The Common Good

Faith Without Borders

400px-Oxfam_East_Africa_-_Women_and_children_waiting_to_enter_Dadaab_camp

Whose responsibility was it to feed the 30,000 hungry children in the Horn of Africa who have starved to death in the last three months?

Who should be ensuring that no child in this world dies before his or her fifth birthday?

Who is providing medical treatment to the 225 million people around the world suffering from malaria -- a disease that realistically could be eradicated by 2015?

These are complex questions that far too often are not met with thoughtful answers. The challenges of global poverty oftentimes are brushed off as someone else's problem -- chalked up to merely a matter of individual charity or dismissed as most assuredly not being the business of government.

That one percent of the U.S. Federal Budget (and yes, it really is only one percent) allocated for foreign aid and development projects? What a waste of money! (At least that's what too many people say. But responding to that kind of wrong-headed reasoning deserves its own blog post, so we'll save it for another day.)

Such arguments take place in the church and other spiritual communities as well, with people of faith standing on both ends of the spectrum.

As Christians are we not obligated to help those who area most in need? Should we only focus on those in our own country who need our help, or does God's command us to ignore borders?

How might the words of the biblical prophet Isaiah resonate with us today, when he says: "if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday" (Isaiah 58:10).

Thankfully, there are many organizations (both faith-based and not) in the United States and abroad that are thinking differently and working tirelessly to bring an end to extreme poverty around the globe.

Earlier this week, World Vision, a Christian international aid and development organization, brought the administrator from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to its headquarters in Washington state to talk about the need for effective partnerships between government and non-governmental organizations.

The role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in tackling global poverty is vital and continues to grow and develop as they become more knowledgeable about local contexts and the most pressing needs of the communities in which they work. Many NGOs have been in the most conflict-ridden, disaster-prone areas of the world for the better part of half a century, equipping communities to stand on their own feet in the face of war, famine, disease, and other challenges. This long-term work has achieved so much already and is essential to tackling the institutional poverty that keeps parts of the world from fully developing.

What of governments' role in providing aid and development? As I've said, this work often is met with suspicion and in some cases, downright resentment. Even within the NGO community, there is fear and frustration about government aid programs conflicting with those of NGOs. Short-term government projects can irrevocably damage the delicate relationships built over decades between NGOs and the communities they serve.

If there is a fundamental distrust among organizations that provide aid and development assistance around the world, how will they ever win over those who don't believe that they should bother trying to help in the first place?

In light of this, it was deeply encouraging to hear USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah praising the work of non-governmental organizations earlier this week at the World Vision event, where the doctor highlighted the need for NGOs and government agencies to work in concert to tackle global poverty more effectively.

In his speech, Shah acknowledged the importance of long-term NGO projects, saying, "ultimately trust-based relationships in the communities where you work makes all the difference between sustainability and something that disappears when American taxpayer dollars go away." In doing so, he recognized both the failings of government in providing development assistance and the need for USAID to be working constructively with non-governmental organizations.

Incidentally, this week's event was the first time a USAID administrator had visited World Vision headquarters -- a mark of just how important the relationship between government and NGOs is in combating global poverty.

Having previously worked for a UK-based development NGO myself, it was encouraging to hear such a high-profile figure ask humbly for "help in helping USAID, the Obama Administration, and our country's development enterprise do a better job connecting with communities of faith around this country." This is the sort of dialogue that shows naysayers at home and abroad, that the United States really is committed to tackling global poverty.

The United States, along with many other Western nations, is defaulting on its promise to deliver at least 0.7 percent of its GDP to official development assistance (aid that focuses solely on fighting poverty -- the United States currently gives around 0.25 percent), and it is in part up to us, as people of faith, to hold our governments accountable to live up to their responsibilities and keep their promises.

May we, as humble followers of Christ and people of faith, be challenged and stirred into action by the words of Zeenat Rahman, acting director of USAID's Center for Faith Based and Community Initiatives, who said, "The faith community can bridge the critical gap in raising awareness

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