UUSC Response to Continued Environmental, Social Threats to Communities in Tocoa, Honduras

Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.

Recording and Responses to Q&A from UUSC’s Webinar on May 3, 2020

Recording of Webinar

Responses to Questions from Q&A

How has UUSC’s work changed in response to COVID-19?

While UUSC’s 40-member staff works from home, our primary commitment is to our partner organizations and making sure that UUSC’s support to them is not disrupted. We are in regular communication with our partners to learn how they and the communities they serve are faring and to confer on what they need most. In addition to the grants we provide to our partners, which we are encouraging them to use however they are most needed in the COVID crisis, we are thinking through how we can help them access the resources they need now. This might include providing Zoom Pro accounts, new skills workshops, and access to crisis/resiliency counseling, among other offerings. We are also focusing additional staff attention on efforts to secure the release of immigrants from US detention centers, where they face substandard health care and are unable to adequately social distance.

It is clear that around the world, the injustices and hazards that our partners face have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and that our support and solidarity is needed now more than ever.

How are decisions made about which challenges to take on and which are not a fit for UUSC?

UUSC has identified Central American Migrant Justice, Climate-Forced Displacement, and Humanitarian Crisis Response as the three issue areas where we are strategically positioned to make the greatest impact on human rights. Within these three strategic priorities, we network, conduct research, and conduct site visits to identify grassroots groups who are working with limited resources and poised to grow into powerful forces for change. Believing that groups most impacted by injustices should lead the way in identifying a response, we then take the lead from our partners in prioritizing which issues to respond to. For example, our Climate-Forced Displacement partners have identified self-determination and adaptation-in-place as top priorities. As such, UUSC helps communities mitigate climate change impacts and supports advocacy efforts for communities to be included in government plans and international decision-making forums.

Learn more about how UUSC decides which humanitarian crises to respond to here.

What percentage of donated funds go directly to programs?

Just over eighty-one percent of donations to UUSC go directly to our partners and programs. The remaining nineteen percent supports the staff and administration required to make these programs possible. Eighty-eight percent of donations to our crisis response initiatives to go directly to impacted communities for relief and just recovery. We value transparency and justice-centered stewardship of our resources and are proud to have earned the highest four-star rating from Charity Navigator eight years in a row.

What are a couple of specific “pivots” that UUSC partners have identified with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our grassroots partners are adapting quickly to the urgent needs the COVID-19 crisis has created in their communities. Our partners in Kiribati are educating their communities about basic hygiene and translating information about COVID-19 into the Kiribati language—most of what’s out there about the pandemic has been inaccessible for all our partners in the Pacific. In Honduras, our partner Radio Progreso and community public radio outlets are leading the way to avoid the spreading of misinformation and filling the gaps for awareness of COVID-19. In Europe, most borders have closed. Are You Syrious, one of our partners in Croatia, is making home deliveries of necessities to refugee families. At the US/Mexico border, our partner, Al Otro Lado, has created an emergency fund with help from UUSC, which is going directly to the border camps and immediate needs.

We used to hear a lot about UUSC work in Haiti and India. What’s become of these programs?

UUSC’s Past Partnerships in India

UUSC has not had major programmatic work in India since we responded with partners to the 2004 tsunami (we jointly raised funds with the Unitarian Universalist Association, who distributed their portion of the funds through their Holdeen India Program). In 2015, we gave a one-year grant through our annual Innovation Fellowship for a project in India focused on increasing access to clean water in Mumbai slums. To learn more about that initiative, please visit this page. For those interested in supporting current humanitarian projects and social change in India, we recommend learning more about the UUA’s Holdeen India Program.

UUSC’s Past Partnerships in Haiti

After a decade-long response to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, UUSC concluded our work in the spring of 2020. We are proud of what we, together with our members and partners, were able to accomplish, including building six eco-villages and a school for displaced families from Port-au-Prince who did not want to return to the devastation of the city after the earthquake.

In the final years of our support, our longest-term partner, Mouvman Peyizan Papay (Papaye Peasant Movement), was able to connect all six eco-villages to the electrical grid and have their school certified as a national school. With these new sources of support, UUSC felt we could exit this work having helped the eco-villages become viable for the long-term. For more information about UUSC’s decade long response to the earthquake in Haiti, please visit this page.

Although we have now exited all partnerships in Haiti, UUSC may support work in Haiti again in the future – especially given our deep relationships there. For example, our longstanding partners helped us develop new partnerships to respond to Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Additionally, we continue to support Haitian communities elsewhere, such as advocating for the extension of Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in the United States and supporting Haitian migrants in the Bahamas through our Hurricane Dorian response.

Has the pandemic spurred a different level of collaboration among human rights organizations worldwide?

What is happening in the sphere of human rights organizations is similar to what we are seeing in society at large. Many organizations are increasingly recognizing the intersectionality of their work and seeking more collaboration in order to better leverage their resources in this time.
UUSC has been facilitating collaborations and convenings among our partners facing similar injustices in different locations for many years now. Because of our deep relationships with our partners and our commitment to meaningful collaboration, we are well positioned to continue to bolster this work in the COVID-19 crisis as needs and modes of communication are changing and adapting rapidly.

What strategies does UUSC have for turning the current pandemic into an opportunity for correcting “a life out of balance?”

The current pandemic has brought into stark relief the many humanitarian crises around the world brought on by entrenched systemic inequity and chronic human rights abuses. More people are recognizing what has been known to others for decades, that the status quo is unjust and toxic to many. As we have done since our founding 80 years ago in response to the Nazi uprising in Europe, UUSC will continue to push toward a world where the human rights of all people are respected.  By following the leadership of those most affected by injustice and modeling what deep listening, committed partnership, and courageous imagination can look like, we will continue to call on people of conscience to join us in this vital work toward systemic transformation.

How can UUSC members take action during COVID-19?

There are many ways you can join us in this work! The most important is to stay in touch with us. We often email our members with specific requests such as legislative advocacy, educational opportunities, and participation in community action hours. Here are a few more ways to get involved:

  • Our Immigration Justice Resources offer information and next steps for individuals wishing to take action to support asylum seekers in the United States. Resources on solidarity, sanctuary, and accompaniment can be found here.
  • UUSC’s Congregational Accompaniment Project for Asylum Seekers (or CAPAS) supports congregations in sponsoring an individual or family seeking asylum in the United States, as one form of solidarity and resistance to our government’s xenophobic immigration policies. Such sponsorship includes housing the migrant(s), often for as long as a year, and accompanying them through their asylum process.
  • Check out our action center for the most recent petitions and e-actions related to safeguarding human rights amid the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Of course, one of the most important actions you can take now is to support UUSC with a financial donation. We can only do this vital work because of the support of UUSC members like you. A gift is of any amount is greatly appreciated. If you are able, becoming a sustaining member of UUSC means we will be there for our partners today and tomorrow.