Cathy Herholdt is World Concern's Marketing and Communications Director. With a background in journalism, Cathy honed her writing skills as a newspaper editor and now enjoys sharing the inspiring stories of those World Concern serves. She has served with World Concern since 2010.
Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.”
Many of you have heard the sad news of the death of a World Concern staff member in South Sudan. Akol Akol was playing soccer and sustained an injury, was rushed to the local hospital where he died 30 minutes later. He was a much beloved staff member who knew the Lord, and worked as a peace maker in his community.
Peter Macharia, our Africa Area Director, wrote this word of tribute:
“I’ll miss Akol Akol. He started soccer teams in Magai and Mayen and the young team loved it a lot. Through soccer he would share the love of Christ and engage young men on how to better their lives and stay away from crime. When I last visited South Sudan he asked me for more soccer balls. He also brought me his new wife to say ‘hi.’ They were expecting a baby.
He was deeply loved by all those that met him. He was also deeply passionate about his work, loved World Concern, was always eager to learn, and full of laughter. When he joined World Concern in 2012, he couldn’t speak a word of English, but within a very short time, he would engage in an English conversation as if it was his mother tongue. He longed to see Magai and Mayen transformed. We will definitely miss him. We are praying for his dear wife.”
Our team in South Sudan thanks you for your prayers. They spent today with Akol Akol’s family. We are praying for God’s comfort and the peace that passes all understanding to stand guard over their hearts. Through it all, we trust in the goodness and mercy of our Lord, knowing that this is not the end. We take comfort in that blessed hope of life everlasting with our Lord.
We are so grateful for the opportunity to have known and served with such a kind and good heart. We pray now for his family and our precious team in South Sudan as they grieve this great loss.
I woke up last Saturday morning in my 72 degree house, safe in my cozy bed. Birds chirping outside my window and thoughts of doing yard work today on this peaceful Saturday.
Little did I know, at that very moment, gunfire was erupting in a town in South Sudan. Bodies were strewn in the streets and families were running for their lives to the bush.
But God knew, and He redirected my thoughts. I had fallen asleep the night before reading an intense book about World War II. My pleasant early-morning meditations were interrupted by images of the horrors people suffer in war—especially children, who don’t understand what’s happening around them. All they know is that their parents are scared, chaos surrounds them, and “home” is wherever they can find a place to curl up and sleep that night.
These images haunted me as I got up to pour a cup of coffee. As a mom, I have such a strong instinct to protect my children. My heart aches for moms who are unable to keep their children safe. And it’s happening to millions of children around the world today.
Working at World Concern, I have to be mindful not to become anesthetized to the circumstances I hear about every day. A mother scooping up her child and fleeing gunfire in terror. Waking up the next day on the hard ground, enveloped in sweltering heat to hear her child crying because of hunger pains. Panic when she realizes the child is not just hungry, but sick with fever.
I can’t ever let this become “normal” to me.
I took a sip of my coffee and thought of the people in South Sudan whose tragic circumstances seem to get worse each day. A colleague who had recently returned from a visit told me he saw children picking leaves off of trees to eat to quell the hunger pains. I felt sick. He showed me a video he’d shot on his iPhone of a 14-year-old girl scooping scum-covered water from a hole in the ground, bees swirling around her head as she waited for the hole to fill up again.
“Sometimes I wait several hours for enough water to fill the hole again so I can scoop more,” she told him.
I pondered this as I sipped my cream-sweetened coffee, which suddenly tasted extraordinarily decadent.
And then I pick up my phone to see an email that our team was evacuated as violence erupted in Wau town, the base for several new villages in our One Village Transformed program. I prayed for the hundreds of families who lost loved ones in the fighting and for those who had fled in terror.
Earlier this month, I had barely noticed the automatic withdrawal from my checking account. $33. That’s my humble gift each month to that 14-year-old girl’s village outside of Wau.
It’s not much. I spent about that on a new shower curtain liner and cat litter at Fred Meyer yesterday.
But I felt a twinge of relief when I thought about that gift this morning. God reminded me I was doing something. That $33, combined with yours and someone else’s and others, is enough to do some amazing things in this one village. Not just a meal far better than leaves for today, but empowerment for the parents in her village to plant colorful, vibrant vegetable gardens that will supply many nutritious meals. It will help them dig a well where she can collect cool, fresh, disease-free water every day—without having to wait for a mud puddle to fill up. It will enable her to attend school, learn to read and write. And she’ll be introduced to a group of neighbors who meet twice a week under the shade of a giant tree to sing worship songs and study the Bible in her native language, allowing this child of war to experience peace in the midst of turmoil.
She will see her neighbors working and starting small businesses and thinking about the future, and it will all be new and different and hope-filled. She will begin to see the possibility for a better life and focus beyond waiting for the water hole to fill or picking leaves from a tree to eat.
I’ll never miss that $33 from my checking account each month. But it will mean a child of war is fed and cared for and a village in South Sudan is transformed.
In a small village in rural Bangladesh, a team of strong fishermen wade through the neck-deep water of the village pond they share as a fish farm. Underneath the water’s calm, murky surface, calloused hands work tediously to reel in the rope that holds an increasingly heavy fishing net. One of those hands, belonging to a fisherman named Muhammad, is crimped—his fingers fused in the shape of a claw. But he is all smiles as he uses this hand to skillfully hook the net, now filled with hundreds of fish jumping out of the water.
For Muhammad, who has endured many hardships, not least of which was being robbed, beaten, and left for dead while working as a tuk tuk driver some 15 years ago, he is grateful to have a business that earns him a sustainable income.
“I cannot do anything else,” Muhammad reflects as he reveals his hand that’s been disfigured since the attack that left him permanently maimed. “So I chose this profession … my hand is like a hook for pulling in the ropes,” he says confidently.
Muhammad has been receiving business loans, support, and training from World Concern since two years after the attack. Prior to that, he was unable to work and therefore unable to provide for his family.
Muhammad’s wife, who cannot help but smile each time her husband looks at her proudly, recalls that time with tears in her eyes. “I cannot express how sad I felt. We were helpless and I could not do much. Our brother helped support us.”
It wasn’t until World Concern came to Muhammad’s village that he began to see the possibility to make a fresh start for himself. Today, Muhammad is not only a successful fish farmer, but he also raises ducks in a large pond on his property.
“Before, I was so poor,” Muhammad says, “and then World Concern came and encouraged me and helped me get started again.”
Muhammad and his loving wife work together to support themselves as well as Muhammad’s brother’s children—generously repaying the family that supported them for so long.
What does fatherhood look like?
It looks like a loving, supportive uncle raising and caring for his brother’s children.
It looks like a husband who adores his wife and in a culture of arranged marriage that often results in lack of respect for spouses.
It looks like Muhammad, who works tirelessly to provide for and ensure a better future for his family.
For the past year I had an anticipation about turning 40, which happened in January. I attempted to crush the world’s voice in my head that often chants silly and pity-filled blues about turning 40. I on the other hand, was ready to enter my 40’s with jubilation and eagerness for what was to come in my next 40 years.
The topic of how to celebrate my birthday was a conversation with many friends and ideas were flowing in and out of my mind on a daily basis, but nothing seemed to stick. Then one early fall morning, I woke up at 4 a.m. and had a vision of what I was going to do. I pictured myself standing on a stage holding a big cardboard check made out to World Concern for $40,000. I went back to bed, in a bit of a fog, but when I woke up it was clear what I needed to do. I was going to use my 40th birthday as vehicle to gather everyone I know and raise $40,000 for World Concern and help save the lives of 1,000 children. That stuck. That grabbed my heart.
My family has been involved with World Concern for years now and I knew it was a perfect partnership for my fundraiser. World Concern is brilliant at their ability to love and serve the world, and they’re experts at protecting children in some of the poorest places. It did not take long to decide that I wanted to raise money specifically to help end child trafficking, because…
No child should be sold for sex.
Doing a fundraiser to help end human trafficking forced me to stop and think about the ugly sinful capability of mankind. It forced me to realize that as I sit in the comfort of my life with three precious kids of my own, there are horrific crimes occurring against young children. It forced me to ask questions and be curious about how this crime even happens and more importantly how it can be put to an end.
I sat in those thoughts, angered, indignant, and uncomfortable. It produced in me a call to action. I felt I had to do something. In that call to action, I had the chance to bring others into that thought life, a thought life about others around the world and this despicable crime and a way to make it end, because…
No child should be sold for sex.
So, I did it. I rallied my friends, family—everyone I knew—and together, WE did it. My family and friends gave generously because they also considered the ugly thoughts of what this fundraiser was about, they knew the impact their donation could make, and they responded to the call of action. That night, I stood on a stage holding a big cardboard check written out for $40,000. Because of that, 1,000 precious, innocent little ones will be safe from the hands of traffickers.
People responded to a call to action, because…
No child should be sold for sex.
Think about that: A child sold for sex. What would it be like for you to sit with the uncomfortable thoughts about this sick crime of child trafficking? I guarantee your heart will become restless, unsettled and want to act.
So today, I am calling on you to rally with me. We can work together as we participate World Concern’s Free Them 5k. Will you join me on Saturday, May 7, in Shoreline and take a stand to protect children and refuse to ignore this problem?
When you register for the Free Them 5k, you’ll have the opportunity to invite your friends to support you in this cause, knowing that they’ll be eager to act on this too, because…
No child should be sold for sex.
Mindy Lee Irvine is a mom of three and passionate supporter of World Concern. In January 2016, she celebrated her 40th birthday by raising $40,000 to protect children from human trafficking. She will be participating in the 8th Annual Free Them 5k to Stop Human Trafficking on Saturday, May 7, 2016 at World Concern’s headquarters.
I sat down on the steps of a small rural high school in Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh, expectantly waiting to talk with some of the girls who have received scholarships from World Concern. Dressed in her blue and white uniform, 16-year-old Rima sat down next to me. I started asking questions about school – what she enjoys studying and her future plans.
With her first words, tears spilled down her cheeks. Staring off into the distance and weeping, she told me that from the time she was 14, her father has been trying to marry her off.
“My father works as a guard at the hospital. He works all night, but only earns 4,000 taka ($52) per month,” Rima explained through her tears.
The oldest of four children, Rima carries an emotional burden for the constant struggle her family experiences living in such poverty.
“We don’t eat well,” she said.
“My father keeps telling my mom, ‘I am only earning so little, how can I afford to pay for education? I want to get Rima married,’ but my mom says, ‘No, no, no, she must go to school.’”
“My dad says, ‘There is no use of her studies because she is going to get married anyway and go to the house of her husband and she will end up washing dishes in the kitchen…’”
Rima’s mother was married to her father at just 13. She knows the reality of being a child bride and bearing children far too young. She wants Rima to have a better life than she’s had.
“My mom is preventing him from marrying me off,” Rima said. “I don’t want to get married, but my dad keeps telling me, ‘If you left, then I would be able to take care of my other children better.’”
In Bangladeshi culture—especially amongst the poorest people—it is common for girls as young as 10 or 12 years to be married off to men in their thirties or forties.
Rima is at such a tender age. She dreams of finishing high school, going to college, and becoming a teacher one day.
“I want to be a teacher and teach poor children in my area, free of cost,” she said.
But instead of dreaming about her future, she lives under the constant threat of being sent to live with a man she doesn’t even know. Some of her friends have already gotten married. And some already have babies.
“Please don’t cross my name off the [scholarship] list,” she pleaded. “If World Concern didn’t help us, I would have gotten married a long time ago, and my life would have been in the darkness.”
No adolescent girl should have to live in fear of being forced to get married. An educated girl is six times less likely to be married off during her teen years. You can provide a scholarship for a girl like Rima for an entire year for just $50 and change her future.
In the back of her classroom in rural Haiti, 12-year-old Dashna often puts her head down on her desk and prays. The pain in her stomach gets to be too much and she can no longer concentrate on the lesson being taught. She winces with pain and silently cries out to God for help.
Worms are ravaging Dashna’s insides, sucking away vital nutrients she needs to grow like vitamin A, and causing her excruciating pain. Can you imagine try to learn in a classroom when you are in so much pain?
This is common in places like Haiti, where children walk barefoot, drink from filthy streams contaminated by raw sewage, and parasites are rampant. Worms enter the body through dirty water, or when a child eats or touches her mouth without washing her hands after going to the bathroom. They can even enter through the soles of her feet.
Once worms enter a child’s body, they multiply and begin their painful pursuit of eating away at what little food she consumes. Sometimes, this can cause her stomach to hurt all day long.
Even more, parasites spread easily between family members living in cramped quarters with no access to toilets or a way to wash their hands. Because of this, Dashna’s two younger siblings are also sick.
The good news is that deworming medicine is inexpensive and can begin to work within hours of taking the pill. When coupled with vitamin A, which is depleted by worms, and long-term solutions like clean water, sanitation, and hygiene training, the 44-Cent Cure can prevent reinfection.
37. That’s the first number I heard when I woke up before dawn this morning to the news that another earthquake had struck Nepal and killed 37 people while I slept. A sense of dread rolled through me.
“Lord, after all they’ve been through, now another one?”
As the morning turned to afternoon here on the West Coast of the U.S., that number increased slowly to 39, then 42, and now I’m seeing 68 people have died.
68. Why does this number break my heart as much as, if not more so, than the 8,000+ lives taken by the April 25 earthquake? I guess it seems more personal. It’s easier for me to imagine a face and a name with each number when it’s smaller. Each one represents a daughter, a son, a mother, a father, a friend.
Whether it’s 8,000 or 68, each one represents a precious human life.
It also makes me sad to think of people in Nepal being so scared. I can’t imagine the terror little children and parents must have felt when the earth shook, yet again, today. That same terrifying sway of the building, as bricks fall and buildings threaten to collapse. Running into the streets, vowing this time for good not to go back inside.
“People are standing outside and they are scared,” described one of my coworkers by phone this morning from outside his hotel in Kathmandu. “I saw one woman who had been here for the first earthquake run out of the building crying. She fell to the ground and was nauseous.”
The trauma of this experience will no doubt haunt people for years.
So I pray. I pray for the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, to comfort the hearts and minds of the people in Nepal. And I pray for their hearts and minds to heal from this tragedy.
I’m encouraged by the stories of survival we’re hearing. Our staff on the ground are sharing photos and stories from people they’ve talked with in hard-hit communities.
Him Kumari was eating lunch with her 12-year-old son, the oldest of four, on April 25 when her house began to shake. She made her son run out of the house, but was not able to escape herself before it collapsed on her. Trapped beneath the rubble and boards, she went in and out of consciousness.
“When I came to, I was in the hospital,” she said. “I thought I would die as I was buried for four hours.”
Twenty-two of her neighbors did not survive. Nearly every home in her village was damaged or destroyed.
Him’s family is now living under a tarp they’ve made into a tent. She is grateful to be alive, but doesn’t know what the future holds.
Lok Shrestra is another mom whose future is uncertain. She was outside feeding her animals when the earthquake struck. Her daughter was inside their house on the second floor. Somehow, her daughter knew to stand in the doorway of her room, and as the roof collapsed and walls fell around her, she stood safely beneath the door frame.
While Lok and others will likely stay and try to rebuild in this village, many others wonder if they should start over in another place. “This looks like a different place now,” said a leader in the village. “This is not our community.”
Amidst the destruction, there is encouragement. Mark Estes, World Concern Asia Director, helped distribute supplies and aid to these moms and others in this area last week. “Walking around that community was heart wrenching – to see the loss, to see every home was just a heap of stones and sticks,” he said. “Nestled up in the foothills of the Himalayas, I can imagine what a beautiful place this would have been. I think that beauty now is surrounded by the opportunity that God gives us to serve these people.”
If you’d like to help reach families affected by the earthquakes in Nepal, providing practical help and hope to those who have lost everything, you can donate here.
The outpouring of support from donors is enabling World Concern staff to reach families in Nepal with emergency supplies and compassionate help within days of the devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck on April 25.
Although our disaster response team is enduring nerve-rattling aftershocks, sleeping on floors, and hiking for miles to reach remote villages, they are buoyed by prayers and support and excited to reach survivors with critical supplies.
“The worst hit villages are east and east southeast where we hiked in at 4:00 this morning. All homes are gone there,” wrote World Concern Asia Area Director Mark Estes in a brief update from 3,500 feet up in the Himalayan foothills. “On the move. Distribution complete for this morning.”
“One of the aftershocks sounded like a truck hitting a wall,” said Chris Sheach, deputy director of disaster response, who is coordinating World Concern’s relief efforts from Kathmandu.
Because of the quick response of donors, emergency supplies have already reached families in the village of Bhotechaur in the Sindhupalchok district, where about 1,200 families live.
Villagers described the terrifying moments after the earthquake. Tears flowed as they recalled people screaming and running from buildings as they crumbled. Rubble and the sound of Injured people were crying out for help filled the streets.
Fourteen-year-old Lesout said the scariest moment was when the shaking happened. He ran home to look for his parents. His parents were safe. But when he saw the pile of rocks and dust where his home once stood, he felt like he was in a nightmare.
“All of their belongings were covered in stones and sand,” said World Concern Program Manager Ye Win Tun. “Lesout ran to check on the homes of his friends and they were all like this.”
People are still afraid to sleep inside. One young girl pointed to a small tent where 22 people are living.
An 11-year-old girl named Pya said her parents were worried about not having food, shelter, or water. There is a stream nearby, but no water bucket to carry it with. “We drink wherever we can get water,” she said.
Working in partnership our with our Integral Alliance partners Mission East, we were able to supply families in Bhotechaur with tarps, jerrycans (water jugs), water purification tablets, cups, soap, and solar lanterns.
We’re also helping in a remote village called Khalte in Dhading district, where no other aid had arrived yet. More than 1,400 families received tarps and blankets, as well as food – rice, lentils, oil, and salt. We’ll share stories and photos from this community in the coming days.
None of this would be possible without the quick, generous response of donors who have been giving since the earthquake.
Barefoot and dressed in filthy clothes, tiny Xay refused to leave his mother’s arms to play with the other children being evaluated for the Child Survival program. At 18 months old, Xay should be running, squealing, and playing with the other children. Instead, he was pale, thin, and listless. More critically, Xay is underweight, weak, and suffered from chronic diarrhea.
We measured his arm with a special band to determine his level of malnutrition. Xay’s arm measured 11cm, indicating he is severely malnourished.
For Xay’s mother, nothing is more important than saving her son – but she doesn’t have very many solutions. She knows the food she scavenges for in the woods outside her village in rural Laos each day isn’t enough. She knows her son is hungry and sick. She knows that without enough food, her beloved son could die.
With your help, this little guy can soon be eating healthy, gaining weight, and on his way to better health – in just a few short days.
A gift of $34 will provide nourishing, healthy food for Xay and others, rescuing them from the pain and sickness that comes with not having enough to eat. In addition, Xay’s mom and others will be able to participate in a special program where they learn how to grow and prepare locally available vegetables and other easily accessible foods, providing highly nutritious meals for their children. With these simple changes, 100% of children gain weight and show measurable improvement within 12 days.
Moms also learn the importance of good hygiene, safe drinking water, and using toilets to keep their children free from sickness and disease.
The best part is, they learn from other moms who are already successfully feeding and caring for their little ones – so each mom has support from a mentor right in her own village. This helps ensure kids keep gaining weight and growing strong.
With these vital tools and training, moms like Xay’s will be equipped to keep their sons and daughters healthy, ensuring they grow strong throughout their childhood.
“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you…” (Joel 2:26)
Because of matching grants, your gift to feed a hungry child like Xay’s will TRIPLE, helping feed three children throughout their childhood.
In most of the impoverished places where World Concern works, meeting needs starts with water. Why? Because when a mom is trying to keep her child alive, nothing else matters.
Through your gifts to provide clean water, you are the hands and feet of Jesus to these moms, meeting this critical need and opening the way for lasting transformation to take place. As you read the stories below, I hope you know how much your gift matters!
One Mom’s Story of Survival
War War knows her children are alive today because of the water you provided. For the first few years of her babies’ lives, War War did what all the moms in her village did – she retrieved water by the bucketful from the mucky, still water that sat in the pond in their village.
The water made them sick. At the same time her younger son became ill with severe diarrhea, War War herself got sick. With the help of friends and family, they eventually made the four-hour boat ride to the nearest hospital where they were treated for water-borne diseases.
In and out of consciousness, alone and fearful for her son’s life, War War learned it was the dirty water she had been giving her son that caused his sickness. She was devastated.
Thankfully, both survived. Because of you, the village now has clean water, and families like War War’s have learned the importance of good hygiene and sanitation to stay healthy.
Clean Water Changed Mohamad’s Life and Future
Clean water is changing the lives of students like 14-year-old Mohamad – helping him stay healthy and focused in school. Mohamad’s school in Somaliland (Northern Somalia) now has a tank that captures rainwater, providing plenty of fresh, clean drinking water for the students.
“Before, we didn’t have any water to drink while we were at school. We would feel thirsty, but we could not get anything to drink until we went home,” explained Mohamad.
The school now has a 6,600-gallon tank that captures rainwater through a gutter system on the roof, providing abundant clean water for students to drink and wash their hands with at school.
“Now it’s easier to learn because we have water,” said the grateful teen. “Now we are healthy.”
The Life-Changing Impact of Berkads
Many families in Somaliland now have clean water from berkads. Berkads are large concrete tanks that channel and store rainwater. With a berkad, one day of heavy rain can provide enough clean, fresh drinking water for an entire community for months. Here’s what a few people have to say about the impact of these berkads:
“Before the berkad was built, there was not enough water. We were going so far to gather water. Now that World Concern rehabilitated this berkad, it is good. When it rains, the berkad fills up and we save it for use when our water supply is low.”
– Asha, 48, mom of three
“In school we learned about hygiene—to wash our hands before we eat and to wear shoes when going to the toilets. It is good to do these things because if you don’t wash your hands and then you eat something, you will probably get a disease.”
– Sahra, 12, student in grade 2
“Before these berkads, we did not have enough water in our village. When the water ran out, we would have to travel three hours by foot to the mountains in order to gather water. These berkads provide us enough water. They also benefit us as we earn income to help build them. We very much appreciate the berkads because we now have enough water to cover our needs.”
– Sahra, 30, mom of three
The stories above show just how much your gifts matter. Clean water not only saves and transforms lives, but also brings immeasurable joy to families in need.