ANN ARBOR -- International Samaritan, a nonprofit organization founded in Toledo to combat extreme poverty around the world, has been granted special consultative status by the United Nations, the agency announced yesterday.
"We are privileged to join with the United Nations and other NGOs in the fight to help alleviate severe poverty in developing countries," said the Rev. Don Vettese, International Samaritan's founder and president.
The designation means that International Samaritan is now eligible to participate in international conferences conducted by the United Nations and has access to numerous U.N. resources.
Oscar Dussan, International Samaritan's executive director, said yesterday that special consultative status gives his organization a boost in many ways, from fund-raising to expediting its work in new areas.
"From a fund-raising perspective, we have new credibility when we go to a donor. It's not just us saying that we are making a difference, it's the Untied Nations saying we are making a difference," he said. "It also means we are eligible for grants from the United Nations Foundation, and we plan to start applying for those loans to create new outreaches."
He said having the U.N. designation will open doors when International Samaritan seeks to expand its programs.
"There's no doubt that having the status the United Nations gives us will bring more credibility and expedite new programs because we can be trusted faster," Mr. Dussan said.
International Samaritan was founded by Father Vettese in 1996 when he was president of St. John's Jesuit High School in Toledo. The program began its work in Guatemala City to alleviate poverty among people who scavenge for food and recyclable materials in the city's garbage dump.
The initial step is to build a nursery to get children out of the dump, then the agency works to provide education to help break the cycle of poverty and builds modest homes for dump workers to promote family health, safety, and self-esteem.
The agency has since expanded its programs to garbage dump workers in six other nations -- Egypt, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Haiti -- and is conducting feasibility studies for Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and the Philippines.
International Samaritan, which moved to Ann Arbor in 2007, serves about 13,000 of the world's poorest people annually, operating on a budget of around $2 million.
Father Vettese said people eke out a living in garbage dumps in all but the most developed nations around the globe. "The need is almost unlimited," he said. "We're talking about millions of people. I'll go as far as I can -- as far as my energies and resources and the people who share with us will take us."
The nonprofit agency conducts short-term mission trips for volunteers with the dual purpose of aiding the poor overseas and raising awareness of its mission in the United States. A trip by St. John's Jesuit High School students was reported in The Blade in a series "Scavenging for Hope," published in July.
Mr. Dussan said the primary reason for International Samaritan receiving the U.N. designation was because its work aligns with the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals. Those goals, established in 2000, seek to cut extreme poverty in half, reduce hunger, combat AIDS and HIV, and promote universal education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental sustainability, and global partnership.
International Samaritan applied for the special consultative status in February, 2010, and underwent a lengthy review process. According to the U.N. Web site, approximately 400 nonprofits apply annually for the designation and between 100 and 150 are recommended for approval. A total of about 3,400 NGOs have received the designation.
Mr. Dussan said the new status gives International Samaritan and its staff a morale boost.
"This is like when a basketball team makes it to the Final Four," he said "I'm not saying we're winning anything but now we feel different."
Contact David Yonke at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.