Church World Service peace delegation in Guinea: Bringing attention to West African crisis
Conakry, Republic of Guinea, West Africa =ADTues 7/8/02- The Mano River countries of West Africa continue to struggle with affronts to basic human rights and needs. Escalating civil conflicts and streams of refugees crossing borders are taxing the capacities of neighboring countries, But international humanitarian aid agency Church World Service is determined to bring international attention and greater assistance to the region.
In Guinea this past week, first stop of a four-nation West African tour, an eight-member, ecumenical CWS delegation joined with the six-month-old Christian Council of Guinea for meetings with government leaders, UN refugee officials, and partner NGOs, and visiting the Kimbia Refugee Camp.
CWS is telling leaders of each of the Mano River Union's countries of the churches' vital role in ensuring services and support for the people of West Africa.
In Gambia, July 6-9, and then in Sierra Leone July 9-14 and Liberia,July 14-18, the delegation issued a parting statement to Guinean President Lansana Conté, Saturday (7/6. The Church World Service group said it had come "as an expression of a larger ecumenical movement which is deeply concerned about the crisis of civil disturbance and the plight of the peoples of West Africa who feel that their basic human rights are severely compromised by this sub-regional conflict."
As Sierra Leone Ambassador to the U.S. John F. Leigh said in a letter welcoming the upcoming CWS delegation, "If there is any region in the world that needs healing, West Africa is that region." The trip marks CWS' expanding commitment to Africa.
Church World Service Executive Director the Rev. John L. McCullough says,"We're in West Africa for three reasons:first, to be in solidarity with the Christian Councils of each country, whom we hold as a voice on behalf of the larger ecumenical community."
The second reason, says McCullough, is "to draw greater international attention to the region's conflicts and the urgent need for increased humanitarian assistance, economic stimulus, and relief of the burden of debt that makes adequate standards of living virtually impossible for these countries."
The delegation's third purpose, McCullough explains, "is to "prepare Church World Service for an education and advocacy strategy intended to better inform American Christians of the region's needs and their ability to help.
Church World Service's advocacy strategy, McCullough said, is also aimed at "influencing American foreign policy concerning the allocation of foreign aid" to the sub-region.
In Guinea, one in eight is a refugee
McCullough notes that "Many Guineans can only afford only one meal a day. Unemployment is high; pay is low." And in that country of seven million people, now one in eight is a refugee, putting enormous pressure on the populace."
Since January, renewed fighting in Liberia has driven some 18,000 new refugees into Guinea.. As of the end of June 2002, refugee camps in Guinea were accommodating nearly 37,000 refugees, most of them Liberians.
CWS delegate the Rev. Benjamin Musoke-Lubega, partnership officer for Africa of the Episcopal Church in the US, says, "During our visit in Conakry, (the capital of Guinea), we heard that several thousand people had crossed over from Liberia just last week."
Christians comprise only about 15% of Guinea's predominately Muslim population. The six-month-old Christian Council of Guinea represents the country's Protestants, Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
Church Council head Bishop Albert David Gomez, serving as host of the CWS delegation to West Africa, told the group that when conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia drove the first wave of thousands to safety across the region's relatively permeable borders, Guineans opened their arms and absorbed the refugees into their homes and lives.
Guinean people strained but still sharing meager resources with wave of refugees
But relationships now are more strained. In September 2000 a cross-border attack from Sierra Leone raised anti-immigrant sentiment. "Conditions," says McCullough, "are at a crisis point. And yet the Guinean people are still sharing."
CWS delegate the Rev. Canon Benjamin Musoke-Lubega, Episcopal Church in the United States, is a member of the Worldwide Anglican Communion and partnership officer for Africa. Musoke-Lubega says a lot more sharing is needed from other sources.
UNICEF, UN budgets for West Africa at crisis levels
In its series of meetings with the Guinean church council, with UNICEF, and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the advocacy group learned, says Musoke-Lubega, "that there is a real budget crisis.
"Half way through their budget year," explains Musoke-Lubega, "UNICEF can only be sure of about 30 percent of the funds it needs. But," he says, "it's worse for UNHCR here. What they've gotten in cash and pledges so far this year is just $7 or $8 million, against a $27 million budget.
"They're scrambling just to get shelter and food for people," he says. "They've declared a low-level emergency concerning this new influx of Liberian refugees."
McCullough says the U.S. is doing its part, "although the U.S. can put further pressure on other nations such as England, Germany, and Japan. And the U.S. could make special contributions."
The church, says the CWS delegation, is also doing its part. "The Guinean council is part of a larger, worldwide ecumenical movement," says McCullough, "that plays a vital role in advocating for and serving these crisis areas and in supporting refugee issues.
"That's why the Guinean church council attended all of the governmental, UN and NGO meetings we attended here," he added. Church World Services wants Mano River regional governments, the UN, and area NGOs to see the church as an important player for the good of society.
During the delegation's meeting in Guinea with the UN refugee office, CWS Deputy Director of Programs Kirsten Laursen described how Church World service manages the refugee processing offices in Accra and Nairobi for the U.S. State Department, working hand in hand with the UN to help with refugee resettlement.
CWS urges U.S. to take fair share of Mano River refugees
CWS is advocating for the U.S. to take its fair share of refugees from the Mano River region. "We're concerned," says Laursen, "that since 9/11, there has been only a trickle of refugees. We're working with our government," she says, "to have them meet their quotas.
"Here in Guinea," she told the UN office, "the Christian Council are your partners concerning refugees, and they are your contacts" with the larger ecumenical community's capacities worldwide.
In French-speaking Guinea, as in the region's other countries, says CWS delegate and media liaison Carol Fouke-Mpoyo, "the churches are right in the fray," working cooperatively in an interfaith way, reaching out to serve people.
"One night," she tells, "we went to an international Protestant Evangelical church, where people from all countries were worshipping together, singing hymns in French and English. I can see here how important the church is," she says. "If you're a stranger in a strange land, how important the church is as the center for social survival."
In Guinea, the church groups take soap, extra food and clothing to nearby refugee camps, visit the sick in hospitals, and bring food and clothing to prisoners.
In September 2000, Sierra Leoneans attacked a refugee camp and community, driving four or five thousand refugees out of the camp to the Sierra Leone embassy in Conakry. "There was no way the embassy could take in that many people," recounts Fouke-Mpoyo.
She was told that the people camped out in the street, "but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' office said it couldn't be responsible for people's safety outside of the refugee camps.
"Across from the embassy is a Catholic school that was in session," she tells. "The school took in four thousand refugees and accommodated them on its grounds until the UN could make arrangements. The church pushed the envelope," she says. Until recently, the Catholic Church in Conakry managed the Kimbia Refugee Camp, then turned it over to the UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders and other NGOs.
Guinean Muslims, Christians: working together
Even though in the minority in Guinea, the Christian churches are serving the whole of the society, working in collaboration with Muslims there. After the September 2000 attacks, Muslim and Christian women joined together in a service of prayer for peace.
"There is a lot of religious intermarriage here," says Fouke-Mpoyo. "Many Muslims send their children to Christian school in Guinea because of the quality of education."
Guinea's Bishop Gomez: "the church has to speak out"
Guinean church council leader Bishop Gomez explains that the church in Guinea "is not aspiring to politics. But when it sees someone hungry, it has to go to the government and say, "people are hungry."
"When it sees people are sick, that AIDS is spreading," he says, "the church has to stand up and say, "people need health care." When it sees people don=B9t have access to education, we need to stand up and say, "people have a right to an education."
CWS delegation having immediate effect
Bishop Gomez remarks that "Church World Service's being here has already made a big, positive difference." Right after the delegation's meeting with the UN refugee office, a Catholic woman educator reported that the UN people sought her out to discuss more ways they could collaborate.
Gomez told the departing CWS delegation, "Your visit has given us un nouveau souffle," a second wind.
CWS delegation members include McCullough (United Methodist Church), of Montclair, New Jersey; Musoke-Lubega (Episcopal Church, New York City); Fouke-Mpoyo (Media Liaison, National Churches of Christ USA and Church World Service); Senior Advisor to the CWS Executive Director Victor Hsu (Presbyterian Church USA); CWS Deputy Director of Programs Kirsten Laursen (The Episcopal Church); Associate Director, CWS Mission Relationships and Witness Program, Moses Ole Sakuda (Presbyterian Church USA) the Rev. Philip Reed, Missionaries of Africa (Roman Catholic), of Washington, D.C.; and Susan Sanders (United Church of Christ), of Cleveland, Ohio.
Jan Dragin, Boston/New York
Phone: (781) 925-1526
Fax: (781) 925-2311
Carol Fouke-Mpoyo =AD media liaison with
CHURCH WORLD SERVICE WEST AFRICA PEACEBUILDING
SERVICE MONDIAL EGLISES DELEGATION OECUMENIQUE DANS AFRIQUE D'OUEST
COMPLETE DELEGATION SCHEDULE:
2-6 juillet Guinée
6-9 juillet Gambia
9-14 juillet Sierrra Leone
14-18 juillet Liberia
CWS MEDIA LIAISONS:
Cell phone: 011 347 251 2089
Phone: 011 781 925 1526
Phone: 224 43 24 15
Fax: 224 43 23 45 or 43 23 15
Rt. Rev. Albert David Gomez, Anglican Bishop of Guinea
Phone: 224 451 323
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Wednesday 03 July:
11 AM - visit with Prime Minister
3 PM - visit with another minister (I do not have that person's name yet)
4 PM - visit with US ambassador
Evening: meetings with Guinean Council of Churches leaders for further dialog
Thursday 04 July:
9 AM - visit with staff of UN High Commissioner for Refugees
11 AM - visit with UNICEF, and, later, with other NGOs and CWS partners in the region. They will also visit a refugee camp near the capital city.
Friday 05 July:
Friday open for an expected meeting with the President. Evening dinner.
They leave on Saturday 06 July for Gambia
The Gambian Council of Churches
Rev. Daniel Able-Thomas, Secretary General
Saturday 06 July:
Arrival and meeting with Church Council Planning Committee and General Secretary
Evening dinner and meeting with heads of churches, Council Planning Committee
Sunday 07 July:
Visit Bombali Refugee Camp/Farafenni, 7 AM
Monday 08 July:
9 AM, visit US Ambassador, SOS for Religious Affairs, and H.E. the President
5 PM, meeting of religious heads
They leave Gambia Tuesday 09 July
SIERRA LEONE TOUR:
Cape Sierra Hotel
Phone: 232 272 481 or 272 268 or 272 269
Fax: 232 272 977
Sierra Leone Council of Churches
Alimamy Koroma, General Secretary
Fax: 232 22 224 439
Tuesday 09 July:
Arrival of delegation; open that day
Wednesday 10 July:
10:00 AM Meeting with General Secretary/Sierra Leone Council of Churches
11:00 AM Welcome reception for the delegation at Council offices (meeting with heads of SL churches)
2:00-5:00 PM Delegation calls on US ambassador
Delegation calls on H.E. The President Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabba
Thursday 11 July:
7:00 AM =AD 5:00 PM Field visits provincial Kono and Kambia district and to the Sierra Leone/Liberia border; may visit refugee camp and diamond mine
Friday 12 July:
Field visits: completion of Thursday itinerary
Saturday 13 July:
9:00 AM Delegation visit to amputee camp
10:00 AM Meeting with Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone
11:00 AM Wrapup meeting with Council of Churches Executive Committee
7:00 PM Closing reception for delegation
Delegation leaves for Liberia Sunday 14 July
Mamba Point Hotel
Phone: 377 226 693
Fax: 377 226 050
Liberian Council of Churches
Rev. Plezzant Harris, General Secretary
Phone: 377 47 514 107 or 510 868
[Times and venues: inquire of media liaisons]
Sunday 14 July:
Briefing at Liberian Council of Churches; rest of day/evening open
Monday 15 July:
Delegations visits US Embassy
Delegation visits President of Liberian Council of Churches Archbishop Michael K. Francis
Lunch at Mamba Point Hotel
Delegation meets with Executive Committee/Liberian Council of Churches
Delegation visits with Chairlady of Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC)
Tuesday 16 July:
Delegation meets with heads of denominations in Liberia
Lunch at Mamba Point Hotel
Delegation visits refugee camps near Monrovia
Wednesday 17 July:
Delegation visits chairman and members of the Planning Committee of the National Conference to be held in July
Lunch at Mamba Point Hotel
Afternoon open for followup
Special visits with other dignitaries and organizations may be planned*
* A request has been made to meet with President of Liberia Charles Taylor. The Chief of Protocol has made verbal acknowledgment. Inquire of Church World Service Delegation media liaisons for update.
Thursday 18 July:
Closing Press Conference