UMCOR distributes insecticide-treated bed nets to neighborhoods in Zimbabwe.
In September 2000, the world’s leaders came together at United Nations headquarters in New York City to formally adopt the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a series of time-bound targets to reduce extreme poverty by 2015. The goals are to:
- End poverty and hunger
- Attain universal education
- Achieve gender equality
- Promote child health
- Promote maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS and other disease of poverty
- Attain environmental sustainability
- Build a global partnership
Since 2000, UMCOR has been addressing the MDGs in concert with governments and organizations around the world. For example, our Sustainable Agriculture and Development program directly addresses the goal of decreasing the number of people around the globe suffering from hunger, decreasing the number of people who live on less than $1 a day, and attaining environmental sustainability. Programs such as Imagine No Malaria, Maternal and Child Survival, and Hospital Systems Strengthening are facilitating significant improvements in healthcare for mothers and children. UMCOR’s strategy of working with local communities and other aid organizations strengthens global partnerships.
UMCOR is partnering with organizations such as the United Nations Foundation to address the Millennium Development Goals. “UMCOR’s community-based global health strategies have proven to be very effective, as demonstrated through our partnership through Imagine No Malaria,” says Michael Pajonk, Director of Organizational Partnerships of the United Nations Foundation. “The United Methodist church health teams in Africa are implementing programs in the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities in Africa, and demonstrating excellent results.
UMCOR values and works toward the MDGs. However, one of the most important criticisms of the MDGs is that the goal-setting did not include enough of the perspective and participation from the very impoverished, marginalized and vulnerable communities that the MDGs are aimed to impact. Moreover, international political will is not always in sync with the priorities of cities and villages.
According to a 2005 report from the United Nations Millennium Project, community-based management is crucial. Without local participation, it’s almost impossible for new strategies to take root. Community health workers are especially effective. Aid must be delivered in a way that respects the agency and the priorities of the local community. Many governments don’t have the infrastructure or resources to deliver this type of aid. Therefore, the 2005 report suggests that, “Aid should be directed to humanitarian efforts or through NGOs that can ensure delivery of services on the ground.”
That’s where UMCOR and the local church network come in. “Churches and UMCOR are uniquely positioned to strengthen the voice of civil society,” says Shannon Trilli, the Director of UMCOR Global Health. Through strong local partnerships, UMCOR helps to “give communities the skills and tools they need—such as grant writing, financial know-how, and management skills—to not just implement programs, but to express the solutions to poverty in their own voices.”
One thing that UMCOR does to strengthen the voice of civil society is to help create local health and development boards, based within the United Methodist church annual conference structure. Medical professionals, local leaders, and church experts are invited to collaborate within these governance boards as the voice of their communities. Each health board identifies priorities, envisions new programs, and applies for grants. “Through the creation of the health and development boards,” says Trilli, “UMCOR has invested in creating a local and lasting structure with each of our United Methodist churches in Africa that reflects and voices the presence of the church and the local communities we serve.”
As 2015 approaches, the international community discusses what should come next. Will we simply extend the deadline on the current MDGs? Will we create new MDGs? Or will we scrap the MDG idea and come up with a new benchmark of global development? Regardless of how this issue plays out in the United Nations, UMCOR will continue its work to improve global health and alleviate poverty. The MDGs are a helpful evaluation tool for UMCOR’s programs, but ultimately, UMCOR’s work is driven by our belief in the God-given worth and dignity of all people. We are called to reduce suffering and empower communities. Michael Pajonk of the United Nations Foundation concludes, “We look forward to UMCOR’s continuing partnership, both on the Millennium Development Goals and beyond 2015.”
*Julia Kayser is a writer and regular contributor to www.umcor.org.