Jason Reyes begins rebuilding his home following Typhoon Haiyan in Dagami, Philippines. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
By Linda Unger*
April 14, 2014—The board of directors of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) approved on Friday more than $5 million in grants in support of relief and development work in the Philippines, Haiti and the United States, reaffirming UMCOR’s mission of “mutuality, empowerment and sustainability.”
UMCOR Deputy General Secretary the Rev. Dr. J. Denise Honeycutt told board members that their congregations “should be very proud of who they are and what they are doing in the world through the work of UMCOR,” the relief and development arm of The United Methodist Church.
Over the past six months, since Honeycutt assumed UMCOR’s top post, the organization has responded to needs around the world, including in the four countries identified by the United Nations as experiencing level 3 disasters—the highest disaster rating. In those countries—Philippines, Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan—UMCOR is still at work assisting internally displaced persons forced to flee their homes.
Honeycutt said, “We have affirmed our work to be among and with those on the margins, the vulnerable poor. We are working with communities, in a mission of mutuality, empowerment and sustainability.”
She added, “We have named, and will continue to name, that this is God’s mission that we are about, and as such, it is centered in relationship—relationship with God, with each other, and with all of creation.”
Homes to be rebuilt in Philippines
Among the grants the UMCOR board approved was a grant for more than $2.665 million to rebuild some 200 homes in the town of Tanauan, in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda), which wreaked broad destruction and loss of life in the Philippines last November.
Honeycutt’s first overseas trip as UMCOR deputy general secretary was to the Philippines, where, she said, “people who recognized our UMCOR logo thanked us for having been there with them in those early days, soon after the typhoon hit, with provisions of food and water.”
In the community, or barangay, of Calogcog, where UMCOR will conduct its rebuilding project, she said, “I was led hand-in-hand by a woman who pointed out to me piles of rubble that once were the homes of her family and friends. Two hundred of her neighbors died in the storm.”
As in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, so in the Philippines, Honeycutt said, UMCOR will not just rebuild homes but will “build back better,” that is, UMCOR will build homes that are more capable of withstanding the typhoon-prone climate of the Philippines.
Haiti grants flesh out strategic plan
|Students at Lycee des Jeunes Filles, a girls-only high school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: Jean Gaby
UMCOR directors approved nearly $1.2 million to support development projects in Haiti that are being implemented by UMCOR partners Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti (EMH)—the Methodist Church of Haiti—and International Rescue Committee (IRC).
Program Manager Thodleen Dessources said the projects support the strategic plan elaborated by UMCOR’s field office in Haiti in 2012. The plan, which runs through 2017, calls for “integrated and holistic programming and strengthening local capacities for long-term sustainable development,” she said.
The EMH grants include two school construction projects—the extension of an EMH kindergarten and of an EMH high school, both of which have proven so attractive to parents, for the quality of instruction, that they have run out of room to serve all the children seeking an education.
The other two EMH grants support microcredit and agriculture components of its Sustainable Integrated Community Development project. They are “scale-ups” of successful pilot projects begun in 2012, Dessources said, and will reach “different communities and additional and larger groups of participants.”
UMCOR and IRC curtail child servitude in Haiti
UMCOR’s partnership with IRC seeks to address the problem of family separation especially as it relates to Restavek culture in Haiti. This was an arrangement whereby impoverished rural families sent their children to live with wealthier relatives or acquaintances in cities, in the hope the families would care for the children and send them to school in exchange for the children helping with household tasks.
“Too often,” Dessources said, “the arrangement ended in the abuse and even homelessness of these children.” Today, she said, unscrupulous intermediaries have turned what was once considered a benign agreement into a business that lands vulnerable children in servitude.
IRC will implement a project that combines business and life skills training with income-generation activities, social services, and education on the perils of child servitude for poor rural families. The intent is to improve the families’ economic circumstances and diminish the desperation that puts them and their children at risk.
Ongoing US Disaster Response
Completing the large grants approved by UMCOR’s entire board of directors were six grants made to five U.S. annual conferences, for a total of $1.55 million. These will assist the Rocky Mountain, Central Texas, Alaska, Dakotas, and North Carolina conferences in their ongoing response to major disasters.
“When you look at the geography covered by our grants,” said Greg Forrester, head of UMCOR’s U.S. Disaster Response program, “you see that our response is in every part of the United States.”
Two grants will provide direct assistance to rebuild or repair homes and five churches damaged by catastrophic flooding in Colorado last September. “We’ve been supporting this response from the very beginning,” Forrester said. Earlier grants underwrote emergency response, disaster case management training, and infrastructure.
A short rebuilding season in Alaska
|Volunteers in Galena make the most of a short building season in Alaska. CREDIT: Courtesy Alaska Conference.
When the Yukon River overflowed its banks last May, eight remote Alaskan villages were affected, leaving a total of 194 homes damaged or destroyed. Most affected was Galena, where 54 percent of homes were left uninhabitable, and 300 of Galena’s 470 residents were forced to evacuate.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) invited faith-based organizations, including UMCOR, to assist with the recovery beginning in August last year. Because the construction season in Alaska is very short, FEMA offered to pick up the cost of travel for trained, skilled volunteers.
It will do the same this year. UMCOR and the other faith-based agencies—Mennonite Disaster Service, World Renew, Disciples of Christ, and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief—will again divide up the affected territory and make the most of the short building season.
UMCOR and Volunteers in Mission will again provide support to reconstruction in Galena, as they did last year.
|Rebuilding is under way in West, Texas. CREDIT: Courtesy Central Texas Conference
In West, Texas, news of last year’s fertilizer plant explosion, which impacted a third of the community, may have faded from the headlines, but recovery remains elusive for a handful of families. UMCOR directors approved a grant that will provide holistic support to the four West families whose homes have yet to be repaired.
In one case, the homeowner’s insurance paid the family for the damages to their home, but their bank turned around and demanded a mandatory mortgage payoff, leaving the family with just $251.35 to rebuild their ruined home.
“This grant for the Central Texas Conference is 100 percent for materials. It will put these severely affected families back into their community and back into a home,” Forrester said.
Last to leave
UMCOR often rejoices in being among the last organizations to leave a place following a major disaster, staying until the last survivor has returned to a repaired home. Two grants approved by the UMCOR board of directors at their spring meeting again make this the case.
After Hurricane Irene came ashore in North Carolina in late August 2011, UMCOR grants helped reconstruct more than 550 damaged homes and build six others from scratch across four North Carolina counties in 2012 and the first six months of 2013.
As work began on another new construction in the town of New Bern, Craven County, residents became aware of it and requested assistance for their still-damaged homes. Their county did not have a long-term recovery committee, and significant needs had not been met.
The North Carolina Conference identified three cases needing new construction, five needing major repairs, and another 15 to 20 needing roof replacements and other repairs.
In Minot, North Dakota, which was overrun by floodwaters beginning in March 2011, UMCOR worked with other faith-based organizations to respond to needs. Together they created Hope Village as a base for their operations, volunteers and supplies. But last October, Hope Village closed its doors, and many of the voluntary organizations helping to rebuild homes pulled up stakes.
“The Dakotas United Methodist Church has made a stand to stay in Minot until the last family has returned home and the last nail is driven,” reported the Rev. Lee Gale, the conference disaster response coordinator.
The grant approved by the UMCOR directors will allow the conference to complete work on the remaining 19 homes that need repairs, including those of two disabled veterans.
“UMCOR was able to accomplish a great deal working in partnership with the other faith-based organizations of Hope Village,” Forrester said. “And thanks to the faithfulness of United Methodists who continue to give in support of disaster response, we really can be there for these remaining survivors—until the last nail is driven and the last family returns home.”
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.