Giving Stable Despite Tough Economy,
ADRA President Says
Sandefur speaks on advocacy, building life-saving bridges
BY MEGAN BRAUNER, Adventist News Network
ith United States unemployment rates rocketing toward 7 percent and more than half a million jobs lost in November 2008 alone, charitable giving to organizations such as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) might have been expected to plummet during the holiday season.
While this spells lean times for non-profit organizations, giving to ADRA has not declined, according to Charles Sandefur, a pastor and president of the agency. The global humanitarian organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church saw an unanticipated rise in donations this past year.
The organization has a presence in 125 countries around the world, with projects falling under the categories of food security, emergency management, basic education, economic development and primary health care.
Sandefur recently spoke about how a strengthening U.S. dollar is stretching donations. He also spoke of ADRA's advocacy against the sex trade and how ADRA-built bridges saved hundreds of lives during a cyclone.
ANN: How are donors responding to the economic downturn?
Sandefur: We have been blessed and have maintained the level of support from our donors. Despite the economic climate, in general, people are still giving generously this year. That means that people understand the needs of the world go up in these dangerous times. We must remember that the global economic crisis means that 50 to 100 million people have fallen through the bottom of the poverty floor. [Millionaires] still sleep at night and get plenty of food, but the people on sustenance income are the ones who then fall through the bottom. Although our contributions have not dropped yet, the economic crisis means we need to increase our support to those in need.
ANN: Are you still taking measures to cut costs?
Sandefur: Yes. The needs are increasing, so we have done belt-tightening here. For example, we are going to reduce travel budgets, and that's hard for us because of the nature of our jobs. But we will maintain our level of assistance to those we serve.
ANN: What projects are you focusing on during the holidays?
Sandefur: We are especially looking for funding for refugees and internally displaced persons [IDPs], or refugees who don't cross borders. Then we have programs for people returning, refugees who come back and [have] lost their jobs, farms and houses. We will be working with the homeless of the world, and that is our major appeal for funding over the holiday season.
ANN: ADRA isn't all about hurricane and tsunami relief. What other services do you provide?
Sandefur: We also [focus on] advocacy -- we are called to not just do good things but to speak out on behalf of people who have no voice and have no privilege in this world. This is in harmony with Proverbs 31:8: "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." [NIV]
The ‘Keep Girls Safe’ program is our advocacy against sex trafficking and gender violence. This includes advocating against female circumcision -- female genital mutilation (FGM). Another program [advocates against] human sex trafficking in India. It's really an obscene business, and it's evil. Nepalese girls are sold into prostitution in India. The average age of the girls is between 10 and 14. We [help them] by keeping them in school and educating parents about what really happens when they sell their daughters.
ANN: The U.S. dollar is strengthening against many currencies since the beginning of the year. How is that affecting your operation?
Sandefur: It has been a blessing. That means our supporters' gifts go farther oversees. It was working against us for the last several years as the dollar was declining, but it's actually gone up in the last few weeks and months. It's too soon to tell if this will make a difference in the long run, because this may be a temporary wobble. We do our projects out of need and with the funds we have, we are not currency experts, so we don't play the currency market.
ANN: ADRA is running an appeal saying one dollar of donations equals four dollars. How does that work?
Sandefur: That's a match in which in order to get funding for some of our projects, we have to show that we have also raised private funds inside ADRA on a 25 percent ratio. When we are able to do that, [it] gives us access to other funds at a 4 to 1 ratio. For example, we've just approved a large project in East Congo, working in a huge number of villages in sanitation, agriculture and job training. The bottom line is that if our Adventist family donors give more to this appeal, we are able to increase the number of matching grants we are able to apply for with funds being matched on a four to one ratio. The U.S. government provides that other percentage.
ANN: What's the best "ADRA story" you've heard recently?
Sandefur: I returned three weeks ago from Myanmar. ADRA had been there for several years rebuilding bridges that had been destroyed by the tsunami in December 2004. We rebuilt them very sturdily, 22 bridges, and those bridges were the highest elevation of the delta. We built them on a curve to give engineering strength, and some of the villagers were complaining that the bridges were too steep and it was hard to pull their carts over them, but they were strong and sturdy.
When cyclone [Nargis] came, more people were killed not by the wind, but by the surge of the ocean coming in. People fled to the bridges and not one of those bridges was destroyed. Hundreds of people were saved. I got to visit a couple of those bridges and it was moving to think peoples' lives were saved because of a project we'd already done.