Our own goat gift!

Through our Global Gift Guide, and with the help of our donors, we’ve given goats to needy children and families for years – enabling them to have nutritious milk, and earn an income. But until today, we’ve always been on the giving end of things …

Our team that is responding to the drought in Northeastern Kenya and Somalia visited a town called Amuma, about five miles from the Somali border where we are building water projects. The town has no water source, so we are trucking water in to meet the immediate need. But with hopes of rain coming soon, we are repairing and improving a large water pan, which will be filled by the rain and sustain the community for up to four months.

World Concern staff members receive a goat as a gift!
World Concern staff members with their gift from a grateful community we're helping.

The team was there today to select the contractor from the community that will do this work. Rather than bringing workers in from the outside, we’re involving the community to make the decision. We see this as their project, and therefore engage them in the process. The team met with the chief, elders and counselor (local politician), then with a representation of the community. Sealed quotes were opened in their presence (a very transparent process), and all parties signed an agreement that they would be a part of the process and were happy with what was happening.

After visiting the site of the project, the community members were so happy, they presented the World Concern staff with a gift – a goat!

They said, “Not since independence (1963), has any organization ever been so consistent and transparent” with them. They were so happy we are working with them, coming in early to ask questions and learn from them, finding ways to keep the work in the community and allowing them to participate and to make decisions – all in an honest and transparent way.

The team was truly humbled and honored to receive such an expression of gratitude from the community of Amuma.

Host a potluck for famine relief this Sunday – World Food Day

Preparing food in Somalia famine.
A mother prepares a simple meal for her hungry children in Somalia.

Food. It means so many things.

Flavor. Sustenance. Abundance. Gluttony. Scarcity. Family. Togetherness. Celebration. Famine. Starvation. Comfort. Fullness. Luxury. Emptiness. Health. Sickness. Generosity. Survival.

I love to ponder the famous question: If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have one type of food with you, what would it be?

Would it be something sweet? Savory? Healthy? Fattening? (It would be your only food, after all) Mine changes based on my mood, but alternates between avocados, giant prawns, chocolate and filet mignon.

I also love to cook and share food with people. What better occasion to spend time with people than over a meal?

However, it’s difficult to celebrate food on this World Food Day, Sunday, Oct. 16. The world is facing a food crisis of unimaginable proportions. The famine in the Horn of Africa is the worst in decades. Four million people in Somalia don’t have enough to eat. The majority of those worst affected are children – 450,000 under age 5 are malnourished.

Even as the rains begin in Southern Somalia and Eastern Kenya, the ground is too dry to absorb water. It will likely take several successful rainy seasons before crops can be supported and the effects of drought are diminished. Meanwhile, food prices will continue to rise – and people will continue to die.

Preparing a meal in Laos.
A family prepares a meal in rural Laos.

So this Sunday, I encourage you to think about food in a new way – and take action to help those affected by this famine.

Host a potluck meal on Sunday. Share the video Eyewitness to the Famine with your friends, and invite them to donate whatever they would have spent on a meal at a restaurant that night to help feed families caught in this crisis.

There. You’ve made a difference. It’s so simple.

Help us bring sustainable sources of food to the hungry. Give the gift of food.

Providing aid in the face of violence

Ambulance carrying the wounded.
Ambulances carry the wounded after an attack on the Somali border town of Dhobley.

World Concern staff members are safe after an attack on the Somali border town of Dhobley by the militant group al-Shabaab. In the early morning hours of Sept. 30, al-Shabaab attacked the town where World Concern, along with partners Medical Teams International (MTI) and AFREC, have been providing aid to families affected by the famine and insecurity in Somalia.

We’re grateful that no staff members or partners were in Dhobley at the time of the attacks, but our hearts are broken over this deadly attack on a town that is already suffering so much. Initial reports indicate that 44 Somali military members were injured and 30 were killed in the attack. Two civilians were also killed and two others injured, including a young girl. There are reports of seven al-Shabaab members being killed in the fighting.

Dhobley is a place where many families traveling from all over southern Somalia can get food, water and rest on their long journey to the refugee camps in Kenya. Despite daily security issues, World Concern has been able to feed 13,000 people with two-week rations of beans, rice, oil, sugar and salt, and provide emergency supplies such as blankets, water jugs, mosquito nets and more to another 1,300 families.

A wounded soldier from Dhobley
A soldier wounded in the attack on Dhobley, Somalia, on Sept. 30, 2011.

World Concern and MTI staff will continue to assist in the response just across the border in Liboi, Kenya. As soon as it is safe to return to Dhobley, World Concern will resume activities there, as we’re one of the few international organizations able to work in the area.

Insecurity has been a major challenge for humanitarian organizations to reach people affected by the famine. “We could double or triple our food distribution with better access,” said Deputy Director of Disaster Response Chris Sheach. “Every day we’re not able to get into Dhobley represents 2,500 people who don’t receive help,” he said.

One way World Concern is working around these challenges is by using vouchers, which are redeemed for food and emergency supplies at local merchants. We then reimburse merchants through direct cash transfers. This system supports the local economy, builds relationships with community leaders, and ensures food ends up in the hands of those who need it most.

Please pray for the families affected by the attack this morning and that further violence will not hinder our ability to reach people in desperate need.

Learn more and donate at www.worldconcern.org/crisis.

Tap your network for an even greater impact

When Jason Kim heard about the 13 million people affected by drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, he felt compelled to do something to help. Knowing he could do more with the support of others, he joined forces with some friends and organized a fundraiser. The event, called iFed, was held this past Sunday, Sept. 25 at Phil Smart Mercedes-Benz in Seattle’s SODO district.

Volunteers at iFed carwash.
Volunteers helped raise $4,600 for famine relief at the iFed event in Seattle.

Jason and a group of volunteers raised $4,600 to help with World Concern’s famine response – enough to feed nearly 500 people for an entire month.

“People – no matter where they are – they’re human beings. They’re looking for a cup of clean water,” said Jason. “There’s a calling on us as fellow human beings to do something. My parents are missionaries, I work for an employer who does a lot, I have generous friends … I am surrounded by people like this, and I am able and capable to do something.”

Jason works at the Mercedes dealership, and when he approached his employer about hosting the event, he immediately agreed. Potential supporters were invited via Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth to come down, have their car pampered in an exclusive Mercedes car wash, enjoy a barbeque lunch, and watch the Seahawks game on giant screen TVs throughout the venue – all for a donation. They also sold T-shirts that said “iFed Africa” at the event.

Shannon Olsen is a friend of Jason’s and helped plan the fundraiser. She admits it was a ton of hard work, but well worth the effort to know lives will be saved because of it.

“It’s so fun to see your friends support something like this,” said Shannon. “Really, it comes down to the fact that most people do care, but they don’t know what to do. When you know someone who is doing something, it’s easy to jump in. In the end, it was great to see the group come together and how a small amount of money can bring fresh water and food to help people.”

iFed tshirts
Shannon Olsen (center) and friends model the iFed T-shirts sold at the event and available online.

Shannon was inspired to help raise funds after seeing World Concern’s photographs of people suffering in Somalia and Kenya. “I saw all the dead animals in the road and people walking over them. I imagined the smell, and how those people must be feeling so hopeless. It’s important to call attention to the fact that this is not just something else going on in Africa. This crisis is unique,” she said.

For both Jason and Shannon, the iFed fundraiser was just the beginning. They plan to continue raising awareness and funds to help.

“I can’t just dust my hands off and feel I’ve done my thing. It’s ongoing. We still need to keep going,” said Shannon. “I hope people think, ‘Shannon’s really busy and she did it. Priorities can be moved around and I could do something too.’ Hopefully people will catch on.”

If you’re inspired to tap your network and make an even greater impact on the lives of those suffering in Somalia and Kenya, why not start your own fundraiser? We’ve got a simple set up. Check out http://www.firstgiving.com/worldconcern/famine and start your personal fundraiser today!

The blessing of feeling secure

man attending September 11 memorial in Seattle
A man sits amidst flowers at memorial at the Seattle Center fountain on Sept. 16, 2001. REUTERS/Anthony P. Bolante/Files

Watching in horror as the events of the morning of September 11, 2001 unfolded, we all experienced a myriad of emotions: shock, grief, fear, anger, confusion.

What I recall feeling most vividly was fear. My sense of security had been stripped away. Never in my lifetime had our homeland been attacked. My kids were young at the time – 9, 5 and 3 – and I remember feeling scared to send them to school.

A few nights after the attacks, while the skies were still silent from all flights being grounded, I was jolted awake from a sound sleep by a loud sound outside. It could have been something as benign as a car door slamming, but in my dream-state, it sounded like an explosion. My heart was racing. Had a plane hit a skyscraper in downtown Seattle?

I opened the blinds and looked out at the calm night sky.

It was my first experience with feeling unsafe from the threat of war and violence. I had taken peace and security for granted.

There are some people who know no life other than one of insecurity and danger. Those who are leaving their homes in Somalia because of drought and famine, are also fleeing terrorism and oppression. They’ve learned to sleep through the sound of gunfire. But many making the journey from Somalia to refugee camps in Kenya have told us they are seeking safety as much as food and water.

“A place that is secure – that’s all I need,” said one frail woman who had been walking for weeks.

The government of Somalia collapsed in the 1990s. Since then, militant groups have controlled parts of the country, and citizens have lived with lawlessness and chaos. Although a transitional government now controls parts of Somalia, there is little or no protection or government aid for citizens.

World Concern and its supporters are bringing hope in the form of food, water and medical attention to those who have fled their homes with nothing. In doing so, we’re also helping restore a sense of security – even if it’s simply knowing where the next meal will come from.

As we remember those who lost their lives 10 years ago on that dreadful day, let’s reflect on the blessing of security – knowing now what it’s like to have it taken away. And join me in praying for the heroes who protect us and provide us with security every day.

Compelled to help: How one church made a difference

A church yard sale helps famine victims
More than 100 people shopped this church yard sale to help families affected by the famine.

Maria Evans said she and her friends felt compelled to do something to help people suffering in the Horn of Africa after hearing about the famine at church last month.

“It touched my heart when I saw those slides,” recalled Maria, who attends Community Bible Fellowship in Lynnwood, Wash. “Here we are enjoying this luxury, and we complain so much. At least we have water. It’s been a wake-up call for everybody.”

The church members decided to hold a yard sale to raise funds for World Concern’s famine response. Knowing that every dollar would help bring food, water and emergency supplies to families affected by the drought, they got right to work gathering donations of household items for the sale.

After promoting their event on Craigslist and Facebook, more than 100 shoppers showed up for the event, which was held Aug. 26-28 on the church lawn.

“Friends and people from other churches came and bought stuff. Some gave an extra $20 cash donation,” said Maria.

The church raised more than $1,400 from the sale. “We feel good, knowing it will help a lot,” she said.

Church yard sale volunteers
Community Bible Fellowship raised $1,400 to help feed hungry families in the Horn of Africa.

Maria said the church members had so much fun organizing donations, tagging items the night before, and hosting the event, because they knew it would ultimately help desperate families in the drought. “We didn’t even get tired!” she said. “We enjoyed every minute of it.”

Want to help too?

Start a personal fundraiser

Get your church involved

Donate to the crisis

Volunteers organized the yard sale
Church members felt compelled to help families affected by the famine after hearing about it at church.

Water is flowing in drought-affected Damajale, Kenya

Engineers work on well pump.
Engineers work to repair the pump for the only deep well in Damajale, Kenya, a host community for thousands of Somali refugees.

There is water in Damajale, Kenya today, bringing relief and smiles to the faces of thirsty children and families.

About a week ago, the only deep well in this village along the Kenya-Somalia border failed. The pump, 150 meters underground, was working round the clock and finally quit. Watch the CNN iReport here.

Damajale is one of many host communities that has seen a massive influx of refugees. In the past month, an additional 2,000 to 3,000 people have arrived here, having walked for days – even weeks – in search of food and water.

Fatuma, a mother of eight, was brought to tears when she realized there was no water. She had walked 30 kilometers through the night to Damajale to find only empty jerrycans stacked around the well.

Families in Damajale, Kenya now have water.
This woman, named Asli, is smiling because she and her family now have water. In the background, animals drink from a trough filled with water.

“I struggle to stand here now, because I am so thirsty,” Fatuma said. “I don’t know when I will come back to my home. I may die on the way.”

World Concern is working in outlying host villages like this to get water and food to people there. Repairing and increasing the capacity of existing wells is one way we’re doing that.

In Damajale, we were able to get a new pump flown in, and engineers worked through the night to fix the well.

Today, water is flowing from the well.

To those who have donated to the famine response, the chairman of the elders of Damajale says, “You have come and rescued us. May God bless you.”

 

Learn more and donate.

The new pump is handed over.
The new pump is handed over to community leaders.
Kids play in a dry water trough.
Kids play in a dry trough, prior to the well being repaired.

Can one person make a difference?

Last week we said goodbye to our Emergency Coordinator Tracy Stover as she boarded a plane for Dadaab, Kenya, where hundreds of thousands of refugees are in need of food and water. Watching her heavily loaded backpack disappear into the crowd at Sea-Tac airport, I found myself wondering, can one person really make a difference?

Kids in Kenya.
An estimated 500,000 children in the Horn of Africa are at risk of death from famine.

Tracy will be serving in the midst of the worst crisis facing the world today. The U.N. estimates 12.4 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. Half a million children are at risk of death from famine.

Figures like this cause us to wonder if even thousands of aid workers and millions of dollars can make a difference.

But Tracy is not going alone. She and the rest of the World Concern team working in the Horn of Africa have the support of donors. Like an invisible, potent force, those who are giving to this cause are making it possible for aid workers to save lives.

Can one person make a difference?

Anyone whose heart was touched by the tragic passing of 9-year-old Rachel Beckwith knows the answer is yes. Rachel’s legacy will live on for decades as entire villages will have clean water for generations to come because of her selfless act.

You can make a difference too. And you don’t have to do it alone. Most people will help if they are simply asked. Here are a few ways you could do that:

Host a dinner for friends. Ask each person to bring a potluck dish to share. Present some information about the famine in the Horn of Africa. Include stories of people who are hungry and in need. Ask everyone to consider donating whatever they would have spent on a nice dinner out to help families survive this disaster.

restaurant food
Ask your friends to give up dinner out and donate. (Photo: Simon Howden)

Sixty dollars can provide food and water for a family for a month. Think about that: the cost of one meal in a restaurant can keep five people alive for an entire month.

Hold a garage sale or rummage sale. Round up some friends at your church and ask members to donate unused clothing and household items for a charity sale. Donate the proceeds to help in the famine relief.

You can also dedicate a birthday, anniversary or even a day’s work to the cause. World Concern partner One Day’s Wages is raising funds to support the famine response. Check out their personal fundraising tools and think about what you could do to create your own fundraiser.

Can one person make a difference? You bet.

Get started today, and be sure to share your idea with us!

Famine looms in Horn of Africa

The term “famine” is not used loosely. In fact, there hasn’t been an official famine since 1984-85 when a million people died in Ethiopia and Sudan. Many of us remember the shocking images of hollow-cheeked, emaciated children on the news.

A map showing the crisis and emergency areas.
Map from The Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk). Areas in the Horn of Africa severly affected by drought.

After multiple consecutive seasons of failed rains, the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Northeastern Kenya and Eastern Ethiopia) – is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. The region is on the brink of famine.

In order to declare a famine, three conditions must be met:

  1. Lack of resources to meet basic food requirements
  2. Acute malnutrition rates above 30 percent
  3. The mortality rate reaches five people per 10,000 per day

Somali refugees are experiencing the first two of these, and Kenyan populations, the second. Acute malnutrition in the region is the highest since 2003, according to USAID. More than 10 million people are affected.

The forecast is bleak. August is expected to be dry. About 1,300 people a day are crossing the border from Somalia into Kenya, landing in ill-equipped, over-crowded refugee camps.

Skyrocketing food prices, conflict, and limited humanitarian access have added to the crisis. Between January and April 2011, food prices increased more than 25% in Kenya. Maize prices in Somalia rose 117% since May of last year, according to the UN. Most of these populations are entirely dependent on livestock for income, but animals are dying at a rate of 40-60% above normal in Ethiopia. In some parts of Kenya most severely affected by drought, water is being trucked in.

A mother and child in Eastern Kenya.
A mother and child in a drought-affected region of Eastern Kenya.

“The current situation has been looming for some time; predications and scenarios spoken of three months ago are now, sadly, coming to fruition,” said World Concern Senior Director of Disaster Response and Security Nick Archer.

Our staff in Kenya and Somalia are assessing the needs of people in Eastern Kenya and Somalia this week. We already work in the region, and have for many years, developing clean water sources and more in drought-affected communities.

With the announcement that Al Shabaab, the militant group in control of Southern Somalia, having lifted its ban on humanitarian agencies entering the area, we’re considering resuming work in the Juba Valley – an area so plagued by conflict, we had to leave several years ago.

The faces of starving children from past famines still haunt us. Millions of concerned people around the world responded to the Ethiopia famine with donations. In a crisis, our instinct is to help. As the word “famine” teeters on the tips of officials’ tongues, we’re thankful to be able to do something. You can help World Concern respond by donating here as we deliver water and more to families enduring this crisis.

And please, pray for rain.

Should Christians only help other Christians?

Should Christians help the poor? The immediate response for most of us is, “of course.” But we’ve heard from people who believe Christians should only help other Christians. Their rationale is based on the stories of the early church that involve believers helping one another – not the poor in general.

While the Bible certainly encourages believers to help one another, such as in Acts 2:45, doesn’t it also command us to love others, help others and give generously, without regard to a person’s beliefs?

This opinion was a bit surprising, especially for those of us who believe so strongly in feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and healing the sick. We serve those in greatest need, regardless of race, gender or religion. We take joy in serving others, expecting nothing in return.

Helping a woman in Somalia
A World Concern staff member listens to the needs of an elderly muslim widow in Somalia.

Jesus certainly helped many people who were not necessarily believers. When he fed the 5,000, he didn’t require his disciples who were distributing the fish and loaves to verify each person’s beliefs.

Prior to telling the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus referred an expert in the law to what he must do to inherit eternal life. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The man asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus then told the parable, in which a priest ignores a man who had been beaten by robbers, but a Samaritan helps him. Jesus then instructs his listener to “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus certainly did not require conversion before ministering to people. His healing touch or words were often what opened someone’s heart to receive his love and forgiveness. We find that same principle at work in our service to the poor every day.

A Sri Lankan man who had lost everything in the war, told us, “Our suffering and hardship caused us to question whether there is a God. But through the continued support and love shown towards us by the World Concern staff, we believe that there is a God and we now have hope in life.”

What if we hadn’t helped this man because he was not a Christian? He would have given up on God. Our help was the tangible expression of God’s love he needed in order to believe.

A pastor who supports World Concern says, “Jesus came with a message and a mission. Sometimes churches are all about the message and forget about the mission.”

Like this pastor, we believe it’s important to share Christ’s love in word and deed. In situations where appropriate, we offer an opportunity to hear the gospel. But what about the places where we can’t? Should those people be left to starve or die of thirst? In contexts hostile to Christianity, our witness is simply reflected through the work we do.

In the verse above, we are commanded to love our neighbor. That’s why we do what we do. Just like in the Good Samaritan story, our “neighbor” is often someone with whom we have nothing in common.

I have a friend who went to church pregnant and unmarried. The love and support she received led her to recommit her life to Christ. Today, 20 years later, she’s happily married, a mother of three, and a committed Christian. She admits, had she been hit with the gospel the minute she walked in the door of that church, she would have never returned.

If we were to plunk ourselves into a drought or disaster stricken community and start preaching the gospel, with no offer to help, very few people would be receptive. Practical help often opens the door to be able to share why we do what we do.