Development and Relief

The Christian Urban Development Association.  That is the name of our NGO.  This is where you consider skipping the rest of my article.  But seriously, have you stopped to consider what we decided to say through our name?  We are Christians who have, as a formal group, decided to work towards development in an urban setting.  Our urban setting is obvious (Arequipa) and our Christianity is worked into the way in which we carry out our work.  The hard part of our title to really capture is: Development.  Now there are a lot of definitions for what development (in our case international development) means: freedom, good change, advancement technologies and many many more.  What I find we have the hardest time explaining sometimes is why we’ve chosen development over relief, and if we will ever partake in relief work.
Where development generally carries a long-term outlook on it (community planning, basic services acquisition, health care provision, economic development, empowerment, etc.) relief is a here-and-now enterprise.  Handing out food in a famine-stricken country, rebuilding homes after an earthquake, feeding/housing families displaced by natural disaster or war, etc.  In any city like ours you will find groups dedicated to both causes.  In the poor neighborhoods surrounding the city, groups will hand out food, clothing, clean water, school supplies and other items to families that spend each day just trying to get to the next.  In these same neighborhoods, some groups will instead dedicate their time to community development and planning, training unemployed husbands and wives in skills to help them land a job, advocating on behalf of communities with no running water that the city would see their need and respond.  As an NGO we’ve chosen to focus on improving the education system in individual schools by teaching teachers how to teach (Nice, right?) and through empowering small-business owners with small, no-interest loans to help them take one step forward, and then another, and then another.  We have other long term projects in the works but they all fall into the long-term development spectrum and we have not had any desire to branch out into relief.
It is no surprise that often our desires are swayed by what we experience.  On February 8, the city of Arequipa experience its highest ever recorded rainfall of 4.8+ inches in just 5 hours time.  For a city that can go a whole year without receiving such a small amount of rain you, can imagine the consequences.  Slightly sloped streets became swiftly-flowing rivers two feet deep that could knock a grown man off his feet.  Car sized holes ripped open in the streets and, not surprisingly, cars fell into them.  The waterways/spillways throughout the city designed to keep streets clear ended up filled with mud and stone, causing water to spill out and the roads they were protecting to crumble and vanish into the flow.  We experienced this in my neighborhood where streets were “well-paved” and protected from rain.  In the poor neighborhoods on the mountainside where they have no paved roads, no drainage system and usually no electricity, the damage was less expensive but no less devastating for some families.  Houses filled up two or three feet high with mud ruining possessions and at times carrying them away completely.  Water and sewage pipes broke as the water took apart the ground itself, making it look like an earthquake had split the earth.  Some families came out of that storm just wet and cold.  Some families came out wet and cold realizing they had no food, clothing, blankets, or shelter.
In the face of this emergency situation, our organization is left trying to decide what we do.  While there is a way to “do relief” well, very often that does not happen.  While there is a way to do it well, we have no experience in this area.  Even still we are being stirred to some response for certain neighborhoods where we have a connection and would ask for your prayers and support as we assess what help we will provide to these families.  Since we have no money budgeted for emergency relief we will be seeking people to partner with us in our response.  I ask you to be praying, now, for how you might help one of your global neighbors in a time of need.  More information and details will be forthcoming and I appreciate your patience, prayers, and the support you all are always so faithfully extending to us.