U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (l.) speaks to Sudanese refugee women at the Zamzam camp in northern Darfur on July 1. Annan assured displaced black Africans in Sudan's troubled west that no one would force them to go home without guarantees of protection from marauding Arab militias. REUTERS | Radu Sigheti photo.
More 1.2 million people in the western Sudan region of Darfur have been displaced by an on-going civil war, a situation that the United Nations is calling the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.
Through its membership in Church World Service (CWS) and Action by Churches Together (ACT), the UCC is responding to the crisis.
An initial financial gift of $15,000 from the UCC's One Great Hour of Sharing special mission offering is supporting relief efforts, but UCC leaders are seeking an additional $250,000 in designated gifts from UCC members and congregations.
"We can not sit by and let another Rwanda happen," says Susan M. Sanders, executive for the global sharing of resources with the UCC's Wider Church Ministries. "Until recently this had been another hidden disaster on the continent of Africa, but now the crisis has reached such a magnitude that the U.S. media can no longer ignore it."
According to Amnesty International (AI), the violence in Darfur stems from widespread attacks by "Janjaweed" fighters who reportedly are armed and backed by the government of Sudan. More than 30,000 have been killed, AI reports.
"We are witnessing another genocide, although no one is offi cially calling it that at the moment," Sanders says.
Sanders says those affected have experienced displacement, looting, property destruction, mass rape of women and girls, and civilian execution. More than 100,000 have fl ed across the border into Chad.
Hadje Simine, a refugee at a camp in eastern Chad says she three of her children disappeared after their village was attacked. "I have no idea if they are dead or alive," Simine tells ACT's Bjarne Ussing.
Asisa Ateib, a 30-year-old mother of five, says her husband and two brothers were killed in an attack on her village in February.
In the displacement camps, Sanders says, unsanitary conditions are resulting in increased reports of cholera, meningitis and polio, especially among infants, sick children and the elderly.
"We are called by Christ to respond to people in need and to reach out to one another," Sanders says, "and we must respond not only through our donations but to engage in the advocacy that is happening through [the UCC's] Justice and Witness Ministries to bring world attention to this situation.
"We must call on the U.S. government to provide financial resources in ways that the church could never provide on its own," she says.
UCC-supported relief efforts are being coordinated in partnership with the Sudan Council of Churches and Norwegian Church Aid. Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 162 Catholic relief development and social service organizations, is also involved.
Sanders says the UCC is engaged actively in an 18-month ecumenical effort to provide food, medicines, water supplies and sanitation, as well as seeds, tools and psycho-social counseling to 500,000 of the most vulnerable persons in the Darfur region, including 50,000 children. UCC members can have a direct impact on refugees' lives, Sanders says.
For example, she says, just $80 will provide a family of five with two plastic sheets, three blankets, two mosquito nets, one household kit with cooking supplies, one water can and 10 bars of soap. In addition, it will provide 40 ounces of fortified cereal per day, 8 ounces each of oil and sugar, a package of seeds and tools. Regional clinics supported by donations offer basic health care services.
Additionally, $818 will provide sanitation assistance, including a toilet for four families (20 persons) and a well or borehole that will serve up to 250 persons.
How you can help
1. Pray for peace for the people of Sudan.
2. To assist those affected, make gifts payable to your UCC Conference, marked in the memo portion "Sudan/ Darfur Crisis." Send to your Conference office with a note asking they be forwarded to Wider Church Ministries, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115; or make gifts payable to Wider Church Ministries and mail it to WCM directly.
3. Make a secure, online donation at ucc.org/disaster