A Sister of Mercy from the Diocese of Rochester is getting a firsthand look at drought and famine in East Africa.
Sister Janet Korn is in Kenya for a two-week trip with a delegation from Catholic Relief Services, which is the humanitarian relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic bishops. She left Aug. 28 and will be there through Sept. 10.
"I’m so very excited," Sister Korn said in an interview before she left.
The goal for the trip is for the members of the delegation to see the needs in Kenya firsthand and relay those needs to U.S. lawmakers when they return.
Sister Korn was a natural choice for the trip, said Kathy Dubel, the diocesan Catholic Relief Services coordinator.
"She has worked with me on African solidarity, and African issues and intentions for more than five years," said Dubel, who also is the justice-and-peace/parish social-ministry director for Catholic Charities of Chemung, Schuyler, and Tioga counties.
Sister Korn helped coordinate Bishop Matthew H. Clark’s trip to Africa in 2006 and helped the diocese form global solidarity teams since then, Dubel said.
Needs are especially acute on the Horn of Africa, where more than 11 million people living in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya need humanitarian assistance after suffering from famine caused by a severe drought and rising food prices. Lack of security in Somalia has meant that thousands have walked to Kenya where they have been living in refugee camps.
The delegation flew into Nairobi, and was planning to tour several parts of the country, including the small towns of Eldoret and Garissa, where CRS has water and sanitation programs. The group also hoped to tour areas hit by the drought or that have accepted refugees from the drought, but it was uncertain prior to the trip if they would be able to tour those areas, said Cheryl Mrazik, an advocacy program officer for the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Region of CRS.
The trip is focused on advocacy, so members will examine how policies of the U.S. government, international financial institutions and the international community affect the lives of people CRS serves overseas. After the trip, Sister Korn will meet with federal legislators, including Sen. Charles Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, who serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.
Mrazik noted that the delegation will be viewing the work of several programs that would cease if international assistance funds are cut as has been proposed.
"We will be showing all the participants all these wonderful programs that wouldn’t be able to continue if the cuts go through," she said.
CRS is concerned about proposed federal FY 2012 cuts to the President’s Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief program. Through PEPFAR, CRS has been able to provide antiretroviral treatments to hundreds of thousands in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean; services to thousand of AIDS orphans and vulnerable children in Africa; and prevention activities in abstinence and behavior change education in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda.
The fiscal year 2012 budget proposal also proposes cutting agricultural assistance to subsistence farmers; helping vulnerable communities adapt to increased droughts, floods and natural disasters; disaster assistance; peacekeeping to protect innocent civilians in troubled areas such as Sudan or the Congo; and support to migrants and refugees fleeing conflict and persecution.
Dubel noted that for fiscal year 2010, the U.S. spent about $23 billion on poverty-focused development assistance, which was about .6 percent of the entire U.S. budget for the year.
"Our worry is that in the midst of all of the conversations about deficit and debt, that we’ll lose sight of how little funding is in that foreign assistance fund," Dubel said.
In addition to budget advocacy, Sister Korn’s trip also is aimed at building closer ties among CRS and dioceses. Upon her return, Sister Korn also may be available to speak to local parishes about the trip. The Rochester Diocese also has several CRS Global Fellows — priests and deacons who have visited CRS sites — who can speak about the work that CRS does across the globe.
Before the trip, Sister Korn said she was preparing by planning how to pack as lightly as possible.
"I’m hoping to go as simply as I can," she said.