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Church World Service Moves New Africa Initiative Forward

November 1, 2002, NEW YORK CITY - The international, ecumenical humanitarian agency Church World Service is moving forward plans for a new Africa Initiative through which CWS and its partners will seek to bring increased attention and resources to the struggles faced by the majority of Africans.

Built on the foundation of the agency’s decades of emergency response, community development and refugee assistance work in Africa, the new initiative will supplement, not replace, CWS’ already extensive, existing projects and partnerships.

The Africa Initiative will extend over at least five years and aims to target new resources for maximum impact on a few significant issues. It will work with African national councils of churches and other partners to build, improve and expand their humanitarian services, institutions and leadership.

Church World Service is the $70 million a year, global humanitarian agency of the 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member denominations of the (U.S.) National Council of Churches, and works in more than 80 countries. CWS has broad U.S. grassroots support - particularly through its nearly 2,000 annual CROP WALKS, which last year raised more than $17 million to fight hunger in the United States and around the world.

The CWS Africa Initiative will target three particularly vulnerable populations: 1) children; 2) people living with HIV/AIDS, and 3) uprooted peoples, including refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons. It will focus on three root causes of hunger and poverty affecting these vulnerable groups: 1) violence, conflict, peace and reconciliation; 2) water, health and food security, and 3) globalization and poverty reduction. And it will give specific and intentional attention to the needs and rights of African women and girls, who long have faced discrimination and violence.

One component of the Africa Initiative that is generating particular interest is the concept of schools as "Safe Zones." Said the Rev. John L. McCullough, CWS Executive Director, "we would seek to promote schools as safe zones where children could be secure from violence, receive one hot meal a day, and pursue education."

The concept of schools as "Safe Zones" was sparked by a presentation that CWS staff had heard in March 2002 by former U.S. Sen. George McGovern - now the United Nation’s international emissary to the hungry -- about his vision of expanding the U.S. school lunch program internationally.

The Rev. McCullough noted that the United Nations’ stated goal of cutting world hunger in half by 2015 could be met "if you just focus on children."

CWS is developing the new Africa Initiative in extensive consultation with its African partners -- most recently, at its September meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, with the general secretaries and chairpersons of the sub-regional and national ecumenical councils of 31 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Our ecumenical partners heralded the meeting in Nairobi as an historic opportunity to meet in such numbers to discuss future plans and priorities with an agency such as CWS," said the Rev. McCullough. Participants in the Nairobi meeting "were really excited about the ‘Safe Zones’ concept," he reported.

"They would collaborate continent-wide to press their governments for legislation declaring schools as ‘safe zones,’ free from violence, civil conflict and abuse. We want to press the governments - and the new Africa Union -- to declare education a universal right of children."

The Africa Initiative in general - and the "Safe Zones" component in particular - also will seek to engage corporations, especially those that have been taking resources from the continent. "We will encourage them to reinvest in communities there," the Rev. McCullough said. "The first priority for reinvestment should be the schools."

The Africa Initiative also sets out to "strengthen the voice of our partners in the international arena," said Kirsten Laursen, CWS Deputy Director for Programs. "CWS has the unique opportunity to facilitate representation of our partners’ concerns," on, for example, the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) - a major 21st century initiative for engaging the international community in partnership with Africa for Africa’s development.

The CWS meeting with partners in Nairobi in September included a panel on NEPAD and its impact "and our partners appreciated that. It was their first opportunity for such a discussion," Ms. Laursen said.

The CWS Board of Directors reviewed the evolving initiative at its fall meeting, held October 22-23 in South Bend, Ind., and gave its unanimous support. Formal launch of the Africa Initiative is set for January 2004. Throughout 2003, CWS will work to enlist U.S. denominational support and will hold a series of follow-up planning meetings with African church leaders.

Church World Service already is following up on a July 2002 delegation visit to West Africa’s Mano River Region - among the Africa Initiative’s geographical "cornerstones" -- by launching several new projects related to truth and reconciliation in Sierra Leone; demobilization and reintegration of soldiers, including child soldiers, and increased support and care of refugees and displaced people. Ecumenical council leaders from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia will visit the United States in March 2003.

CWS Emergency Response Program staff recently met with partners in Angola to discuss an expanded CWS presence, and Immigration and Refugee Program staff went to Kenya and Tanzania earlier this month to pursue expansion of services to refugees.

In May 2002, U.S. composer Tim Janis performed two concerts with local musicians in South Africa to benefit HIV/AIDS ministries of two CWS partners - the Sinikithemba Christian Care Center in Durban and the South African Council of Churches. And on December 1, World AIDS Day, the Durban-based Sinikithemba HIV+ Choir will join Janis in concert at The Riverside Church in New York City - launching a two-week East Coast tour to benefit CWS HIV/AIDS ministries across Africa. (Phone 800-297-1516 or visit www.churchworldservice.org  for details.)

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