Catholic Relief Services helps people in poverty

Thu, Jul 31st 2014 02:00 pm

Some in Western New York take simple things in life such as three square meals a day, running water, shelter and health for granted. However, the lack of these basic needs for people in nations throughout the world is always a concern for Catholic Relief Services.

The work CRS does in order to spread awareness of people's needs overseas was the focus of a recent visit Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president for U.S. operations at CRS, paid to the Diocese of Buffalo.

Rosenhauer, a Chicago native, has been with CRS since 2009 after having previously served as associate director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Rosenhauer is the head of five regional offices across the country, and is in charge of CRS' domestic programs and advocacy that allow Catholics in the U.S. to be aware of and support what CRS does to help vulnerable groups including the poor, victims of wars and natural disasters, and people with HIV and AIDS in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

"I have been to the Holy Land and to Moldova, and different parts of Eastern Europe, and to several countries in East Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda," Rosenhauer said. "I've been to Rwanda and Burundi. I've been to Bolivia, Peru, Haiti, Cambodia, Lebanon and Egypt. In Eastern Europe, especially in Moldova, we were trying to address human trafficking. Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, and especially women are subject to trafficking because they're desperate to find a way to support their families, so we were working with them to create local job opportunities so they could stay in their communities, take care of their children and still be there and support their families."

Rosenhauer said she has also been to Haiti twice since the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of the country and Port-au-Prince, its capital. The earthquake claimed the lives of at least 100,000 Haitians, including Joseph Serge Miot, the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, and left countless others homeless. She said response to situations such as this, or Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last November, requires three stages. The first step involves immediate emergency response, such as supplying food, water and shelter, but Rosenhauer said many in the public tend to not realize the necessity of two additional steps.

"You can't just focus on that, and then just keep spending the money until it's used up, because people, at the end of that process, would still be with plastic tarps over their heads and then no food and water," she said. "From the beginning, you have to plan for a transitional phase and then a redevelopment phase."

The transitional process includes providing pay and work projects for natives who help the recovery and cleanup processes after a disaster. Rosenhauer said in Haiti, people cleaned up and ground the rubble with hand grinders, since there were no pieces of heavy equipment in the region.

CRS responders would give cash to those who cleaned debris and built temporary shelters, and the same was done for survivors of the typhoon in the Philippines. As part of the redevelopment phase of the teams' disaster response, CRS is in the process of helping the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince to rebuild a hospital that collapsed in the earthquake, and would like to also make this a teaching hospital that will be a self-sustaining, world-class hospital in their neighborhood.

"Another example is the school system. We're really working with the Catholic school system to help them strengthen. Many teachers have almost no training. It's kind of remarkable that the teachers just barely got beyond the students they're teaching," Rosenhauer said. "We're trying to rebuild a stronger Catholic school system." CRS also plans to turn temporary shelters in Haiti into permanent homes.

In the U.S., CRS is currently "developing a range of resources to help Catholics in the U.S., Catholic families, Catholic parishes, schools, to become a part of this great mission," Rosenhauer said. "When people hear about what we're doing, they're really proud that this is what we do as a community of faith, that it really is the Catholic community in the U.S. that makes this possible and makes this happen."

CRS' mission also includes resources for families and parents to help their children understand why the organization helps needy people in other countries, and these include prayer and learning resources for schools and faith formation programs. In order to promote awareness, people in this country may also get involved in the Fair Trade program, which allows people to take a look at how their own purchases affect the well being of the producers, and ensure they buy from producers who earn a living wage.

"We also have a range of programs for youth ministry, Food Fast, the 24-hour fast, and things that can make it very easy for leaders in different ministries in the Church, as well as for parents, to share this mission, to share Catholic social teaching and to help our community of faith learn more and do more to bring the Gospel to life in our world," Rosenhauer added. "We don't want to just settle for helping (people overseas) to continue to be desperately poor. We want to help them escape poverty," and singled out limited resources as the biggest obstacle when it comes to being able to provide for the poor.

Bishop Richard Malone is on the board of directors of CRS, and has been "incredibly generous with his time and has made a huge difference in his role as a member of the board of directors," according to Rosenhauer. During his first term, he served as chairman of the committee on U.S. operations, and he was able to "help us think through how we reach out to Catholics in the United States to make it easy for them to get involved in this mission." He later became a chairman of the committee on overseas operations, which decides CRS' work around the world and when to begin and stop in a particular country.

Rosenhauer grew up Catholic and went to a Catholic high school. While in college, and before receiving a bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Iowa and a master's degree in public policy management from the University of Maryland, she began her active interest in social justice working for local organizations the Catholic Campaign for Human Development funded.

 "When I discovered the extent to which our Church reaches out and supports people who are struggling in poverty, I was so proud of what my Church did, and I ended up going to work for the Church then, for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and eventually the USCCB in other roles, and now CRS," she said. "I wish every Catholic could know about the great things that we do to bring the Gospel to life around the world, in this country and around the world. My experience was having a real sense of pride and joy about what my Church does, and it really led me to work for the Church for the rest of my life."

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