September 27th, 2010
02:38 AM ET
New York (CNN) –It might be called a match made in heaven. The United Nations is partnering with faith based organizations and their vast network of donors, development groups, and grass roots organizers to bring aid to developing countries around the world. You could say they are putting their money where their mouth is. Except both groups have been putting money up for a long time.
Last week during the annual U.N. General Assembly, the United Methodist Church announced a five year, $75 million pledge to the United Nations’ Global Fund, the first of its kind for the fund.
For 47-year-old Joyce Kamwana, the partnership is a validation of sorts, one she has long been looking for.
Kamwana is from the small southeast African nation of Malawi. She learned she was HIV positive in 1988. Her husband, Dan, brought the disease home. Luckily their two daughters were spared. Since then, Kamwana’s life has not been easy, especially within the church.
At first, the church was “condemning us. They say we deserve it because we have done something wrong so it was like a punishment from God,” Kamwana said of the initial reaction to her illness.
“It’s been difficult because way back then, having HIV was like having leprosy in the biblical times,” said Kamwana, who also lost her job as a result of her HIV status.
“There was also the stigma due to little information and so many people didn’t want to associate with me.” But the tide has turned and churches are now a fundamental part of the army working to combat the disease. Specifically Methodists and Lutherans are delivering the potent mix of passion, grass roots knowledge, and cash.
According to United Nations Foundation executive director Elizabeth Gore, this partnership is a natural step in the fight against global poverty and disease. The U.N. has seen immediate results from church contributions to her “Nothing but Nets” campaign to fight malaria.
“The United Nations has become very open to partnerships overall and faith-based institutions. Number one it's their mission to help people. It's almost in their DNA,” Gore said. “But they have a great capacity to give funding, which we need in all of our issue areas, particularly global health.”
Gore pointed out that the work cannot be done by the U.N. alone and the organization must, “engage whether it's with Muslim communities, Christian communities, Jewish communities and so on. We need them as our partners and to lead us. And the U.N. is an organization that's for everybody and it's led by everybody, so it just makes sense to establish these types of partnerships.”
More importantly, Gore said, the faith based groups know the people they are trying to help.
“They are there, and they live there, and they are helping people, they are feeding the poor, they are healing the sick, they are really working hard, and so it is a very effective partnership with us to save lives,” Gore said.
United Methodist Church Bishop Thomas Bickerton agrees this is a natural partnership too.
“Our people know that when they make a contribution that it’s literally going to save lives through insecticide treated bed nets, through prevention, through communication, through education, strengthening of infrastructures, so it’s a tangible way of getting people involved and its made perfect sense to me.”
The bishop pointed out the Methodist church has been active in mission work for over two centuries. They have built churches, orphanages, and hospitals, creating a reputation on the ground in Africa.
“The church is one of the most trusted delivery systems in the continent because we’ve educated, we’ve saved their lives in hospitals, we’ve saved their lives in clinics, we’ve sheltered the children in orphanages,” said Bickerton. “So when we come alongside government and secular partners we have our foot in the door already because we’ve been there for years so our campaign is to strengthen that infrastructure even more and that trust factor kicks in and more lives can be saved.”
Bickerton looks at this initial donation as not only a step in building a partnership with the United Nations but also as a challenge for other religious groups.
“Today are the first faith-based organization to be a participant in the global fund,” Bickerton said, ”and so we want to use that as a challenge to all other faith-based organizations to come on board because we’re not going to solve AIDS tuberculosis and malaria all by ourselves.”
For Joyce, it’s a relief that she is now welcomed by the churches that once shunned her.
“I’m happy they have come to their senses” Joyce said. “Now and it’s a good thing that they have decided to embrace us, the first major step that they’ve taken is to actually make a contribution to the global fund ,so that we are still kept alive because we can never have congregation if there are no people.”