Good news for girls in Afghanistan!

The Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ (MACUCC), whose May 3 engagement featuring embattled author and social activist Greg Mortenson was cancelled at Mechanics Hall due to Mortenson’s ill health, has offered suggestions to its churches regarding education and social action options involving Mortenson’s “Pennies for Peace” program.

As part of a package of educational materials prepared prior to the Mortenson appearance to engage children, youth, and families in Mortenson’s work in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the MACUCC offered curriculum for all ages around the story, writings, and mission of Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute. They included a Lenten Calendar to collect “Pennies for Peace” in order to help build and fund schools and educational programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the wake of the stories that have emerged since CBS’s 60 Minutes program on Mortenson aired, the MACUCC re-examined their education program and the fundraising options presented.

Susan Dickerman, associate conference minister for Leadership Development for the MACUCC, said, “Many people asked about our support of the Pennies for Peace program. We have been troubled by the questions raised in the 60 Minutes broadcast. At the same time, the “Pennies for Peace” program was initiated to help fund education for children — particularly girls — in remote parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our belief is that such efforts and initiatives not only help reduce poverty, but also offer empowerment and hope, and this program continues to receive affirmation and appreciation in the region.”

In a response to MACUCC inquiries about its use of donated funds, the “Pennies for Peace” organization said:

Donations made specifically to support Pennies for Peace result in a restricted donation, where 100% of funds raised will be used for overseas program support and administration, such as school building, school supplies, education scholarships, and more.

Based on this response, the MACUCC elected to continue its promotion of “Pennies for Peace,” but decided to also recommend two other funding options to its members.

Church World Service also carries out educational work within the Afghanistan and Pakistan region and is a long-standing and highly regarded international program. The MACUCC Lenten giving program also focused on raising funds for the Worcester Area Mission Society’s after school programs. A portion of the proceeds from the Mortenson speaking engagement were to be directed toward this effort. The Mission Society’s work offers an excellent locally-based education option for those interested in lending support.

Dickerman said, “We appreciate the efforts of the churches and educators who have worked with children and youth to raise awareness of the power of education to improve lives, particularly among struggling and vulnerable people around the globe, which our denomination, and the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, have a long history of supporting.”

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