Shannon Trilli of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (center) helps gather volunteers, residents and schoolchildren near Bo, Sierra Leone, for a mosquito net distribution as part of the Imagine No Malaria campaign in December 2010.
This article appears in Interpreter Magazine, March/April 2014 edition. The issue is dedicated to the work and ministry of UMCOR.
By Tita Parham
There is no “CNN effect” when it comes to the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
“UMCOR doesn’t leave when the cameras turn off and people begin to forget,” said Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR’s associate general secretary for international development. “I believe this speaks to our commitment to provide not just immediate relief, but holistic, long-term recovery and development.”
Indeed, the agency has. In 2012, UMCOR offices in nine countries managed grants for health and development initiatives valued at more than $54 million.
Those funds enabled a project in Afghanistan to provide agriculture and marketing training to 4,000 farmers. One in Armenia taught 169 community health volunteers how to prevent HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections. Another in Zimbabwe provided 45,437 insecticide-treated bed nets to the 12 areas most affected by malaria since 2011. In some instances, UMCOR funded the projects and in others implemented them with funds granted by international and government organizations and entities.
Disaster response, Crutchfield said, is often the catalyst for long-term assistance. “Most of our international field offices were established in the wake of a disaster and carried the work from the relief stage through to development,” she said.
“While the transition from relief to development differs within each context and country,” she continued, “UMCOR has remained engaged in these communities, constantly monitoring the situation and determining how we can continue to meet the needs of communities striving to not just survive, but thrive.”
That long-term engagement and a commitment to sustainable development — guided by international best practices, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other benchmarks — will continue, she said.
‘Integrated Sustainable Development’
|A beekeeper far back in the bush in Liberia shows one of his hives. Beekeeping is sustainable farming that both improves diets and provides income. UMCOM/Janni Snider
The MDGs, adopted by the United Nations and its member states in 2000, seek to reduce poverty and improve people’s lives. The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria (INM) campaign arose from those objectives. So far, INM has raised more than $58 million of its $75 million goal to end preventable deaths from malaria in Africa by 2015 —the target year to achieve the MDGs.
In coming years, “the Post-2015 Development Goals will guide the global humanitarian community on its combined focus areas,” explained Shannon Trilli, UMCOR director of global health initiatives.
Crutchfield said UMCOR would continue focusing on helping communities create jobs and livelihoods; ensure healthy lives and food security and nutrition; and achieve universal access to water and sanitation.
A key component, Crutchfield said, is “integrated sustainable development.”
“Rather than doing one-off types of programs, we are making an intentional effort to combine our activities so that the integrated impact of several interventions makes a more lasting impact on the beneficiary communities,” she said.
UMCOR also develops capacity-strengthening partnerships with local community groups. In countries with an UMCOR field office, the agency works closely with local United Methodist and Methodist churches in addition to collaborating with established organizations, providing financial grants and technical support for projects.
“We feel that the true goal to development lies in empowering and equipping local communities to tackle, resolve and create their own solutions to their challenges,” Crutchfield said. “UMCOR is playing a role in this by accompanying our local partners through this process.”
Because many of those community challenges connect integrally to health issues, a critical component of UMCOR’s long-term assistance is improving health outcomes.
‘Nehnwaa’ … A Household Word
The priority is community-based primary health care focused on improving maternal and child health through prevention and education, Trilli said. UMCOR is maximizing existing resources to meet it.
According to Trilli, United Methodist health facilities, personnel and community health workers will build on the health messages and networks developed through INM to “prevent and combat killers of women and children” — pneumonia, malnutrition, lack of access to safe birthing facilities and prenatal care, and water-borne diseases like diarrhea.
Maternal and child health will continue to be the global health emphasis in UMCOR’s work toward the Post-2015 Development Goals, Trilli said.
Saye Gonleh said such efforts have already made a difference in his community.
The chief of Twilaywin, a town in northwest Liberia, Gonleh said “Nehnwaa” has become a household word there. That’s the name of a program developed to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates in the community.
With UMCOR’s support, Ganta United Methodist Hospital collaborated with Curamericas Global in 2008 to implement the Nehnwaa Child Survival Project. It trains members of the community as health volunteers and midwives to monitor general health and respond to dangers related to pregnancy, malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.
Since its inception, skilled deliveries have increased from 23 percent to 82 percent, the number of children receiving oral hydration therapy for diarrhea has risen from 48 percent to 83 percent, and the use of modern family planning methods has grown from 2 percent to 60 percent.
A critical element has been encouraging families to own the project and work together to meet their health needs.
“Initially, we didn’t know that with unity and concerted efforts, we could take steps to prevent disease occurrences in our community,” Gonleh said. “But as Nehnwaa … organized our community into working brigades … setting up lifesaving scheme(s) for obstetric emergencies, our story has now changed for the better, and we no longer rely on outsiders to do what we ought to do for ourselves.”
‘A Congregational-based Approach’
Strengthening existing health systems is another way UMCOR is building on the foundation established by INM, Trilli said.
“Many of our health facilities, especially in Africa, were left dilapidated after civil conflict,” she said. “We would like to call the denomination’s attention to revitalizing more than 300 United Methodist hospitals to ensure that when our community health workers refer a patient to a United Methodist health facility, those facilities work.”
In the United States, UMCOR seeks to be an integral part of the conversation about the country’s health system and Americans’ overall health in the wake of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation.
“We at UMCOR see immense potential in designing a congregational-based approach to health needs through our faith community nurse and health advocate networks across the United States,” Trilli said.
An initial focus on stress and mental health, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, obesity and nutrition is being developed.
All underscore UMCOR’s commitment to help people in the United States and abroad live healthy lives and to empower them to do so.
A volunteer with Nehnwaa said the agency is succeeding.
“When we were trained to be ‘change agents,’ I did not really understand the phrase,” he said. “But as the project began to expose us to various aspects of community development … and on how to motivate people to accept innovations of any kind, I have now come to realize that my home must take the lead.
“In short, I see myself as a role model. And I’m proud to be a voluntary services provider in my own community.”
Tita Parham is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant based in Apopka, Fla.