My grandmother used to say that one of the worst things that can be said about a person is that “they mean well.” Yoda said similarly, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
I like to say about the staff of the UMCOR Disaster Response unit that we help partners “do good well.” Some of our partners come to us with ideas that are clearly defined. They may just need a clarifying question or two. Often, we can learn from them. In other instances, partners approach UMCOR with ideas that require help to develop. Our staff coaches them by sharing best practices, tips, and explaining standards that have been established internationally for humanitarian assistance. In some cases, we help partners move from meaning well and trying to do good to doing good well.
For some partners, the grant they receive from UMCOR may be their first foray into disaster response. In those cases, especially, we work to help them improve their understanding of best practices.
Sharing best practices may mean helping partners find culturally acceptable food rations that are also consistent with caloric intake standards as recommended by the World Food Program, or daily water consumption guidelines suggested by the Sphere standards, a joint consortium of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work together to ensure excellence in humanitarian assistance. Or maybe UMCOR demonstrates how to select beneficiaries in a way that is impartial and identifies the most vulnerable in a community. Or perhaps we introduce a partner to the principles of protection in humanitarian assistance.
The Rev. Jack Amick (far left) assists with a distribution of Rainfresh water filtration units with GlobalMedic workers in Torbeck, Haiti. Photo: GlobalMedic
We listen to partners, building on their ideas. We learn. And we share what we’ve learned with others.
Ultimately, we do all this because, on behalf of The United Methodist Church, UMCOR cares for the vulnerable and weak in this world. We do this because Christ told us to care for the least of these. And so, for 77 years, UMCOR has worked to “alleviate poverty without regard for race or creed.”
Not too far back in our history, UMCOR would have shipped food or other items from the United States to help survivors of disasters. But we’ve learned that practice is not the best for the community being served. Shipping from the US can sometimes take up to eight weeks. In that time, what is required on the ground can change dramatically. Instead, we encourage partners to purchase supplies locally or regionally. In some cases, we support partners as they give vouchers or cash to beneficiaries so that they, themselves can select the food they want from local shops—in cases where markets are operating.
The three main humanitarian principles that undergird all our work are that the dignity of disaster survivors should be maintained, that we do no harm, and that we serve with impartiality. I have heard it said that “humanitarian” assistance is secular and not Christian. On the contrary, well-implemented humanitarian assistance can be a real and tangible sign of unconditional love. It can be, dare I say, sacramental. It can be a physical reminder that God loves all.
The concept of dignity in disaster response comes alive when partners choose not to provide survivors with used clothing or when we progress in our hearts past the place where we say, “This will be good enough for them.” When we give survivors choices, they can exercise their rights with dignity. When we provide a food ration large enough that beneficiaries are not forced to beg for more in a few days, we help them maintain their dignity. We’re told that we will receive a full measure, pressed down, shaken, and flowing over—abundance. Are we prepared to provide those who suffer that same kind of abundance?
UMCOR asks, “Are we doing harm through this grant?” In setting up partnerships, are we setting up structures of power imbalance, or relationships that create a continual dependency, which do not promote sustainability? Are we engaging in practices that harm the environment…which eventually hurt people? Do we seek local solutions whenever possible? Jesus reminds the 70 disciples he sends out that all they need they will find right in the communities they enter, or that the people on the hillside where he preached will have enough to share.
Impartiality means that UMCOR is not an insurance agency for Methodists. Whether or not one has a relationship with the UMC does not affect the assistance one receives. We encourage partners to identify the most vulnerable and build a response around those people, rather than building a response activity around the Methodists in the community or focused on a church building. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus reminds us that our prime goal is to help people, without regard to religion or nationality.
I am privileged to be able to lead this team that works hard to make sure that 100 percent of your donation is effectively used by partners as they respond to disaster or prepare for disasters. Regardless of their background, the entire team considers this work to be a sacred trust. With this dedication and your support, I am convinced we can work together to do good well.
*The Rev. Jack Amick serves as senior director for UMCOR’s Disaster Response, General Board of Global Ministries.
Restoring Clean Drinking Water to Haitians After Hurricane Matthew
Hurricane Matthew, the first category five hurricane to affect the Atlantic Ocean since 2007, struck the island nation of Haiti October 4, 2016. In Haiti, the storm affected 2.1 million people, displaced 176,000 people, and led to more than 1,000 casualties. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), close to 4,000 suspected cases of cholera were reported in Haiti because of contaminated water supplies in areas most affected by the hurricane.
A GlobalMedic staff member helps families in Haiti assemble Rainfresh purification units. UMCOR partnered with GlobalMedic to get fresh water to families that needed it after Hurricane Matthew struck the island. Photo: GlobalMedic
GlobalMedic, the operational arm of the David McAntony Gibson Foundation, a registered Canadian charity, received a grant from UMCOR to distribute Rainfresh Household Water Purification units, providing clean drinking water to families affected by Hurricane Matthew. In total, the project goal was the distribution of 1,800 Rainfresh units, providing 12,451 people with clean drinking water for up to one year. It also provided training on the assembly and use of the water purification units for all families receiving the units.
Each Rainfresh unit consists of two 20 liter buckets and lids, four ceramic filters, a spigot, a cleaning pad, a gauge, and instructional material. The two buckets sit one on top of the other—one for the untreated water and the other for safe drinking water. The upper container houses four ceramic cartridges through which the untreated water flows under gravity. Clean water collects in the bottom water container. The unit purifies three liters of clean drinking water per hour—enough to support the daily needs for an entire family.
Because of GlobalMedic’s Rapid Response Team and UMCOR’s ability to quickly assess emergency grants, GlobalMedic was able to meet with local Haitian government offices and the United Nations WASH Cluster in Haiti less than 48 hours after Hurricane Matthew crossed the island. Through this coordination, GlobalMedic was assigned to distribute Rainfresh units to communities in the South Department, where the need for clean drinking water was dire.
Beneficiaries in Haiti receive Rainfresh water filtration units made possible by a grant from UMCOR and a partnership with GlobalMedic. This community needed fresh water after Hurricane Matthew struck the island in 2016. Photo by GlobalMedic
Working with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), a local partner in Haiti, GlobalMedic distributed the Rainfresh units through 15 different distribution points. In addition to the training offered to all recipients of the Rainfresh units, two to four members of each community received additional in-depth instruction. These “Rainfresh Experts” agreed to help other community members assemble their units, as well as answer any questions about the unit’s operation. They visited the homes of senior and disabled beneficiaries to ensure they had set-up their units correctly and were using them effectively.
*Based on reports by Adam Petricic, an emergency programs officer with GlobalMedic.
Supporting Syrian and Iraq Refugees in Times of Conflict
*Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) and the International Blue Crescent Relief and Development Foundation (IBC)
From its humble beginnings in 1940, UMCOR has assisted Methodists in their calling to care for refugees and others displaced by war and violent humanmade conflicts. This responsibility—to intervene, advocate, and care for people fleeing fighting and its aftermath—continues today. Jack Amick, UMCOR’s senior director for Disaster Response, confirms that about half of UMCOR’s International Disaster Response grants support efforts to serve people in conflict-related disasters.
In the past year, UMCOR has supported the work of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) and the International Blue Crescent Relief and Development Foundation (IBC), among others, in their efforts to relieve the suffering and hardship of refugees and displaced populations in both Syria and Iraq. UMCOR’s support is ongoing—as the relief organizations finish one project they submit for funding for the next—necessary because neither the conflicts nor the hardships seem to end.
Iraqis displaced by fighting in Mosol late in 2016 receive culturally appropriate food-aid packages from UMCOR partner International Blue Crescent. Families were forced to flee first an ISIS takeover and then fighting by the government to take back Mosul from ISIS. Photo: International Blue Cresent
Last summer, the MECC assisted families in Damascus displaced by Syria’s civil war. A grant from UMCOR enabled the agency to provide rent assistance for families that fled from their homes in Deir Alzour because of fighting. MECC targeted large families, female-headed households, and families with disabled children or other family members injured as a result of the conflict.
The cash assistance for the targeted families allowed them to use their meager assets for food and medical needs. All beneficiaries realized the added value of MECC’s services.
In Iraq, ongoing military operations in the Ninawa region and the government’s retaking of the city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters resulted in heavy casualties and a large-scale displacement of the civilian population. Emergency needs for protection, water, food, shelter, and medical assistance are keenly felt by this exhausted population. The IBC approached UMCOR for assistance with emergency food distributions in the Shakah area of Iraq, in cooperation with the local government authorities.
The crisis in Iraq necessitates regular humanitarian assistance to approximately 11 million people, 4.7 million of whom are children. About 3.3 million in Iraq are currently displaced. Many have moved in with relatives but about 11 percent live in camps for displaced people. Baghdad, Anbar, and Duhok areas are hosting 43 percent of the displaced population. According to IBC, more than half of the communities in Iraq are unable to meet their basic needs.
Partnering with UMCOR, IBC was able to provide direct food aid of monthly rations to some of the most vulnerable people among the displaced in the Shekan District. The project reached 865 families, more than 4,000 displaced individuals in all.
*Grant reports provided by Nulan Uker for IBC and Ghassan Chahin and Assel Soub from the MECC Syria office.
Relief in Bangladesh With Partner HEED Bangladesh
Often, UMCOR responds to natural disasters that are recognizable and well-known in the United States, such as hurricanes Matthew, Sandy or Katrina. However, UMCOR also responds to many more disasters that UMC members may never hear about—acting on the request of partners who are trying to alleviate suffering in their corners of the world. In May 2016, Bangladesh was in the path of Cyclone Roanu, which killed 26 and submerged dozens of villages in floodwater. HEED Bangladesh (Health, Education, and Economic Development), a non-profit humanitarian agency, partnered with UMCOR to respond with immediate emergency relief, reaching the most vulnerable in the cyclone-affected areas.
Relief from HEED Bangladesh was able to reach all the way to Nan+ in the Bhola District of Bangladesh. Since birth, Nan, now 28, has navigated his life through both physical and mental challenges. Nan and his parents survive on the income his father makes repairing bicycles. Before Cyclone Roanu, they had a small tin-shed house, but the cyclone blew it away and damaged everything within.
HEED Bangladesh distributes food packages in the aftermath of Cyclone Roanu with UMCOR’s support. Photo: HEED Bangladesh
Nan’s father was not able to work on a new shelter and earn enough money to buy food for his family. As a result, Nan’s parents turned to neighbors for assistance, going door-to-door seeking hand-outs. When HEED Bangladesh staff reached their shelter with a relief distribution survey, Nan’s mother broke down in tears, worried for Nan’s health. The survey team enlisted Nan for relief, which would also help his family.
They received rice, lentils, cooking oil, sugar, and salt. Nan said he could not imagine that he would receive such support—that anyone would find him to offer help. His family received sufficient food for a month, which, in the meantime, enabled his father to resume his work. The family thanked both HEED Bangladesh and UMCOR for the relief.
*Compiled from reports by Jishu Barua, the operations manager for HEED Bangladesh.
+Nan’s real name has been withheld.
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Spring 2017 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.