In June, I had the opportunity to represent UUSC at a Haiti Funders conference in DC. The gathering brought together diaspora leaders, nonprofits, and other Haiti stakeholders to strategize around how to support the Haitian people amid the current political and humanitarian crisis. We discussed how to better collaborate, support Haitian-led solutions, and address root causes – particularly important given the missteps and harms of philanthropy in Haiti in the past.
Heart-wrenchingly, presenters and attendees alike shared about how some funders seem to be giving up, how there is a misguided notion that the situation in Haiti is unsolvable, hopeless, or never going to change.
Lurking beneath the surface of this was the sense that perhaps certain Haiti funders are starting to believe working in Haiti is not yielding enough clearcut impacts, enough success stories. In other words, not a good Return on Investment.
It was devastating to hear. Yet, I felt renewed gratitude for our shared values and our members’ support, which make a different type of human rights work possible.
Built into the core of UUSC is the understanding that this is long-haul work. That responding to complex crises necessarily involves a multifaceted approach. That being in partnership and solidarity with communities resisting oppression is in and of itself valuable to pursue. And that advancing community-led initiatives at the speed of trust, not maximum Return on Investment, is the goal.
One of the most prevalent messages of the Haiti Funders conference was, don’t give up on us. And I emphasize: that is exactly what you are helping UUSC to do.
In Haiti, Guatemala, Burma, Ukraine, Fiji, and elsewhere around the world, your support makes it possible for UUSC to remain steadfast in responding to complex crises through long-term, multifaceted, community-rooted partnership – even when the path forward is not linear, even when there is no easy resolution, and often while other funders are turning away.
Supporting Human Rights, Democracy, and Self-Determination in Haiti
The Biden administration is simultaneously deporting people to Haiti and urgently advising U.S. citizens to evacuate. Currently, Haiti is under a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory from the State Department, which ordered non-emergency U.S. government personnel to depart the country in late July. On August 30th, they added that “U.S. Citizens in Haiti should depart Haiti as soon as possible.” Yet these orders did not stop another deportation flight from being sent to Haiti the next day.
The dangerous conditions Haitians are living in – and being deported to – have continued to escalate since the 2021 earthquake and assassination of Haiti’s President, Jovenel Moïse. Criminal gangs effectively control large parts of the country and, in addition to making it impossible for many Haitians to work and travel, are perpetrating horrific sexual violence against women and girls. Skyrocketing prices and shortages of food and other essential goods have left Haitian families – more than half of which are single-parent households headed by women – unable to meet their basic needs.
With your help, UUSC is supporting journalists exposing the reality on the ground, women’s health services, and human rights work in Haiti; legal and humanitarian aid for Haitian asylum-seekers outside of Haiti; and advocacy, research, and connection-building in the United States. For example, we are partnering with Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatriés et Refugiés to support Haitians in the Dominican Republic and provide financial assistance to returnees to Haiti. In the United States, we are continuing to participate in advocacy coalitions calling for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis, helping make connections for our partners, and collaborating on a research project with Haitian Bridge Alliance that documents anti-Black racial discrimination in the U.S. Asylum system.
Remaining Steadfast in Ukraine and Poland as Funding Declines
Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, more than 60,000 people have been killed and roughly 14 million have been displaced. Thanks to an outpouring of support from UUSC members and congregations around the country, UUSC was able to mobilize immediate funding in the wake of the crisis – and that was just the beginning. As in other crises, UUSC is committed to long-term support for communities that were already facing injustice prior to the invasion. In Ukraine and Poland, we initiated 10 new partnerships to support people living with disabilities, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, women and girls, and the Roma community.
In many ways, the support that UUSC is providing now is even more critical than our initial response. Not even two years out, local organizations which opened their hearts, volunteered to their limits, and expanded their capacities to support the influx of people displaced by the war are facing restrictive and diminished funding. Moreover, concerns about sex trafficking at the beginning of the war have developed into a very immediate threat, as more women and girls are disappearing and facing sexual exploitation.
UUSC’s partners are creatively, nimbly, and compassionately responding to the ongoing needs on the ground even as large funders turn attention elsewhere. For example, our partner Martynka operates a women’s shelter in Krakow and a 24/7 hotline in Kviv to combat sex trafficking and support women refugees with legal, medical, and psychological support. Another partner, Youth Agency for the Advocacy of Roma Culture, which is led by Roma youth in Ukraine, provides humanitarian aid and helps evacuate vulnerable groups away from war zones while working to preserve Roma culture and build intercultural dialogue.
Ongoing Solidarity Amid Military Brutality in Burma
In October alone, the Burmese military junta bombed an internally displaced persons camp and burned down four villages, displacing 10,000 villagers. This is a tiny snapshot of the widespread brutality people in Burma face at the hands of their own military, which has been well-documented to target civilians, bomb medical facilities, and use rape as a weapon of war. The military, which is known for its ruthlessness, even has a division known as the “Ogre” battalion which conducts gruesome executions to instill terror. In July, the military bombed Dow Nu Ku Internally Displaced Persons camp, which UUSC staff had visited only last year.
It is no surprise that the ACLED Conflict Index, which ranks every country according to four key indicators – deadliness, danger to civilians, geographic diffusion, and armed group fragmentation – places Burma at the top of its list. Despite this, international funding and attention for Burma is not so much on the decline as never adequately arrived. That is why UUSC’s steadfast commitment to human rights and democracy in Burma – made possible by your support – is critically important.
In the face of profound injustices in Burma, there are glimmers of hope. Last month, after more than two years of advocacy by UUSC and our partners, members, and allies, the United States imposed sanctions on Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprises, which is the main source of foreign revenue for the military junta.
Supporting the Right to Stay in Nicaragua
Migration from Nicaragua, especially rural areas, remains particularly high because of militarization, gender-based violence, or the need to look for work elsewhere. Unfortunately, when this happens, large manufacturers often buy up abandoned land for tobacco and cigar plants, which means that there is no land to return to if community members eventually want to come back home to Nicaragua. UUSC’s partner, Fundación Entre Mujeres (FEM), is combating these root causes of migration.
In rural Nicaragua, FEM helps women attain economic independence and freedom from genderbased violence, making it possible for more women to remain in their home communities. For example, FEM provides women with their own land and opportunities to grow, process, and sell goods. Members grow crops like turmeric, banana, and coffee; and they make soaps, nutritional concentrate for livestock, and more. In a new initiative, FEM coordinates a water collection team, which builds and installs water tanks and cisterns for families to collect rainwater for their farms and households. Not only does this service help sustain their land and livelihoods, but members of the water team (who are mostly women), shared that the project has helped them feel empowered about their own capabilities as they learn new skills and contribute to their communities.
In addition to helping make it financially viable to stay, FEM helps community members want to stay by building connection to the land and pride in their identities as rural peasant farmers. As a result of all of this, migration from FEM-affiliated communities is significantly lower than the general population.
As we near the end of 2023, I want to thank you for your dedication and support. As I write this letter, we are holding in care those impacted by the heartbreaking crisis in Israel and Gaza, alongside our partners in Burma, Ukraine, and Haiti who continue to face unrelenting violence that has mostly moved out of the media spotlight. And though it is tempting to give in to despair during a year that has been filled with so much cruelty, I’m choosing to look to our grassroots partners who are advancing justice in some of the most challenging environments and hold on to faith that another world is possible.
Time and again, UUSC’s partners beautifully demonstrate what it looks like to not give up. I love to share the tagline of our partner Pacific Climate Warriors – “We are not drowning, we are fighting” – because it so succinctly rejects the notion that it is unfortunate, but inevitable, for low-lying Pacific island nations to lose everything. It makes plain that, regardless of what may have already been lost, it is always worth fighting.
Recently, the President of UUSC partner Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change, Cynthia Houniuhi, was featured in a PBS news hour interview. (Cynthia is also one of TIME magazine’s picks for 2023 rising leaders!) In the PBS interview, Cynthia reflects, “I can imagine in the future having a conversation with my child and looking them in the eyes. And if they ask, ‘Did you do your part?’ I want to be able to look into – if I’m lucky – my child’s eyes and say, ‘We did try.’”
Despite the severity of the crises we confront, the enormity of the obstacles, and the powerful pull of cynicism, we need to always try, always fight. Thank you for helping UUSC remain steadfast in our solidarity and partnerships around the globe. Together, we will never give up on our vision of a world free from injustice, where all can realize their full human rights.
With much gratitude,
Rev. Mary Katherine Morn