From Sri Lanka to Haiti: UMCOR NGO Takes Stock in Annual Meeting
By Linda Unger*
May 25, 2011—Field officers from eight countries where the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) runs emergency and transitional development programs gathered at UMCOR headquarters in New York City last week for a meeting that happens only once a year.
Thomas Dwyer, executive director of UMCOR’s nongovernmental offices (UMCOR NGO), called the meeting “extremely valuable.” Each year, it brings together heads of mission and finance directors from the field with program officers and executive staff based at headquarters for a strategic touch-down.
It provides a platform, Dwyer said “for relationship building; for synchronizing mission-level strategies and planning with those of UMCOR; and for exploring how to more effectively secure, manage, and retain resources for the work we do with all of our direct and indirect beneficiaries.”
The meeting also allows the field office leadership to look ahead, he underscored; “to launch new initiatives and business processes, explore and share best practices, and look at ways of coordinating all of UMCOR’s work everywhere that we have a presence.”
As the meeting got underway, participants were greeted by UMCOR head, the Rev. Cynthia Harvey, and by Thomas Kemper, general secretary of Global Ministries, of which UMCOR and its field offices are a part. Kemper recalled how UMCOR was founded at the start of World War II to be a sign of peace.
“This was a big surprise,” he said. “You might have thought the founding was meant to support the war effort, but, no; the church asked for peace. How will UMCOR surprise us in 2011?” he challenged the gathering.
From Relief to Development
Current UMCOR NGO field offices are established in eight countries that have been rocked by natural or human-made disasters. Programming gradually moves from emergency humanitarian relief to transitional development.
The longest running offices are in Georgia and Armenia, which opened in 1993, and the most recent are in Zimbabwe (2009) and Haiti (2010).
UMCOR NGO also works in Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. When South Sudan becomes an independent nation this summer, UMCOR will open a new field office in the country’s capital, Juba.
One of the field offices successfully completed its mission this year and closed its doors. UMCOR Indonesia had opened in 2005, shortly after the tsunami of December 2004. It left in place thriving co-ops, improved livelihoods, and communities skilled in decision making for the general good.
Which Need is Greatest?
“If I were asked to rank our programs in Armenia, I could not say which is more important than the rest,” said Gohar Grigorian, head of mission in Armenia, where UMCOR programs include health, nutrition, agriculture, and human-trafficking prevention and response. “All of them are important,” she said. “All address identified needs.”
Through the nutrition program, UMCOR Armenia regularly distributes cheese to institutions serving orphaned children, the elderly, the mentally ill, and others. “We have learned that some of the children hide their cheese sandwich under their pillow, so they have something to eat later on,” Grigorian said.
UMCOR NGO programs are supported by international funding agencies such as the US Agency for International Development, United Nations Children’s Fund, the European Commission, and others.
They also rely on donations from United Methodists and other people of goodwill, especially when international attention is drawn to fresh disasters and the focus on transitional development diminishes.
This was the case in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where UMCOR established a field office in 2002. A survey showed that communities in Katanga Province, especially Kamina, needed some 60 wells, but limited funding allowed UMCOR to dig only two.
“There still are a lot of relief programs that need to be done. Kamina is far from a developed place,” said Head of Mission Charles Kyale Nzuvu. “A lot of places in Katanga are not at all developed.”
Over the course of the week the field leadership spent at UMCOR headquarters, they participated in trainings and workshops, were brought up to date with organizational strategy and priorities, and had the opportunity to share experiences from their missions with each other.
“This year’s annual meeting provided a comprehensive, intense, yet value-added agenda to explore all of this while capturing key action items to inform our near- and medium-term work, until we all meet again,” said Dwyer.
Read more about the work of UMCOR’s field offices and how you can support an array of life-giving projects here.