My friend Aude has been working closely with American Refugees Committee for as long as I have known her. I was curious about who they were and what they did, so I interviewed her about them.
Tell us a little bit about the American Refugee Committee (ARC).
ARC was founded in 1979 in Chicago by Neil Ball, a Chicago Business man. It is a disaster relief organization, now based in Minneapolis, that helps refugees and displaced people due to war or natural disaster. It is a non-sectarian organization that works in 3 phases: Emergency Relief, Recovery and Reconstruction. Their programs are built from the ground up: they work with people at the most vulnerable point in their lives, when they have lost everything. They go into situations where they assess what the basic needs for people are. After bringing life-saving supplies, they reach out to the community and work on programs to improve the life of people.
In 2013, they helped 3 million people in 10 countries affected by conflict or disaster.
How did you get involved with ARC?
In May 2010, I attended a talk at a library where the CEO, Daniel Wordsworth explained what ARC did in the aftermath of the Earthquake in Haiti. I was inspired by their work, did research about the organization, and reached out to them. The first year, I organized 6 speaking engagements for the staff to come talk about maternal health. After that, I visited their headquarters and one of their Directors told me I should be doing the speaking for them in the Chicago Area. Since then, I have given talks to schools, rotary clubs, senior centers and have attended activism days with my daughters to raise awareness about refugees around the world.
What is it about the work that ARC does that just tugs on your heart strings?
There are many things I love about ARC:
-Their staff is amazing. They are passionate, caring for people around the world, and always try to be innovative.
-90 cents of every dollar goes directly to the international programs. Transparency about their budget.
-They hire/train on the ground directly or create a cash for work program in some countries so it helps the economy, instead of having a huge team of aid workers that could be costly: because the people who know more about what is needed to improve are the people who live directly in the refugee camps.
-They give a voice to women and make sure they are cared for through training, micro-loans, and health care vouchers so they can support their families.
-The revenue and support mainly comes from grants (US Government/United Nations/Others) so they have to use the money and be accountable that it was used for the specific needs and programs.
-The money received through fundraisers is to help in case of wars/disasters to send out teams and put in place relief then recovery. (like Asian Tsunami/Haiti Earthquake/Hurricane in the Philippines/Assistance in dire situations in Syria, South Sudan, and the DRC)
-They create innovative programs by asking their staff: they recently created the Changemaker’s Award by asking the around the globe: “If you could do one simple thing, what would you do to make the ARC experience better for the people we serve?”
-The best part is reading comments and seeing the smile of people whose life they have impacted. You can tell they changed lives for the better.
What can other people do to get involved with ARC?
Check out their website www.ARCrelief.org or their facebook page. Connect with an ARC staff member. They are supportive of any idea you have to help raise awareness, from giving a talk, to organizing a fundraiser or having a conversation about refugees and the organization.
Anything else you want to add?
Volunteering has changed my life for the better. I found my passion and decided to get involved with the organization. I did a lot of research to make sure that I could see the impact of projects done in Chicago for example. I feel like I am part of the ARC Team and very proud to work with such brave people who think first of saving lives.
I want to take this time at the end to echo and expand on what Aude said there at the end. Volunteering is such an important and life changing thing you can do and I encourage you to volunteer somewhere. Wherever your interests and passions lie, no matter what your skills, there is an organization out there somewhere that could use them and would be extremely grateful to you for getting involved.
I also have to add another note. I was concerned with what I read on ARC’s website that they might be distributing oral contraceptives and Aude very kindly contacted the people she knows at the ARC to ask them. She told me that her contacts say that they try and respect the country that they are in and their national guidelines, but in some places they do distribute oral contraceptives. This made me deliberate for a long time about whether or not I wanted to post this, given how I feel about oral contraceptives. Ultimately I decided to post this because I believe in people having the right to be informed and because I also believe those people have the right to make their own choices once informed, even if they disagree with my choices. And I say this especially knowing that not everyone in my synod agrees and not even all pro-lifers agree. I will be, however, dropping them a (polite) note expressing my concerns because I would love to be able to support them one hundred percent without concerns or reservations.
I also want to thank Aude for agreeing to be interviewed. I really appreciated it and I loved learning more about ARC.