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Social Safety Net Programming

Shoemaking and leather works students learn their craft at the Nyohini Rehabilitation Center in Ghana. Felix Kuumuulo is seated third from the right.

Shoemaking and leather works students learn their craft at the Nyohini Rehabilitation Center in Ghana. Felix Kuumuulo is seated third from the right.

Felix's Story

Twenty-two year old Felix Kuumuulo is a student at the Nyohini Rehabilitation Center, which is supported by Catholic Relief Services'/Ghana's Safety Net program. Felix is originally from Jirapa, a village in Ghana.

Like any other young man, Felix has dreams for the future. Unfortunately, he is disabled. Felix left his family to learn a trade and is now in his second year of shoemaking and leather works training.

When asked about his training, Felix excitedly responded, "I am happy with the CRS food and assistance to our school. It has made it possible for me to continue with my training." Then, with a far-off look in his eyes, Felix shared his dream for the future. "This [training] will help me earn a living for the rest of my life."

The Nyohini Rehabilitation Center is one of 143 institutions in CRS/Ghana's Safety Net Initiative. Over the past 40 years the Center has been providing persons with disabilities with an opportunity to learn from others, share their talents, develop a positive self-image, and acquire life skills that will help them earn an income and be active members of their community. The center offers training in shoemaking and leather works, tailoring, rural crafts, dressmaking and needlework.

CRS/Ghana's Safety Net Initiatives reach over 9,500 beneficiaries throughout the country.

Safety Net Program Overview


A "safety net" is assistance for extremely vulnerable individuals who are unable to meet the most basic needs for survival and human dignity. Individuals may be unable to meet these needs due to an external shock - such as natural disasters or war - or due to socioeconomic circumstances, such as age, illness, disabilities or discrimination. Such individuals are usually completely dependent upon outside resources to meet their basic food and livelihood needs.

CRS, in its commitment and challenge to live out the tenets of Catholic social teaching (CST), takes as its point of origin the inherent dignity and equality of the human person. CST focuses on "those members of society with the greatest needs (who) require the greatest response and attention."

CRS recognizes the responsibility of the State and civil society to provide for the basic needs and the common good of its people. To encourage the fulfillment of this responsibility, CRS supports civil society by "strengthening the capacity of local organizations to advocate for improved government services to meet basic needs." (Applying the Justice Lens to Programming, CRS Occasional Paper, July 1998)

However, when governments and local communities are unable or unwilling to provide for the basic needs of the most vulnerable, there is a moral imperative for the broader human community to respond. This is the basis for CRS' safety net programming.

Who Do These Activities Reach?


The most vulnerable include the following:

  • Persons residing indefinitely in institutions, such as the terminally ill, those who are severely disabled mentally or physically, or elderly pensioners.

  • Persons temporarily housed in institutions, including children and adults who are hospitalized or participate in residential rehabilitative services or skills training.

  • Persons temporarily in need of assistance while living in the community, including marginalized individuals or households that are unable to adequately care for themselves, either due to a mental or physical disability, illness, age, destitution, or low social status, but who are not under the care of an institution.

In some cases, those who are extremely vulnerable will remain so for an indefinite period of time and may need assistance for the rest of their lives.

In other cases, vulnerable individuals may only be temporarily in need of assistance such as orphans or the temporarily displaced. Later, they may be able to care for themselves.

Background of CRS' Safety Net Program

The purpose of safety net programs - also referred to as "non-emergency humanitarian assistance" or "general relief" - is to meet individuals' immediate food security needs while creating a foundation for more sustainable food and livelihood security.

The needs of the extremely vulnerable include:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Water
  • Basic health care

Lack of adequate food is often the greatest threat to extremely vulnerable populations. Safety net programming seeks to meet immediate food needs, while at the same time providing the necessary services and training to allow individuals to become food secure. Using food aid from the U.S. government, CRS provides food to safety net populations through institutions or communities.

CRS also works with and through local institutions to provide complementary assistance such as medical care and counseling, education, or skills training, to individuals who have the opportunity to meet their food and livelihood needs in the future. At the broader level, CRS works to ensure that the most vulnerable populations will be cared for in the future by building institutions' capacity and by lobbying host governments for improved safety net care.

Technical Partners and Donors
CRS receives both monetary and food grants for safety net programs from the U.S. Government. These complement all of CRS' safety net assistance, which is often carried out in coordination with local partners.

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