Support Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew

Updated October 13, 2016: For an update on UUSC’s advocacy work to support Haitian immigration to the United States  and how you can take action in your congregation to support efforts during this recovery period, please click here.

Hurricane Matthew slammed into the southwest coast of Haiti yesterday, packing 145-mph winds and destroying houses and other buildings, crops, roads, bridges. Getting accurate information on conditions in Haiti is a challenge. But here’s what we know for sure—this struggling country has suffered another devastating blow, and its people need our help.

Immediately.

The United Nations has already called Matthew “the largest humanitarian event” in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake and warns that more than 4 million children are threatened by cholera and other waterborne diseases.

The tens of thousands of Haitians whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake and are still living in tents were especially vulnerable when the monster storm roared across the country—and they remain most vulnerable in the aftermath.

UUSC is working with our local partners to conduct an assessment of the greatest threats survivors face and put together an emergency crisis response. Meanwhile, we’re also working to strengthen our emergency response capacity—a capacity that can be a matter of life and death for the most marginalized and the most vulnerable. 

We’ll focus especially on the “stateless” refugees deported from the Dominican Republic and stranded along that country’s border with Haiti, vulnerable families living in shelters, and other groups most likely to fall through the cracks of traditional rescue and relief efforts.

They’re counting on UUSC. And we’re counting on you.

Please send whatever you can, as soon as you can. The faster we act, the more lives we will save.

Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War

Ken Burns presents the story of UUSC’s founders

In September 2016, PBS aired Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War, a new documentary directed by Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky that tells the story of Martha and Waitstill Sharp, two of UUSC’s founders.

The film explores the lives and work of the Sharps, a young Unitarian minister and his wife, as they undertook vital missions in Nazi-occupied Europe to rescue Jews, dissidents, and refugee children at great personal sacrifice. As the film’s website describes:

“Drawing from the couple’s journals & letters, with Tom Hanks providing the voice of Waitstill Sharp, along with compelling commentary from people they saved as well as holocaust scholars, the film is a suspenseful and intimate look into the lives of a husband & wife willing to risk their lives to save others.”

UUSC urges you to use this film as a unique opportunity to deepen your commitment to social justice and the values that Sharps embodied. Resources for discussion, dialogue, and outreach are available below.

Seize this moment to explore a rich history of advancing human rights and carry on the Sharps’ legacy of courage and compassion. To learn more about the upcoming film and companion book, visit the Defying the Nazis website. For more information on congregational resources or to sign your group or congregation up to host an event this fall, visit uua.org/sharpstory.

Explore, learn, and plan

Stop the Deportation Raids

Thousands of women and children fleeing violence are targeted for raids and deportation this month. Tell the Department of Homeland Security to offer them protection instead.

One Year Later: Empowering Nepali Communities to Rebuild

One year ago, on April 25, a major earthquake devastated parts of Nepal, killing thousands of people, injuring tens of thousands, and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes. Over the past year, many rebuilding efforts have been hindered by poor governance and political instability. While the earthquake has faded from the news and from the memories of many outside of Nepal, UUSC has been continuously dedicated to empowering vulnerable people and protecting their rights as they rebuild their homes and lives. 

The impact of the earthquake

By the numbers:

  • 7.8 magnitude earthquake, with a massive 7.3 magnitude aftershock
  • Nearly 9,000 people killed, and more than 25,000 people injured
  • 900,000 homes destroyed
  • 6.75 million Nepalis affected
  • Over $400,000 raised by UUSC and the Unitarian Universalist Association to support relief efforts

The aftermath of this earthquake — now, even a year later — is about more than numbers; it’s about lives. It’s about people. With entire villages flattened, survivors were left without homes, without livelihoods, without the essentials.

Sadhana Shrestha, the executive director of Tewa – a women’s fund in Nepal and UUSC’s partner in delivering aid to displaced women in remote villages – wrote to us just after the major aftershock. “Half an hour away from the village, we felt the tremor, and suddenly we saw dusts of houses collapsing, sending villagers out into the road. . . . [The women] had nothing, and the houses that were cracked in the earlier quake had fallen due to the one just a half hour before. Our hearts were in our mouths, but seeing the faces of resilient women smiling in spite of all odds, saying they would buy tin sheets using the money we gave so they could have roofs over their heads — we were amazed!”

In natural disasters, resilience without resources is unsustainable. UUSC has been at work in Nepal since the day after the earthquake, engaging with on-the-ground partners to deliver resources and support to the people who need it most.

UUSC’s approach

In responding to the earthquake, UUSC’s plan reflected its overall approach to disasters: we asked who’s most likely to be overlooked or ignored, who’s doing the most innovative work to empower these marginalized people, and how can we help? In Nepal, this meant focusing on women, girls, children, Dalits, and indigenous peoples. UUSC’s approach also means supporting community leaders as they develop long-term, sustainable solutions to the challenges of rebuilding.

UUSC’s goals in supporting the relief and rebuilding processes include:

  • Protecting the rights of women and girls and empowering female leaders
    • Ensuring women’s immediate access to disaster relief and health services
    • Supporting the livelihoods of women, especially single women and Dalits
  • Safeguarding educational opportunities for marginalized children
  • Building local capacity for individual trauma recovery and community resiliency
  • Defending indigenous rights threated by accelerated development projects

Partners

The only way to effectively achieve these goals is to work with partners on the ground. It is the survivors who know the situation — who live the situation — and who are best equipped to guide the direction of rebuilding efforts. UUSC continues to work with several partners to achieve common goals through the following efforts:

  • Tewa: Provide pre- and postnatal care, food, clothing, and shelter to pregnant women, women in labor, and nursing mothers who were displaced; send volunteers to earthquake-affected districts to work with mothers’ groups, community groups, children, and teachers on issues related to human rights, income generation, and gender sensitivity; advocate on behalf of earthquake survivors.
  • Rural Health and Education Service Trust (RHEST): Distribute information on nutrition and reproductive health to adolescent girls; train community health workers about reproductive health.
  • Women for Human Rights Single Women Group (WHR): Develop and implement district-level responses to gender-based violence; collect data for policy advocacy; and establish a referral and safety net for survivors of gender-based violence.
  • Empower Generation: Distribute much-needed solar lights and mobile charging to displaced people; and create income-generating opportunities for Dalit women to become entrepreneurs and solar power sales agents.
  • Chetana: Set up temporary classrooms and provide midday meals for displaced students in areas with large populations of marginalized people; train teachers, other school officials, health workers, and others in trauma resiliency skills; help students overcome stress and trauma.
  • Trauma Resource Institute (TRI): Build long-term capacity for trauma recovery and resiliency in diverse communities by training frontline service providers and community leaders (including Chetana) to deliver trauma resiliency skills to earthquake survivors.
  • Lawyer’s Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP): Engage indigenous people affected by accelerated investment in hydropower following the earthquake to understand and advocate for their rights.

(Solar) Spotlight: Empower Generation

In their own words, “Empower Generation provides women in Nepal with technical training and support to establish and grow clean energy businesses. The clean energy products are affordable, durable, and designed to deliver a life-changing opportunity to energy-poor communities. We envision a world where women lead the clean energy revolution, reducing deforestation and the use of fossil fuels.” Touching on so many areas of UUSC’s work, they were a natural partner in the wake of the earthquake. And they still are today.

For its project with UUSC, Empower Generation focused on Dalit women, who are historically part of the lowest caste in Nepal. Even though Nepali laws have changed to promote equality among the castes, Dalits still face enormous social stigma and ensuing challenges. Empower Generation reports that 90% of Dalit women in Nepal live in poverty, and 80% are illiterate. 

The Dalit Women-Led Solar Distribution Enterprise Project was implemented in the Gorkha district of Nepal and began with a pre-enterprise sales and marketing training for 30 participants. These women learned the benefits of solar lighting, and how to sell them to people in their communities. Danu Ale and Gita Pariyar, two sales agents who showed promising leadership and sales skills, then attended an additional business training in Kathmandu to learn everything they needed to start their own businesses, including market assessments and work plans. They also received start-up inventory loans and began the process of registering their businesses.

Pariyar reflected on the experience and talked about what the future holds: “This training is beyond my expectation. I believe that it will change my approach to life and help me lead a respectful life as a woman entrepreneur.” The UUSC – Empower Generation partnership will continue to support Ale and Pariyar as they launch their businesses, grow their village-level sales force, and, as Empower Generation puts it, “power their communities with clean, safe, affordable energy.”

UUSC Stands with the People of Ecuador in Wake of Disaster

At 7 p.m. on Saturday night, April 16, a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the northern coastal region of Ecuador, trapping hundreds of people, collapsing buildings and bridges, and magnifying the suffering of many poor and marginalized communities. Wednesday morning, April 20, another magnitude 6.1 aftershock struck the same area. UUSC is working with our partners at the Asociación Movimiento Mi Cometa in Ecuador to provide immediate relief to affected communities, paying special attention to such vulnerable groups as ethnic and tribal minorities, refugees, women, and children.

The two earthquakes —the deadliest to strike Ecuador since 1987 – have so far claimed at least 500 lives and injured more than 2,500 people. Both numbers are expected to rise in the coming days, as more than 1,700 persons remain missing. Moreover, as many as 1,500 structures have collapsed due to the earthquake, leaving over 20,000 people without homes and in need of temporary shelters. Those Ecuadorans living in poorly constructed dwellings and older structures dating from before improved building codes – places where a disproportionately large number of Colombian refugees, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized populations live – were particularly at risk. Widespread power outages in affected parts of the country have left thousands without electricity, heightening the vulnerability of women and children to sexual and gender-based violence every night.

UUSC’s existing partners and allies in Ecuador are among those affected by the disaster and are well-positioned to respond. Mi Cometa has been working for the better part of a decade with UUSC support to uphold the human right to water, empowering poor, urban, and marginalized communities to claim their rights under Ecuador’s constitution and to engage in their society’s decision-making about access to common resources. This work has taken them to some of the same coastal regions that have been most severely affected by the earthquake.

 

UPDATE

In response to the humanitarian disaster, longtime UUSC partner organization Mi Cometa launched the “Mision Esperanza” (Mission Hope) Project to deliver both urgent and strategic humanitarian assistance to two communities affected by the earthquake. With an emergency grant from UUSC, Mi Cometa was able to accomplish an incredible amount of work in a short period of time. Highlights include:

  • Conducting a participatory diagnostic assessment of the impact of the earthquake in the city of San Jose de Chamanga in Esmeraldes Province.
  • Sharing the results of the assessment in meetings with local authorities, along with formal and informal community leaders.
  • Collecting over 250 quintals (2,750 tons) of donated food, water, and clothing from the surrounding urban communities and distributing it to people in need.
  • Securing two donated trucks from local businesses to transport aid to affected communities.
  • Arranging for the performance of six music and theater performances for children in the affected areas.
  • Conducting 30 interviews with local leaders to hear their concerns and using this information to able to amplify their voices by put together a book of personal stories about the disaster.
  • Using Facebook and Twitter to recruit volunteers and publicize their activities

Still, several challenges remain, according to César Cárdenas of Mi Cometa. These include clarifying the extent of the current humanitarian crisis, since the government of Ecuador is spreading propaganda that it was well-prepared to handle the disaster. Also, the “official shelters” established for those left homeless by the earthquake are failing to take into consideration local customs and culture, and have imposed a kind of martial law that infringes on the human rights of the people housed in them.

But even with these challenges, much is being done to not only respond to the immediate needs of earthquake survivors, but to help build longer-term resilience in the community. “Mi Cometa’s strong networks within the earthquake-affected communities and its successful track record of grassroots organizing makes them well-positioned to respond to recovery efforts,” said Jillian Tuck, UUSC’s Senior Program Leader for Rights at Risk. “Their ‘Mision Esperanza’ project uses participatory decision-making to address the most urgent needs of the community, and to ensure that all have equal access to humanitarian aid.”

With an eye toward economic and social recovery, Mi Cometa will continue to provide assistance to the people affected by the April earthquake, along with employment training, psychological counseling, and other community-building services, as part of its ‘Mision Esperanza’ Project.

 

On the Ground in Greece

Delivering Aid with Dignity to Refugees in Europe

His name was Jawed, and he was screaming in pain when Latifa Woodhouse met him and his mother. His hands were swollen, bleeding, severely frostbitten. And he was just one of the thousands of refugees arriving on the shores of Lesbos, Greece, every day. Latifa and her husband, Colin — both longtime and deeply committed UUSC supporters and volunteers — met the family while volunteering for a week at Camp Moria in Lesbos, where UUSC is partnering with PRAKSIS, a Greek civil society organization, to support refugees fleeing their homes and seeking safety in Europe.

PRAKSIS: UUSC’s partner

Thanks to generous supporters who have donated almost $630,000 to the UUSC-UUA Refugee Crisis Fund, UUSC has established strategic partnerships with grassroots groups across the migration route in Europe. UUSC started working with PRAKSIS (which, translated from Greek, stands for Programs for Development of Social Support and Medical Cooperation) in December to deliver vital aid to refugees — from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — who are arriving daily in Greece from Turkey.

Founded in 2004, PRAKSIS provides humanitarian aid in the form of medical care, legal assistance, social welfare, and psychological and financial support to socially vulnerable groups in need. To serve the vast influx of Syrian refugees — who have faced a dangerous journey across the sea, brutal weather and travel conditions, and exploitation by traffickers — UUSC teamed up with PRAKSIS to facilitate transportation of refugees from their arrival on shore to the refugee camps 40 kilometers uphill. UUSC’s support also enables the distribution of winterization kits for 536 babies, to help ensure they stay warm and healthy during the cold winter months.

When the Woodhouses — who served for 10 years as UUSC volunteer regional coordinators and presently are UUSC volunteer local representatives at the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock — began their humanitarian mission in Greece, they met PRAKSIS staff members by chance: walking through the camp, Latifa saw people wearing PRAKSIS jackets, introduced herself, and made the connection with Youta, a social worker, and Eva, and a teacher, who mostly work with Syrian refugee children at and around the U.N. compound at Camp Moria.

Navigating the refugee journey

When Latifa met Jawed and his mother, the mother was relieved to hear a familiar language — Pashto, her own. With Latifa’s help translating and navigating the unfamiliar camp, Jawed received initial treatment and pain relief at a health clinic and his family was set up in Camp Pikpa — for vulnerable children, disabled refugees, and those recovering from wounds, sickness, and the loss of loved ones. Not only that, Jawed’s mother was assured that a surgeon would provide necessary care for Jawed’s hands.

During their time together, the mother told Latifa the family’s story: They were an extended family of 22, traveling from Kunduz, Afghanistan, where they feared for their lives. They used all their money to pay a smuggler to get them to Greece; the trip to Turkey, over mountain ridges, took 22 hours, in brutal cold. Their elderly grandmother died on the trip. Jawed lost a glove and suffered severe injuries to his hands, and the whole family suffered frostbite. In Turkey, they were turned away from a doctor for lack of funds and insurance. They were directed by a smuggler to take a small rubber boat — that was over capacity — across the Aegean Sea to Greece. They had never seen water like that. They were one of the lucky families that made it to the shore of Lesbos.

That is the story of just one family among millions. The Woodhouses heard heartbreaking story after heartbreaking story. But they were struck by the strength and resilience they witnessed. “They are really amazing, strong people with a great hope for the future,” reflects Latifa.

The Woodhouses’ mission

“The refugee issue is very close to both of our hearts,” explains Latifa, the daughter of Afghan refugees herself. The Woodhouses saw the refugee situation unfolding — and worsening — in the Middle East and Europe and felt they must get involved. They raised money amongst friends, family, and community, including urging their congregation, the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, to contribute $100,000 to UUSC’s refugee relief efforts.

With the funds they personally raised, Latifa, Colin, and their daughter Alexandra traveled to Lesbos in January, and they were joined by Diane Lombardy, a pediatrician. At Camp Moria, a processing center surrounded by tents hosting refugees going through registration, they got to work doing the following and more:

  • Helping provide and distribute aid, like clothing, firewood, and food
  • Creating vital camp infrastructure like walkways and irrigation, and making the medical tent and other areas accessible to wheelchairs
  • Translating and navigating language barriers (Latifa is fluent in Farsi and Pashto, and can converse in Arabic and Urdu)
  • Providing crowd control
  • Sharing information and connecting people to services

The Woodhouses worked with and alongside volunteers from around the world and with the refugees themselves, from sunrise to well past sunset. “During the past four days we have gone to the shore at night and welcomed the boats that have arrived in the dark. There is truly so much one can do,” Latifa wrote from the field. “Especially with my language ability, I have been everywhere. At the health clinics to translate for doctors. At clothing facilities to make sure every one is fitted properly. At the information booth to guide them to buy their tickets for Athens and how to register as they arrive from Turkey. It goes on and on. I have become everyone’s aunt and sister.”

“We must be involved”

The Woodhouses embody the values that UUSC puts into action every day. Martha and Waitstill Sharp, two of UUSC’s founders, carried out vital missions in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, rescuing Jews, dissidents, and refugee children at great personal sacrifice. “There’s no better organization to take this work on than UUSC, given its history and legacy,” says Colin. “UUSC and the story of the Sharps inspired us. The similarities are incredible — this refugee crisis is global and it’s the worst since World War II.  We must be involved.”

With a shifting situation that changes daily, working with local grassroots groups that know the realities on the ground is essential. Europe has been further tightening its borders and shutting its doors to the refugees arriving on its threshold. Christen Dobson, program director of research and policy at the International Human Rights Funders Group, recently wrote: “Moria, the reception centre where asylum seekers were registered and received assistance and from which they were able to freely depart, has become a detention facility.”

The Woodhouses reported to their personal donors: “Refugees continue to arrive in Les[b]os every day, but now are regarded as criminals, locked up, and told they will be sent back to Turkey or their country of origin. For many, this is essentially a death sentence. . . . How can we force people to return to communities in ruin and homes in rubble? How can we send them back into the line of gunfire, brutality, and war? We cannot. We will, however, continue our efforts to bring compassion, love, comfort, and justice to the people who deserve no less.”

Indeed, this is why UUSC is committed to providing emergency aid, ensuring access to legal help and resettlement support, and advocating for necessary changes in policy and public perception of the refugees attempting to find safety and build new lives in Europe. Colin reflected on their time in Lesbos: “All we did was offer a little humanity.” Everyone deserves that. Asylum seekers are not criminals. And UUSC will continue to deliver aid with dignity to refugees throughout the Middle East and Europe.

What you can do