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