Icelandic Church Aid: A Short Overview

Senior staff of ACT Alliance member organisations meeting in Iceland under the auspices of Icelandic Church Aid. Photo: Sean Hawkey/ACT

The beginning

Icelandic Church Aid (ICA) was founded in 1969 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, the National Church. The idea was born earlier that year, when the Church participated in a very successful nationwide fund-raising march against hunger for the starving population of war-torn Biafra in Africa. It was certainly not the first contribution the Church had made abroad for people in need, but this particular fund raising sparked ideas of establishing organized relief work on the pattern of that in our neighbouring countries. So it was in 1969 that the Convocation passed the motion that 1% of the annual income of all the clergy should go to relief work and the foundation of Icelandic Church Aid was established a few months later. From that time on ICA has participated in relief work in many parts of the world.

The organization
ICA is an independent foundation within the National Church of Iceland, governed by a council of 13 representatives from different regions of the country. Each Parish can also appoint its representative, which many have done and five are selected by the Church Council. The council meets twice a year. The council of representatives selects a three member board of directors and three proxies, to take responsibility for the daily running of the institution. A director is employed by the board of directors for a four year period to run the institution with additional staff.

The projects
The role of ICA is to initiate and coordinate relief work carried out in the name of the Icelandic Church. Its broad aim is to assist people in need at home and abroad, regardless of its cause and regardless of nationality, race, religion or political ideas. The greatest need and likelyhood of the project input to make a difference, are key issues. ICA has working guidelines to select projects. ICA also runs substantial aid to people living in Iceland.

A worldwide net
Our relief work is organized and carried out in close cooperation with local people and institutions. ICA is a member of experienced and professional international organizations; The Lutheran World Federation and The World Council of Churches who, together, form the ACT Alliance a network coordinating emergency relief and development. ICA also collaborates with its counterparts in the other Nordic countries, which, being larger institutions with greater resources usually have their own people stationed in the stricken areas, something ICA unfortunately lacks the means and manpower to do. Last but not least, we have close ties with individuals and institutions in the developing countries, people with first hand knowledge of conditions. They keep us informed about the work in progress with regular reports and budget analyses in between regular monitoring visits to project areas.

Development Cooperation
These are long-term projects aimed at improving standards of living in particular areas. We focus on providing water and as a consequence food can be irrigated and cultivated with more certainty than rain fed crops. Clean water improves health and allows girls the time to go to school instead of spending their days fetching water. Water also allows for animal husbandry which is a part of some of our projects. ICA emphasizes gender equality and capacity building and prioritizes women, orphans and the elderly.

We always encourage the recipients to take an active part in carrying out the projects. Their participation and feeling of ownership is the key to lasting changes and sustainability. We take all possible care to ensure that our projects harmonize with the local environment, its people´s customs, culture and tradition though no custom or tradition will be valued higher than human rights as agreed by the United Nations.

Domestic Aid
ICA has since its foundation assisted people in Iceland who are in need. There is an application process where each applicant has to produce documents to show their income and expenditure. Should the difference be lower than dictated by the authorities to be a minimum amount to support a family, the applicant will receive assistance in the form of a gift card in food stores, second hand clothing, drug and medical costs and more. There is also assistance available to youth, who are financially not able to support themselves during secondary studies. ICA´s assistance aims at helping them graduate and be able to enter University level with state loans or graduate with certificates that make them more competitive on the job market. All applicants are interviewed by our social workers to identify their specific needs. We offer various councelling, free of charge, for example financial councelling, family and individual counselling and life coaching.

Where does the money come from ?
ICA depends almost entirely on public contributions for its income. We do have regular supporters, who pay a certain amount every year, and so do the clergy and many of the parishes. Another means of income is the sale of outdoor candles, our so called “lights for peace”, By far the greatest sources of income, however, are organized fundraising campaigns among the public, the largest being at Christmas. All fundraising income and gifts are spent on projects while administration and publications are financed by other means, like financial revenue, candle sales and parish contributions.

See more about ACT member Icelandic Church Aid.