Will Postma has been executive director of the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund since June 13. Photo: Art Babych
The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) is looking into expanding its work in Canadian Indigenous communities, recently named executive director Will Postma says.
The aid agency’s current work in this area includes a project aimed at providing safe drinking water to the people of Pikangikum, Ont., a Native reserve. But PWRDF is also exploring other forms of aid to Aboriginal communities, says Postma, who succeeded Adele Finney as PWRDF executive director June 13. Finney had retired in May after heading the agency since 2010.
“I think there’s a lot of interest from Anglican church members to support work in First Nations communities,” he says. “So that will be a priority—to see what’s possible, how can we be a support in a meaningful, honourable way with communities such as Pikangikum, but others, too.”
Working to set up and support programs with Indigenous Anglican churches, in particular, might be one possibility, he says.
The work could involve more water projects; or health generally; or specific areas such as mental health or maternal and newborn child health. Some of these programs, he says, might have the extra benefit of qualifying for matching funding from federal and provincial governments.
Maternal and newborn child health, in particular, is coming to be one of PWRDF’s main areas of expertise; it has been helping manage and deliver maternal and newborn child health programs for more than two decades. Since last summer, the agency has been involved in an especially large initiative, a five-year joint program with Global Affairs Canada (formerly known as Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada) focusing on maternal and child health in Burundi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania.
In some projects, such as this one, matching government funds can make up a significant part of the total budget, he says. All told, the five-year project is worth more than $20 million, with 85% of its funding coming from Global Affairs Canada.
Indeed, searching for as-yet-untapped sources of government funding will be another of his key priorities, says Postma.
Currently PWRDF gets about a quarter of its total revenue from Global Affairs Canada. But Postma says that there are “definitely opportunities” he wants to explore for accessing more government dollars.
“Maybe there are other sources of funding from different ministries that could really respond to our vision statement, really complement what the church is already providing through donations and contributions,” he says. “I would want to make sure we can access, compete for, funding from the federal government as well as anybody else...We don’t want to leave money on the table that could actually support our partners.”
Postma says there are some foreign countries, too, where he’d like to see PWRDF become more directly involved—Haiti, for example. The agency already has some partners in that country working in health care, an area on which it might want to expand. When a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, leaving more than 200,000 dead, Anglicans in Canada responded by donating $2.2 million to support PWRDF's partners in the Caribbean nation. The money supported the building of temporary shelters, toilets, schools, cash-for-work programs and other forms of aid.
PWRDF might also look into supporting projects working at curbing gender-based violence in the Caribbean country, he adds.
The government of former prime minister Stephen Harper valued humanitarian work in maternal and newborn child health, and the current Trudeau government seems to share this, Postma says. It also appears to put a high priority around work involving gender equality, he says.
Postma also says he hopes to become better acquainted with Canadian Anglicans, and to work at encouraging parishioners—“engaging with them, learning with them, working with them”—to see PWRDF as a regular “partner of choice” for their donations.
Postma, who has worked in international development for virtually his entire adult life, came to PWRDF after working for a number of ad groups, both secular and faith-based: Save the Children Canada, World Vision, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, CARE Canada and others. He had most recently served as vice-president for programs and research at Pathways to Education, which helps youth from low-income communities finish high school.
He says he developed a love for the work at an early age. His first position was for a joint project of the aid agency of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and a Norwegian aid group, in Mali. Postma was flown into the west African country straight out of university, chosen partly because of his ability to speak both English and French.
“I got there at the tender age of, I think it was 21 or 22,” he says. “Honestly, I didn’t have a job description. I was kind of plucked down there—‘Here’s a large food-for-work program that we’d like you to manage on our behalf,’ ” he says. “I did that for two years and I just fell in love with Africa.”
The hospitality of the people and the purposefulness of the job etched themselves on Postma’s memory.
“It was meaningful, I really saw God’s hand in our work, and I really grew to love that part of the world,” he says.
He still remembers the enthusiastic welcome of villagers—and the enthusiasm with which they worshipped. Services lasting three to four hours were not uncommon, he says.
“You do a lot of stuff—you sing, you do testimonies, you stop for food, you get back into the church and you worship some more,” he says.
As he gets older, Postma says, he finds himself more strongly drawn to faith-based aid groups. One of the things he loves about PWRDF is its vision statement—it aims for a “truly just, healthy, and peaceful world”—which he’s fond of parsing.
“That word ‘truly’ is an interesting word to throw in there,” he says. It imparts a deeper sense to these words than they often have in secular society, he says. True peace, for example, means more than just the absence of conflict, but relationships of real friendship. True justice, he says, is “love manifest. It’s making love visible.”
In fact, he adds, PWRDF has been advocating to the government on the importance of peace in this deeper sense—in practical terms, to look not just at peacekeeping but “peace mobilization”—trying to build good relationships by looking at sources of tension between groups. Investing in these relationships now is one way to help ensure a more secure future for the world, he says.
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Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.
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