Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ripple Effect of UMCOR Support

By Mary Zigbuo*

After 27 hours of travel (and three breakdowns!!) from Liberia’s capital into its dense southeastern forest region, we finally arrived in the town of Zwedru. I am privileged to be part of the United Methodist Church of Liberia’s team leading an UMCOR-sponsored response to address Ebola awareness and food scarcity in three vulnerable communities in Liberia’s southeastern region. A targeted training-of-trainers will allow more than 25,000 people in three counties to receive Ebola awareness and sensitization training.

The southeast is Liberia’s most challenging region to access due to poor and/or non-existent road infrastructure. Eighty percent of its inhabitants survive off subsistence farming, earning less than $800 annually. The region experiences the highest rate of poverty and the lowest rate of access to health facilities, employment opportunities, education and commerce. It escaped the brunt of the Ebola disease largely because of its isolated situation; thus, its vulnerability lies in the potential for an outbreak. Though the prevalence of Ebola is decreasing, it still lingers as a threat; especially for those communities that received limited or no awareness.

Restricted movement within the country has compromised subsistence farmers’ ability to plant their gardens; there is no harvest to reap! Nine hundred beneficiaries, comprising vulnerable elderly, persons with disabilities, pregnant women and single mothers, will receive a one-month food package comprising: eight pounds of beans, 25 kg of rice, 25 pieces of dried fish, 1.5 liters of vegetable oil, salt and 60 bouillon cubes.

Marpu explained that the profit from her sudden sale of fifty 1.5 liter vegetable-oil bottles enabled her pay registration fees so her children can enroll in school. Photo: Courtesy of Mary Zigbuo

For the past six months, Ebola has precariously slowed down an already fragile, postwar economy. Purchasing the food items locally boosts the local economy and brings smiles to the faces and hope to the hearts of dozens of market women such as Marpu, whose family income is totally dependent upon her sales! Marpu explained that the profit from her sudden sale of fifty 1.5 liter vegetable-oil bottles enabled her pay registration fees so her children can enroll in school. A few weeks ago, the government announced the re-opening of schools in February after a six month closure due to the Ebola disease. Though happy and excited by the announcement, children and parents also worry about raising funds to pay school registration and tuition fees. Marpu said, “a little profit can go a long way for us, our ma” (our ma is a local term of endearment).

Thank you God for your blessings for the work you are doing in the lives of your people. Only your grace can turn victims into victors!

*Mary Zigbuo is a Global Ministries missionary assigned to Liberia’s Ebola response effort. You can support her by giving to Advance #10721Z. You can also support UMCOR’s international disaster relief efforts by giving to Advance #982450

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Recovery to Preparedness in North Alabama

Nineteen above-ground storm shelters already have been constructed.
Photos courtesy of Lori Feist, North Alabama Conference.

From April 25 to 28, 2011, the U.S. South, Midwest and Northeast experienced one of the severest tornado outbreaks ever recorded. The National Weather Service confirmed a total of 355 tornadoes across 21 states in that time period. Alabama, along with Mississippi, was hardest hit. Lori Feist, disaster recovery volunteer coordinator for the North Alabama Conference, reports on the completed recovery process and next steps.

The recovery effort from the April 2011 tornadoes is complete. We were blessed to receive $2.15 million in grants from UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). That money was used to help fund 191 repairs, 70 rebuilds, and the purchase of 16 mobile homes. More than 274 families were touched during this effort. Many more families were helped by the more than 240 volunteer teams that came in from across the country, serving as the hands and feet of Christ.

As we approached the end of this project, we realized there would be funds remaining. Greg Forrester, assistant general secretary for U.S. Disaster Response for UMCOR, encouraged us to apply for an additional grant to be combined with the remaining funds to start a "Storm Survivor Resiliency Project." We now have enough funds to provide at least 70 storm shelters to families who were affected by the 2011 storms. We are working with "Survive-A-Storm Shelters" from Thomasville, Georgia, to install these above-ground shelters.

Included here are a few photos of some of the first 19 shelters that were installed in the Central and Southwest districts. We placed three in Alberta, one in Cottondale and one in Fosters. Three more were installed in Lamar County and one in Pickens County. Ten have been installed in Walker County. Installation begins soon on 12 shelters in the Northwest District.

We will continue to post pictures as we work our way through the Conference. Please keep all those involved in this work in your prayers as we continue this worthwhile project.