So Christian Aid week has come round again and I want to reflect on some of the work that Christian Aid is involved with.
The Aid industry has come in for some bad press in the last year. A very few of those involved with it were shown to have very human failings. All human endeavours have a problem. As soon as there is an inbalance in power some of those who have more power will misuse it for their own ends. There is always a risk that this will happen. Our motivations are always mixed. But it doesn’t invalidate the general work that is being done by organizations like Christian Aid. But it is inevitable that when one group of people have aid to offer they will be in a more powerful position that those who need aid. And misusing this power can happen in much more subtle and less obvious ways than what has happened at Oxfam and save the children fund. We always have to aware that this can happen. That’s all I am going to say about and now I want to talk more about some aspects of the work done by Christian Aid.
Aid comes under two general headings. There is what happens when there is a natural disaster. And there is the much less dramatic work, which comes under the general heading of community development. For fund raising purposes Christian Aid tends to use a success story from the disaster response side of their work. And this year it is the story of Vilia, who lives in Haiti:
Vilia lost her mum and her home when the earthquake struck Port-au-Prince in 2010. Bereaved and homeless, she went back to her home town with her husband and children. But life was a struggle, and they had nowhere safe to live. Christian Aid partner KORAL built her a new home that was strong enough to stand up to natural disasters.
On the terrifying night when Hurricane Matthew hit, Vilia’s neighbours fled to shelter with her. As the storm raged, she shared her home with more than 50 of her neighbours for several days. Despite the ferocity of the hurricane, which swept away surrounding homes, her house was barely damaged.
Vilia allowed her home to become an emergency shelter when Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti. She is incredibly grateful for the help she’s received but worries about those without a secure home. Christian Aid knows how to make this happen –of the 700 houses they built after the 2010 earthquake, just one needed to be repaired after Hurricane Matthew.
I would like you to notice that the work of building the house was done by a local organization. That is how Christian aid usually works. They don’t have western expats with white or brown faces driving around in white four wheel drive vehicles. They work with local people encouraging them and providing the often small amounts of finance needed to get projects off the ground. But the essential thing is that the local people should feel that the projects belong to them.
So next I want to look at one of the projects that are aimed at empowering local people in different parts of the world. There is a comparatively big project going on in Ghana. It’s funded half by Christian Aid and half by the eu.
There is something like 98% unemployment among young people in Ghana. The project offers training to some of these people so that they can earn more. The project itself is spending nearly one million euros but it is spread among a lot of people. For this reason it’s hard to describe it briefly but here are a couple of examples. There is Mary who is a single mother and was born with quite severe disabilities. The project is particularly concerned with helping women and people with disabilities. She was trained on how to produce liquid soap, bleach, shampoo, and hair food conditioner. She reported to the project team “I have so far produced 100 bottles of liquid soap and 35 pieces of hair food for sale at the local markets.”
She added that the business is doing well and she makes a reasonable profit from each production. ‘The training has been very helpful as I have a source of livelihood now and I can support my parents to cater for my children. I am grateful to the GEOP project for the opportunity and I want to also train other interested people with disabilities in soapmaking in order to help them improve their living conditions.’
My other example is a man called Kaku who was also born with a disability. He worked as a cobbler repairing shoes and knew how to make sandals and slippers. His customers wanted him to make shoes for them but he didn’t have the skills. The project was offering training in leather work for people with disabilities and Kaku and some others opted to learn how to make shoes. After training he reported “The training on how to produce shoes and boots was very participatory and I have improved my skills a lot. I can now produce different types of shoes and boots to meet the needs of my cherished customers.”
His monthly income has gone up by 50% and he says “My income has improved and I am able to take very good care of my family. I have enrolled my children in good schools and I am grateful to the EU and Christian Aid for improving my livelihood.”
These are two examples of what is being done. In one sense it is all very small scale. It’s not the sort of project that politicians can use to create headlines. But it is what matters to local people, who can now earn enough to support their families. And the money they earn stays in the local economy. And they want to pass on the skills they have learnt.
From a Christian point of view this is actually about recognizing that people like Mary and Kaku are our neighbours. It’s perhaps easier to do that when they could probably be easily joined to the parish whatsapp. People in Africa have gone straight to mobile phones because the landline network was never very complete. So it’s about helping our neighbours get appropriate training which enables them to have better lives. It also helps build up local communities, which can support themselves. It all sounds a bit like England before industrialization centralised everything. We can’t go back to that but these rural areas of places like Ghana have yet to experience an industrial revolution.
As I said before there are very few employment opportunities for young people in Ghana so no wonder they dream of a better life in Europe. But one of the aims of projects like this one is offer ways for young and older people in places like Ghana to improve their ways of life. And to find a life that that is better than than they could actually find in Europe. Both Kaku and Mary had dreams of spreading the skills they had learnt to others and in Haiti Vilia shared her house when the hurricane came.
I’ve no idea if any of these three are Christians but what they are doing is working for the kingdom of God.