By Bob Mitchell
There is nothing like seeing our work firsthand to make it come alive. Recently, it was my privilege to lead a group of AOA board members (travelling at their own expense) to visit AOA funded programs in Kenya and the Middle East.
Like previous such trips, board members gained a real appreciation of the dedication of our partners and the impact of what is being achieved.
The board members were Mr Glenn Scott (AOA Chair), Dr Robin Ray (AOA Development Committee), and Mr Tony Hickson (Chair, Finance Risk and Audit Committee). Mrs Robin Hickson also accompanied the group. Board member and Company Secretary, Ms Claire Miller, was able to join us for the Middle East leg of the trip, together with her husband, Mr Michael Shand QC. We were also accompanied throughout by Chris Shearer, a journalist and videographer from The Melbourne Anglican.
When programs are discussed at AOA board meetings, they may at times seem a little bit abstract. By visiting the communities, direct feedback can be received about the particular context, the programs, and the practical effect of the work. From a governance perspective, this is invaluable. Board members were also involved in some monitoring activities, and we were able to join in a governance workshop with our Kenyan counterparts at the Diocese of Mt Kenya West.
As CEO, my work is often caught up in systems, processes, administration and compliance. I love to visit our field work because it reminds me of why our organisation exists. As a Christian living in this troubled world, I believe there is a pressing responsibility to respond in practical ways to issues of injustice. AOA sees this as a vital aspect of the Gospel we proclaim. For me, it is always timely and highly motivating to be reminded of the human face of what we do.
In Kenya, our work currently focuses on building safer communities. This means ensuring that women and children are protected from abuse and violence. The program works with a broad range of stakeholders, including community-appointed rights champions, village chiefs, police, school principals, and church leaders. This hugely successful program is changing attitudes to reporting and transparently dealing with abuse in all its forms.
One especially moving site visit was to a quarry in the village of Chaka. Until recently, this had been a site for widespread child labour. Children aged 10-17 from impoverished backgrounds had been put to back-breaking work in the quarry instead of attending school. This practice has now ceased as a result of intervention under the AOA-funded program. The underlying economic circumstances of the area are also being addressed through income-producing initiatives.
In the Middle East, the group visited the Spafford Children’s Center in East Jerusalem, which is trying to address developmental delays in Palestinian children, often related to conflict and poverty. Fortunately, the border to Gaza (which had been closed after recent exchanges of rocket-fire) reopened just in time to enable a visit with our long-term partner, the Anglican-owned Ahli Arab Hospital. This was a wonderful occasion. Our visit was seen as a welcome expression of solidarity in a tense and very difficult time. I was also able to sign in person the extension of our Partnership Agreement for a further five years, and conduct an informal prayer service in the hospital chapel.
Overall, it was a hugely successful trip on every level. Despite some minor illness along the way, we all came back full of energy and excitement about AOA’s work.
Our programs in both Kenya and Gaza are funded in part by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and in part by your donations.
We are proud to partner with the Australian Government in delivering these inspirational programs.