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USAID Highlights Role of Faith-Based Relief Organizations

October 19, 2011, 11:42 am | Posted by Brian Thorn

Yesterday afternoon in Seattle, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)–Rajiv Shah–spoke to a gathering of nearly 800 people on the role of faith and faith-based organizations in addressing hunger, poverty, and preventable diseases in the developing world.

The event, organized by the agency’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and hosted by World Vision–a Christian humanitarian organization–was part of a broader effort by USAID to engage faith-based communities as allies against humanitarian crises, such as the Horn of Africa Crisis. Administrator Shah spoke to the importance of these partnerships in addressing the critical need in developing countries:

We want to enable Kay Warren’s 14,000 foot soldiers to go into communities like the Nairobi slums and provide healthcare services. We want to support your activities to build local capacity in local institutions with counterpart organizations from Uganda, to India to Latin America. And we want to make sure that if there’s a church group, a faith-based organization somewhere in this country that wants to learn about development, that wants to engage on this tremendous mission, that we offer a platform that is inviting their engagement and supporting their efforts to learn.

This matches what Shah said last January at the Center for Global Development:

I’m proud to know that USAID is one of [Catholic Relief Services'] largest supporters, but I’m also proud to know that we support a wide range of faith-based organizations from Samaritans First to the American Jewish World Service. Faith-based organizations not only express the moral values of millions of Americans. They also provide some of the most dependable support systems for millions of people in the developing world. In Kenya, for example, 30 percent of all health-care services are provided by Christian hospitals.

Our success depends on listening to these groups actively, connecting with them deeply, leveraging the trust and the partnership they’ve nurtured in communities where they’ve practiced for a very long time and supporting the vital work of organizations of faith around the world.

These important coalitions are in critical danger right now, however, as elected officials–gripped by austerity mania–search for “easy” budget cuts. Members of Congress on the House Foreign Affairs Committee have already sent a letter to the supercommittee trying to stave off further cuts. And asked about their opinions on foreign aid last night, none of the GOP presidential candidates spoke up in defense of the importance of these humanitarian assistance programs.

Last April, Administrator Shah testified in Congress that the cuts in the proposed GOP budget would lead to the death of 70,000 children. That budget didn’t pass, but if those proposals return it would be terrible news for the government’s faith-based development partners and the people they serve.

UPDATE: Added quote from yesterday’s event and corrected date of original quote.

Photo: Administrator Shah in Sudan Credit: USAID, Flickr

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