Church agency readies clothing aid for Rwanda

August 07, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Three cargo containers of clothing and medical supplies will be shipped from an Elkridge warehouse to Rwandan refugees this week, thanks to the efforts of volunteers from churches throughout the area.

The more than 50 tons of supplies will be taken from the warehouse Wednesday and flown by U.S. military planes to the strife-town African nation, said Tamara Boehmke of the Adventist Development Relief Agency, an arm of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

"We're anticipating that the shipment will clothe about 200,000 people," Ms. Boehmke said.

The Silver Spring-based Seventh-Day Adventist Church is leading the relief effort, and 10 other churches of various denominations are participating.

Ms. Boehmke praised the efforts of the more than 50 volunteers at the Elkridge warehouse and said the drive to aid Rwandan refugees is crucial. "It's life or death. That's basically it," she said. "You're talking about over 1,000 people dying every day. They have no resources. None. Our main goal is to try and save some lives."

Wednesday's shipment will be the second the Adventist Development Relief Agency has sent to Rwanda since civil war erupted in the small nation in east central Africa in April. The first was in May.

An outcry from the public to help the refugees prompted the agency to begin collecting more items July 23, Ms. Boehmke said. In addition, more than $315,000 has been donated.

"It keeps coming in," Ms. Boehmke said. "It's amazing."

The relief agency was the largest humanitarian agency in Rwanda before the civil war, which has left hundreds of thousands of Rwandans dead, Ms. Boehmke said.

Cholera and dysentery, both intestinal diseases, have attacked Rwandan refugee camps in neighboring Zaire, killing hundreds of refugees.

United Nations officials said at least 700 refugees die in camps each day. At least 20,000 -- perhaps as many as 50,000 -- refuges have died of diseases since the unrest began, officials said.

Last week, John Wilcox, a Seventh-Day Adventist worker, returned from Goma, Zaire. As an assistant technical adviser of planning for the Adventist relief agency, he spent two weeks helping the refugees.

"What I saw was something unlike any of us in this kind of work had seen before," he said. "It's different from any kind of disaster simply because of the magnitude."

While flying in a small plane, he saw thousands of refugees line the streets holding up their hands for help.

"We saw hundreds of faces. They seem to be in a great deal of fear," said Mr. Wilcox, who also said he saw dead bodies floating down a river and the stampede of fleeing Rwandans.

"Another thing we saw that we were struck by and difficult to take was seeing the growing number of unaccompanied children -- children separated from their parents or orphans," he said.

He joined other relief workers to build a 15-tent field hospital for the refugees, and he is trying to develop a program to help the many unaccompanied children.

Mr. Wilcox said he believes the work his group does makes a difference and that he may go to Rwanda soon. "We have been able to come back and talk to people," he said. "We're giving people in the States an opportunity to help."

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