HOTLINE - week of August 16, 2010

CWS assists flood survivors in Pakistan; Indigenous youth in South America's Gran Chaco are helping their communities; Iowa flooding

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Rahim Gui and child
Pakistan--Rahim Gul and the rest of his family fled their home in the mountains because of severe flooding.
Photo:  Ghulam Rasool/CWS-ACT


The flooding disaster is “worse than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 Pakistani earthquake combined,” says UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.  The flooding in Pakistan has displaced some 20 million people, and has affected all four of Pakistan’s provinces.

Says flood survivor Sawan Khan, from Sultan Kot, “My wheat and cotton crops have been washed away, my house has collapsed, and everything I ever owned has been taken by the flood.”  Sawan’s family has received both food and shelter supplies through CWS.    

CWS is working to provide food to 55,500 people and shelter for 17,500. Food packages include rice, wheat flour, beans, sugar, cooking oil, tea and salt--basics for a family of five for a month. Shelter kits include winterized tents and plastic sheets.

Six CWS health units are meeting emergency medical needs of displaced families, as well as promoting preventive measures against waterborne diseases. Support for all these efforts is urgently needed.

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Gran Chaco, South America

Indigenous youth in the Gran Chaco region of South America are mapping out the future for their peoples, in part by using GPS technology to document their peoples’ legal cases to reclaim their ancestral lands.  Equipped with their high-tech skills, the Chaco youth are calling on their elders to visit the lands with them and show them historical points to be mapped, bringing the two generations closer.

GPS training is just the tip of a broader educational initiative supported by CWS in the Gran Chaco. Young men and women from Guaraní, Qom and other indigenous groups are gaining higher education opportunities, training in community development, and access to technology rarely available to the region’s marginalized groups. In Argentina, 18 indigenous teenagers have already become leaders in their communities after training in how to analyze community problems and develop projects to solve them.

“We’re nurturing leaders,” says Martha Farmelo, CWS communications officer based in Argentina. “As part of our long-term Chaco initiative, an increasing number of young men and women are now completing high school, and many are going on to universities and vocational institutes--in some cases for the first time in the history of their communities.”

As one indigenous Paraguayan student explained, “We study for our indigenous community.  Math is intimately linked to rights.  Even when you read the law you have to understand the numbers in order to use that legal right.  My diploma will belong to my community.  I have to work to give back to my community.  I have to help.”  Said a student in Argentina, “Through education we can know what our culture is and not lose our dialects. We’ll be able to manage in both languages. Other peoples have lost their language.  Only in the Chaco have communities held on to Qom, Wichi, Mocovi (languages).”

“In indigenous communities where unemployment, alcoholism and suicide rates among youth are especially high, initiatives like the Chaco program are not only giving young people encouragement, they’re giving entire communities hope for the future,” said CWS’s Farmelo.

In all three countries, with the support of the Chaco Initiative, indigenous communities are making real progress toward reclaiming some of the ancestral lands. In Argentina, since the program began, nearly 46,800 acres have been digitally mapped, which assists in land claims. The Argentine government has signed an agreement to support the process for the indigenous Guaraní community of Vinalito to take possession of land they have been granted collective title to. Work is now underway to secure potable water, basic housing and other services, and several families have already moved onto the lands. In 2009, the Bolivian government took necessary steps to prepare the transfer of title for 24,700 acres to local indigenous communities. Indigenous legal advocates participated by monitoring the government’s work and ensuring that it was carried out successfully. And, in Paraguay, indigenous groups received two favorable rulings on their right to their ancestral lands from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The government, however, has yet to comply, meaning indigenous efforts must continue.  

Through the Chaco Initiative, CWS and local partners are working with indigenous communities to regain traditional lands; develop livelihoods via training in sustainable agriculture, seed banks and improved animal raising; and heighten focus on education and the protection of human rights.

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Hundreds of people have evacuated their homes in recent days due to severe flooding.  Colfax, Ames and Des Moines are among the affected communities. Ames Mayor Ann Campbell said the flooding was "unlike anything we've seen in Ames before," the AP reported. While Ames residents had been drinking only bottled water due to breaks in water pipes, CWS Iowa Regional Director Russ Melby (an Ames resident) reports that all water-related services have been restored in that community, though other needs persist for many. You and your congregation can help by donating to CWS emergency response efforts and making Emergency Clean-up Buckets.

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