YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A new 2023-2030 strategic plan for East Africa that has been described as “the start of the journey of hope” has been launched by the Catholic Relief Services.

The seven-year plan that was announced in Nairobi, Kenya on June 18 lays emphasis on a broad range of issues, including tackling climate change adaptation, fostering youth development, ensuring Health, nutrition and social services as well as the provision of water, hygiene and sanitation.

It also promises to tackle issues like responding to emergencies, fostering local leadership and supporting disabled people.

For the past four years, Kenya has suffered drought that has never been seen in recent times and just as the country was recovering from the drought, it then had some of its worst floods.

Sean Callahan, President and CEO of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) said its work in East Africa is guided by a strategy based on the region’s needs and opportunities and is in line with its global agency strategy.

CRS is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic Church in the United States.

“The region is experiencing many devastating challenges, one being the impact of climate change, including severe floods and droughts,” Callahan told Crux.

“This means small scale farmers, which make up a majority of the population, are seeing reduced productivity and income. The ripple effect of this is widespread hunger and displacement. We’ve seen this tragedy play out recently in Nairobi where, on the heels of prolonged drought, devastating floods killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands more,” he said.

He said the region is also a theater for conflict that affects people’s lives “in devastating ways, forcing them to leave their homes and abandon their livelihoods, leading to more hunger.”

“Whether disasters are natural or man-made, CRS responds with a focus on the most vulnerable, including women,” Callahan told Crux.

He further explained CRS’s focus on taking advantage of “the youth bulge” in a country where 75 percent of the population is under 35 years of age.

“Our strategy focuses on engaging these young people to create and maximize opportunities, like getting involved in governance, job training and peace building activities, for example,” he explained.

Archbishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kisumu in Kenya recognized the key role the CRS has played in strengthening governance in the local Church saying that it fosters the “efficient and effective evangelization of the local Church.”

“It is a very important thing to strengthen the governance of the local Church to do things by itself, teaching us to fish and not just giving us the fish,” he said at the June 18 launch.

“I find this very nutritious in our partnership with CRS,” he added.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya and Sudan, Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, told participants during the ceremony that CRS’s activities must mirror the social teachings of the Church.

“CRS projects and actions must mirror Christian identity, reflecting a preferential option for the poor, the sanctity of life from conception to death, and the inherent dignity bestowed upon every human being by their Creator,” the archbishop said.

He explained that Christian identity is “also about the care for creation and respect for every human being irrespective of their religious background.”

The archbishop called on Catholic charities to be mindful of the winds of change in the world and to be guided by the compass of the Catholic identity in their activities.

“In the ever-evolving world where the winds of change are swift and unpredictable, adapting to the latest fashion as expressed in the social media, it is our Catholic identity that serves as a compass guiding us through the tumultuous seas of societal shifts and cultural upheavals,” van Megen said.

Callahan told Crux the organization’s strategy “is informed by local leaders and communities, including governments, the local church and of course communities themselves. CRS listens to their needs and identifies opportunities for support.”

He said that strengthening the local Church across East Africa to respond to the rapidly changing climate and its impact on the most vulnerable is the core of CRS’s regional strategy.

“Together, we are supporting resilient communities and families while addressing hunger and other immediate needs. In spite of successive droughts, floods and persistent conflict, we know our partnerships can allow young people, civil society and local governments to lead their own development,” he told Crux.

Bishop Edward J. Burns of Dallas and board member of the CRS said even the small things the members of the organization do “are a blessing and they are  miracles in the lives of so many people that we serve.”

“Through you, we live out our commitment to the Gospel, and that is to uphold the dignity of every human life and to raise everyone to the dignity to which they were created, for we serve the people of Kenya and beyond because they were created in the image and likeness of God,” the bishop said.