“There is an old proverb that says ‘give someone a fish, they’ll eat for a day. Teach them to fish, they’ll eat for a lifetime.’ We’ve learned that it is also important to give people access to the pond and ensure that the waters aren’t polluted,” explains Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo, World Renew Canadian Director.
As World Renew staff worked with communities around the world, they gained special insights into the lives of the poor and hurting in this world. With farmers in El Salvador, they learned the importance not only of good crop yields but also access to land rights and ownership. In Indonesia, they learned that decades of progress could be completely wiped out when violence swept through villages. In Senegal, they learned that early marriage and pregnancy was putting young women at risk of childbirth complications and even death. And in many countries they saw that overpowering international debt limited the government resources available for essential services such as health centers and schools.
With this in mind, World Renew began working with its partner churches and community organizations to consider the root causes of poverty in target communities and develop solutions that could address those issues. This was a part of World Renew key policies and documents already in 1983, but became a more prominent part of ministry in the 1990’s.
“The ministry of justice and advocacy has taken on an increased urgency for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee,”
“The ministry of justice and advocacy has taken on an increased urgency for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee,” explained a CRWRC document from 1999. “We have expanded local ministry activities to include advocacy and education. We are working with lawyers and poor communities to develop policies that help poor people. We are working with organized communities to hold their lawmakers accountable for practicing good laws they have already made. We now have justice coordinators, experts in each regional team, to help us understand and then act locally, regionally, and globally on issues of injustice.”
A situation over land rights in Mali is a great example. In 2005, 20 villages in the Kumari region of Mali were slated to be the site of a new, United States Millennium Challenge Account-funded, irrigation project that would build rice fields and boost the Malian economy. Unfortunately, it would also force all of the villagers from their land.
“I was concerned, because the project was being managed by a local organization called the Office du Niger,” explained Mary Crickmore, Team Leader for World Renew in West Africa. “At the time, I was working with two other villages whose land was being taken away by the Office du Niger for similar irrigation projects.”
Those two villages had first noticed Office du Niger surveyors on their land back in 2002. Mary had helped them research what the surveyors were doing. She also helped them apply to keep some of the irrigated land once she discovered that the Office du Niger was building irrigated fields. Unfortunately, the Office du Niger ignored those applications. Instead, they leased the land to a private developer who planned to bulldoze the villages and keep the irrigated land for themselves.
“When the Office du Niger claimed that it was now going to receive US-backed Millennium Challenge Account funding to take over a lot more villages, I knew we needed to get involved” said Mary.
She encouraged village members to write letters to the Office du Niger and various levels of Malian government. Since there are no typewriters and no educated people in the village, Mary arranged to have their message translated into French (the official language) and photocopied. She also translated it into English and sent it to the US embassy on behalf of the affected villages.
“That letter to the embassy sparked Millennium Challenge Account officials in Washington, DC, to want to see the villages for themselves,” explained Mary.
Staff from the Millennium Challenge and from the Malian Ministry of the Economy visited the Kumari villages. They talked with residents, who showed them copies of the letter that they had submitted to the Office du Niger. This visit planted seeds of doubt in the minds of the Malian Ministry of the Economy about the trustworthiness of the Office du Niger and paved the way for future decisions that would benefit the local people.
Meanwhile, Christians in North America were also getting involved. In April 2005, Mary and her husband, Scott, were in the United States visiting churches to talk about their work in Mali. They told churches about the situation facing the Kumari villages and encouraged people to take action.
Jim Miller, editor of Vision Magazine and a member of Our Lord’s Community Church (RCA) in Norman, Oklahoma, was touched by what Mary said. He wrote a letter to his Senator and Congressmen and urged them to take action.
“I did a little homework by first getting as many specific details from Mary as I could,” explained Jim. “The Millennium Challenge Corporation was set up as a completely different way to do foreign aid. In the past, [the United States] government would give money to other governments. This works in a few countries like Israel, but in most -- specifically in African nations -- the money ends up lining the pockets of corrupt leaders. I learned that the Millennium Challenge Corporation's stated purpose was to get help directly to the people who need it most. I was thrilled to find this out because it gave me hope that they might not have known about [the situation in Kumari]. I gave them the benefit of the doubt in the letter, telling them that I was certain they wouldn't be happy to hear what I had heard. I specifically named Mary Crickmore and gave the name of the tribe and village where she worked, so they would know how I knew about this. I also named the Office du Niger and gave as many details as Mary had given me.”
Jim also appealed to these politicians as his fellow followers of Christ.
“I said I was sure they would agree that Christ's admonition to love our neighbors extended from nation to nation,” he said. “I described the plight of the villagers Mary knows and pointed out the opportunity we have to reverse decades -- if not centuries -- of mistreatment that these hard-working people have suffered.”
Senator Jim Inhofe was so impressed by this display of support for the people of Mali that he agreed to raise the issue in Washington to see what he could do. He also contacted the Millennium Challenge offices, personally, and asked them to look into the matter.
As a result of this pressure from Senator Inhofe and the visits the Millennium Challenge office had made to Kumari, the Malian government asked Mary Crickmore and the people of Kumari to join them in putting together a new proposal for Millennium Challenge funding.
Through World Renew and village input, the Malian government created a proposal that would bring irrigation to the Kumari area but still allow current residents to retain their land rights.
The project was approved in 2006. In 2010, families from the Kumari villages moved into new homes provided to them by the Millennium Challenge project. In 2011, they began farming their new, irrigated rice fields.
“The women and men in our villages are now able to feed their families and have a secure future. The village residents have land titles and are receiving training in growing crops. They have also received schools and clinics, which are currently non-existent in that area,” said Mary.
“The best part of the story,” Jim concluded, “is that Mary has been working with these people for 20 years, and she told us that this is one of the best opportunities they've ever had to build trust for sharing the gospel.”
World Renew staff believe that God has put us in a special position to work at putting things right. As we work alongside those in need, we become witnesses to the structural issues at work in these communities and regions. We are called to help people speak up for themselves against these injustices and to join them in pursuing positive change.