed to infection of the mother after childbirth as well as neonatal tetanus of the newborn, which are both caused by unclean deliveries.

One study in Tanzania showed that newborns whose mothers used the kit were 13 times less likely to develop cord infections than those whose mothers did not use a kit. The mothers themselves were three times less likely to develop sepsis or infection after childbirth. When I look at a clean birthing kit, I see the possibility of one, maybe two lives that can be saved directly. But, have you ever thought of how many more lives that kit affects?

At Old Mutare Hospital, I saw the faces of a hospital staff that was struggling to provide essential care for patients; the faces of women who walked several miles to wait at the hospital days and weeks so their babies could be born in a safe environment; and I saw the faces of newborns, who are the hope for the future of Zimbabwe. I was na├»ve to think the clean birthing kits were only for use by expectant mothers who couldn’t or didn’t go to a hospital to deliver. I was shocked to see that the basic items provided in these kits are not always available in the hospitals or clinics where deliveries occur every day. Of the 5,000 clean birthing kits that were delivered to Old Mutare Hospital, some would be distributed to the hospital’s six rural clinics, some would be used in home deliveries by trained birthing attendants, and some would be used right there in the hospital, where clean running water and electricity are considered a rare commodity.

When the boxes of kits arrived at Old Mutare, we once again laid hands on them and said a prayer of thanks for the blessings they contained and the lives they would touch. I thought about the unseen faces of the persons whose hands touch just one kit — the person who purchases or makes the items in a kit, the ones who prepare that kit for shipping, the persons who load that kit and send it on its journey, the ones who receive and distribute that kit, and the ones that ultimately use that kit. And, I thank God for all of our lives that are changed by just one small kit.
To change lives through UMCOR’s kit ministry, please visit:

Kathy Kraiza
Executive Director
UMCOR Relief Supplies

Monday, October 24, 2011

Livelihood by Faith

Ratnamala works at Jamkhed helping others like her, specifically women, who had been downtrodden by trials and rejection.
Photo by Nyamah Dunbar/UMCOR.

By Nyamah Dunbar*

Jamkhed, India—By age 18, Ratnamala had already endured a forced marriage, experienced the birth and death of a child, and become a widow. Born into a poor family in rural India, she was married off to a man who, in turn, left her to pursue work in the city of Mumbai. When he returned to the village, he was already sick with diarrhea and chronic fever. Ratnamala would learn later that he had contracted HIV. Doctors encouraged Ratnamala to have herself and her newborn baby tested. To her devastation, both of them had also contracted the virus. It was then that the ostracism began: first from the housing development where they lived, then by neighbors, and, finally, even by her family.

Upon her husband’s death, Ratnamala sought refuge with her family, but fear and stigma caused them to isolate and neglect her and her baby. She would head out each day to a farm where she was finally permitted to work, but her meals and personal items were kept separate from the other workers and her family members. One evening, Ratnamala returned home from the field to find her baby dead from complications due to HIV. Also suffering from HIV complications, Ratnamala admits to being so devastated that she was on the brink of suicide. It was at this stage that she was brought to Jamkhed Hospital, where she began treatment.

At Jamkhed, Ratnamala learned more than the importance of taking her HIV cocktail medication. It was here that, for the first time, she learned the importance of caring for each other regardless of diseases or stigma. Her beautiful face lit up despite the sadness of her story, when she announced to me how she first learned about Jesus Christ, and how His message and call to service targeted people whose plight was not much different from her. Despite being born a Hindu, she converted to Christianity, because of the examples and teachings of Dr. Raj Arole, the late founder and longtime director of the Jamkhed Community Health Program.

After her positive response to treatment, Ratnamala decided to remain at Jamkhed to help others, specifically women like her, who had been downtrodden by trials and rejection. Ratnamala works on the Jamkhed farm program, which provides meals and local income-generation initiatives for families and orphans affected by HIV.

World AIDS Day is December 1. Observe this day by supporting the Jamkhed Hospital’s HIV and other programs, by donating directly to the Comprehensive Rural Health Project, Jamkhed, Advance #3020779.

Nyamah Dunbar is UMCOR grants manager for Imagine No Malaria.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gwyneth’s Story

Ten-year-old Gwyneth Cartwright’s $2 bracelets made of pop tabs have raised more than $300 to help people who have been affected by disasters.
Photo courtesy Gwyneth Cartwright

My name is Gwyneth Cartwright, and I’m 10 years old. I live in Hurricane, West Virginia, and attend St. Andrew UMC in St. Albans, WV. For about the last three months, I have been selling pop-tab bracelets through my church to help raise money for UMCOR. I have, so far, raised over $300 with these $2 bracelets that are made from pop tabs and various colors and types of ribbon. One bracelet takes ten to fifteen minutes to complete, and they are fun to make.

A fellow member of our church, who I’ve always liked a lot, stood in front of the congregation one Sunday and talked about UMCOR. He asked everyone to search their hearts for a way we could help. He also mentioned how he was going to raise money by asking for sponsors for a bike ride. I immediately knew I wanted to help, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I went to him after church and told him I’d let him know.

One day, it just hit me! I’d make the bracelets we had made at school as part of an Earth Day and recycling project. My mom set an email to Tim (the man who stood up in church), and I was in business. I made a few bracelets as samples and I got up during announcements in Sunday worship and asked for pop tabs. After a little while, I had over four pounds of pop tabs and lots of people asking for bracelets. And the tabs are still pouring in!

My mom and I have been enjoying this project. She helps a lot! I continue to make bracelets because I keep getting orders AND for the cause. I feel that UMCOR is an organization worthy of my time because I feel badly for people who have been hit by disaster. I saw images on TV of people after hurricane Katrina hit, and the looks on their faces broke my heart. I felt helpless. I told my mom that we had to help them. I was five or six years old then, and Mom told me about UMCOR I raised money at a lemonade stand and took it to church. I knew that UMCOR would put that $60 to good use. I also raised small amounts of money for tsunami victims and for the earthquake in Japan. Hopefully, this project can help for a longer period of time because I’ll continue until no one else wants a bracelet!

UMCOR can be where I can’t be. I’m only ten years old, after all, and in the fifth grade. Homework and activities keep me busy! I’m unable to physically go and help people hit with disasters. However, I can spend a few minutes here and there to help others be there and be hope for families, perhaps a lot like mine, whose hope has been shattered.

Gwyneth Cartwright

Friday, September 9, 2011

UMCOR Builds on 9/11 Response

Like many people, I anticipated the arrival of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks for some time. Although I was not in my current position with UMCOR at the time of those terrible events, I recall feeling a sense of pride as a United Methodist pastor serving in a local congregation that "my" church was responding.

UMCOR responded as it always does, with special attention to the most vulnerable populations. Love in the Midst of Tragedy was UMCOR’s three-tiered response to those events. In addition to focusing on the most vulnerable survivors and other affected people, its programs promoted peace and reconciliation and also extended a hand to a displaced Afghan population that was returning home after two harsh decades.

It is fitting that at this tenth anniversary of 9/11 UMCOR continues to build on its response to that tragedy as it addresses current emergencies around the world. In just the past six months, these have included the triple disaster in Japan; a rash of violent tornadoes through the US South; a third straight year of record flooding in North Dakota; a still unfolding recovery in Haiti; epic flooding caused by back-to-back hurricanes/tropical storms along a string of Eastern states; and wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres in Texas.

Yes, it is fitting that UMCOR should honor those who experienced not only the horror of 9/11 but the solidarity and self-giving that were part of the response to the events of that late-summer day by continuing to be present in times of emergency or disaster, to offer a hand and to offer hope.

*Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey is the head of UMCOR.

You can also read 9/11 reflections from the General Board of Global Ministries General Secretary Thomas Kemper here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Passing on the Gift: Haiti Day 2- Sept. 6, 2011

Madame Marie Therese in La Tremblay, Haiti, discusses her participation in the PAUA Agriculture project with UMCOR's director of marketing and communications J. Rollins.  Photo: J. Rollins/UMCOR

The day began with a rooster crowing outside my window at 5 a.m., beating my alarm clock by half-an-hour.

Everyone gathered in the common area of the Methodist Guest House on the Frere campus for a delicious breakfast (the hospitality is incredible) and then set out for three site visits: a recipient from the Emergency Agriculture program Projet d’Assistance Urgente d’Agriculture (PAUA) at La Tremblay; a trip through Camp Corail, a resettlement camp; and the construction site of a school at Leveque.

It was overwhelming to see the estimated 100,000 temporary and transitional homes at Camp Corail, encouraging to see the progress of construction at the Laveque school, and heartwarming to meet Madame Marie Therese at the PAUA site at La Tremblay.

M. Therese was a recipient of goats as part of the agricultural project, which reached out to 1,600 most vulnerable families in all of Haiti. The project focuses on livestock and grain distribution in six of the most difficult places to access in Haiti. M. Therese and her husband chose to raise goats instead of growing crops due to the difficult access to water. They use the milk from the goats, and also breed them to sustain themselves and others in their village.

M. Therese said that without this program, she is not sure how she and her husband would have survived. Neither could work after the earthquake, and they struggled to meet day-to-day needs.

Today, when she saw Collins Zamar, PAUA project coordinator, approaching her home with our group, she came out and greeted us with a large smile. She explained that she was not feeling well, but she did not want to pass up the opportunity to tell us how the program had changed their lives. She said she was looking forward to the day when she would “pass on the gift” to another family in need.

A component of PAUA is that recipients of livestock and grain are required to give a percentage of seed harvested or livestock produced to others in their community—thus keeping the program going and changing the lives of their neighbors, friends, and loved ones.

I thought of M. Therese for the rest of the day and felt lucky to share in her joy. My sentiment was best described in our liturgy that started this day:

For men, women, and children in communities adversely affected by natural disasters;
For friends, and well wishers who are actively involved in Haiti’s ongoing development;
For a positive outcome of this roundtable meeting;
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

James Rollins, director of communications for UMCOR

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Upon this rock

A child passing by the Methodist Church of Haiti guest house in Port-au-Prince embodies hope for the future, as the devastated nation continues to rebuild following last year’s earthquake. Credit: J. Rollins

“Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Matthew 16:18

This is my first trip to Haiti, and I admit that I was not fully prepared. The photos that I have seen since the earthquake of January 2010 cannot fully capture the complete devastation I now see on this island. On the trip from the airport, I saw miles and miles of rubble, tent cities, and tarps held up by sticks to create makeshift stores. And in the midst of all this, I also saw the faces of smiling, resilient Haitians—their spirit of hope shining through and proving that life is about more than the places where we dwell and work.

I am here for at the invitation of the Methodist Church of Haiti (Eglise Metodiste d’Haiti, EMH) for three days of planning long-term projects that will help the Haitian people rebuild their lives. There is an excitement among those of us gathered as we prayerfully await the start of this series of meetings. It is clear to all present that all is not lost. Hope, faith, and love have persevered. Thanks to the generosity of donations, volunteers, and dedicated EMH and UMCOR staff, progress has been made. The church stands ready to continue this progress at increasing rates.

Tomorrow, on the way to our first meeting in Moulin Sur Mer, I will have the opportunity to visit two projects sponsored by UMCOR, at Camp Corail and La Trembelay. I aim to post blogs, photos, and videos each day so that you may experience this journey with me, sharing in the work that has taken place and celebrating the work that will begin soon.

Upon this rock we will continue to work in solidarity with the people of Haiti to accompany them as they rebuild.

James Rollins, Director of Marketing and Communications, UMCOR

September 5, 2011

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not Victims but Survivors

Survivors of super-typhoon Megi, which struck the Philippines in October 2010.
Photo: Melissa Crutchfield/UMCOR

In a letter to UMCOR head, the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, a United Methodist pastor in the Philippines writes of her community’s experience of survival and hope following last year’s typhoon.

Dear Rev. Cynthia,

It is my hope and prayer that you arrived home safely after your short visit here, in the Philippines. We appreciate that visit so much, and we hope and pray that someday you’ll have an opportunity to come again.

For sure, you’ll not expect me to write you, but I just want to thank you not only for that visit and acquaintance, but for the “words of wisdom” you uttered during our meeting at San Jose Norte UMC. You mentioned that you do not want us to call ourselves “victims” but, rather, “survivors.” It was indeed an inspiration for us to move on after all our difficulties and pain in the past months.

Nine months had already passed since that terrible typhoon on October 18, 2010. That typhoon made our living very difficult for a few months, as food was scarce after that disaster. Harvest time usually comes the last week of October; however, the typhoon came earlier and then was followed by a week-long, non-stop rain, which aggravated the situation. Nevertheless, the grains that were left buried in muddy fields were gathered and patiently cleaned so that the farmers and their families could have food to eat for a few weeks.

Our church members are mostly tenant farmers. Only a few are educated and employed. Usually, the farmers make their offering after the harvest season, so most of the time, their pastors’ salaries are delayed. I sometimes joke when I am with my District Superintendent, or DS, that “I also am a “D.S.,” a “Delayed Salary.”

After that terrible typhoon, there was no harvest. The people could not make their harvest offering to the church nor provide support for their workers. This, of course, lasted also a few months. But God is good all the time. He has his own wonderful way to meet all our needs in spite of all the difficulties. He did not allow us to be discouraged, but, rather, he gave us hope that everything would be alright. And indeed, we were able to survive.

As one of the chosen recipient communities of an UMCOR grant, I’m quite thankful not only for the financial aid you selflessly rendered to those families that needed it most, but also for your prayers, which made us all strong to survive and see that there is always hope.

Thank you so much, and may the Lord continually make your good office a channel of God’s redeeming love to everyone in this world.


Pastor Janet M. Manuel
San Jose Norte United Methodist Church
San Jose Norte, Mallig, Isabela , Philippines

Monday, July 11, 2011

Minot, North Dakota, Journal

Faith United Methodist Church remains underwater, but the congregation’s ministry to neighbors in need continues.
Photo: Courtesy of Lee Gale

I just arrived home from Minot. It's been a trying and emotional time. You can't comprehend the devastation until you see it for yourself.

The things we take for granted just aren't there. Water has to be boiled before use, and only bottled water may be consumed. Trash has to be disposed of immediately. Restaurants are serving their meals on foam plates, with plastic knives and forks. Coffee isn't made, and there’s no fountain soda.

It is taking citizens of Minot up to four hours to get their mail because the post office is overwhelmed. Traffic on Broadway, all the way through town, is bumper-to-bumper, and a driver can only turn off of Broadway at certain intersections.

As of this morning, there are 806 homes that are unsafe to inhabit and will be destroyed. In the end, there may be as many as 2,000 or more. Water is slowly going down, but a heavy rain on Friday night kept the river up.

Tent cities have popped up when people have nowhere to go. One person I spoke with said he saved from his basement apartment only what was in the tent. He also lost his job because his place of employment is underwater.

Another woman living in the tent city, with only the belongings she could save, went to a Red Cross facility to take a shower, and while she was in the shower, her purse was stolen with all the money she had from her last paycheck.

These are only some of the stories that have come out of this disaster. It will take years to recover what has been lost.

And out of adversity Faith UMC continues to do the mission work they're known for. The food pantry they had in the church basement has gone mobile. A local dealer loaned Bob and Ada Lower a new trailer, which they have equipped with a refrigerator and a deep freeze. With it, they are delivering food to their clients, who frequent the food pantry. They are planning to take the trailer full of food to the tent city to make sure the people there have food.

This is an amazing ministry staffed by amazing people who know the true calling of their church to reach out to the poor and hungry. The Rev. Debra Ball-Kilbourne and others of her congregation are doing what they can to apply for grants to help rebuild their church. Rev. Debra also has a story of loss and emotion to tell, as she works to serve her congregation and get ready for case management by teaching and doing.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Lee Gale
Dakotas Annual Conference
Disaster Response Coordinator for North Dakota

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

IMAGINE NO MALARIA: Squashing Mosquitoes, One Lemonade at a Time!

Molly Menamara and Logan Martens pose with their treats for a good cause.
Photo:Wendy Martens

By Nyamah Dunbar*

During the 2011 East Ohio Annual Conference in picturesque Lakeside, Ohio, two surprise guest stars from the Imagine No Malaria documentary, “A Killer in the Dark”, appeared to be moonlighting as lemonade sellers right outside the auditorium. In fact, they were not moonlighting, but presenting a live display of their child-led initiative that has raised more than $11,000 for the Imagine No Malaria Campaign and landed them a world-debut slot in the documentary.

When Logan Martens was just about to turn 7 years old, his Mom asked him if he would be willing to ask guests at his birthday party to donate to Imagine No Malaria in lieu of gifts. He accepted without hesitation. Well, except one—he would not give up having his cake! Since that day, nearly four years ago, he found a partner in 9-year-old Molly Menamara, and the dynamic duo has been pitching up lemonade stands and selling cookies and any other donated goodies, with all proceeds going to the Imagine No Malaria Campaign.

As their initiative grew, their grandfathers, retired UMC pastors, Rev. Adriel Trasash and Rev. Don Lefler, were inspired by the selfless drive of their grandchildren and each offered to match the proceeds raised from each sale: they would triple the worth of each dollar given to the campaign. That’s saying a lot for some retired pastors on a pension plan! But Rev. Trasash was also motivated, he said, by “the good that the [Imagine No Malaria projects] are doing to save lives and…the ongoing need to save the lives of pregnant women and children.”

As I reflected on Molly and Logan’s venture, I asked the youngsters how they felt about the theme of this year’s East Ohio Conference, “IF WE ARE THE BODY….” Without hesitation, Molly responded, “People helping people shows that we ARE the BODY of Christ.” Wise words from a wise child.

*Nyamah Dunbar is UMCOR grants officer for Imagine No Malaria.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Flood Concerns Continue in Dakotas

A home in Minot, North Dakota, is overwhelmed by floodwaters from the Souris, or Mouse, River.
Photo: Courtesy of ND Dept. of Emergency Management

By Rev. Lee Gale

In my capacity as disaster response coordinator covering North Dakota for the Dakotas Annual Conference, I went to Bismarck, the capital, and nearby Mandan this week to see what the mighty Missouri River is capable of. Both the Missouri and the Souris, or Mouse, River are swollen with rainwater and melting snowpack, as they overrun their banks and cause massive flooding.

I learned that the pressure from the release from Garrison Dam has deepened the channel, and the Missouri’s current is very strong. Also, the river is changing its course, which may put more property at risk. There is a large area of Bismarck that has the potential for flooding should the dikes break.

Bismarck is now a city of contrast. In one section, floodwaters lap against homes, causing a great deal of concern on the part of the homeowner, while a few blocks away, another person’s greatest worry may be how low to cut the grass. It's a definite contrast in the same city. This year’s flooding will be a long-term issue for Bismarck/Mandan as it will be, also, for the communities down river.

On the Souris River, the town of Minot is seeing flooding it hasn't seen since 1889. Right now there are some 600 homes that will most likely need to be destroyed, as the high water level in them will remain way too long for them to be structurally saved. The water is slowly going down, but the possibilities of additional rain in the area and in Canada upstream continue to cause great concern.

The Dakotas Conference is partnering with other organizations to prepare for cleanup when that time comes. I have contacted UMCOR to put out a call for Early Response Teams that may be able to bless us with their volunteers when the green light is given to enter these areas. Any team that is interested can please call our Conference Office at 605-996-6552. We will compile the necessary information so that those willing to come to North Dakota may be contacted on a timely basis.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Supplies of Hope

Mery Davituri and her fourth-month-old baby, who reside at Tserovani IDP settlement, register to receive a two-month supply of baby formula.
Photo: Judith Santiago

At the Tserovani settlement of internally displaced persons (IDP) in the Kartli region of the Republic of Georgia, Mery Davituri and her four-month-old baby stand in line to register to receive a two-month supply of baby formula. The formula, provided by the US Department of State, with distribution and logistics managed by UMCOR, helps mothers like Mery provide their children with the nourishment they need until mothers can breast feed again.

Most mothers, following the South Ossetia conflict along Georgia's border with Russia, were unable to lactate due to stress incurred in the war. UMCOR has been distributing baby formula to more than 30 regions throughout the Republic of Georgia since that time.

Mery is one of 7,000 people who live in the Tserovani settlement who cannot afford to purchase baby formula on their own. Today, some 160 families are receiving some relief along with a brief consultation with Ludmila Lomia, a nutritionist contracted by UMCOR.

Lomia instructs the mothers to use the food they are about to receive as a supplement, and strongly encourages lactation through breastfeeding. She tells the mothers to introduce cow’s milk to the baby after they turn one year old, and speaks to them about mixed feeding—the use of supplements together with breastfeeding.

Tamuna Kokhsaidze, who has two children, 3 and 9 months old, shares, “I still have trouble breastfeeding, but I am happy and thankful for this program. I can’t imagine what I would do without it.”

Dali Koraeri from South Ossetia proudly shares with UMCOR that she married a Georgian after the conflict. Together they have one child. Most of the people in Tserovani settlement are originally from South Ossetia, and the subject of this war is still a sensitive issue that most choose not to discuss.

Later, we traveled to Bazeleti IDP Ambulatory, an out-patient clinic constructed in 2010 with funding from the US Department of State and UMCOR. The clinic serves more than 400 people and includes a small educational area for young children. Today, about 165 families receive UMCOR hygiene kits.

It is like a distribution of hope, and many hearts are encouraged and eyes light up when they are reminded that they are not forgotten.

Tomorrow, I travel back to the Georgian border and on to Armenia for a few more site visits, before heading home to the United States in a few days. The days have been long, but it has been an invaluable experience to see UMCOR at work in the lives of so many people.

*Judith Santiago is media communications associate for UMCOR.

Monday, June 27, 2011

When the Music Fades

Doctor Tamila Silagadze, who distributes medicine for UMCOR, apportions the much-needed medicines that arrive at the clinic four times a year.

Photo: Judith Santiago

Today I visited the Patriarchy Policlinic in Tblisi, in the Republic of Georgia, which has been operating since 1995. The clinic distributes basic medicines to the elderly, single mothers, and internally displaced people who come to seek relief from various ailments. In 1994, the Gregorian Orthodox Church allocated the room space for its operation.

Every quarter, a shipment of medicines arrives from UMCOR funding partner IMA (Interchurch Medical Assistance).  Doctor Tamila Silagadze, who distributes medicine for UMCOR, works quickly to assess the patients' needs and then apportions the necessary medicine, which can include pain killers, high blood pressure tablets, vitamin supplements, hygiene kits, and cardiovascular and allergy medications.  Most of the people who arrive at the Patriarchy Policlinic suffer from hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular and joint diseases.

Dr. Silagadze has to use wisdom in distributing medicines. She sees an average of 140 patients a month, and the quarterly distribution of medicines has to last until the next shipment.  There have been times, she says, that the clinic has run out of medicine, and she has had to turn patients away.  I saw how this breaks her heart.

I met Crocha Mairsara, 48, who just received medicine to treat his hypertension.  He says the medicine helps and he notices a difference in his health.  Crocha is married and has one son.  A veteran of the war, he bitterly describes how the war was thoughtless and only served political ambitions at the expense of countless people who lost everything.  Later, I asked him to take us to a nearby internally displaced persons (IDP) settlement, where I witnessed for myself the deplorable conditions that many women, children, and men are living under.

Vladime Devnosadre, 74, has problems with his eyesight and difficultly with his joints, but the medicines provided here will not ease much of Vladime’s condition.  He, like the other patients in the room, live on a small pension and cannot afford the in-patient care at the hospital.  Vladime says that the pharmacies are too expensive. Dr. Silagadze herself gets frustrated when the needs of the patients outweigh the limited available medicines, and yet the patients are very grateful to UMCOR and IMA for what they can receive.

Later in the afternoon, we visited a Tblisi IDP settlement where festivities were taking place in celebration of the arrival and distribution of UMCOR hygiene kits for 400 vulnerable families.  A musical band was playing traditional Gregorian music, and the children danced, clapped and rejoiced.  Many were dressed in their best clothes.  The scene temporarily masked the real conditions in which these families live.

When the kit distribution began, the children barged through the doorway of the very small room which housed the UMCOR boxes of relief supplies.  Each child made sure she or he got a kit. It was a blessing to see the smiles and excitement on their faces.

The Chairman of Abkhazia Parliament in Exile, George Gvazava, was sort of the “master of ceremonies” of the event.  He invited George Gedevanishvili, head of mission for UMCOR Georgia, and me to a table full of sweets, vegetables, breads, cake, fruit, and more.  After several toasts, I was warmed by the Georgian culture.  They spend hours at a table toasting one another in honor and respect of what that person brings to ones’ life and community.  UMCOR was honored that day, but as the toasts and conversations continued, the sounds of children playing rang in the background.  I couldn’t help but run back out to be with the children and the other families.  After all, that was the reason why we were here. I took pictures, laughed with the children, held them, and told them they would be in my prayers.

One woman shared her life with me. She looked tired and wearied and seemingly lost all hope.  There was no translator with me, but I did not need one.  I held her and assured her of my prayers.  I felt the helplessness and wondered what a normal day was for them, or for those who received medicines earlier in the day.  I pondered their day when the music fades.   When the medicine runs out, or after the thrill of receiving a new kit dissipates, what then?   How long do they wait for another bit of relief to come their way.  I breathed and was assured that God has not forgotten these lives, in fact, He was showing me what He knew all along.  So, when the music fades, pray.

On Monday, June 27, we travel to Tserovani IDP settlement in Kartli region for a baby food distribution; then in the afternoon, we travel to Bazaleti IDP Ambulatory and Daycare, which is part of a small reconstruction project.

*Judith Santiago is the media communications associate for UMCOR.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Seeing the Hope in UMCOR

Jorik Papayan lives in peace these days at the Narek Elderly Home. He collects fresh flowers from the field and gives them away to other residents.
Photo: Judith Santiago

Today I visited the Narek Elderly Home in Abovyan City, Kotayk Marz. It’s a center for the homeless or displaced who have no immediate family members to care for them. The residents are mostly refugees who fled the countryside because of the war. UMCOR supports its cheese program, provides relief supplies, and through partner Foods Resource Bank, provides cows, chickens, and beehives to help support the dietary needs of those residing at the center.

Shoger Mikaelyan, who runs Narek Elderly Home with her husband Fridon, says that she is very grateful to UMCOR because without its support the center would not survive. She acknowledged that Narek is living at the expense of UMCOR.

I met briefly the first resident of Narek. His name is Jorik Papyan, 79 years old. Shoger says she found him picking through trash to find food. When she offered him money and he reached out to receive her generosity, she noticed that Jorik could not see. At the time, Jorik was living with his brother-in law after the death of his beloved mother, whom he witnessed getting beaten to death during the war. But Jorik himself was brutally mistreated and starved by his brother-in law. When Shoger learned Jorik’s story, she took him in and made sure he received medical attention. Later, an operation would give him better eyesight. Today, he spends his days gathering flowers from the field and giving them all away.
While she related Jorik’s story, a resident danced outside. The center has become a home and a family in which the elderly can share their stories and live out the rest of their lives.

Fridon and Shoger run the elderly home mostly on their own, but have additional support from their daughter-in law, Arevik, and their grandson, Narek. Working with special-needs and bedridden residents, it’s a wonder how Shoger and her husband manage to stay on top of things. When I asked her how she does it, she replied, “It’s something in our blood, or maybe I got it from my sister who cared for other people.” Whatever the reason for the passion behind her work, she says, it gives her peace.
Afterwards, we drove to Semyonovka village to meet with a few Foods Resource Bank beneficiary families, who have received training and either sheep, chickens, or beehives. Twenty-four families were identified as the most vulnerable in this village. The head of the municipality, whose first name is David, relayed to us that he had a difficult time narrowing the number down to 24 families when so many others needed assistance.

Karina, has five daughters, two grandchildren and a husband who cannot walk because of a war injury. She relies on the chickens provided to her that produce approximately 10 eggs per day. With no access to water, she must walk many kilometers four times a day to obtain enough water to prepare food, wash clothes and bathe. One of her daughters offered to milk her neighbor’s cows in order to earn some money for the family.

One woman, named Mazus, saw the UMCOR van and ran to Karina’s house thinking that another UMCOR training was taking place. We all laughed together. She shared her gratitude for UMCOR’s support and looks forward to the multiplication of her livestock next year.

Since the start of my journey with survivors of trafficking to today’s elderly home visit there is not one need that can be passed over. The needs are great and they are everywhere. It has been a privilege to meet with UMCOR beneficiaries on many levels and assess their needs for survival. UMCOR is greatly respected everywhere we have visited. I saw how UMCOR was a beacon for those who have received so little in life and how a simple sewing kit can turn sorrow into hope. Maintaining the level of service UMCOR provides comes with great responsibility, compassion, and generous, faithful giving to serve the most vulnerable. As United Methodists and people of God we must do more and do all that we can corporately and individually, so that one day we may hear these words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Tonight, I am in Tblisi, Georgia, and on June 24 I will visit in the Patriarch Policlinic and later a settlement of internally displaced persons (IDP) in Tblisi where UMCOR has provided relief supplies.

*Judith Santiago is the Media Communications Associate for UMCOR.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Precious in God's Sight

Ruzan Avagyan, head of Gyumri Children’s House, stands outside the fully equipped playground and expresses gratitude for UMCOR’s longstanding partnership and support.
Photo: Judith Santiago

“After putting His hands on them, He went on from them.” (Mathew 19:15)

Anahit Gasparyan, coordinator of UMCOR’s Nutrition Department in Armenia, led the days’ activities which included two home visits to survivors of trafficking, and a visit to Gyumri City, where UMCOR and the US Department of State support a cheese distribution program to a special-needs orphanage. Today, I will focus on my experience at the orphanage.

After a few hours of driving, and nearing Gyumri, you can see the aftereffects of a devastating earthquake which took the lives of some 20,000 people in 1988, according to Gasparyan.  To this day, people live in makeshift shelters of tin, with no bathrooms or running water.  Once known for its industrial capacity, textile business, and food industry services, Gyumri now faces high unemployment, with only a fraction of shops open for business.

We arrived at the orphanage and met with Ruzan Avagyan, head of Gyumri Children’s House.  She invited us in for coffee and sweets, as she discussed the history of the orphanage.  Later, Gasparyan, Izbella Simonyan, shelter manager for UMCOR’s Anti – Human Trafficking Program, and I joined Avagyan for a tour of the orphanage.  We were not allowed to take photos and when I met these children, I understood why. 

Many of the children were left behind by parents unable to support their child’s physical or emotional disabilities, or who could not handle the shame and social hardships associated with raising a special-needs child.  These children had facial deformities, lost limbs, Down ’s syndrome, nervous disorders, and lost sight.

As we entered one room where the older children (3 - 4 years of age) resided, the children greeted us with a song.  One lovely girl who had no hands and unusually large, light brown eyes caught my attention.  As she sang with a smile, I bent down to greet her, held her wrist, and gave her a long warm embrace.  Actually, I held her a few times. There was just something about her…

One boy observed my every move and then bursted out laughing. He was so funny that I joined him in laughter.  Another child began to cry, while yet another sat quietly watching.  One young boy just wanted to stay close to me. He kept touching me and reaching for my camera case which hung over my neck.   One boy, who lost his eyesight, just kept on singing while the other children focused on us.  He was the strong one, the independent one, who continued to sing and did not need assistance when we went down the stairs.

We also visited a “baby ward” that had about 16 beds.  We held and touched babies.  I prayed as I laid hands on them.  I witnessed the healing power of touch that stopped a child from crying, turned the gaze of a child to something new, and saw the emotionally starved eat from every touch and every glance.   I did not expect the impact this visit would have on me.  I was greatly burdened for these children, while at the same time, I realized how precious they are in the sight of God.  I did not want to leave them. I wanted to give them every ounce of love I could pour out. My arms and heart were open very wide.  But for now, I did what Jesus did – I placed my hands on them before going on my way.

The orphanage currently serves 130 children with only a handful of nurse assistants to care for their physical and emotional needs. They are by far short-staffed, but, they say, they would not trade in their jobs for the world. 

The orphanage is also highly dependent on in-kind contributions such as layette and hygiene kits that arrive from UMCOR’s Relief-Supply Network. UMCOR provides about 42 kilos of cheese per month — 20 grams of cheese each day — to help fortify their diets.

The orphanage is one of eight state-run institutions that UMCOR is supporting country-wide. The organization procures locally made cheese from producers and allocates the cheese to the elderly, boarding schools, special needs schools, retirement centers, and mental hospitals, with the goal to improve nutrition country-wide, as institutions are unable to provide this kind of support on their own due to inflation.

Avagyan shared that after the earthquake, several relief organizations came and went, but UMCOR has remained with them some 12 years.  She shared her heartfelt gratitude for UMCOR’s longstanding support for these precious children.

Tomorrow, I visit the second nutritional program supported by UMCOR and Foods Resource Bank, called Fighting Hunger through Sustainable Livelihood Development Project. I will meet with beneficiaries and learn about another cheese program.  Tomorrow evening we drive to Tblisi, Georgia, where the UMCOR Head of Mission will meet me by the Georgian border.   I will learn of a distribution point at the Patriarchy Policlinic Boarding School and visit settlement of internally displaced persons (IDP) in Tbilisi.

*Judith Santiago is the media communications associate for UMCOR.