MCC plans various responses in aftermath of attacks

Mennonite Central Committee
Friday, 28 September 2001

AKRON, Pa. -- An international outpouring of grief, support and generosity has followed last week's terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and western Pennsylvania. The attacks have also led to a surge of refugees fleeing cities in Afghanistan, a likely target of the U.S. military response.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) have already begun work in New York through a small one-time delivery of MCC-donated clothing and wash cloths for rescue workers. MDS is making plans to assist pastors in the region with grief counseling and peacemaking skills through a project called Restoring Hope.

In Afghanistan people fleeing a potential U.S. military strike are massing in refugee camps already filled with more than 2.5 million people who have fled a four-year drought and more than 20 years of war.

Since 1995 MCC has contributed $6.2 million Cdn./$4 million U.S. for aid in Afghanistan, including $735,000 Cdn./$474,000 U.S. in 2001 for Afghan widows and tuberculosis patients. MCC may now direct portions of this aid plus additional contributions to the increasing number of refugees.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency is asking that no more volunteers or donated goods be sent to the disaster sites in the United States. Press reports have described recently-arrived unused clothing and food piled up in parking lots and a system overwhelmed with volunteers.

"MDS understands the disappointment felt by those who were hoping to serve," says a statement on the MDS Web site.

Survivors of the attacks and people across the country need more than tangible goods, however. They also need prayer, grief counseling and peace education materials, according to MCC U.N. liaison John Rempel.

MDS plans to respond to this need with the Restoring Hope project and has been invited to provide grief counseling training for Mennonite pastors in New York. Joe Steiner, professor emeritus at the University of Syracuse School of Social Work, will coordinate the project.

MCC aid to Afghanistan has been distributed through MEDAIR and CARE International in recent years. Canadian farmers' donations of wheat to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank make up the majority of MCC's aid to Afghanistan. MCC has no workers in Afghanistan.

MCC is now planning to provide food for refugees through the Iranian Red Crescent Society, the Iranian equivalent of the Red Cross.

The Red Crescent had planned to help some of the half million refugees now gathered in Herat, a city in western Afghanistan near the border with Iran. Unsure of whether workers will be able to enter Afghanistan and anticipating an increased flow of refugees into Iran, the Red Crescent may instead help those who have crossed the Iran-Afghanistan border.

Iran and Pakistan recently closed their borders to Afghans. Large sections of the borders lie in remote areas, however, so some refugees are getting through. Thousands more are gathered at the closed border crossings.

Donations for the Restoring Hope Fund can be sent to 1018 Main St., Akron, PA 17501. For more information call (717) 859-2210.

In Canada, donations should be made out to Mennonite Disaster Service, marked Restoring Hope Fund and sent to the MDS office at 134 Plaza Drive, Winnipeg, MB R3T 5K9. For more information call (866) 261-1279.

MCC continues to monitor the refugee situation in Afghanistan and along its borders with Pakistan and Iran.

For more information, or to contact Mennonite Central Committee, see their website at: www.mcc.org

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