When the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee helps people in East Africa, it doesn’t just hand over cash. It helps communities build on their own strengths and sometimes even helps heal old wounds.
While providing assistance, CRWRC works to prevent a dependency mentality, said the organization’s U.S. director, Andrew Ryskamp, who recently returned from East Africa, where he reviewed CRWRC’s work in the region. “We strengthen the efforts of the community if at all possible,” he said.
One method is to create a partnership between CRWRC and the community. Ryskamp explained that when funds are raised to help a village obtain a new well, the villagers must select land, determine beneficiaries, and provide the labor to install it.
In other communities, farmers learn new ways of farming to suit dry regions. New agricultural methods have helped farmers like John Mutuwu in Kenya. While other farmers needed drought assistance, Mutuwu was able to produce a profit during the same rain-deficient times with practices such as creating small dike-like barriers to trap rain water. Such farmers also plant fruit trees in large holes so that they can be composted and retain moisture.
“As a church we can come alongside communities and make their future more hopeful,” Ryskamp said.
In Uganda, people are still suffering the backlash from the Lord’s Resistance Army that has devastated the country for nearly 20 years. Kris Ryskamp, a trained therapist, held a workshop for the Ugandan counselors who work with trauma victims: girls who are treated as sex slaves and boys forced to fight as soldiers.
But East Africa’s problems go deeper than drought and military problems, Ryskamp said. HIV-AIDS continues to devastate the region. “I don’t think there is a family in East Africa that has not been impacted by AIDS,” he said.
The people of East Africa continue to receive inadequate supplies and testing, as well as poor information on how HIV-AIDS is spread. CRWRC teaches how to prevent the spread of AIDS and encourages fidelity and chastity. “[It] is not blaming the victim, but responding so that people can continue to contribute to their community. Many of the victims are widows and orphans,” Ryskamp said.
While the needs are great, Ryskamp remains encouraged by how the church in East Africa and in North America is providing leadership in the fight against poverty and injustice.
For more information on how you can help CRWRC strengthen communities and fight HIV-AIDS in East Africa, see www.crwrc.org.