Executive Council gets update on Haiti, NetsforLife Inspiration Fund

Presentations highlight variety of church's engagement in the world
February 16, 2011

The Episcopal Church is engaged in bricks-and-mortar ministries as well as social services such as community health and organizing, and its Executive Council heard Feb. 17 about progress on two such efforts that it has endorsed.

One was the project to rebuild the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti's Holy Trinity cathedral complex in Port-au-Prince and the other was Episcopal Relief & Development's NetsforLife Inspiration Fund, which is meant to channel the church's budgetary commitment to achieving the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.

The Rev. Joseph Constant, one of two special coordinators for Haiti reconstruction appointed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, briefed the council on the status of the cathedral rebuilding plans.

The cathedral complex, destroyed in the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, once contained Holy Trinity Music School, Holy Trinity Professional School, primary and secondary schools, and St. Margaret's Convent of the Sisters of St. Margaret, as well as the church.

Initial plans call for the present cathedral site to be preserved as a memorial. A new 1,000-seat cathedral would be built adjacent to the site. It is part of an ambitious plan that could involve four blocks in downtown Port-au-Prince donated to the diocese by the Haitian government and may eventually include schools, an auditorium, the diocese's art museum, a convent and the diocesan offices.

Constant told the council that the leadership chose the cathedral complex as the place to begin reconstruction because the cathedral is "the bedrock that people turn to in times of trouble."

Constant noted that the diocese wants to "substantially engage Haitian designers" in the rebuilding process, as well as ensuring that all rebuilding is done to earthquake- and hurricane-resistant standards as well as the International Building Codes.

"We know that this is a work in progress," Constant said of the plan.
He also told the council that Jefferts Schori will receive the diocese's master plan for rebuilding when she visits Haiti in early March. Information about the devastation the quake wrought and an initial reconstruction and development plan released in November is here.

The Episcopal Church recently launched Rebuild Our Church, a fundraising campaign that will initially support the first phase of cathedral rebuilding. Council is scheduled to hear via video link about the progress of that effort from Terri Mathes of the Episcopal Church Foundation, who is managing the campaign. (http://www.episcopalfoundation.org/), on Feb. 18.

Meanwhile, Episcopal Relief & Development announced Feb. 17 that it was helping the Diocese of Haiti to hire Sikhumbuzo Vundla as its chief of operations to help formulate and strengthen policies and procedures to support the various priorities of the church as it rebuilds.

Nets that save lives

The other project the council heard about Feb. 17 was another example of Episcopal Relief & Development's work – one that involves not bricks and mortar, but mosquito nets.

Robert Radtke, Episcopal Relief & Development president, praised the Episcopal Church's effort, saying that the church "has put its money where its mouth is on the MDGs" with the NetsforLife Inspiration Fund. He told the council that the church is "widely respected" both for its monetary commitment and "what we actually do on the ground" to help achieve all of the goals.

The Episcopal Church pledged itself at the 2003 General Convention to helping the world achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are aimed at reducing by half extreme poverty in the world by 2015.

At the next meeting of convention in 2006, the church endorsed what became the MDG Inspiration Fund, which raised more than $3.2 million in three years. In 2009, the church renewed that support by endorsing the NetsforLife Inspiration Fund and contributing 0.7% of its annual budget as seed money for the effort.

In addition to raising a total of $5 million and eventually distributing seven million nets -- and training people on how to use them -- in 30,000 communities across Africa, the project hopes to build greater awareness among Episcopal communities about malaria, according to information on the project website. The agency estimates that it could save more than 1.25 million lives through the campaign.

Since 2008, NetsforLife has delivered more than 4.6 million nets across 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The campaign partners with churches and faith-based groups in remote communities to combat malaria by training community agents to distribute the insecticide-treated nets and educate people about how to properly use them. The agents also monitor and evaluate net use on an on-going basis, the website says.

Radtke told the council that the successful education and community organizing components of the NetsforLife campaign have won the attention of the world's public-health community, and that those efforts are being adopted by other organizations.

"NetsforLife has changed the way the entire global health community is thinking about how to eradicate malaria," he said, in large part because the agency's statistics show that its efforts have resulted in greater and more sustained net use.

Joy Shigaki, NetsforLife Inspiration Fund director and Episcopal Relief & Development director of church campaigns, told the council that the campaign is aimed at engaging one in five Episcopalians in dioceses, parishes, schools, seminaries and universities. It also hopes to teach people in those groups a set of organizing skills that they can use elsewhere.

Resources for getting involved with the nets efforts and formulating local campaigns are here.

Laura Ellen Muglia, co-chair of the campaign's advisory committee, called the effort a way for the "church to come together and take a stand against a disease that affects over 250 million people a year." It is also a way, she said, of "making a big statement that says we care, we love, we give."

Jefferts Schori told the council that the campaign is "a very concrete way of helping heal the world."

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson acknowledged that the church is faced with multiple fund-raising efforts, including the two described during the session.

"We can do more than one thing at a time. We have abundant resources and we can do all the things that God is calling us to do because God provides us with what we need to do," she said. "God's world is a world of both/and, not either/or."

Both presentations came during the second day of council's Feb. 16-18 meeting at the American Airlines Training Center.

In other business Feb. 17 council members:

  • met in five committees to receive reports and develop resolutions that the entire council will consider on Feb. 18.
  • devoted nearly two hours to anti-racism training and
  • participated in a board-development education session.

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1)(a). The council is composed of 38 members, 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by provincial synods for six-year terms, plus the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies.