HOTLINE - week of February 7, 2011

Thousands of families affected by severe flooding in Brazil; People with disabilities in Haiti gain prosthetics and repaired homes, with CWS help; CWS-sponsored security conference in Asia.

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Nilcimar Fleiman
Brazil--Nilcimar Fleiman digs into the remains of her flood-destroyed house in an effort to salvage belongings.
Photo: ACT/FLD/Gustavo Bonato


Nilcimar Fleiman digs with her bare hands for pieces of clothing and family photos at the spot her house stood before it was swallowed up by an avalanche of earth and water.   

Fleiman’s house simply doesn’t exist anymore, nor do dozens of other homes in Floresta, a poor neighborhood of Nova Friburgo city. Her words define the challenge for thousands of families in the Rio de Janeiro mountainous region: “I don’t know what will happen from now on. We have lost everything,” the seamstress and mother of four says.

On January 11, just a few hours of heavy rain ended in dramatic landslides and floods that have killed 850 people, with more than 400 still missing. Local authorities estimate that 30,000 people have lost their homes and, like Fleiman, face the difficult task of rebuilding lives and livelihoods with virtually no resources.  

Church World Service supports ACT member KOINONIA, a lead agency in this response. Overall response includes supplying 1,218 affected families in the municipalities of Teresópolis, Petropolis and Nova Friburgo, the hardest-hit cities, with food items and hygiene kits.  Food packages include dried meat and fish, nutritional supplements, eggs, beetroot, squash and bananas. The families will also receive organic fertilizers and pesticides as well as basic irrigation equipment to rebuild their market gardens.

Also planned: basic household goods and equipment for 200 families whose homes were damaged or destroyed, along with training on humanitarian response, organizational development and disaster-risk reduction. In addition, 13 small shopkeepers will be helped in re-establishing their businesses and a local entrepreneur will be supported in providing free seedlings to 800 local growers.

Koinonia also intends to facilitate psychosocial programming through sports, games, drama and other activities with children and young people, and will provide rights-based education so communities will know what they are entitled to from local governments.

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In January, 2010, at age 1, Laura lost her parents when their cement house collapsed. Laura’s left leg was so badly injured by the collapse that it had to be amputated. Her aunt, whose home had also been damaged in the quake, took Laura to live with her in a tent camp.  

Her aunt heard about the CWS People with Disabilities program.  The family enrolled in the program, and for six months received cash assistance, psycho-social support and referrals to other services.  Thanks to assistance provided by the People with Disabilities program, Laura will soon learn to walk and will be living in a house again.

Laura was one of 30 people with disabilities to receive custom-built prosthetics, when a team of doctors visited from Puerto Rico.  Laura’s prosthetic will allow her to learn to stand and walk and run.

Also, her family was selected to be in the first group of families to benefit from a house repair program for people with disabilities--a CWS program done in collaboration with Mennonite Central Committee and implemented by Haitian partner, SKDE.

This is the only program in Haiti focused exclusively on providing people with disabilities with permanent housing solutions.  Work is done by local Haitian workers and engineers. A civil engineer from California with a specialty in earthquake-resistant building provides training for the workers.

Thirty homes were repaired in the first month of the program, and at least 140 more will be completed in the next six months.  Many of the families that moved home have invited other families living in tents to come live with them in their repaired houses.

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This month, as CWS continues its lead role in providing security training in Asia, colleagues in Bangkok, Thailand, are hosting a “Regional Conference on Risk Management Awareness: from Field Workers to Policy Makers.”  The conference is the culmination of four training workshops held last year to address security needs for local and international non-governmental organizations across the Asia-Pacific region, focusing on Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.  

“In response to the growing and changing nature of threats to humanitarian groups across Asia and the Pacific--particularly local organizations--we want to increase the capacity of the humanitarian community in the region to assess and manage the risks of their environments,” says CWS’ Kathrine Alexandrowiz, the coordinator of the regional risk management project.

“NGOs face a range of threats including kidnapping, improvised explosive devices, direct threats to organizations and individuals, and suicide attacks,” says Paul Wooster, the facilitator for the training component of the regional initiative.

Wooster stresses that the course is about developing better systems for assessing, mitigating and addressing threats to security and safety that impact an entire organization. “NGOs don’t only need staff to have better personal security knowledge but equally important is a security management framework that informs every aspect of organizational decision making,” he says.

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