Martha and Waitstill Sharp had just arrived in Europe as representatives of the American Unitarian Association hoping to support activists fighting the Nazi Party and its policies. Only a few weeks after their arrival, they witnessed firsthand the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia. The couple spent the next five months helping as many people flee the country as they could. Artists, students, intellectuals and political leaders all made it to safety with the help of the Sharps. As they were en route to New York, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.

Martha and Waitstill returned to Europe in June of 1940 to continue their mission. Working mostly in conjunction with other agencies, it is estimated that the Sharps and the Unitarian Service Committee they were a part of saved between 1,000 and 3,000 lives. The USC was formed by the American Unitarian Association as a “committee to investigate opportunities both in America and abroad . . . for humanitarian service as may in its judgment seem desirable and wise,” according to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee website.

While the Unitarians were working in Prague and later France to evacuate endangered people, Universalists were working in Holland. In 1940, the Universalist Board of Trustees had established a special committee to channel financial aid to Holland.

After the war, Unitarians and Universalists ran a post-war relief program in Holland, as well as an adolescents’ shelter in Verden, Germany. This was the closest the two organizations worked before they became the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in 1963.

Today, UUSC is on the forefront of many humanitarian battles. It advocates for compassionate consumption by educating people about the ethical practices of the companies they’re buying from. It works for universally affordable clean water in America and abroad by supporting legislation which guarantees access to water. The UUSC humans rights for those most likely to be denied them, either because of race, gender, orientation or religion.

After Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the UUSC launched a special crisis fund focused around survivors who were most likely not to receive the same aid as other victims. The UUSC intends to ensure that every person gets the aid they need with the dignity they deserve.

As the mission statement from website put it, “UUSC advances human rights and social justice around the world, partnering with those who confront unjust power structures and mobilizing to challenge oppressive policies.” The UUSC is a force for good, and has been since the days of hiding students from the Nazis.

– Marina Middleton

Sources: UU World, UUSC
Photo: UUSC Flickr

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is a historic, nonsectarian organization that works around the world to free people in crisis zones from social injustices. Here are 3 interesting facts about them:

1. UUSC Has an Important History of Helping People

Founded by Martha and Waitstill Sharp in 1940, Unitarian Service Committee, the precursor to UUSC, has an intriguing background story. At the beginning of World War II, there were over 200,000 refugees fleeing to Prague as the Nazis took over what was then Czechoslovakia. The Sharps felt the pull to go to Europe and help, so for 5 months they performed risky missions to get at risk people out of the Nazi controlled areas.

The next year, as the war raged on, the organization brought food to the children of France and helped even more refugees escape. By the end of WWII, Unitarian Service Committee had helped thousands of people escape Nazi rule. In 1945, it joined with its neighbor, Universalist Service Committee, together as UUSC, and the organization returned to Europe to aid in post-war relief projects.

2. Aiding the Displaced is One of their Main Focuses

The conflicts throughout Uganda and Somalia have wreaked havoc on East Africa in recent years, and UUSC has been assisting refugees and helping people move back into their communities.

Armed conflict and severe famine in Somalia have forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes. In response, UUSC built centers to feed and educate 2,000 children, and constructed boreholes to provide thousands of refugees with water. UUSC also set up a program that helps women and girls in displacement camps who have been victims of gender-based violence.

In Uganda, the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army pushed 1.8 million people out of their communities over the years. UUSC has made it one of their main missions to help the displaced return home and restart their lives in a peaceful way. Their village rebuilding efforts have already reached 20,000 people and include community leadership training, loans for women, literacy training, and the creation of bicycle ambulances.

3. Creating Successful Democracies is Key to UUSC

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee believes that strong leadership is needed in the Middle East and North Africa where the Arab Spring occurred. Without it, the underlying tension in the region could worsen and all positive headway towards building participatory democracies could be lost.

One project UUSC created to serve this cause is a voter-education program that taught over 10,000 Egyptians about their personal rights. The organization also instructed activists in the Middle East and North Africa on how to mobilize and create political change through social media. In addition, UUSC funded research on the root causes of instability in the region and on how to make democratic progress after conflicts, all of which they hope will help democracies succeed in the area in the future.

– Caylee Pugh

Sources: Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, UU World GovTrack.US
Photo: UUSC