Faces of ADRA
The church’s humanitarian service arm provides hope and healing.
By Sandra Blackmer
The van bumped to a stop, and a distinguished-looking passenger sporting gray hair and black-rimmed glasses stuck his head out the window to get a clear view of the convoy of vehicles lined up ahead. Trucks, buses, cars, and animal carts stretched for about six miles (10 kilometers) between him—and the Adventist Development and Relief (ADRA) workers with him—and a bombed-out bridge. A crudely constructed ferry was apparently the only means available to cross the river, and because it was equipped to carry only a few vehicles at a time, Robert L. Rawson, at the time General Conference treasurer and ADRA assistant board chair, resigned himself to a lengthy wait.
ZIMBABWE: Tonderai, whose parents died of AIDS, now has access to fresh, clean water from a well ADRA drilled.Rawson was en route to Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo. About 18 months earlier, in February 1996, NATO’s intense military intervention finally ended the almost four-year Serbian siege of the city, and Rawson was heading there to observe the follow-up work of ADRA employees and volunteers in the region. He had heard many stories of courage on the part of ADRA workers in Sarajevo. One woman had continuously put her life on the line by walking five miles from her home to the ADRA warehouse every day, running for cover and dodging behind buildings to avoid the shells falling around her, in order to sort mail and packages slipped into the city by ADRA Germany. She survived, but another ADRA volunteer’s daughter, one of the mail carriers, wasn’t so fortunate. She was killed while trying to help others.
Rawson was anxious to meet and talk with the people who had risked and sacrificed so much, but now, as he eyed the long line of vehicles ahead of him, he thought, We’re going to be here awhile. To his surprise, however, within minutes a uniformed military agent strolled over to the van and motioned the driver to pull up to the front of the line. Rawson and his group then drove aboard the ferry for its first excursion of the day across the river.
“What just happened?” Rawson asked his driver.
“It’s the ADRA logo on the side of the van,” the driver explained. “It’s widely recognized and highly respected here. The people appreciate what we do.”
Almost two decades later, Rawson, who came out of retirement in July 2012 to serve as interim president for the 29-year-old agency, recounts this experience to exemplify ADRA’s commitment to humanitarian service.
“ADRA is the hands and feet of Jesus,” Rawson told Adventist World. “Its mission is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the incarcerated, and help people who feel hopeless to see a vision of Jesus. . . . This is the most glorious task that God can give to a person—to help others.”
How It Began
BRAZIL: ADRA training improves agricultural techniques and increases crop productivity.ADRA’s roots reach back to 1956, when the church launched its first humanitarian relief and welfare organization called Seventh-day Adventist Welfare Service (SAWS). Within two years SAWS was actively assisting 22 countries by providing such aid as food, water, and clothing, with a total value of almost $500,000. In 1973 its name was changed to Seventh-day Adventist World Service, and the organization’s mission broadened to include long-term development programs as well as disaster relief.
To reflect this broader emphasis more accurately, an intrinsically new organization called Adventist Development and Relief Agency was created and replaced World Service in 1983. Today ADRA has some 6,000 employees—69 at its international headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States—implementing programs in more than 120 countries. With a financial base that comprises government grant monies and private donations, it assists millions of people worldwide every year.
“When you meet the people we’re serving and see how ADRA is bringing hope and help to seemingly hopeless people, it’s a life-changing event,” Rawson says. “Adventists should feel very proud of the work ADRA does.”
Sectors of ADRA
ADRA sees its mission as making known the just, merciful, and loving character of God through humanitarian service. Its principles embrace the right that all people have to basic goods, services, and care, as well as to a life of opportunity and the freedom to choose one’s own future. To accomplish these goals, ADRA provides five main sectors of service: emergency relief, agriculture, human rights, primary health, and basic education.
In Times of Crisis
ADRA is one of the first responders to many international disasters, often arriving within 24 hours of their occurrence. Emanuel da Costa, an ADRA International emergency management director, says this is because of a wide network of local and regional offices and redefined emergency-response plans. For smaller-scale disasters, the country director and regional ADRA teams assess the damage and then notify ADRA International which preplanned response best suits the circumstances and needs. Larger-scale disasters require a network response from not only ADRA International but also offices in such places as Germany, Australia, and Canada. In megadisasters such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, ADRA International, regional and country offices, and partner organizations collaborate their efforts.
BANGLADESH: Flip charts are simple but effective tools for teaching health and nutrition.“ADRA’s goal is to change people’s lives as dramatically for the better as the disaster dramatically changed them for the worse,” da Costa says.
Da Costa, a 12-year ADRA employee, has served in three African countries. The suffering and poverty he has witnessed is heartbreaking, he says, but notes that he “wouldn’t change [his] job for anything.” He also doesn’t expect the need for disaster relief to end any time soon.
“We’re seeing increased periods of drought followed by heavy rains causing devastating floods recurring in many places of the world. This is becoming the new reality for many populations that cannot cope with these lasting, and many times extreme, changes in the weather patterns,” da Costa explains. “Disasters that can be related to climate change and conflict are significantly increasing in number and impact.”
He quickly adds that the increasing needs add pressure to the use of agency resources.
“God has placed a big responsibility on the people in this organization,” da Costa says. “We’re to be appropriate channels for assistance. This is our mission, and we must do it well.”
In for the Long Haul
ADRA provides not only emergency relief; it also establishes itself in developing countries long-term, at least three to five years or oftentimes longer. ADRA’s vice president for finance, Robyn Mordeno, explains that changing lives for the better takes time, especially if it is to make a long-term difference.
“We need time to develop a person, a community, so the changes will be sustainable,” she says. “This way we become well-known in the regions and in our industry, and because we’re already there, when emergencies occur we can mobilize quickly.”
Mordeno cites Vietnam as an example of fostering sustainability. ADRA constructed and equipped a medical facility there, instructed the doctors and nurses on how to use the equipment, and then financed their travel and training in another already established hospital in a different country.
“They were taught modernized techniques and technologies, and brought back what they learned to integrate it within their own customs and local context,” Mordeno says.
ADRA has been ecologically conscious and has emphasized environmental sustainability long before “being green” became the trend. In its community-based agricultural projects in developing regions such as Bolivia, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nicaragua, Mozambique, and Peru, ADRA provides farmers with organic alternatives to chemical pesticides and fertilizers and promotes conservation.
BOLIVIA AND GHANA: (Above and below) ADRA implements agricultural projects that address food insecurity in vulnerable world regions such as Bolivia and Ghana.
Using environmentally friendly products and techniques results in higher yields, higher-quality products, and an increase in soil fertility, says Jozimo Santos Rocha, ADRA’s senior technical advisor for agriculture and economic development for the past five years.
“Most of us are here because we love our God, our church, and the mission of the church,” Rocha says. “We believe in what the church is doing to help others.”
Seeing positive changes in the lives of individuals and communities—moving people from inefficient and unprofitable farming methods to simple, cost-effective techniques that reduce the workload and increase crop productivity—is what strengthens his commitment, Rocha says. Rocha met one such subsistence farmer in Mozambique who was producing maize, a staple in that region. His crop yield was low, and he walked six miles to the market to sell what he had. He was barely earning enough for him and his family to live on. Three years after ADRA arrived and provided technical assistance and training, the farmer was not only growing and selling larger quantities of maize but also other higher-priced crops such as peanuts and pigeon peas. He is now part of a community farmer organization, and his products are aggregated with products of other farmers and sent to market via a truck. His family’s standard of living has increased to where he’s able to purchase other goods, including a bicycle.
“When you see effort and money invested in something that really changes the lives of individuals and communities, it’s very rewarding,” Rocha says.
Sonya Funna Evelyn, the organization’s senior technical health adviser, describes ADRA’s health focus as wholistic. She explains that focusing on the entire family—husband, wife, and children—provides the greatest potential for good health.
“In countries such as Sudan, when a woman becomes pregnant we ensure that she is getting the support she needs from her husband, and the nutrition she needs for herself and the baby,” Evelyn explains. “When the baby is born, we again make sure they are getting proper nutrition and that the baby is vaccinated. We educate the husband to be aware of his family’s needs—that when he goes out to work he utilizes the income for health or education or whatever is needed. ”
Using simple tools such as flipcharts, ADRA staff often go home to home throughout entire villages educating families on nutrition and health. Those people then share their newly acquired knowledge with others in surrounding villages.
“The multiplication effect is huge,” Evelyn says. “We start with a few hundred women, and we end up reaching thousands. And it isn’t long before we see the impact. Children don’t get sick as often; fewer children die; women become healthier—and they’re so receptive and appreciative of what we do.”
Not for the Faint of Heart
ADRA workers in politically unstable regions often put their lives on the line, and some have paid the ultimate price. Others leave behind homes and families for less-than-ideal living conditions and extreme climates, subjecting their health to risk.
NIGER: Thousands of girls in Niger are now attending school because of ADRA’s “Goats for Girls” program.Jason Brooks, currently ADRA’s private grants manager, served as Niger country director for five years. Only about 100 active members of the Adventist Church reside in the Muslim-dominated country. Temperatures there can soar to 130°F ( 54°C), and although the people are hard workers, they barely eke out a living farming the hard, sandy soil.
“Niger is a very needy, very underdeveloped place,” Brooks says, “and with the intense heat and dust and the lack of sanitation for most people, it’s not an easy place in which to live. But ADRA is really making a difference there, and the Muslims see Adventists as good people because of the many ways we help them.”
ADRA’s influence in the education of girls in Niger is particularly vivid. Poverty forces parents to keep their daughters at home to assist with home duties rather than send them to school, so Brooks and his colleagues established a program called “Goats for Girls.” Parents who agree to enroll their daughters in school are given a goat to help supplement their income. As a result, “thousands of girls are now in school,” Brooks says.
“The payoff is unbelievable when girls become educated,” he says. “The well-being of the family, how those girls care for their children later—everything comes up a notch when a girl is educated; several notches, in fact.”
Because ADRA utilizes government moneys to fund many of its projects, its workers are restricted from overtly proselytizing, “but we do declare who we are,” Rawson says. “We are a faith-based NGO [nongovernmental agency]; we make that clear, and everyone understands that. But those communities where ADRA has served are fertile grounds for follow-up evangelism by other organizations within the church. ADRA sows the seeds and lays a foundation on which others are able to build.”
“We may not be using words to proclaim the gospel,” Brooks adds, “but we’re proclaiming it with actions. We show that Jesus loves people by loving and caring for them too.”
On October 10, 2012, directors of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) International appointed Jonathan Duffy, CEO of ADRA Australia, to serve as president of the humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Duffy has been CEO of ADRA Australia since 2008. To read the full story, see the December issue of Adventist World or go to www.adventistworld.org.
Although they occasionally partner together, ADRA mostly serves countries outside the United States, and Adventist Community Services (www.communityservices.org) is the church entity that responds to disasters and other humanitarian needs within the United States.
To learn more about ADRA, go to www.adra.org. You may also follow ADRA International on Facebook (www.facebook.com/joinADRA) and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/ADRAIntl).
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist World and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.