8 March 2021
Disaster and Relief Work
At present we are aware of Zimbabwe's distress, the aftermath of the cyclone in Myanmur and the continuing earth quakes in China - all have need for immediate response. As a church [PCANZ and St Johns] we work through Christian World Service [CWS] which is made up the New Zealand churches working together and networking with existing churches and organizations in the places where aid is needed. These on-the-ground agencies know their own patch and what is really helpful and will work for and with the people in the situations.
Money given through them also often attracts a government subsidy as part of New Zealand's overseas aid, but more importantly the aid is targeted and intended to enable local people to take control of their own lives again.
We may feel as if our small contribution can't achieve much in a world where the need is so great and we also need to be assured that what we give will be well used and not wasted in misguided projects. As those who follow Christ, we know that we cannot put aside the needs of others. Compassion and our common humanity make their own demands and we must discern where we are being challenged to make a response personally and as a community. It is also a decision which needs to be trusting, intelligent and informed, not to make us feel good but to ensure that good will result from it. and When we give as part of a wider response the whole effort becomes effective and multiplies in ways we cannot imagine.
The following article is from CWS and gives some insight into their understanding of disaster response.
"Disasters: How to Respond.
Every year, and seemingly more and more frequently, the world is confronted with disasters, natural or man-made, which demand urgent responses to assist people in desperate need. And there is a natural human response from most people wanting to help. This is why CWS belongs to the global alliance ACT International (Action by Churches Together) which is a highly organised, experienced and professional organisation, able to respond rapidly and effectively to such needs. ACT International always works through local partners, who are best placed to know the needs and what has to be done. ACT International does have experienced experts in various fields, available to go quickly to disaster zones to help set things in motion and to assist local people as they recover from the immediate trauma. This can be to help organise relief supplies or the provision of clean water and shelter.
It is highly specialised work and needs a great deal of sensitivity in difficult circumstances. This is not always recognised and there have been many cases of well-intentioned people going to disaster zones to “see if they can help” and/or setting up new organisations to raise funds, without having any on-the-ground experience, local contacts or infrastructure.
A New Zealand nurse, Heather Macleod, writes about the pitfalls of volunteering in such situations.
Noting that in today’s context it is easy for people to quickly get to places of need, she asks “Should volunteers be there? What added value do they offer to communities and what potential harm can they cause?” There are volunteers who join recognised organisations for short term or permanent appointment, are trained for the task, and prepared for cross-cultural responses. There are others who believe “that an extra pair of hands must be needed” but “lack experience of working in cross-cultural situations”.
Heather points out that the preferred way of working is for any actions to be coordinated between recognised NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations), the UN and local governments and she gives instances where this has not happened. She tells of the awful experience following the Pakistan earthquake in 2005 when clothing was simply thrown from the back of a truck in a most undignified way to people in need – which meant that the strongest grabbed nearly everything and the weakest were left the scraps. She continues:
“I was conducting an assessment of separated children (in Albania) and visited a Kosovar refugee camp. I found separated children being housed in tents with young foreign volunteers who could not speak the same language as the children. These volunteers were totally committed to helping the children, but were oblivious to the critical processes involved in the protection of separated children. The volunteers did not know that they must contact the mandated organisations to register the children, nor did they know about the ‘Guiding Principles of Separated and Unaccompanied Children’. Handling this situation wrongly could result in harm to the children.”
These are two examples among many where well-meaning but inexperienced people can hamper the efforts of recognised agencies who conform to rules and guidelines which have been established by the international community, precisely to prevent such problems. CWS therefore encourages those who wish to help in such instances to focus their concern by raising funds here. Generally speaking in New Zealand, far from the disaster zones, it is much more cost-effective to give money. This can be used to buy food and household items locally, thus helping to keep the local economy alive and to provide the means for organising and distributing relief aid."
Please pray for all those involved in relief work around the world as well as for those whose lives have been suddenly changed by forces beyond their control, that in struggling to survive they not lose hope
Check out the CWS website [click on the logo on our menu] if you want to read further.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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