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United Methodist agency to build schools in Afghanistan

 


United Methodist agency to build schools in Afghanistan

May 26, 2004 

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS)-- Increasing violence across Afghanistan has not prevented the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) from doing relief and development work, according to the agency’s head of mission there.

Current projects include building at least 69 schools and clinics under a new $4.6 million contract with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); assisting UNICEF with child trafficking and the demobilization of child soldiers and providing cows, seedlings and fertilizer to returning refugees.

“What we want to do is help people with their basic needs,” said Warren Harrity, whose office is based in Kabul.

For more than two years, UMCOR has responded to the plight of the Afghan people through its “Love in the Midst of Tragedy” fund, started in response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The agency has cooperated with other relief agencies, particularly members of Action by Churches Together (ACT).

Past work has included the distribution of winterized tents and household supplies; the rebuilding of homes; rehabilitation of water sources; provision of agricultural supplies; distribution of school kits and the offering of income opportunities through loans.

Harrity, previously employed by the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, U.S. State Department, became familiar with UMCOR while he was working with refugees in Bosnia/Herzegovenia. He became head of mission for Afghanistan in August 2003 and found himself “very impressed” by the Afghan people and their determination to rebuild their country.

Since then, he told United Methodist News Service in a May 24 interview, “the violence has increased and accelerated.” Once confined mostly to the border area with Pakistan, the violence has spread so about a third of the country is classified at “high risk.” Areas of “medium risk” can also be found in northern Afghanistan, where ad hoc militias roam. “What you find is a large body of people trying to destabilize the progress there,” he explained.

Harrity lauded the approval of a new constitution for Afghanistan earlier this year, but noted that implementation will take some time. If self-governance is going to work, there must be “a rule of law,” he pointed out. “Right now, it’s the rule of the gun.”

Although UMCOR’s work has not been disrupted, several factors helped delay the opening of a satellite office in the Gardez District, Paktia Province, in southeast Afghanistan.

About 950 families are in the process of relocating to that area, Harrity said. UMCOR has made a proposal to the State Department to provide shelter assistance for the returning refugees, which the agency would complement by drilling 50 wells and providing 1,000 cows.

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR’s parent agency, already has funded 100 pregnant cows as well as seedlings and fertilizer for families, he added.

The biggest project  -- building an estimated 20 schools each in the Kabul, Parwan and Kabisa provinces – has just begun. The work in each province will be subcontracted to local firms. UMCOR is one of five implementers constructing a total of 400 schools, along with additional clinics, for USAID, whose clients are the Afghan Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health.

Currently, the Afghan educational system remains in bad shape. “Children are virtually, under tents, in bombed-out remains of buildings and under shade trees going to school,” Harrity said.

UMCOR is working with government officials and local communities to finalize locations for the schools and clinics it will build and expects the bulk of the work to be completed in 2004.

Other projects focusing on the needs of children are being conducted with UNICEF. Children who have been trafficked to Saudi Arabia for “commercial purposes,” such as selling gum on the streets, are being returned to Afghanistan. UMCOR was involved in a government workshop on the trafficking problem in April and has been key “in helping formalize this national plan,” according to Harrity.

Starting in June, UMCOR will help demobilize child soldiers from ad hoc militias in six provinces. “That will lead to the integration of these children (into society),” he said.

Donations to support UMCOR’s ongoing work in Afghanistan can be made to UMCOR Advance No. 602225 and dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Call (800) 554-8583
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media can contact  Linda Bloom (646)369-3759 or e-mail  newsdesk@umcom.org

 

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