Church World Service team leader tells how Mission:1 brought drought and famine relief to Africa

Church World Service team leader tells how Mission:1 brought drought and famine relief to Africa

September 23, 2012
Written by Emily Mullins

With the help of money raised by the United Church of Christ's Mission:1 campaign, Sammy Mutua was able to make visible strides in drought and famine relief efforts in the Horn of Africa. With extreme climate change and more than 70 million people affected by food shortages in this part of the world, he certainly has a big job on his hands.

"I can't wait to get back because there is so much more work to be done," he said.

Mutua, a disaster, preparation and response expert from Church World Service, the primary agency through which the UCC supports African relief and recovery efforts, discussed his work during a visit Sept. 19 to the UCC National Headquarters in Cleveland.

The Horn of Africa comprises eight countries, 70 percent of which are dry lands plagued by frequent and severe droughts. While this region has always been prone to harsh environmental conditions, Mutua says the situation has gotten worse, likely due to climate change. The droughts are longer, more frequent and more severe. When the rain does come, it is so torrential that it simply washes everything away. This lack of water causes the region's 160 million inhabitants to suffer from crop damage, loss of livestock, malnutrition and preventable diseases.

"We need to break the cycle of malnutrition," Mutua said. "Our people are not lazy, but malnutrition creates weak people who can't work."

Using more than $150,000 of Mission:1 funds, Mutua and the 15-member CWS team have set in motion a plan of education and empowerment throughout Horn of Africa communities and villages. The team traveled from community to community showing villagers how to adapt to these challenging conditions and make the most with what they have. The CWS group relies on communities to educate and help each other and encourages them to take responsibility for utilizing the training and education they receive.

"We help one community and then we move on," Mutua said. "We want them to be able to run their own show."

The first phase of the relief work addressed the immediate need of providing food and safe drinking water. After that, assistance efforts have focused on helping the communities help themselves. CWS taught water harvesting techniques, like sand dams, rock water troughs, roof catchments and runoff harvesting. Homes and public places were equipped with bins that would collect water that runs off roofs, and people were taught to construct gardens so that water not absorbed by the crops would collect in small ponds to be used later.

"The goal is to stop any fresh water from going into the Indian Ocean," Mutua said. "With the bins, a woman could go to church on Sunday and come home with some water to drink."

Villagers were also trained on irrigation methods, drought-tolerant crops, and crop diversification. Adaptive livestock breeds that could better survive the changing climate have been introduced. Native food sources that grow well in this region, but are underutilized in most villagers' daily diets were reintroduced, and CWS conducted workshops showing women how to cook the unfamiliar foods. Families were provided with micronutrient powder to sprinkle on their children's food to improve their appetites and promote resilience against preventable diseases.

Mutua, who is from Kenya, said he has seen tremendous change during the 10 years he has been active in African drought and famine relief efforts. Villages are not as affected by droughts, and they know how to adapt when disaster does strike. Communities are better able to identify problems and they realize that they are now a part of the solution, he adds.

"All of this is to reduce community vulnerability and enhance resistance to future droughts," Mutua said. "Like shock absorbers that allow communities to bounce back."

Since 1957, the UCC has worked with CWS to accomplish more together than it could alone, joining hearts and resources to create a tradition of help and a legacy of hope. When disaster strikes, CWS is the primary agency through which the UCC gives support for relief and recovery efforts.

Mission:1 was a UCC-wide initiative to feed the hungry and confront food-related injustice. Over 11 days last November, the mission far exceeded the UCC's goal of collecting $111,111 for Neighbors in Need and East Africa famine-related ministries, like the work Mutua and CWS is doing today.

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