“At least we have our health.”
So many times you hear those words on TV spoken by someone after a natural disaster—a flood, a hurricane, a tornado—often as the person stands next to the ruins of a home. As upset as they are over the loss of their material possessions, they are letting you know that they realize what’s important.
Physical health is one of the cornerstones on which we build our lives, on which we build our societies, our economies. Striving for every one of us to be as healthy as possible—in every country of the world, no matter how poor—is striving for the dignity and hope that God intended for each of us. It is an expression of the respect that we have for life itself.
When we think of health, often we think of doctors and medicine, of treating disease. And that is an important part of what we do at Catholic Relief Services. During the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa, we worked with the Church and local governments both to stem the spread of the infection and to treat those suffering from the disease.
As the epidemic abated, we helped reopen St. Joseph’s Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, which had closed when Ebola tragically decimated its staff. It is now functioning at a higher level than ever. We did the same in Haiti after the earthquake there, helping the important Catholic teaching hospital St. François de Sales to rebuild and provide even better medical care and training.
It is this kind of work at CRS that leads us to realize what those people standing next to their destroyed homes understand: health is so much more than caring for the sick, as important as that is. In fact, health is so fundamental that almost everything that we do for the poor around the world addresses it.
In this briefing, you can read about a CRS microfinance program that allows people in Benin villages to pay for health insurance. This is not the kind of health work you might see from some humanitarian organizations—rushing in, treating the sick, then leaving. That certainly helps people, but this is thinking about health in a different way, putting in place a sustainable system that will be foundational to good health in these communities for generations.
The same is true of many of our agriculture programs. We know hunger is not just a matter of having enough to eat. It is having the right kinds of foods to eat—not just calories, but proper nutrients.
So in Africa right now we encourage the planting of staple crops like maize, as well as legumes and other vegetables. These add important variety to diets, and help protect and replenish depleted soil, so plots can continue to provide sustenance for years to come.
Other CRS programs seek to determine the nutrients needed in the first years of life. Good nutrition helps babies and children avoid stunting—a failure to grow and develop properly that will affect their health for the rest of their lives.
And more than just food, many medical historians say that the single most important health advancement in history was the provision of clean water, so many lives were spared by stopping the spread of waterborne diseases like cholera. Look no further than Flint, Michigan, to see how much we rely on functioning water systems in our country.
At CRS, we work around the world to provide people with reliable sources of clean, safe water. In Ethiopia, local water committees ensure that deadly minerals are removed from water pulled from deep wells. In Madagascar, we assisted in the development of a public-private partnership to see that clean water is delivered consistently to poor neighborhoods.
And, of course, the health of thousands is guarded from the scourge of violence by our peacebuilding work going on right now in places like the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
So let us toast, “To your health!” And to the health that God intended for every one of us, wherever we live.
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO
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