Brethren Disaster Ministries staff have directed grants from the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund to a variety of projects in recent weeks. Among them are a bridge rebuilding project in West Virginia, assistance for refugees from Burundi living in Rwanda, assistance for people displaced by violence in the DR Congo, a Disaster Recovery Support Initiative aiding a longterm recovery group in South Carolina, food assistance in South Sudan, and aid for Haitian migrants returning to Haiti from the Dominican Republic. These grants total $85,950.
An allocation of $25,000 supports the West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (WVA VOAD) Bridge Project, begun in response to over 300 water crossings in the state being washed out during five different flood events in 2015. Brethren Disaster Ministries has been monitoring the Bridge Project since its start, and has learned that the skills and experience required to complete a bridge are beyond the capacity of most Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteers. However, this project is an important step in disaster recovery in West Virginia. The grant provides support for materials to be used in the construction of bridges, in partnership with WV VOAD and other VOAD organizations.
An allocation of $25,000 supports aid to refugees from Burundi who are sheltering in Rwanda, through a church that is identifying as Brethren. Since April 2015 Burundians have been fleeing their country following election violence and a failed coup. The escalating violence has included human rights violations, and some 400 or more deaths, as well as reports of a potential genocide. Families from Burundi are continuing to flee into neighboring countries. The church led by Etienne Nsanzimana is providing emergency food and supplies for 12,500 Burundian refugees, or about 2,500 families. The majority of beneficiaries are women, children, and youth in the towns of Kigali, Muhanga, and Rubavu. This grant will start the first phase of relief work in Kigali. Brethren Disaster Ministries staff will monitor the response closely and will consider additional grant requests based on program reporting, accounting, and implementation.
An allocation of $12,200 will assist families displaced by war and conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country has a long history of war and armed conflict, and many different brutal militia groups. In mid-October 2015, conflict in the Fizi territory of the South Kivu Province resulted in homes being burned or looted, with 18 villagers injured or killed. Survivors fled to neighboring villages for shelter and medical care. A delegation from Shalom Ministry, a ministry of the Congolese Brethren, visited and completed case management work with these displaced families and have reported needs for emergency food and household supplies. A group of Church of the Brethren from the United States traveled to Rwanda and the DR Congo recently and confirmed that many displaced people are in need of food assistance. This grant will help Shalom Ministries provide corn, beans, cooking oil, salt, a kitchen kit, dishes, and soup for 215 families including 726 women, 458 children, and 536 youth.
An allocation of $10,000 continues the Disaster Recovery Support Initiative (DRSI) project in South Carolina, where historic flooding occurred in October 2015. An EDF grant of $5,000 given in July 2015 helped launch this pilot.
The primary goal of the DRSI is to support more rapid and effective formation of long-term recovery groups following disasters in the United States. The DRSI is a partnership of Brethren Disaster Ministries and the disaster programs of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), deploying a three-person team of response specialists within two to six weeks of a disaster. The team will remain with the community for a period of up to 12 months and serve as a resource for local recovery efforts.
A DRSI rebuilding site has opened for volunteers from all three denominations to participate in fast-track repair work before a Brethren Disaster Ministries project site is established in South Carolina. This grant funds travel expenses to assess long-term recovery needs; costs related to setting up volunteer housing for the DRSI team and volunteers; operational expenses related to volunteer support; and, potentially, purchase of construction materials to repair homes.
The DRSI partnership project also has received outside grant money for the purchase of construction materials for use in South Carolina. This includes a total of $37,500 from the Central Carolina Community Foundation granted to the United Church of Christ and Brethren Disaster Ministries, and $50,000 from the United Way of the Midlands to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The sum of $5,000 was awarded from the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters for project costs.
An allocation of $10,000 responds to increasing food insecurity in South Sudan, where the Church of the Brethren has a mission led by mission worker Athanasus Ungang. The World Food Program and the United Nations report unprecedented levels of food insecurity. Nearly 25 percent of the population, or 2.8 million people, are in urgent need of food assistance, with at least 40,000 on the brink of catastrophe. Ungang has reported that the children, women, and elderly in the area of Payam Pacidi are going through the “toughest time in their lives” as starvation is increasing. There are 2,100 households and another 1,000 individuals in Payam Pacidi who many not survive without some type of aid. This grant will provide emergency food (maize, beans, oil, and salt) for 2,100 households and 1,000 individuals in Payam Pacidi, and will also provide seeds so these subsistence farmers can plant crops this spring.
Dominican Republic and Haiti
An allocation of $3,750 supports the work of the Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic (DR), which has been carrying out a relief effort for Haitian migrants returning to Haiti from the DR. The Dominican church has registered more than 500 Haitian people for naturalization in the DR, averting a crisis for these families, but tens of thousands of others face a major unpublicized refugee crisis where little international support is available.
Some people of Haitian descent who were living in the DR have been forcibly deported to Haiti, while others have fled across the border due to fear of deportation and an increasingly hostile environment. Without connections in Haiti, they live in squatter camps in a remote area just over the border, with no sanitation or safe drinking water, very little food, no government services, and very limited relief activities. A cholera epidemic has developed and most of the children are severely malnourished.
This grant supports a mobile medical clinic for Haitian refugees near Pedernales, in the DR, or Anse a Pitres in Haiti. The mobile clinic, staffed by Dominican medical workers, will be part of the broader relief effort the Dominican Brethren are organizing. The grant provides stipends for doctors and nurses, funds medicines and medical supplies, purchases Creole Bibles for the camps, and covers food, lodging, and a rental vehicle for the response team.