Growing up I was always fascinated with Africa. After college I traveled to Africa whose beauty and grandeur amazed me. I loved the people and their culture and returned to work on construction projects for the Orthodox Church in Kenya. I have been to Africa six times for my work with IOCC. This last March, I traveled to two countries, Ethiopia and Uganda, and the contrast could not have been greater.
In Ethiopia, I saw progress with infrastructure: new buildings, new hotels and better roads in major areas. However, electricity is intermittent and IOCC’s programs are in remote places where the poverty is very deep. I had a heart-rending encounter with an HIV-positive woman in Awasa. She used start-up capital from IOCC to build a small business selling spices in the marketplace. But when her landlord found out that she was making a profit, he raised her rent by 30%. Ethiopians have seen the price of injera, their main food staple, increase five-fold because of the global economic crisis.
Nevertheless, IOCC continues its HIV/AIDS program which has educated more than 7 million Ethiopians in prevention strategies and built the capacity of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Inter-Church Aid Commission (EOC-DICAC) to be the change agent in the process. In addition, more than 22,000 individuals living with AIDS as well as orphans have received food, clothing, and start-up capital for small businesses.
Then, for the first time, I visited Uganda where IOCC’s programs and future plans are very different. Whereas the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has 500,000 priests and 40 million faithful, the Orthodox Church in Uganda has only 30 priests and about 30,000 Orthodox in the entire nation. It was my privilege to be hosted by His Eminence, Metropolitan Jonah, whom I have known since the mid-1980s when I was living in Kenya where he was serving as a priest. The Metropolitan has built four centralized communities throughout Uganda that include schools, churches, health clinics –in short, everything a community needs to thrive.
IOCC is currently providing one of his schools in the town of Katente with classroom equipment and teaching school officials how to financially support the school by keeping livestock and installing a machine to grind corn meal. IOCC will also build and equip a secondary school in the volatile northern region where 80% of the children aged 7-18 years have never been to school – a majority of them girls. The school will serve about 450 students in grades 7 to 10.
Being able to speak with His Eminence and seeing firsthand his relationship with his flock as a true spiritual father was tremendously uplifting and inspiring. This gave me confidence in his vision for Uganda and in our work through IOCC. My hope is that you too will catch a vision for all that is possible through IOCC and the Orthodox Church.
Constantine M. Triantafilou
Executive Director and CEO
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During the month of March, IOCC distributed food parcels, blankets and hygiene materials to 4,000 vulnerable families (about 28,000 persons) throughout Gaza. About 500 Christian and Muslim families were also provided with emergency supplies through IOCC’s partnership with His Eminence Archbishop Alexios of Tiberius and the Orthodox Church in Gaza. IOCC provided 120 families with grants that allowed them to fix windows, doors, and water/sanitation systems to their war-damaged homes. The Orthodox School in Gaza was also repaired with help from IOCC. [Check out the IOCC in Gaza blog and read accounts by IOCC staff members about what it takes to enter Gaza and how IOCC assists families.]
IOCC Georgia recently held a special conference to announce the results of its drug abuse prevention program, “Fostering Healthy Lifestyles Among Georgian Youth.” In attendance were His Beatitude, Patriarch Catholicas Ilia II of the Georgian Orthodox Church and representatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) which funded the program. The program trained over 100 Georgian Orthodox clergy and public school teachers to identify risky behaviors among young people aged 11-21 in 14 public schools. Youth clubs were established to promote healthy alternatives to drug use among Georgian youth and a mass media campaign featuring Georgian sports stars also raised awareness on drug abuse with faith-based messages. An estimated 1.35 million Georgians were reached through the media campaign alone.
Around 450 dispensaries throughout Lebanon benefitted from a recent shipment delivered by IOCC of over-the-counter drugs including aspirin and ibuprofen. The price of over-the-counter medicines in Lebanon is among the highest in the region. Low-income patients, the elderly and those without health insurance, benefit greatly from these free medicines and can save their money to pay for medicines that treat chronic diseases. The shipment was provided by Medical Teams International (MTI) and distributed in Lebanon through the local YMCA.
“You have to be willing to hear, ‘no’, dozens of times before you hear ‘yes’ – nothing that is really good ever comes easy,” says Nick Terezis, Chairman of the IOCC Pittsburgh Metropolitan Committee. When Nick moved to Pittsburgh and learned that the city did not have an IOCC Metropolitan Committee, he got one going right away. Nick contacted all 125 parishes in the Pittsburgh area and started the Committee which he has chaired for the last six years. Each year, the Pittsburgh Committee hosts a minimum of 4 events including the One-In-Spirit Dinner, the Theophany Ball, a wine tasting and a special themed event, raising thousands of dollars for IOCC’s humanitarian programs in the U.S. and around the world. “It’s an honor to help people do their best to do God’s work,” says Nick. “IOCC is still a secret to many, but if I can help get the word out a little faster, that is a good thing!”
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