- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

The Nebraska relief ministry called the Orphan Grain Train has shipped 9,000 tons of mostly clothes and medical supplies to the needy overseas in the past decade.

Although it is a small amount measured against the poverty and natural disasters rampant in the world, the relief ministry is a vital part of the American tradition of sending humanitarian and development aid abroad a tradition that still has the support of voters and which has received a new policy emphasis since the war against terrorism.

"Everything we get is donated," said Vern Steinman, project manager for the Nebraska group, which has five warehouses nationwide. "Most of our projects overseas are proposed by missionaries or orphanages," he said.

Like some of the nation's largest relief agencies, from Save the Children and Care to Catholic Relief Services and World Vision, the Nebraska project started small with a visionary founder and a specific goal.

In 1992, the Rev. Ray S. Wilke, a Lutheran pastor and farmer, visited the Soviet Union to support theological schools with the Lutheran Hour Ministries. He returned with the hope of aiding orphanages in Latvia and Estonia.

The Orphan Grain Train was built on the expertise of volunteers in relief, commodities and international moving. It expanded its warehouses and then began fulfilling target projects ranging from Nigeria to the American Indian reservations in New Mexico.

Such nongovernmental aid consisting of both charity and business investment makes up 80 percent of all U.S. funds going to developing countries, said Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

He said, as recently as a few decades ago, 70 percent of such funding was U.S. government aid.

With the war against terrorism, American generosity also has become part of the support-building process worldwide.

In March, the Bush administration rolled out the Millennium Challenge Account. It seeks to dispense $5 billion of annual aid by 2006, targeting nations making the transition to democracy and a free-market economy.

A component of the policy, the administration has said, is the work of nongovernmental organizations and private volunteer organizations that help promote a civil society, education and health care in the targeted nations.

"Americans believe very strongly in the moral power of this country, and they want the aid to build self-sufficiency," said Sid Balman Jr., spokesman for InterAction, an umbrella group for the nation's 44 largest relief agencies.

According to the group's research and survey during the past year, "Americans want accountability and effectiveness" in international aid programs and for other nations to chip in as well, he said.

"They certainly support aid if it makes America safer," Mr. Balman said. "They trust the government to determine what is the right amount."

While the Millennium Challenge Account is being put into legislation, relief groups are concerned mainly that seven long-standing streams of aid funding such as disaster and refugee relief are not scaled back in the foreign affairs budget.

"We say, 'Don't forget those seven other accounts,'" Mr. Balman said.

While the members of InterAction prefer cash donations for disaster work because it can be targeted toward areas of greatest need, a group like the Orphan Grain Train needs cash for shipping.

"We have a very efficient program and make sure everything gets through," Mr. Steinman said.

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