Presented by Carolyn Woo

Presented to Catholic Social Ministry Gathering


February 13, 2012

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Carolyn Woo: Remarks to the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering

Thank you for inviting me to speak at the Catholic Social Ministry gathering. You have been our partners and made possible the work we do. Behind you are the millions of Catholics in the pews of your parishes who have given resources and volume to our advocacy on behalf of those who are often shoved aside for political expedience and lost in the shouts of special interests.

Just in case you under-estimate your influence, I quote a description about you that was in the Saturday New York Times.

"Meanwhile, Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a group founded by nuns decades ago to lobby on social justice issues, warned White House officials that nearly 500 Catholic activists would be in Washington this weekend for a conference, and that if no compromise had been reached by then, all of them would return to their parishes fired up about the contraception mandate."

What is important to note is that CRS is YOUR agency and it also happens to be extremely good. I am told that Catholics are too humble. So I am not going to hide a light that the CRS team and you have jointly created in the service of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world. For your love, effort and relentless support, you deserve to know this. CRS is the jewel of the Catholic Church and I recognize the awesome responsibility and privilege that comes with my appointment.

As we all stand on the shoulders of those who come before us, I want to first acknowledge the challenge that Ken Hackett faced when he became president 18 years ago. By the early 90s, CRS has become one of the largest and most respected humanitarian agencies in the world. To many, it began to look like any other secular aid organization. When Ken began this job in 1993, it was acknowledged that CRS was losing its mooring in the church. Ken took the agency through a soul-searching process, reconnecting CRS with its faith foundation. While this was a difficult process, it was also an inspiring one.

During that process, some in the agency were afraid that CRS would retreat from the world's thorniest problems, but the opposite proved to be true. Everything that CRS needed to understand and direct and expand its mission was right there - in the Gospels, in the teachings of the Church, particularly in Catholic Social Teaching.

Those involved in that journey of self-discovery found what Pope Benedict XVI would write in Deus Caritas Est:

"…human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern."

Because Ken and his colleagues did that work, we have clarity about our mission. We know who we are. We are part of the universal church. We know what we should do: it is to bring love and hope to everyone, and particularly to those who are the least of our brothers and sisters. We just have to figure out how to do this: how to build the kingdom of God here and now.

We seek, as our mission statement says, to "uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life." We seek the common good."

Listen to these words from Caritas in Veritate:

"To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. …. The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them."

We realize that as citizens of the most prosperous and influential country in the world, we have a great deal of influence in the community of mankind, so our call to practice this charity is particularly strong. In the next few days as you make your trip to the Hill, be emphatic that our country cannot turn our backs on the suffering. As our advocacy states: "careless cuts cost lives."

Because of joint advocacy by USCCB and CRS, empowered by your efforts to engage your parishioners, we were able to push back on the budget cuts made on poverty-focused foreign assistance. In 2011, the cuts were 8% instead of 28%; and in 2012 : congress actually approved a 3% increase instead of a further 13% reduction that was bandied about at the beginning of the process. As Father Larry Snyder and Fr. Bryan Hehir both reminded me, "Who are fighting us for the job of speaking on behalf of the poor?" So, please do continue to carry this message to our representatives.

At CRS, we focus our work on the poorest of the poor, touching more than 130 million lives in nearly 100 countries around the world. Some we try to get them back on their feet; some have never been on their feet. Many still has not reached the bottom rung of the ladder.

Some humanitarian groups have a specific focus, one specialty. It might be water. It might be building schools or houses. It might be emergency medicine. But our mission comes from the Church to work on the entire person, what Catholic Social Teaching calls Integral Human Development. We attend to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing and look for holistic solutions.

You can build a school, but what if there are no teachers? Or what if children can't attend because they spend their days getting water from a far away river? You can build a house, but what if there is no food? What if the farms nearby do not produce enough?

We consider our work evangelizing, but not proselytizing. We follow what is written in another part of Deus Caritas Est: "A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak. He knows that God is love and that God's presence is felt at the very time when the only thing we do is to love."

Let me show you a brief video that will show you something of what this means.

Part two: Uncommon excellence

Our challenge, is how best to serve the common good. Our answer is with uncommon excellence. As Fr. Ted Hesbergh once said to me, "Mediocrity is not the way to serve the Blessed Mother."

At CRS, we know that there is no conflict between compassion and excellence. We find that our pursuit of excellence comes directly from our compassion. It is by being compassionate that we come to understand the needs of the poor. They are not just our beneficiaries, they are our teachers. We listen to them, we do not command them. This makes our work so much more effective.

The aid world is strewn with failures that were imposed from the top down. Success takes the opposite direction. It is developed on the ground in Burkina Faso or Bangladesh; in Malawi or Mindanao.

By almost any accounting, CRS is a success. In recent years, our budget, which varies with the occurrence of major emergencies, has exceeded $900 million, making us one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the United States. Our reach is worldwide. We devote over 93 percent of our resources to programming, less than 7 percent to fundraising and other such activities, numbers most charities only aspire to.

For many, the image of international relief is formed by disasters - the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the earthquake in Haiti, flooding in Pakistan.

We have an Emergency Response Team based in Nairobi, some of the top people in this field who are ready to head anywhere in the world at a moment's notice. They are experienced with the complexities of responding to an emergency, the organization and logistics and coordination required if you are going to be effective in situations that are always confusing and chaotic.

One important reason that our emergency response is so effective is because wherever disaster strikes, it is likely CRS is already there, at work. We know the landscape. We know the people. We know the roads. We know the culture. We can hit the ground running.

Haiti is a good example.

When the earthquake hit two years ago, CRS had 350 people on the ground, most of them Haitians. We had emergency supplies ready to go, pre-positioned in anticipation of hurricanes. We had a large warehouse and operating center in the southern part of the country that was unaffected by the quake. Employees there headed overland to Port au Prince with supplies when most other organizations were still trying to figure out how to fly into an overburdened airport.

Similarly, because of pre-established operations, we were able to get medical services up and running in the ruins of St. Francois de Sales Hospital immediately. We were on the scene to serve thousands of the injured during the emergency phase. We did 1000 operations and attended to over 70,000 individuals. Long term, working with the Haitian ministry, with the Catholic Hospital Association and with the University of Maryland, we are rebuilding St. Francois into a new entity: a state-of-the-art teaching hospital that will expand and train a number of health professionals and transfer to them the knowhow and leading-edge practices of the CHA and University of Maryland while it serves the poor.

I could tell similar stories about Pakistan and the Philippines and Indonesia and Ethiopia. CRS does not just fly into a disaster, plant the flag and go home. We are there for the long haul. We accomplish this work with local partners whom we help train, mentor and fund. After the tsunami, we had a five year plan that we carried out with local partners.

Two years after the Haiti earthquake, we now work with over 300 Haitian partners on long-term recovery. With these local partners, we will BUILD BACK BETTER in Haiti. This work includes a comprehensive assessment of Catholic schools in Haiti with the goal of designing a program for teacher training; re-building agriculture and establishing agro-enterprises to enhance food supply, livelihood options, economic stability for individuals, communities and the nation.

The importance of our local partners cannot be over-stated. Many of these are Catholic and other faith-based institutions who are tireless in their education, social service and healthcare ministries for the poor. Because of their importance, CRS is committed to building their capacity. We believe success means that one day, our local partners will be able to compete on their own for grants and funding and serve as the primary recipients. This is already taking place with respect to our HIV-AIDS work in Uganda and Kenya where we have transitioned our programs to the local Catholic Church.

We have also received a major grant which will allow us to ramp up our ability to systematically develop the project management, operational, administrative and leadership capabilities of local partners. These efforts adhere to the principle of SUBSIDIARITY and will lead to the strengthening of the global Catholic Church.

When you go to the Hill, we would appreciate a second message. It is important that the US government maintains a certain space for faith-based institutions to operate. In the international arena, this is threatened by the US government shifting awards to large for-profit contractors to do the work of development, and the increasing orientation toward making allocations to local governments. Both of these bypass and therefore diminish the role and opportunities available to faith-based organizations and ultimately retard the development of a vibrant civil society. In the US, we are of course in the midst of protecting the conscience clause which is the foundation of how Catholic institutions can work in a pluralistic society.

From partners, let me return to another driver of our excellence. Whatever the field — agriculture and nutrition, orphans and vulnerable children, water and sanitation, any development issue — the people at CRS are some of the world's experts. More important, they are constantly learning and improving, innovating and pioneering new solutions to serve our beneficiaries. Innovations are important because the environment, the challenges, and the expectations are always changing and always in one direction: more complex and more demanding. Hence, innovation is how we stay ahead of the curve.

Take the Arborloo. This is an outhouse which is also an ecological plus. It's a fairly shallow latrine that, when filled and treated with ashes, becomes the fertilizer for a fruit tree. We've helped communities build them all over East Africa. We also provide hygiene education. Every Arborloo has a hand-washing station. All of this helps eliminate intestinal diseases that can be deadly especially in children. And the tree that's planted adds nutrition to the diet and, if there is enough fruit to sell, income to the household.

One agricultural goal is improving the availability of top quality seeds particularly after disasters. If we just gave out seeds, we could create dependence and overlook important opportunities for the farmers to move beyond subsistence. So 12 years ago, CRS pioneered seed fairs.

We invite farmers to bring their own seeds, which have proven their fertility in that environment, to a market. We give other farmers vouchers to purchase them. This helps local agriculture recover from the disaster and creates a market as the best farmers start saving seeds to sell in subsequent years.

We use similar voucher-type markets to distribute small animal livestock, agricultural tools, shelter materials and other such items needed after a disaster. People get what they need, not what aid groups want to give them.

We have reached millions of people with seed and agricultural fairs in 30 countries, most in Africa. In Burundi, 1.1 million people have participated. In Kenya, some $2.4 million in vouchers have been given out.

We have learned a lot over the past 12 years of these fairs. We've learned to appreciate the resilience of African farmers. We've learned that- - though disasters occur all too frequently and take a terrible toll --the victims themselves are best placed to manage their recovery. We've learned that if we empower farmers and use their own systems and markets, that recovery will be faster, less expensive and more sustainable. These fairs help make this happen.

Let me now return to Haiti to showcase a wonderfully inventive solution.

After the earthquake, Port-au-Prince was full of rubble, a huge obstacle to reconstruction.

Problem: There is no earth moving equipment; no trucks, no roads and no place to deposit the rubble!!

The CRS solution was to bring in hand-operated rubble crushers and began setting people up in business after we provided training; they hired workers and crushed rubble. We bought their output of gravel and sand to use in our reconstruction projects. It's win-win-win-win-win ; (1) rubble is removed, (2) jobs are created, (3) the economy is stimulated, (4) we had local materials for construction and (5) Haitians are empowered to take charge of their own recovery.

Another common impediment to development is access to capital. Micro-finance has served as a prevalent solution and CRS has supported micro-lending programs. But often what the poor need is not lending as it creates indebtedness and extra burden when the small venture fails. What they need is savings. That brings me to the wonderful - and very inexpensive - Savings and Internal Lending Communities; the SILC programs. Every member saves an agreed upon amount every week. That money is then lent out to members. Loan terms are decided by the group. At the end of a year, the profits are divided among members and a new round begins. We often get out at that point but usually the members continue on their own.

We started this in 2006. In 28 countries in Africa to date, we have sponsored over 33,000 ( 33,259) SILC groups with a total of close to 700,000 ( 673,457) members. Over 17,000, more than half, of those SILCs are in their first year so we're still involved. In those, there are savings of $6.8 million ($6,818,941). Outstanding loans total $6.6 million ($6,657,423). Most of the SILC participants, by the way, are women.

It's not just the economic impact of SILC. These groups give to people who have often been tossed aside by poverty, or by diseases like HIV and AIDS, a power over their lives they have never experienced before. SILC is an example of an important tool that you develop when you think about Integral Human Development.

In addition to the two messages we hope you will take to Congress, we must put in a plug for peace-building. There is no question that the highlight for CRS this year is the relatively peaceful process by which South Sudan became an independent nation. Two years ago, when CRS first worked toward a peaceful transfer, it was seen by many as a fool's mission in light of the history of prolonged civil war in Sudan.

Yet, with the pressures from Catholic and other religious leaders, efforts by both the local and global leaders, and pressures from the UN and US government, peace prevailed. This is another illustration of how advocacy can work and its power for good.

However, we are mindful that as we speak, there are severe tensions and fighting between Sudan and South Sudan, ethnic battles within South Sudan, border conflicts between Kenya and Somalia. Hence the work of peace-building, the crafting of diplomatic solutions, continued pressure for the protection of human rights is a message worth repeating over and over again.

I end by emphasizing that an essential part of our mission is to be of service to Catholics in the United States. We carry out our work in the name of the US Catholic Church, as witness to your compassion , friendship and outreach to brothers and sisters in need, regardless of creed. We represent a Church that acts on and lives out the Gospel message. As your representatives and trustees of your generosity, we feel a deep obligation to give our very best, to set high standards and achieve them. We do so not because of ego, but because we owe you and the people we serve nothing less.

And finally, the profound acknowledgement I can offer is a message you made possible. On the wood panels of a simple 14 x 16 shelter in Haiti, home to a family of five, a child scrawled: GOD IS GOOD.

Thank you.