Decades of Development
Happy Birthday, Africare. Forty more years begins today!
The New Year marks a milestone anniversary for Africare – 40 years of development on the African continent, four decades of partnering with African communities to build strong, healthy communities through long-lasting, sustainable programs. This month’s feature Pass It On! story highlights Africare’s work over the decades and our commitment to improving lives and building futures for families and communities across Africa.
The Africare Story
Four decades ago a small, dedicated group of volunteers laid the foundation of an organization that would soon become a leader in development aid and humanitarian assistance to Africa. The year was 1970. Western Africa was in the midst of one of the most severe droughts in its history. Crops could not grow; people and animals were dying; thousands of villagers fled their homes in search of water. The famine forced then President Hamani Diori of Niger to look for a new kind of assistance organization, one that would link Africa and America and be a means by which African-Americans, in particular, could become directly connected with their motherland.
A small group of American volunteers responded to the call. Dr. William Kirker, a medical doctor who had been working in Niger; C. Payne Lucas, a 10-year Peace Corps veteran; Oumarou Youssoufou, First Secretary of the Nigerian Embassy; and Joseph C. Kennedy, Ph.D, another veteran of the Peace Corps. These original volunteers combined to create a new type of relief organization, one that would go where the need was greatest and partner with communities on the ground to build strong, sustainable societies. Fittingly, they called this new organization – Africare.
From the beginning, Africare’s philosophy would be grassroots, self-help development, placing communities at the center, empowering them to build their own sustainable societies. Beginning in Niger, Africare’s assistance would spread into every region in Sub-Saharan Africa through a handful of key, interrelated areas: Food Security and Agriculture; Health and HIV/AIDS; Water and Sanitation; and Emergency and Humanitarian Assistance.
Before Africare permanently incorporated itself in Washington, DC, the embryonic organization operated out of the basement of one of its founder’s homes on a shoe-string budget. When the space became too tight, growth carried Africare to several borrowed rooms within the Embassy of Niger, and then to rented office space on 16th Street before moving again to Connecticut Avenue. In 1987, Africare moved into its permanent home, Africare House, a former elementary school on 440 R Street, NW, in the historic Howard/Shaw District of Washington. The Howard/Shaw District once served as a freed slave encampment turned pre-Harlem center of African-American intellectual and cultural life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“The location is symbolic,” noted Africare’s first president and co-founder, C.Payne Lucas, on the 20th anniversary of Africare House. “We wanted Africare House to capture the sprit and essence of Africa so we built the institution in the inner city where African Americans could feel at home, relate to it, and feel proud of it. It became a community building, a place where people engaged in conversations about Africa and about how to make Africa work.”
Educational efforts focused on helping Americans understand the challenges Africans face, the great need for help, and the sense of connection in supporting programs that lead to African self-sufficiency. Each year, more community, religious and fraternal organizations discovered that through Africare they could contribute directly to Africa’s regeneration—making Africare an organization truly led by the people through its grassroots networks.
Africare has grown from a small handful of employees with a budget just under $40,000 to a multicultural organization that exceeds 1,000 international and local staff with well over $800 million in commitments to development initiatives on the continent. Africare House continues to serve as a community gathering place, attracting local, national, and international visitors, and uniquely serving as the only place that brings together all the African Ambassadors once a month to discuss common issues.
Today, Africare stands apart for the respect and trust it has earned from communities and governments in Africa and its world-wide donors, the long-term results of its community-based programs, and the life-transforming testimonies from millions of African beneficiaries. As we continue to grow and serve larger numbers of Africans in need, we always remember our humble beginnings, the vision that takes us to communities that exist “where the road ends,” and the support of millions of donors who make this vision a reality.
Happy Birthday,Africare. Forty more years begins today!