Sunday, June 16, 2013

Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian aid is provided by donors to people, organizations,
CA soldiers at the border during
our first evacuation
and/or countries in need with no consideration of race, gender, religion, ethnic group, or political affiliation.  It is often provided in times of crisis.  According to Wikipedia, “The primary objective of humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity." Well, it seems likely that CAR should qualify to get such aid – there has been continued conflict and insecurity since December 2012, but especially since the March 24 coup.  Many people are displaced – within the country or having fled to neighboring countries.  In an already poor country, these added troubles can be devastating, especially to people in villages – common people trying to live as best they can.  But who decides if the need is real? Where to help out?  The kind of assistance that is best?  Where does the money for support come from?

As you might guess, much of the financial support comes from individuals, organizations, and companies from so-called 1st world countries, i.e., rich, developed, “civilized” ones.  They send money through organizations such as CARE, Caritas or ActAlliance.  This last is the third largest such organization in the world. 

A little history:  during the humanitarian crisis in Rwanda in the mid-1990s, many organizations went to help and/or sent aid.  Since there was no coordination among them, some services overlapped while others in need were not given the assistance they needed.  One result was the creation of ActAlliance.  They now work together to better provide services.  Request must come from all members at one time; all individual requests are denied. 

Lutheran World Federation, one member of ActAlliance, has a Global Missions branch.  It is not related to development or evangelism, but is strictly humanitarian.  They have a roster of people who can be called to form an Emergency Team that goes into crisis areas to assess needs and make suggestions. 

EEL-RCA Nat'l President,
While ActAlliance partners often send experts to help out, they try to work within existing organizations to be able to get programs up and running sooner.  Also, they want to increase capacity that already exists.  For example, they may train people to recognize and help distressed children; they may work with nurses to set up system to care for the increased need; or they may work to connect international donors with programs that can distribute needed food and supplies.  ActAlliance aid is temporary, but the hope is that more permanent improvements can result from the short-term aid.

A two-member team from LWF is currently in Cameroon to begin an assessment.  They started here because many aid organization leaders who evacuated from Bangui (the capital of CAR) settled in Yaoundé for the time being.  The team also came to Garoua Boulai.  After talking to the Sous-Prefet (local political leader), they met with seven leaders from the Église Évangelique Luthérienne – République Centrafricaine, the regional representative for ELCA, and me.  They also visited a refugee camp that has developed about 40 km away.  (I went with them on that visit – see below.) 

EEL-RCA leaders shared their view of the situation in the country, especially the western area where the Lutheran Church is active.  They also talked about current programs that might be able to assist in the delivery of humanitarian aid.  We all talked about developing capacities to meet some of the need without expanding programs beyond what the church would be able to support.  (Since aid is temporary, it doesn’t help to hire lots of people who aren’t able to continue working after aid money stops. It is better to train current workers or extent current programs through training and additional support, including some materials.  The team made no decisions only discussed the current hardships and possible solutions.

The team left at 5 a.m. yesterday, headed toward Yaoundé again, with a stop in Bertoua to meet with some officials there.  June 18 they fly to Bangui to meet with officials and view the situation in order to assess the viability of
sending aid and what kind it should be if it is sent. 

This team included a Dutch man, who has worked internationally for 30 years and understands how to assess and develop emergency aid, and a Cameroonian, who has worked for the UN and other international organizations.  His most recent job was with the UN in Kaga Bandoro so his knowledge and contacts will help the team assess the current situation.  The emergency team has two months to investigate and make recommendations to ActAlliance.  In fact, though, after one month, they are requested to send a report with a general outline of types of needs and local organizations that can assist in meeting those needs so that donor members can begin to consider what aid they might offer.  The goal is to get aid on the ground to the people as quickly as possible, but in an organized, systematic way that can truly help the people in the long-term. 

Refugee Camp of Central Africans in Cameroon

Many people fled their homes in CAR during recent difficulties.  Some now stay with relatives in other towns, both in CAR and in neighboring countries.  Others ran to their fields and are living there.  Still others found an empty space in the countryside (again in CAR or neighboring countries).  Finally, some who had no one with whom to stay headed to developing refugee camps.  Because Garoua Boulai (GB) is so close to the CAR border, many Central Africans came here.  The coup happened on Palm Sunday so as they arrived local officials housed them in the school that was on Easter break.  About 1,200 people came.  After a short time, the officials needed to find a new place so that classes could restart, so when they were offered land near the town of Nandoungué, they accepted.  It is about 40 km from GB and already has a Central African community (mostly people who had been refugees from troubles that took places from 2003-07). 
Flag of the Central African Republic

Of the 1,200 at the school site, only 350 moved to the new camp.  Some found relatives or friends to stay with in GB.  Others had taken advantage of the camp to get some basic supplies like blankets, cooking pots, etc.; these went back home – probably to Cantonnier, the Central African town just over the border from GB.  (Which one of us, if we were as poor, wouldn’t try to get much need supplies for our families?) 

Over time, people have continued to arrive at the camp near Nandoungué, usually arriving in small groups of 3 or 4.  There are now about 900 people.  Some are families; many are young people who were high school or university students.  Fortunately, there are currently only a handful of unaccompanied children but MANY are young children. 

Some refugees say that they want to stay in Cameroon having had enough of the repeated insecurities and difficulties.  (Not that their lives in Cameroon are easy now!)  Others are longing for peace and the chance to go home.  Some left for political reasons such as supporting the former president.  Others left because of fear.  All are grateful to the International Red Cross (that runs the camp) and the UN High Commission for Refugees (that provides tents and other supplies). 

The camp is set up with tents that house a family, usually four people, although some hold double that.  The problem is that these tents were designed for the desert region further north.  Now that it is the rainy season, the hard packed clay ground gets wet and water puddles and seeps into the bottom of the tents.  Since people sleep on mats on the floor of the tent, the camp is looking for ways to keep the tent floors dry.

People cook for themselves and often look for small jobs, such as working in someone else’s field or selling beignets (donuts), to be able to buy food.  The Red Cross does provide some food but is currently having trouble
Preparing Food
keeping up with the demand.  They have just found funding which will help in the near future.

A big problem is having little to do.  During the school year, classes were held for primary-age students in a local school to help them pick up skills they missed.  Now that the school year is over, they stay in the camp.  Organizers are still working on ways to help students of all ages continue their studies; they have ideas for intensive courses to be offered in July to help students make work they missed when schools were closed or they were not able to attend. 

This refugee camp is divided into four blocks each of which elected a chief.  There is also one chief for the camp as a whole.  They have also established three committees, men, women, and youth, which help manage and run the camp.  They work together to promote education, health, and security.

The camp has built two latrine areas (now not enough for the number of refugees) and a well to provide water.  They also have a first-aid tent to care for small problems.  Larger ones are sent to area hospitals.  The first baby was born in the camp two months ago!  We saw her; she is a healthy, happy baby, well cared for by her mother.  Another woman was just going into labor as we arrived.  Life continues and moves on. 

NOTE:  One doesn’t take pictures at a refugee camp and I hadn’t recharged my camera battery during the days of the meetings, but I wanted to include some pictures for you to see.  The pictures in this blog entry are from October-December 2012 – before pictures.  I particularly picked children because they are among the most vulnerable.  They have little, but look how happy they look!  There is a human will to find joy in life.  Let us hope that there will soon be humanitarian aid flowing into CAR from various sources so that hope and joy can become evident again. 

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