Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Source of Happiness

Children who stopped by UMCOR’s photo booth in Iligan smile for the camera. The sign they are holding says, “I survived Sendong,” a deadly storm.
Ciony Eduarte/UMCOR

Three months after Typhoon Washi (Sendong) unleashed its fury and claimed the lives of more than a thousand people, I had the opportunity to visit Northern Mindanao: a place where trees still lie on the ground and houses have been torn down to their foundations. This was the atmosphere of the place we were heading into, a place in Iligan. The mere sight of it can bring chills down your spine when you think about what happened there.

Seeing people recover is a sight for sore eyes, though, and my mom’s brilliant idea of taking pictures of the typhoon survivors and giving them the hard copy of the pictures is a big help to the people. Making sure that our hearts were in the right place, we went to Barangay Luinab (a barangay in the Philippines is like a village) to start our UMCOR photo booth project. My sister and I were assigned to print the pictures after my mom and dad photographed the people. Some of the people actually needed pictures for their IDs and other various stuff, and so, we also took their ID pictures, too.

But the day wasn’t over yet. We next visited a covered court in Barangay Tambacan. One by one, the people waited for their pictures, and the sight of the children as they looked at their photos was a sight to smile at. We were about to leave when one child asked me if I would give my plastic bracelet to him. I didn’t hesitate, and quickly gave it to him, and we went back to our resting place.

The next day, we headed to Bayug Island. While BALSA Mindanao, an UMCOR partner, started to distribute relief goods and began a psychosocial sessions for survivors, we started set up the photo booth. The smiles of the people, who were thankful for their photos and relief goods, have made me realize that rendering services to our sisters and brothers is a source of happiness.

Helping people to recover and rebuild their lives is the reason why UMCOR and its partner agencies continue to be there and be hope. I am thankful that I was part of that mission. Hopefully, I can help again.

Gabby Eduarte

*Gabby Eduarte, 14, is an UMCOR volunteer. During the sessions of packing relief goods, he would invite his classmates and friends to help. He also joined UMCOR in the field during relief efforts following Typhoon Ketsana. His mother, Ciony Eduarte, heads UMCOR’s field office in the Philippines.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Water for Old Mutare Hospital

Expectant mothers wait outside of Old Mutare Hospital in Zimbabwe. Photo: Kathy Kraiza/UMCOR

By Julie Warren, RN

Most families in Zimbabwe, including little Hope’s family, do not live in urban areas with easy access to health care.  Two weeks before Hope was due to be born, her mother travelled to the Waiting Women’s Shelter, a condemned building at Old Mutare Hospital, to ensure her daughter would be delivered safely in a hospital.

But the Waiting Women’s Shelter has no running water or bathrooms, and there is a constant battle against rodents.  Expectant mothers must cook their meals in an outdoor kitchen and fetch water from one of two wells on the hospital grounds.  When it was time for Hope’s mother to deliver, she did not have the luxury of a hospital with fresh running water. Instead, the nursing staff relied on a bucketful of water and an UMCOR birthing kit during the delivery.

Accessing safe water is a challenge at Old Mutare Hospital.  The 70-bed health-care facility lacks both clean running water and a properly working sewage system. Yet, the hospital plays a critical role. Nestled in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, it supports six rural clinics and serves more than 11,000 people.  Each day, Dr. Tendai Manyeza, a United Methodist missionary and the medical director of the hospital, faces the challenge of providing the best care he can for families like Hope’s.

Imagine if you or a loved one were delivering a baby or recovering from an infectious disease in a facility such as this.  What would be your prayer?

You can be the answer to the prayer of the thousands of people who rely on Old Mutare Hospital.  Help UMCOR bring the facility clean running water and repair its broken sewage system. Give to Global Water and Sanitation,UMCOR Advance #3020600.

Julie Warren is United Methodist Volunteer in Mission Coordinator for the Virginia Annual Conference.  

Zimbabwe is still facing emergency humanitarian challenges in the form of diseases like cholera, food shortage, and limited access to basic services. In 2009, Zimbabwe experienced an acute cholera outbreak with more than 100,000 cases and about 4,000 deaths recorded. The underlying causes are related to the lack of safe drinking water and inadequate sanitation, resulting in poor hygiene practices. Access to safe water supply and basic sanitation in Zimbabwe has eroded significantly over the last few years.                                                                                                 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Offering support (and chocolate) for Valentine's Day

Osterman Ramirez, technical director of Block 2 for CONACADO, and Abel Fernandez, export manager, taste recently roasted coffee beans at the CONACADO plant in the Dominican Republic.  Photo: J. Santiago/UMCOR

Friday, February 3, 2012

By Linda Bloom

In 2003, I met a soft-spoken farmer from the Dominican Republic who convinced me that the phrase “fair trade” is not just an empty marketing slogan designed to move product.

Abel Fernandez,production and export manager for the National Confederation of Dominican CocoaProducers, came to the New York and explained how buying fair trade cocoa would benefit his organization’s 9,000 small farmers and their communities.

At that time, 10 percent of the organization’s annual crop yield was used for the fair trade market and the roughly $150,000 that they earned back was reinvested in both improving product (teaching how to ferment cocoa beans for chocolate bars, for example) and meeting community needs in areas such as health care and education.

June Kim, a United Methodist Committee on Relief executive who works on hunger/poverty and sustainable agriculture and development projects, also convinced me. Her passion for fair trade products – coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, olive oil -- has made the UMCOR Coffee Project, launched in 2002, an unqualified success. She literally has walked the fields of some of these farmers.

Kim is a tireless promoter for our denomination’s partnership with Equal Exchange, an employee-owned fair trade organization, and its trading partners, cajoling local congregations into placing orders for coffee hours, church dinners and fundraising projects. Because of her efforts, the United Methodist Church’s top legislative body encourages the use of fair trade products.

It’s kind of a no-brainer. When we buy through the Equal Exchange interfaith store, we support farmers in some of the poorest regions of Latin America, Africa and Asia and also support UMCOR, which receives a small percentage of wholesale sales.

For Valentine’s Day, there’s a special card/candy combo offer, along with the usual enticing array of chocolate bars by the case: Very Dark Chocolate; Dark with Almonds; Mint Crunch; Milk with Hazelnut; Dark Caramel with Sea Salt; Dark with Espresso Bean; Dark Orange; Ecuador Dark (65% cacao); and Panama Dark (80% cacao). Bestow them with love upon your sweetheart, friends, officemates, classmates or fellow congregants.

Here’s how to buy through the interfaith store: On the web Direct from Equal Exchange; email; phone, 774-776-7366; fax, fill out an order form and fax to 505-587-5955 [Download order Form]

I’ve already placed a Valentine’s Day order of espresso bean bars (my favorite) and organic Earl Grey tea through St. Paul and St. Andrew’s, my local church.

Linda Bloom is Staff Writer for the United Methodist News Service.

View Bloombytes and the original blog post here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

An Inconvenient Ministry

Tony Bueza, Ministry with the Poor Program manager, discusses a strategy with Dumagat farmers to get their produce to market economically and without relying on unscrupulous middlemen.
Linda Unger/UMCOR

While traveling to the UMCOR/Global Ministries’ Ministry with the Poor program in rural Philippines, I learned the meaning of the word “remote”—not that electronic gadget that allows you to switch TV channels without ever leaving the couch but the adjective meaning “out-of-the-way, secluded.”

Truth is, the communities of Dumagat indigenous people the program serves are not very likely to show up on your television screen. They are so hidden in the lush mountains of Luzon, the Philippines’ northernmost island, that a local government official asked program director Angie Broncano, “Why can’t you work in a place that’s easier to get to?”

Broncano is director of Harris Memorial College’s Community Extension Services and Development program, UMCOR and Global Ministries’ partner in the Ministry with the Poor in the Philippines. Her response to the official, of course, was that these barely accessible communities are simply the most vulnerable. Though their one-room homes of wood plank are only about 24 kilometers from a paved highway, it would be more than generous to call the boulder-strewn and river-crossed path that leads to their doors, and which turns to unnavigable mud six months of the year, a “road.”

Over time, the Dumagats, whose name translates to “people of the sea,” have been pushed further and further up that pathway on a mountain that has been officially deemed part of their ancestral lands. But the lack of government attention to infrastructure and the low literacy rates among the Dumagats make them easy prey for unscrupulous land grabbers and mining companies. They literally bring home pennies for their heavy labor in mines of gold and iron ore or for shouldering heavy loads up and down the wet and rocky mountain paths.

For more than a year, Broncano and the Ministry with the Poor program have been working with the Dumagat people to confront their isolation by creating sustainable communal and backyard farms, providing alternative learning classes, and establishing pure water sources, sanitation, and healthy living. It is a process that advances one cautious step at a time up a steep and slippery slope.

This visit showed me that to be in ministry with the poor is to serve people who live in inconvenient places; who are ignored by most government and NGO services; who are shunned as different or inscrutable; whose traditional way of life is so challenged by contemporary values (especially the predominance of individual security over the common good) that they literally find themselves between a rock and a hard place with regard to livelihood, education, and health care, the basic elements of a successful life.

The Dumagats, like other communities living in poverty, are not without resources. The Ministry with the Poor program aims to help them tap those resources and, ultimately, to build a just and even road to fullness of life and opportunity.

Linda Unger is staff editor and senior writer for UMCOR.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Palmeros’ story: Brigida Coutiño Espinoza

Brigida Coutino Espiñoza performs quality inspection on eco-palms prior to shipping to the US. Photo: Pronatura Sur A.C.

My name is Brigida Coutiño Espinoza, I am 32 years old and I live in Sierra Morena community in the Sepultura Biosphere Reserve, in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico. I began working to help my husband in the palm quality selection when I was 16 years old. Back then we were selling palm illegally and they only employed men. But now we are a well-organized enterprise, women are working in the selection process and we are legally selling palm fronds directly to the US market.

Three years ago I began working as the coordinator of our selection team, which is composed of four other women. Some say that this is not a job for women, but we are all very proud of it because there are not many opportunities for women here. Our job is very important because the people in the US and especially the churches for Palm Sunday are expecting a high quality product. The payment that the palm producers receive depends on our work, so we always give our best. Now we are teaching other communities how to do it.

This job is very important for us as women because it enables us to have more freedom. We no longer have to depend entirely on our husbands. Thanks to the eco-palm rebate we can buy better clothes for ourselves and for our children. We can afford a better and more diverse food, too. Some of us in the team invested last year in knitting tools, and with that we can make additional income.
I feel very proud to live here in these mountains because there is no contamination here. We have fresh air. And this is the future for my three children. That’s why we are cultivating palm, because thanks to it we can preserve the trees and all the nature around us.

I would like to thank all the people from the churches that are participating in Eco-Palm program and invite them to visit us here in my village.
By Brigida Coutiño Espinoza

This story is courtesy of Pronatura Sur A.C. The projects are part of the Sacred Orchid of Chiapas project supported by Global Environment Facility (GEF). UMCOR is a supporter of the Eco-Palm Project in partnership with the University of Minnesota. To order Eco-Palms visit