Humanitarian agency Church World Service leading peace delegation to West Africa
On the schedule for July 2-18 are meetings with the presidents of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Gambia; ecumenical and interfaith councils in the four countries, and U.S. ambassadors to each country.
CWS' goal: strengthening partner churches' work for peace, human rights, reconciliation, reconstruction and sustainable development in a region wracked by political instability, poverty, fighting and massive displacement of people within and across borders.
The councils of churches along with an interreligious group in the Mano River Union countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone pressed their countries' presidents to meet together twice in the past 18 months to address the urgent issues facing their countries, said the Rev. McCullough.
Now they are asking us to meet with their presidents to strengthen the churches' work for peace and human rights.
Added the Rev. McCullough, We're watching Liberia with both anxiety at the worsening security situation and hope that a much-anticipated peace conference can take place in Monrovia in July.
Church World Service is an international humanitarian agency of 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations - comprising 50 million U.S. Christians - the member denominations of the National Council of Churches U.S.A.
Founded in 1946 to help meet needs in post-World War II Europe, CWS now works in partnership with local organizations in more than 80 countries, including the United States, to support sustainable self-help development, meet emergency needs, aid refugees and address the root causes of poverty and powerlessness.
Church World Service has responded to numerous relief and rehabilitation appeals from its denominational and ecumenical partners in the Mano River Union countries, especially in Sierra Leone and Liberia over the past decade-plus of civil strife.
To help meet the needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and others in need in the region, CWS has provided food, medicine and medical personnel, shelter, health and school supplies, water and sanitation facilities and agricultural rehabilitation. Church World Service has worked to build local church leaders' capacity to respond to emergency needs with training in trauma counseling and emergency management. The most recent such training was during the week of May 27-31 in Monrovia.
Through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Department of State, Church World Service administers the Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) in Accra, Ghana, which assists in the resettlement of refugees from West African countries. Church World Service also has provided small grants for relief and development projects in Gambia and Guinea.
The Church World Service delegation visit to the region in July and a subsequent program planning visit are steps toward defining future CWS support for ecumenical partners in West Africa and generating better understanding of the West Africa region among American Christians, the Rev. McCullough said.
That work, in turn, takes place in the context of Church World Service's growing work to address problems of health, hunger and malnutrition, poverty and self-sufficiency across Africa.
Following our visit we will work with our membership to be supportive of the need for peace and reconciliation in the Mano River Union countries, and in particular the work of the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS),- he said. We would especially like to draw to their attention the plight of women and children, including child soldiers; HIV/AIDS, and internally displaced persons and refugees.
Church World Service wrote U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in March to inform them of the West Africa delegation visit and to seek their support. CWS also met on April 4 with U.S. State Department staff to discuss the upcoming trip.
Subsequently, Donald Booth, Director of the U.S. State Department's Office of West African Affairs, wrote the Rev. McCullough welcoming the CWS effort.
We have notified our Ambassadors in the region of your impending trip, and they and their embassies will be pleased to meet your delegation and to provide any appropriate support, Booth wrote on April 11.
And on May 17, Ibrahima Fall, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, wrote on Mr. Annan's behalf, welcoming the proposed visit and commending the efforts of the civil society and religious leaders to assist in the quest for peace and reconciliation, reconstruction and sustainable development in that part of West Africa with which the United Nations and its partner, ECOWAS, have been preoccupied for many years. I wish to assure you that you have the full moral support of the United Nations in this endeavour.
The CWS delegation expects to spend:
- July 2-6 in Guinea, hosted by the Guinean Council of Churches;
- July 6-9 in Gambia, hosted by the Gambian Council of Churches;
- July 9-14 in Sierra Leone, hosted by the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone, and
- July 14-18 in Liberia, hosted by the Liberian Council of Churches.
CWS staff participating in the delegation will include Victor Hsu (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)), Senior Advisor to the CWS Executive Director; Kirsten Laursen (The Episcopal Church), CWS Deputy Director of Programs; Moses Ole Sakuda (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)), Associate Director, CWS Mission Relationships and Witness Program, and Carol Fouke (United Church of Christ), Media Liaison.
West African church leaders will return the CWS delegation's visit in spring 2003