CV NEWS FEED // The Vulnerable People Project just launched its third annual “Coal for Christmas” campaign with the goal of bringing 20 million hours of heat and over two million meals to poor communities in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Malawi, Mongolia, Pakistan, Gaza, Ukraine, and elsewhere.
The Coal for Christmas campaign was launched on December 6 and will run through to the new year, according to a VPP press release, aiming to “beat Santa’s coal-delivery record.”
President of the Human Rights Education and Relief Organization (H.E.R.O.) Jason Jones founded the Vulnerable People Project (VPP) and shared insight with CatholicVote about the ambitious campaign and its history.
HERO is a Catholic apostolate that “protects the vulnerable from violence by promoting human dignity and inspiring solidarity,” Jones said.
“Where other larger NGOs lack the ability or for other reasons can’t deliver support or aid, we (VPP) step in,” Jones explained:
The Coal for Christmas campaign started in 2021 when my organization was asked to begin evacuating vulnerable Afghans as Afghanistan began to collapse. So in early August of 2021, we were evacuating Christians, we were evacuating journalists and those who work as runners and contractors for journalists, but the bulk of our work was rescuing translators for US military personnel, and we built pretty large databases, began evacuating by planes, until the airport closed.
As far as we know, we’re really the only organization that stuck around doing evacuations and we still do evacuations to neighboring countries, and resettle Afghans to this very day. We have a network of safe houses in Afghanistan and in neighboring countries. We started the Coal for Christmas campaign in the winter of 2021 because the widows and orphans of our Afghan allies who were killed in action found themselves sort of at the bottom of the economic hierarchy, and Afghanistan collapsed into severe famine.
Since the first year of the campaign, Coal for Christmas has distributed enough coal to provide at least 30 million hours of heat, and provided 5 million meals.
It takes approximately $250 of coal and other heating materials to help a family survive the winter, Jones explained.
“A lot of this is done by truck and donkey and mules, over icy mountain passes to some hardest-to-reach places,” Jones said. The program is run and accomplished by thousands of volunteers in Afghanistan and contractors who drive the trucks, who Jason hailed as “brave.”
Since the campaign’s initial launching, Catholic communities in other countries, such as Malawi, Nigeria and Mongolia have requested to be added to the winter and Christmas distribution program, Jones explained.
“Next week we will be delivering 130 tons of coal in Mongolia alone,” Jones said:
And this week we’re being approved–I think we may have already been approved–as a government-sanctioned NGO in Mongolia. In Nigeria and Malawi we have a program called the Vulnerable Parish Program where we’ve been supporting Catholic parishes in Nigeria and Malawi that were facing physical insecurities to Islamist extremism, but also to food insecurity. So we will also be upping our support in Nigeria and Malawi, but especially in Malawi because they’re in the midst of a pretty harsh famine right now.
In Mongolia, Jones explained that VPP is partnering with the youngest cardinal in the Church, Cardinal Giorgio Marengo:
So we’re partnering with Catholic Americans who happen to live in Mongolia, and we said we would like to make sure when we deliver the aid to you that the cardinal and his team would supervise and direct where distribution goes. So where there are Catholics, we really try to work with a local Catholic community. So for example, in Nigeria and Malawi, all of our leadership, our priests, or rabbis, we are also supporting and securing synagogues in Nigeria.
Jones added that his own Catholic faith is what helps him to serve in this ministry effectively. He added, “Catholic Social Teaching when honestly deployed is the greatest architecture of protecting the vulnerable.”
“I would say for the first 18 months after the collapse of Afghanistan, I was despondent or struggling with acedia,” Jones shared:
And as a Catholic, that I could put words to what I was experiencing, because we were losing so many, people were dying and the project was overwhelming, but my faith helps me grapple with the problem of pain and human suffering.
“I always say that there’s Palm Sunday, and there’s the Resurrection. But we want to be there on Good Friday,” Jones said:
There are always those moments when the whole world is talking about Afghanistan, and every media outlet is talking about the plight of Afghan women, religious minorities and America’s former allies. And that lasted maybe six weeks. We want to be there when the world has left, so that is sort of our mission. When the cameras have left, when major foundations have left, and large organizations have left, that’s when we arrive.
Jones also shared other work that the VPP has done in Afghanistan: “we’ve opened up a Women’s Medical Center in Afghanistan, we provide security for girls’ schools, we drill wells, we’re building a 20 mile-long road, [and] we built a reservoir [to prevent] flooding.”