Trip to Kenya was life-changing event

kenya_albares    “If funds are cut, programming will be cut.”
     This simple statement by Dr. Daniel Kabira of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Kenya is the reality for CRS programs across the globe. CRS is the official international development, relief and humanitarian organization of the U.S. Catholic community and works in more than 100 countries worldwide. The U.S. government is the largest funder of CRS; its grants make up about two-thirds of the CRS budget.
    Much of this funding is in peril due to proposed cuts to poverty-focused international assistance programs. In an Aug. 24 letter, Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard and Ken Hackett, president of CRS, implored Congress to retain funding for these important programs.
    “We urge you to avoid morally unacceptable, even deadly cuts to poverty-focused humanitarian and development assistance,” they wrote. “The House subcommittee mark makes cuts that will undermine integral human development, poverty reduction initiatives, and stability in the world’s poorest countries and communities.”
    I recently traveled to Kenya with a delegation of diocesan leaders and CRS staff to learn more about the development programs funded by the U.S. In Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, an extreme drought grips the land and threatens 12 million people. Our delegation witnessed the unforgiving environment that seemed intent on extinguishing all life. However, due to CRS agriculture and water-retention projects, communities are able to sustain themselves. It is critical that funding continue and be increased.
    In Kenya, I met with people on the brink of starvation and death from thirst. I saw how CRS has facilitated interventions to respond to these critical needs. I also witnessed firsthand the investment in integral human development – a holistic approach to development that works with people toward social, spiritual and human growth. Throughout the world, CRS allows people to live out their vocation in their community, promoting right relationships and peace. Funds at risk of cuts provide education for orphans and vulnerable children, international disaster assistance, infectious disease vaccinations and treatment, and assistance to refugees.
    Staff members in the Diocese of Machakos spoke about the amazing impact of CRS educational programs for orphans and vulnerable children along with agricultural programs for subsistence farmers. They were passionate about the need for expansion of these crucial initiatives. During a visit to an agricultural site, Ms. Magdalene, a farmer and the vocal leader of the group, presented us with the gift of a pumpkin from their bounty. I hope and pray that we will be able to give her a gift in return by persuading our legislators to continue to provide funding for this and other projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
    On another community visit – this time with the Ghale community in the Diocese of Garissa – we were greeted with a vivacious dance and then invited to join in discussion on hand-made grass mats under mango trees. In this village, CRS and the local diocese worked with the people to install a well and household latrines; they also worked together to form a Water Users Association composed of village residents to manage the projects.
    We asked the people of Ghale what message they would like us to send to our political leaders in the United States. Using an appropriate agricultural metaphor, a man said, “We are thankful for your support, but the U.S. has many fruits. We are struggling to survive and hope that the U.S. will share its many fruits.”
    Please join me in calling upon our elected officials to promote a robust international assistance budget and sharing of our fruits. Visit http://crs.org/public-policy to learn how you can get involved.
    Nick Albares is Parish Social Ministry Coordinator in Catholic Charities’ Office of Justice and Peace in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Albares is available to speak to parishes about his experiences and how Catholics can get involved in advocacy efforts. He can be reached at (504) 592-5692 or nalbares@ccano.org.

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