CHARIS traces its beginnings back to the Asian Tsunami disaster on Boxing Day of 2004. The Catholic Church in Singapore collected $1.5 million in just two weeks after the disaster. Then-Archbishop Nicholas Chia asked Father Colin Tan SJ to put together a team that could properly manage the funds for the victims of the tsunami. The team of he brought together was named ACCT – the Archdiocese Crisis Coordination Team and headed by Mr Willie Cheng.
After ACCT was formed, in 2006, Archbishop Nicholas Chia launched what was first called the Catholic Social and Community Council and then rebranded the Caritas Singapore Community Council (CSCC), to be the umbrella body for all Catholic charities in Singapore. As part of this reorganization, Caritas Singapore concluded that a separate coordinating body was needed for overseas humanitarian work for regulatory reasons. CHARIS was launched in August 2010 and it was decided that ACCT be absorbed into this new organization.
One of the first things which the CHARIS board did was to develop a mission and vision. CHARIS assumed the role of ACCT to respond to disasters, but also expanded it to cover all other humanitarian situations. Their vision is to be the Catholic hub and model for proactive and timely humanitarian response in Asia and beyond.
Over the years, CHARIS has organised numerous programmes for their affiliates and volunteers. They coordinate the local Church’s response to disasters and other humanitarian needs by mobilising volunteers, collecting money, making grants, organising prayer sessions and masses for solidarity with those impacted, conducting formation sessions on Catholic social teachings, arranging for oversea mission trips, building up the capacity of their affiliates and the Catholic community.
CHARIS prepares for disasters in two ways: first by training volunteers on aspects of disaster response work, and secondly, by making arrangements for stock piling of items typically needed for a disaster.
When a disaster strikes, CHARIS does not visit the disaster site immediately. The Catholic Church is already on the ground, usually in the form of the local Caritas body or other Church groups. As such, CHARIS works with these organisations to determine their needs and support. Typical aid requested includes supplies such as blankets, water filters, tarpaulin sheets and finances to purchase these supplies and move people.
CHARIS sends people after a disaster often only in the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase, where the focus is on housing, water, sanitation and hygiene. Housing built may be transitional, lasting only two to five years. Mission trips to disaster areas are meant to help with transitional or permanent housing, and other rehabilitation or reconstruction projects.
Affiliates are the most important part of CHARIS. They are the vital link to do outreach to the Catholic community to encourage overseas humanitarian work. CHARIS has programmes that help to build up the capacity of their affiliates, including training classes, guides on leading mission trips, formation sessions, and grants to do specific work.
This article has been provided by and published with the kind permission of CHARIS. Read more about their mission and good works at their website http://www.charis-singapore.org/.