UMCOR

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Legacy of Compassion in Afghanistan

UMCOR helped rehabilitate war-zone territories, including the rebuilding homes and communities.UMCOR helped rehabilitate war-zone territories, including the rebuilding homes and communities.

By David Tereshchuk*

April 24, 2014—After more than a decade of relief and development work in Afghanistan, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is leaving behind a legacy of compassion as it shutters its mission there.

UMCOR’s extraordinary effort to walk with the Afghan people through the often grim setting of an international military invasion and a continuing armed insurgency, has resulted in substantial change—often achieved against overwhelming odds.

Sharad Aggarwal, UMCOR director of programs, recalls the bold decision made in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. to begin relief operations in Afghanistan, where the then-ruling Afghan Taliban had provided safe haven for Al Qaeda leaders to operate.

“Our role changed over time,” Aggarwal says. “As the initial chaos and devastation of war gave way to a more settled picture—though never one of complete peace—we worked with local people less on purely humanitarian relief and more on development for their long-term future.”

UMCOR helped rehabilitate war-zone territories, rebuilding homes and communities, and boosted the recovery of agriculture, including training farmers in marketing their produce. Critical to agricultural recovery in many areas are the traditional underground systems of irrigation—known as karizes or qanats—which were in dire need of repair and sometimes of complete rebuilding.

“Overall, there’s much to look back on positively,” says Aggarwal, “from our help, early on, with the sustainable return of refugees—including the provision of a great many new shelter units—through to building a broader base for villagers’ livelihoods and enabling people to establish more stability in their communities.”

Partnerships will guarantee vital services

An UMCOR staff person explains the use of shelter materials so Afghan refugees can learn how to construct their own homes. UMCOR Afghanistan
An UMCOR staff person explains the use of shelter materials so Afghan refugees can learn how to construct their own homes. UMCOR Afghanistan

UMCOR will be passing on its material assets to the Afghan communities and organizations it has worked with, but the organizational close-down will by no means result in United Methodists’ compassionate work ceasing to have an impact.

The General Board of Global Ministries, of which UMCOR is a part, will continue its work in Afghanistan in the areas of health and community development. Global Ministries has had an active presence in the country for nearly 50 years and is dedicated to improving conditions for some of most vulnerable populations.

“School and health clinic services are vital for many remote communities of Afghanistan’s mountains,” says David Wildman, Global Ministries executive secretary for Human Rights and Racial Justice, who travels frequently to Afghanistan.

“We will continue to support capacity building and training,” Wildman continues. “Small projects conducted in close partnership with local communities will bring the biggest improvements in the future.”

Wildman cites, for instance, that decades of mother-and-child health programs will continue to address Afghanistan’s still appallingly high maternal mortality rates, especially in mountain villages located far from medical resource centers.

Ongoing work in eye care, physical therapy and mental health training are other critical areas where Global Ministries will continue to make a difference in the lives of many Afghan communities.

Reconciliation-focused recovery

UMCOR’s work in Afghanistan includes the rehabilitation of local irrigation systems, like this one, called karizes. UMCOR Afghanistan
UMCOR’s work in Afghanistan includes the rehabilitation of local irrigation systems, like this one, called karizes. UMCOR Afghanistan

Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR’s associate general secretary for International Development, says that over the past dozen years, much success has been achieved. “Although we have now closed the UMCOR offices in Afghanistan, we are not cutting off ties—relationships and connections will certainly continue,” she indicates.

Crutchfield acknowledges that bringing a compassionate mission to Afghanistan has meant operating against a backdrop of polarized attitudes, in both Afghanistan and the United States.

“But we can certainly feel,” she says, “that the entire experience has shown that we are reconciliation-focused. We have made a considerable impact on the lives of people, and everyone can see we are clearly all about recovery and improvement.”

Your gift to UMCOR Sustainable Recovery and Development, Advance #3021951, will help communities as vulnerable as those in Afghanistan to achieve lasting improvements in their lives.


* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who regularly contributes to www.umcor.org.

Your gift to UMCOR Sustainable Recovery and Development, Advance #3021951, will help communities as vulnerable as those in Afghanistan to achieve lasting improvements in their lives.