Faith-based charities have an ‘unparalleled ability’ to make a difference in international disaster relief work. This needs to be acknowledged and utilised by governments and NGOs according to a new report from the Christian charity Open Doors.
The Faith Factor argues that faith groups with strong community networks have a unique role to play when a region is struck by a humanitarian disaster – either natural or man-made, such as conflict. Drawing on examples from Iraq, the report shows how local churches are highly effective partners in rebuilding society. It urges governments to increase their funding to churches and church organisations, already present on the ground following disaster and conflict.
“The logistical access, capacity to influence and cultural knowledge of local faith actors are unparalleled,” says Rami Abed El-Masih, Manager of Open Doors’ Hope for the Middle East campaign, which supports the Christian communities in Syria and Iraq.
“Their influence on the ground is increasingly recognised by governments but the support and funding of local organisations must grow for them to continue their work.
“In crisis times, local faith leaders are often more trusted than politicians or external organisations,” says the report’s author, Kathryn Kraft. “Their faith can instil in staff a passion to serve the most vulnerable; and their local reputation and commitment to ministry can lend credibility to an organisation.”
“We urge governments to partner with local faith groups,” adds Rami. Support for Local Faith Actors increases and can help deliver relief and development sooner and more cost-effectively.”
Faith leaders ‘more trusted than politicians’
The Faith Factor examines the role of two church-based organisations working in post-conflict Iraq.
The New Hope Trauma Centre is based in Alqosh in the Nineveh Plains area of northern Iraq, and helps people heal psychological scars after years of recent conflict.
The Humanitarian Nineveh Relief Organisation (HNRO) is a health clinic that was set up to help those fleeing ISIS-controlled regions of northern Iraq.
Both were chosen for the study because they had criteria that the author believes are critical in partnering with a government donor: faith-based NGOs with origins in the local church; a diversity of funding sources; strong administrative and management systems so that they would be capable of handling institutional grants; strong ties to their local communities.
Governments should facilitate granting to Local Faith Actors and simplify the application process; invite Local Faith Actors to humanitarian coordination meetings so they can share valuable local knowledge.
International NGOs should become intermediaries between governments and Local Faith Actors; invest time in helping local faith actors with skills such as financial reporting and programme monitoring.
Local Faith Actors themselves should grow slowly, not accepting large funds when they don’t yet have the capacity to administer bigger programmes; hire qualified staff; stay local and partner with other small organisations as a way to grow.