Peace X Peace Founder Honors UMCOR for Leading and Inspiring
“This award has special meaning to me as someone raised in Iowa who attended a small country church. I learned early the importance of rolling up your sleeves and pitching in to work together for everything from baling the hay to cooking church suppers. UMCOR rolls up its sleeves to help the stricken and needy throughout the world.”
Peace X Peace Founder Patricia Smith Melton
For seeing what needs to be done and then doing it with love, respect, and humility, Peace X Peace awards the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) with the 2010 Patricia Smith Melton Peacebuilder Award.
The Patricia Smith Melton Peacebuilder Award honors a person or organization that builds cultures of peace not only through their daily work, but also inspires, organizes, and leads others to create a just and harmonious world.
UMCOR’s mission is to assist the most vulnerable populations in times of disaster–whether it is war, famine, hurricanes, or earthquakes. They have programs in more than 80 countries worldwide, including the United States. We learned more about the philosophy behind UMCOR’s inspiring work from the organization’s deputy general secretary Cynthia Harvey.
What role does religion play in the work UMCOR does?
Let me begin by saying that we don’t assist people based on any religious standard. We help all people from a humanitarian standpoint.
We have partners that help us implement our programs all around the world. We partner with USAID and other ecumenical as well as non-governmental organizations. However, the majority of our support comes from the people in the pews of United Methodist churches across the world. And our volunteer base is primarily folks from our churches that understand what it means to love your neighbor and serve your brothers and sisters.
Can you tell us more about what you hope volunteers gain from their involvement with your organization?
My hope is that a volunteer’s involvement with UMCOR is transformative. It obviously expands their awareness of what the world is like and what the world has to offer.
But we don’t just want to send people to save the day. It is very important to us that we’re not simply an organization of well-intentioned Americans who serve people. Our goal is to build the capacity of the people we serve. We have a responsibility to them and they to us in this.
There are some things that we do that are strictly relief–there are times that we just need to get in there and get people food and water. But, most often, it is important that we help people with long-term capacity building so that they can begin to be resources for themselves.
A powerful recent example of this was in Chile. Last October, we had a request from the church there to help them improve their capacity to respond in times of disaster. We subsequently sent a team to Chile to conduct disaster preparedness training. In February, Chile experienced an earthquake and thanks to the training they were in a much better place to respond to their own disaster. So, again, it is not just that we go in and do it for you. We would rather do it with you.
In Haiti, we have a commitment that for every American that we send there are two Haitians that are hired. We’re supporting the work of Haitians in the work that we do. In that way, it is not just about us. It really is about the people that we serve.
In October, the Bishop of the Church in Chile was at our Board Meeting. He described the moment when he realized that humanitarian work is the work that we’re called to do as people of God. To serve as a Christian in the true sense of the word is to do humanitarian work; to serve our brothers and sisters and to love our neighbor regardless of whether they are Methodist or Catholic or Muslim or of any other religion—that is our command. I thought it was interesting to hear someone else say that they had learned that from us.
What gives you hope while working in the midst of such devastation?
I am constantly amazed by the resilience of the people that we serve with. For example, knowing what life was like in Haiti before the earthquake and certainly knowing what life is like there after the earthquake, those people are amazingly resilient. It is in that resilience that I find hope that things can be different in the future.
Congratulations UMCOR and thank you!
To read about the other Women, Power and Peace Award winners click here.