BBC Claims Ethiopia Famine Aid Misused

The BBC is reporting that 90% of money raised in 1985 to alleviate famine in Ethiopia went to Tigrayan rebels to buy arms in the struggle for independence. Musician Bob Geldof, founder of Band Aid, which raised $100 million is demanding the BBC provide evidence of abuse of funds.

The claims are made by two individuals who were part of the rebel movement and who are opponents of the current president of Ethiopia with whom they were once affiliated. He stands for re-election in the spring. The report also says the CIA alleged some money was misused.

In an effort the magnitude of the famine response in Ethiopia there is a risk that food or funds will be misdirected. But not at the scale alleged in this report.

The claims sound preposterous. The two say rebels posing as businessmen sold bags of sand to aid agencies rather than grain. And they claim that most of the funds went to purchase arms.

Aid agencies operating in Ethiopia at that time were not newcomers. Many had long experience in the country. They were there long before the famine and were among those who attempted for several months to make the world aware of the suffering that was underway. They struggled to gain attention.

The ecumenical agency in Ethiopia responsible for distributing some of the food was headed by an Irish priest who had lived in Ethiopia for many years and was well-known across the country. It’s unlikely he was misled by imposters selling sand. That experienced aid agencies were fooled in this way is difficult to believe.

It’s also difficult to believe misappropriation could have occurred at the level alleged under the control of a heavy-handed military dictatorship that was hardly likely to allow diversion of resources to the same rebels it was fighting. The Ethiopian government was led by a Marxist military junta heavy on control.

I traveled extensively in Ethiopia during the famine and afterward and witnessed distribution of food and medical care under extreme hardship. While I wouldn’t argue that the effort was flawless, nor that some leakage of funds is possible, the response abated the worst effects of the famine and saved millions of lives. The war continued long after and, in fact, aid agencies resisted the use of aid for military advantage by either side in the struggle.

The BBC must produce the evidence Geldof is calling for. Otherwise, reasonable people should reserve judgment about the accuracy of the report.

Internet Access A Fundamental Right?

A survey of several thousand people in 26 countries says Internet access should be a fundamental human right.

Pakistan, Taliban and Jobs

In an intriguing BBC report on Taliban tunnels in Pakistan the point is made that people in the Bajaur region need jobs. If not, the deposed Taliban could return and re-capture control of the region.

It’s a persistent theme in the region. The breeding grounds for the seeds of Taliban terror are fertilized by poverty and its related branches, unemployment, lack of health care and education and desperation exploited by Taliban organizers.

This points to the fact that military actions are not sufficient. After successful military intervention even more important steps must be taken to create effective, sustainable development, provide children quality education and create effective, reliable governance. These are easily stated but difficult to achieve.

It’s easier, apparently, to fund military activities than to fund these softer community development changes, yet security is equally dependent upon such functions.

I note that Church World Service is carrying out  long term development in Pakistan, not necessarily in the Bajaur region, but in places with similar need. Security and social instability are directly related to poverty. The work of community development may be the most significant action the world can take to stem terrorism and recruitment of young people to carry out acts of terror.

Community-Based Development in Congo


A boy in Lumbumbashi looks at contaminated water that is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Photo by the Rev. Larry Hollon.

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit Lumbumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo to participate in planning for a World Malaria Day event that will feature a distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets.

The infection rate from malaria is high in Lumbumbashi. Standing water, open sewers, a contaminated water table and scarcely any economic infrastructure for jobs or businesses makes this place one of the poorest suburbs in the world.

While there, I sat outside in the late afternoon before an impressive stand of bamboo listening to a conversation about community-based development.

Actually, the conversation was about how this interfaith group of clergy and physicians would provide bed nets to two of the most resource-deprived neighborhoods in the city. They were devising a bold plan, giving thought to other partners, how to distribute nets, train residents in utilization, recruit volunteers and get media coverage.

They will recruit 150 volunteers, survey the neighborhoods, conduct community meetings and organize in-home distribution.

It is a grassroots group organizing to tackle a common enemy that knows no boundaries and affects everyone regardless of faith, gender, age or location-malaria. The people of The United Methodist Church will be one of the partners.

They had met earlier in the day with the regional minister of health to begin the process of establishing a relationship with this essential government partner. In the late afternoon, the UN Special envoy for malaria met with them as well.

The neighborhoods they serve have never had a bed net distribution. When we visited them the following day, it was clear they lack virtually every basic service from clean water to paved streets to sewers to trash pickup. Fetid, rotting garbage lined drainage ditches flowing with sewage and rain water. Children walked barefoot and played in the pockmarked dirt road amidst standing water and garbage. No wonder outbreaks of diseases are common here.

The clergy and physicians know the problems firsthand. They live or work here. They discussed how community residents might react to the bed net distribution and how to train them to use the nets properly. They know the people, their fears and capacity. This is the value of community-based organization. It is organically connected to the realities on the ground.

I came away from Congo more optimistic than I was going in. I had a media-created image, accurate but incomplete. The meetings under the bamboo gave me a bigger picture, and a belief that solutions to seemingly intractable problems are possible.

I left thinking new thoughts about community-based development and hopeful that as this small group of committed leaders continue their work they will experience a success and in due time move from net distribution to other activities that empower them and their communities, and make life better for the kids walking barefoot through the fetid trash and foul water.

Community-based Development in Congo

In Lumbumbashi, Congo last week I sat outside in the late afternoon before an impressive stand of bamboo listening to a conversation about community-based development.

CORESA MeetingActually, the conversation was about how this interfaith group of clergy and physicians would provide bednets to two of the most most resource-deprived neighborhoods in the city. They were devising a bold plan, giving thought to other partners, how to distribute nets, train residents in utilization, recruit volunteers and get media coverage.

They will recruit 150 volunteers, survey the neighborhoods, conduct community meetings and organize in-home distribution.

It is a grassroots group organizing to tackle a common enemy that knows no boundaries and affects everyone regardless of faith, gender, age or location–malaria. They are confident and practical in laying out their plans.

They had met earlier in the day with the regional minister of health to begin the process of establishing a relationship with this essential government partner. In the late afternoon the UN Special envoy for malaria met with them as well.

Peering at open sewageThe neighborhoods they serve have never had a bednet distribution. When we visited them the following day it was clear they lack virtually every basic service from clean water to paved streets to sewers to trash pickup. Fetid, rotting garbage lined drainage ditches flowing with sewage and rain water. Children walked barefoot and played in the pockmarked dirt road amidst standing water and garbage. No wonder outbreaks of diseases are common here.

The clergy and physicians know the problems firsthand. They live or work here. They discussed how community residents might react to the bednet distribution and how to train them to use the nets properly. They know the people, their fears and capacity. This is the value of community-based organization. It is organically connected to the realities on the ground.

I came away from Congo more optimistic than I was going in. I had a media-created image, accurate but  incomplete. The meetings under the bamboo gave me a bigger picture, and a belief that solutions to seemingly intractable problems are possible.

Walking along dirt roadI left thinking new thoughts about community-based development and hopeful that as this small group of committed leaders continue their work they will experience a success and in due time move from net distribution to other activities that empower them and their communities, and make life better for the kids walking barefoot through the fetid trash and foul water.

Kristof: Congo Ignored

Having just flown out of Congo this morning I read Nicholas Kristof’s column Congo Ignored in the NY Times while sitting in an airport lounge in Johannesburg, South Africa. He writes that the raping and death in eastern Congo is one of the most ignored humanitarian crises in the world today. He says it’s a horrific war zone where barbarism has been inflicted on people for several months. He hopes the world will give Congo the same compassion it is currently bringing to Haiti.

He’s correct, Congo’s suffering is ignored by the world community and the bodies just keep piling up. However, I’d go him one further. It’s not only the war zone that needs immediate, urgent attention. The whole of the Congo needs it. Certainly eastern Congo needs it most of all, and most urgently. But this country is in a frustrating long-term fix. Someone with influence and power should address it. The E.E.C., U.S. and China are the most likely outside powers who could bring influence to bear.

Mining extraction and economic trade have not worked to the advantage of the people, but they are enriching elites. This is a the long-term reality, dating as far back as Belgian colonialism two hundred years ago.

Only yesterday I walked with a group of aid specialists through a suburb of Lumbumbashi with twenty thousand residents. The infection rate from malaria is high. Standing water, open sewers, a contaminated water table and scarcely any economic infrastructure for jobs or businesses makes this place one of the poorest suburbs in the world.

The only way out is for the people to be empowered through community organization to create better conditions for themselves. This will take support from outside because their resources are limited–their own hands and hopes. Powerful as these are, they still need training in marketable skills. They need cash resources, education, materials for better housing and shops, clean water, improved roads and sanitation.

This won’t just happen, it will come with community organization. And that won’t happen unless the community leaders are empowered and trained. So long as people live in poverty conditions they assume they have no voice and they live as if they have no power. No one listens to them and no one pays them any attention. Congo ignored, as Kristof correctly writes.

Eastern Congo, central Congo and western Congo. Urgent as the deaths are in the east, and disgusting as the raping that is part of the strategy of intimidation and terror, death by malaria, malnutrition and infectious diseases such as malaria are no less significant.

With the smells of that suburb still in my nostrils and the dust still on my shoes, I agree with Kristof that the world must pay attention, and more. It must stop the dying in the east and the west through enlightened policies, peacekeeping and community-based development. And it can be done.

I’ll write more about that next.

Save One Life, Save the World

I’m writing from Lumbumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo where this afternoon I sat in on a very remarkable conversation. A UN special envoy for malaria was addressing a group of religious leaders from several Protestant traditions and two imams. The meeting was held outdoors at the edge of a stand of towering bamboo at a Roman Catholic retreat center. It was late afternoon. All the participants had already put in a long day working on planning for a World Malaria Day event that will feature a distribution of insecticide-treated bednets.

The meeting was significant because Christians and Muslims have come together here to combat a common enemy, as one said today. The enemy is malaria.

Second, it’s notable that when the coalition is fully formed they hope to have additional members from other religious traditions. They’ve extended invitations.

One speaker explained the group’s mission by referring to past experiences which were more spiritual and less practical. He said they have come together for interfaith religious observances, for example. Tackling malaria is a move from the spiritual to the practical.

But the grand imam for the district said he differed with the statement. It sounded as the newly forming group was about to have its first disagreement.

That was not the case, however. The imam said, “The work we are about to begin is not less spiritual, but more deeply spiritual. The Quran says when you save one life, you save the world. What we are doing is not merely practical, it is more spiritual.”

The thought caused a hush of appreciation to fall over the meeting as the members reflected on his words. It was a statement that was not only interesting, it was an important moment of spiritual teaching. This did not escape the members of the group.

Another person spoke saying that, in fact, the three religions of Abraham all affirm a similar claim about the sanctity of human life. And the group seemed to be finding a deeper commitment to the fight against malaria by affirming life, which is, after all, good theology whether you find it in the Quran, the Talmud, or the Bible.

Where Two or Three Are Gathered…

This is also posted on a blog I write for United Methodist Communications.

Hearing the stories of the UMCOR and IMA executives trapped in the rubble of the Hotel Montana is to hear of conditions so horrifying they are unimaginable. Utter chaos. At times utter hopelessness. And always courage and more courage. Faith and more faith.

It is a profound gift that Jim Gulley and Sarla Chand give us when they tell this story, difficult as it is to hear. We need to know, to grieve and to hope. And they help us.

They help us to fill in the blanks. To understand the darkness and chaos. The silence. The pain. With their help, our heavy hearts can take solace in the strength of the human spirit and the power of faith. Through their words, we imagine the unimaginable – being trapped under tons of rubble in darkness.

Strangely, however, for me it’s harder to imagine singing. But sing they did. "I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got love like an ocean, I’ve got joy like a fountain, in my soul."

Such strength and faith.

They help us to piece together the fragments of life in the darkness and silence, to assimilate order out of the chaos. Our minds are still troubled and our hearts still heavy, but we find a measure of peace, like a river, in our souls.

They are helping us to shape a narrative for a community of faith. We stand with Jim Gulley, who tells us, like Job of old, he has no answers about why some live and some die, some suffer and others don’t. But some questions have no answer, and there are times when we need each other more than answers.

And these brothers and sisters in Christ comforted each other, told stories and sang. They created community out of chaos. They cared for one another. Offered comfort, encouragement and stories.

We also hear from others like Pam Carter, who was evacuated unharmed on the outside but her heart was torn by leaving a friend who chose to stay. Their separation under such conditions haunts her. But she is tirelessly advocating for Haiti now more than before.

Asked if they will return to the place of their great personal pain, all answer yes. The tasks that brought them together remain unfinished. The work of redressing the inequities of the people of Haiti has not run its course. The challenge of empowering the women, improving the quality of life of the children, partnering with the church in Haiti all lie before us and even more so now. The search for justice and the fruitful life God intends for all will bring them back, and perhaps take them to other places in God’s world as well.

This is the narrative they are helping us to understand. We share a faith of deep conviction about the abiding, loving presence of God in our midst, wherever we find ourselves. And this faith is expressed in practical action that changes the world as we believe God calls us to partner with God for change.

And, for me, most profound of all: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be also." Even under tons of rubble in the darkness and dust and blood, I am with you.

And if this be true, and I believe it is, then we must be with people wherever they find themselves seeking a fruitful life because that is where God is and that is who we are called to be as followers of Jesus.

God, what a story.

Where Two or Three Are Gathered Together

Hearing the stories of the UMCOR and IMA executives trapped in the rubble of the Hotel Montana is to hear of conditions so horrifying they are unimaginable. Utter chaos. At times utter hopelessness. And always courage and more courage. Faith and more faith.

It is a profound gift that Jim Gulley and Sarla Chand give us when they tell this story, difficult as it is to hear. We need to know, to grieve and to hope. And they help us.

They help us to fill in the blanks. To understand the darkness and chaos. The silence. The pain. With their help, our heavy hearts can take solace in the strength of the human spirit and the power of faith. Through their words, we imagine the unimaginable – being trapped under tons of rubble in darkness.

Strangely, however, for me it’s harder to imagine singing. But sing they did. “I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got love like an ocean, I’ve got joy like a fountain, in my soul.”

Such strength and faith.

They help us to piece together the fragments of life in the darkness and silence, to assimilate order out of the chaos. Our minds are still troubled and our hearts still heavy, but we find a measure of peace, like a river, in our souls.

They are helping us to shape a narrative for a community of faith. We stand with Jim Gulley, who tells us, like Job of old, he has no answers about why some live and some die, some suffer and others don’t. But some questions have no answer, and there are times when we need each other more than answers.

And these brothers and sisters in Christ comforted each other, told stories and sang. They created community out of chaos. They cared for one another. Offered comfort, encouragement and stories.

We also hear from others like Pam Carter, who was evacuated unharmed on the outside but her heart was torn by leaving a friend who chose to stay. Their separation under such conditions haunts her. But she is tirelessly advocating for Haiti now more than before.

Asked if they will return to the place of their great personal pain, all answer yes. The tasks that brought them together remain unfinished. The work of redressing the inequities of the people of Haiti has not run its course. The challenge of empowering the women, improving the quality of life of the children, partnering with the church in Haiti all lie before us and even more so now. The search for justice and the fruitful life God intends for all will bring them back, and perhaps take them to other places in God’s world as well.

This is the narrative they are helping us to understand. We share a faith of deep conviction about the abiding, loving presence of God in our midst, wherever we find ourselves. And this faith is expressed in practical action that changes the world as we believe God calls us to partner with God for change.

And, for me, most profound of all: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be also.” Even under tons of rubble in the darkness and dust and blood, I am with you.

And if this be true, and I believe it is, then we must be with people wherever they find themselves seeking a fruitful life because that is where God is and that is who we are called to be as followers of Jesus.

God, what a story.

Video
Sarla Chand: “I was their connection to the outside world.”

Sarla Chand: “We at IMA will do all we can to honor Sam and Clint’s legacy.”

Sarla Chand: “Until the very end, they were joyful.”

Jim Gulley: “I want you to tell my family how much I love them.”

Jim Gulley: “We are French firemen. We are here to take you out.”

Jim Gulley: “My last walk with Sam was tragically short.”

Audio
Pam Carter: “Haiti needed us before. Multiply this a hundredfold.”

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Survivor: UMCOR trio kept faith in Haiti ruins

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The Digital Media Movement

As Haiti moves toward recovery and as Christians look at how faith is reflected in major issues confronting the world such as this one, I am interviewing knowledgeable people who can offer insight on the interaction between faith and culture.

These interviews may be in podcast format, video or Skype, depending on circumstances and our capacity to reach them.

You may have noticed that United Methodist Communications has moved into providing content through digital media in a big way. You can get updates on Facebook and Twitter, through email and online at umc.org, umcom.org and rethinkchurch.org.

The world is moving at breakneck speed to online distribution of meaningful content. And we are using cell phones, laptops and desktops among other tools to receive this content.

A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 8- to 18-year-olds are living their waking hours online. They pack in 10 hours and 45 minutes receiving and distributing media content every day, according to the Kaiser report.

In every age group, the movement to digital media is growing rapidly. On behalf of the church, we at United Methodist Communications seek to engage, inform and inspire—and we recognize we must do this with every tool at our disposal.

Digital media are about more than one-way information, of course. They are about conversation, participation and interaction. My hope is that the informed material we offer about Haiti will carry out these three goals.

I also hope you will give me feedback about what you would like to see discussed and persons you would like to hear from.