Author Archives: Cathy Herholdt

Cathy Herholdt

About Cathy Herholdt

Cathy Herholdt has served as World Concern's communications officer since 2010. With a background in journalism, Cathy honed her writing skills as the editor of a monthly newspaper. She particularly enjoys interviewing inspiring people and conveying their life stories, some of which she shares on this blog.

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.

 

A long way from home

“Some people don’t even have a home, mom!”

This was the response scribbled by my 19-year-old daughter on a note I left asking her to clean up the house.  I had written, “This house has been such a mess, I’m starting to dread coming home,” scolding my family for not being tidier.

Hard to believe she had to remind her humanitarian-aid-writer mother that I should be thankful just to have a home. But she’s right. In fact, millions of people don’t have a home; many through no fault of their own.

Refugee mom and daughter.

A mom and her daughter wash dishes outside their hut in the Djabal Refugee Camp in Eastern Chad.

Today is World Refugee Day, and it’s an opportunity for all of us to think about those who had to leave everything behind and start over in a new place – usually in very dire circumstances.

World Concern works with thousands of refugees who are trying to begin a new life in a foreign land. They live in camps, often for years, before their lives are stabilized enough for them to think about the next step. We help provide food, access to clean water, health and hygiene training, education, income generation and more.

But what’s the ultimate goal?

“For them to be able to go home,” says Chris Sheach, deputy director of disaster response for World Concern.

Many of those who fled Darfur during the war, for example, are still living in camps in Chad, where World Concern works. Their homes and villages were burned. They would love nothing more than to go home, but there is nothing for them to return to.

“If they can’t go home, we help them integrate into a new society,” says Sheach. World Concern’s Cash for Work program in Chad has enabled families to earn income to support themselves and contribute to the local economy, thereby reducing the risk of creating conflict in their host community. We also assist them in obtaining land to farm, and provide seeds and farming tools to grow their own food and earn income.

In an ideal world, situations wouldn’t escalate to the point where people had to flee their homes for survival in the first place. Sometimes they do go home, such as in Somaliland (northern Somalia), where returnees from Ethiopia and other areas are settling in camps in their homeland. Their hope is that they’ll be able to find a new home. But 96% of them are dependent on food aid. We’re teaching them to plant vegetable gardens to feed their families, and hopefully improve their diet beyond the staple grains they receive from aid agencies.

A bricklayer in Chad.

Paying cash for labor is one way World Concern helps refugees support their families.

Nearly every parent’s desire is to provide a better life for their children. A home is the foundation that provides the stability kids need to pursue their dreams. I’m blessed to be able to provide that for my kids (despite it being a bit messy at times). The circumstances refugees find themselves in today is one of those things that makes me want to scream, “It’s not fair!” And it’s not. But we can stomp our feet, or we can do something about it. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that’s doing something about it.

Rather than fostering any hint of a global pity party, we’re empowering refugees by giving them the the tools to move forward. Whether or not they can return home, we can help them focus on the future and the hope of having place to call home.

For more information on World Concern’s work with Darfur war refugees in Chad, visit http://www.worldconcern.org/darfurcrisis

 

Seventeen and alone in South Sudan

Imagine being just a teenager and having to leave everything you’ve ever known behind. Fleeing violence in your home town, you and your family walk for days to find food, water and a place to stay. Now, imagine doing that with your 4-month-old in your arms.

Arual and her baby.

17-year-old Arual and her 4-month-old son arrived in South Sudan with nothing but some baby clothes.

Arual told us her story as she arrived in Gogrial, an area of South Sudan where World Concern is distributing emergency rations to refugees and displaced families. It illustrates the extreme challenges faced by those who fled recent violence in Abyei.

I was in Khartoum but joined my mother with my brother and a sister in Abyei last year. My dad died a long time ago, so grew up with my mother who took care of us until she first came to the south leaving me in Khartoum. I was studying and had completed primary grade eight, and thus had to join our family in Abyei. It was there that I got married to an irresponsible man, but had to return home where I gave birth to my son named Chol.

It was May 19 when the incident intensified and thus we had to move out on foot just carrying with me a small bag containing some clothes for my baby boy. In the process, we were separated from our mother and I had to take care of my brother and sister. We moved for four days without food but only water and wild fruits, which made less breast milk for my baby. After four days we found a truck which was coming to Kuajok and we begged the driver who had mercy and gave us a lift to a place allocated for returnees from Khartoum.

We spent four days sharing food with others who had arrived earlier and received food and other items. On the fifth day, a returnee from Khartoum who happened to be our neighbor pitied my situation and my baby and took me and my sister and brother to his home where we are now living.

We have not heard anything about my mother, whether she is still alive or dead. Had it not been for this good person, I would not know how to feed these two children.

While the circumstances of each person’s story differ, they all tell of civilians caught in the crossfire of fighting armies. Panic, fear and loss are common threads throughout their stories.

We’re providing a month’s worth of food for people arriving in the areas where we work, and coordinating with other organizations to distribute cooking supplies, blankets and other necessities. But the strain on host communities is tremendous. They struggle on a good day to survive – they’re just not set up for a massive influx of people who are arriving with nothing.

Read more about how we’re helping feed displaced families in South Sudan.

15 months is a long time in a tent

The rebuilding efforts in Haiti may have faded from the headlines, but every week, we’re still handing over new homes to families in need. After 15 months in a tent in the yard, Fredine and her family are finally home.

Fredine in her new home.

Fredine in her new home.

Fredine proudly sweeps and cleans the new home in the Nazon area of Port au Prince. She’s certain, housework will never again feel like a chore. She’s thrilled to have a roof over their heads.

The family lived in a two-story home until the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. Their home was destroyed, but they thank God the entire family survived.

They had no choice but to move into a tent in the backyard. The tent was so small the children often stayed with neighbors and friends.  They couldn’t afford a new home because she and her husband rely on selling food and other items on the street for income.

World Concern partnered with CHF International to demolish their house and removed the rubble, clearing space to construct a transitional shelter.  Fredine’s new home was constructed by World Concern, and she moved in with her family on May 14, 2011.

After being handed the keys, Fredine went right to work, making her new house a home. It’s a major step in the process of healing for this family.

Read more about our work in Haiti and help others like Fredine rebuild their lives.

From the field: Country director reports on the situation in South Sudan

Burning home in Abyei. REUTERS/Stuart Price

Smoke rises from burnt homes in Abyei town. REUTERS/Stuart Price

Independence Day is approaching for South Sudan, but the situation is far from the celebration millions had hoped for. Tension continues in and around the border region of Abyei. An estimated 80,000 people have fled the fighting.

Some of those who have fled homes that were burned in Abyei are beginning to arrive in the areas where we work. Others are returning from the north before the nation splits.

World Concern Sudan Country Director Peter Macharia says skyrocketing food and fuel prices are creating a humanitarian crisis, and if things don’t change soon, shipments from the north may stop all together.

Here’s more of Peter’s report from the field.

As you may have heard from the news, many people are coming out of Abyei but with very little. Some were only able to salvage and carry with them some of their household belongings. In their new destinations, some of these people are being forced to sell their belongings to survive. This crisis is complicating an already complex problem.

We are giving out food to people that have been displaced from Abyei. So far, we have provided food to almost 4,000 people who have moved to Western Bahr el Ghazal State. We are issuing them with a one month ration of food, which includes sorghum, beans, oil and salt. Other immediate support that these people need include mosquito nets, cooking sets, soap, blankets, buckets and jerrycans.

Those displaced from Abyei and those returning from the north require urgent help to start their lives once again. Some have vowed never to go back, but even those who may want to stay for a little while before they decide if they will go back, will also need help. They have no idea of when they will able to return to their former homes.

This crisis may run for long, bearing in mind that South Sudan is becoming a new country on July 9, and the Abyei contention seems like it has just began.

As agencies, we are also feeling the pain of the Abyei effects. Fuel is in great shortage. Currently in Wau where we have our Bahr el Ghazal office, we are buying petrol and diesel for $4.20 a liter. The main problem is even getting it. If things don’t change, we will be grounded and the greatest crisis will be lack of transport.

Food prices are on the increase. All these have been brought about by the closure of the road connecting the north and the south along the Abyei area. It is important to note that most of the food and products in the south are imported from the north.

This is a planting season and it will be unfortunate if the farmers fail to plant their farms. This may lead to serious famine next year.

The crisis in Sudan is escalating just as the hunger gap is beginning. This period of time between stored food running out and the next harvest typically requires additional aid. This year, the situation is much worse.

You can help us respond to this crisis by providing emergency food and supplies to families who have fled their homes. Click here to donate.

 

Birth pains of a new nation plague Southern Sudan

In terms of challenges, southern Sudan faces some mammoth ones in the coming months and years. As if giving birth to a new nation on July 9 were not enough, recent violence and looting in the disputed border town of Abyei is threatening to impede the process.

Men looting food in Sudan.

Men transport sacks of food looted from a compound belonging to the World Food Programme in Abyei, Sudan. REUTERS/Stuart Price

Instability in the area is creating food and fuel crises. Think you’re getting gouged at the pump these days? One of our staff members in Sudan filled his tank yesterday at what was equivalent to $15 a gallon.

All of this is sending tens of thousands of people south. Some are returning “home” after living in the north for as long as a generation. Others are escaping the violence, in search of a new start.

Unfortunately, southern Sudan doesn’t have much to offer its newest residents.

In January, the New York Times reported some staggering statistics about the south.

  • 83 percent of the population lives in rural areas
  • The 3,400 miles of road are virtually unpaved and only passable during the dry season
  • Life expectancy is 42 years
  • 51% of the population lives below the national poverty line of $22 a month
  • Only 1% of households have a bank account
  • Only 1.9% of the population has completed primary school

In terms of development, “There’s almost a blank page,” says World Concern Senior Director of Disaster Response and Security Nick Archer.

We’re approaching these monumental challenges in several ways: meeting an immediate need for food by providing emergency rations of food to returnees, and helping develop an economy through vocational training, small savings groups and village banks.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir addresses the media.

As South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir faces some huge challenges ahead. He's seen here addressing the media in Juba. REUTERS/Paul Banks

“There is a dearth of skilled labor,” says Archer, pointing out this presents another challenge in establishing a new government for South Sudan as well.

“This area [where we work] is really remote. It has almost never had any kind of development. The clock has hardly started ticking,” he said.

But the clock is ticking toward July 9, and according to Archer, there is a window of about three to five years for southern Sudan’s government to demonstrate progress for the country to hold together. “There is a school of thought that if it doesn’t happen within that window, the country could disintegrate.” Ongoing tribal rivalries are primarily to blame for this, he said.

Since stimulating economic activity in Sudan is a critical step in building a new nation – and something we can help with – we’re focusing our efforts on this. Read how savings groups are bringing hope to women in Sudan.

It’s a small start, and development of this magnitude will take time. Please join us in praying for a peaceful, safe birth of this new nation.

Sweetening the deal: Cinnamon Roll Fridays help protect children

Fundraising isn’t as hard as it may sound. If you’re passionate about a cause, and have a little bit of creativity, people will get behind you. Here’s what Lorene told us about how she raised more than $700 to help protect children and women from trafficking and abuse.

I first heard about human trafficking several years ago, but took the “put my head in the sand” approach.  It was (and is) so horrific to me that this goes on in this day and age.

Lorene on her way to the race.

Lorene on the ferry on her way to the 5k.

Then, last year a friend gave me a novel to read called “Priceless” by Tom Davis.  I read it but still felt so helpless. The problem is so very overwhelming, and I wondered what I could do about it.  I received the “Free Them” 5k emails last year, but dragged my heels. I have done fundraisers for things like the Breast Cancer 3 Day and the MS Walk, but somehow raising support to stop human trafficking didn’t have a “feel good” element.  I’d have to explain what it is, and how could I do that when I’m burying my head in the sand?

When I got the email this year, I decided to take the step of faith. I would do the fundraising, answer any questions people have about it, and get ready to run a 5K (which I’ve never done before).

First I sent out an email to get support. Then I baked cinnamon rolls to take to work. I’ve done this for other fundraisers and called it “Cinnamon Roll Friday.”  I have Thursdays off to bake the rolls.  One batch makes 15 to 16 large rolls, and I ask for a suggested donation of $3 each. The response from work was overwhelming. Folks were very excited that I was doing a fundraiser for this cause. I held Cinnamon Roll Friday three times and raised almost $400!

cinnamon rolls

Lorene's sweet deal: $3 per cinnamon roll to help stop human trafficking.

I appreciate World Concern’s efforts to stop human trafficking. I signed up to be a part of Women of Purpose, having first heard about this group thru the “Free Them” run.

Anyway, there you have it.  You will see me next year!

Lorene

Lorene’s efforts paid off. Not only is she helping protect hundreds of vulnerable children, she won fifth prize in our fundraising competition for the 5k, earning herself a $50 gift card to FIVE Bistro & Restaurant.

What are you passionate about? Feeding the hungry? Providing jobs and income for the poor? Bringing better health to other countries? Get creative and fundraise for your cause!

Saving for the future

Joyce holding her pen.

Joyce has a goal of learning to read and write, inspired by her business success and thanks to a savings group she participates in.

Joyce Awa Mavolo told her story with a pen in her hand, symbolic of her hopes for the future.  The 30-year-old mother of six children owns a shop where she sells a variety of goods and handicrafts in Southern Sudan.  For many years Joyce struggled to provide for her young family and keep them fed and clothed.

Things started to improve when Joyce joined a World Concern-sponsored women’s savings group.  These groups of 15 to 25 women meet weekly, save $1 to $2 each week, then take turns loaning their collective savings out to individual members.  This form of finance has virtually no overhead cost, providing a cheap form of credit to its members.

Joyce’s group provides her a safe place to store her money and access to small amounts of cash that she can use to buy items for her business in bulk, reducing her costs.  It also saves her from having to make daily trips to suppliers, which for many women could take half the workday.

The opportunity has helped Joyce become more profitable in her business and be able to provide essential resources for her children. She can now make tuition payments for her oldest son who has recently started school.

“I like our group because the women respect each other. We help each other and we share activities and dream together,” said Joyce.

“I am still young, and all my life I had the desire to learn how to read and write.  I watched others attend school, but I was not allowed to attend school while growing up because I was the only daughter and my family needed my help at home and in the fields,” recalled Joyce. “When I was alone I would pretend that I could write. I would hold a blade of grass between my fingers, and act as though I was writing with a pen in my hand. Now, I will be the first to enroll for adult literacy classes with World Concern.’’

To learn more about how World Concern helps women in business, please visit www.worldconcern.or/ignite.

Angela

Taking hope farther: reaching rural communities affected by Haiti’s earthquake

The epicenter of Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake struck near the most densely populated urban areas of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital. Nevertheless, the effects of this disaster have rippled hundreds of miles out to rural areas such as Port-de-Paix, in the Northwest Department.

Many earthquake victims have taken shelter with family members living in rural areas, where they can at least be assured of meals and a roof over their heads. This migration has made life harder for rural communities that were already struggling and far from prepared for a population increase. In these areas, even a change in rain patterns can have devastating effects on daily life. Children are the first to be affected during tight times. School fees and uniforms are considered luxuries that often must be sacrificed.

Angela

Angela's family has taken in extended family members who lost their home in the earthquake. They're receiving help to start a business and keep Angela in school.

We’re working with community volunteers to help kids like Angela stay in school. Her parents have taken in additional family members and are barely able to keep food on the table, let alone pay for school fees. Angela’s school fees are being covered, to ensure her parents can get back on their feet again. And these school fees, in turn, help the school get much needed upgrades.

We work with local committees to determine which families need help. The local benevolent committee identified Angela’s parents to receive a cash grant, enabling them to buy some goats and start a small business. This business will increase their cash flow, and allow them to repair their home and feed their family, while Angela gets an education.

The devastating effects of Haiti’s quake reach far beyond the city, but so does help for families like Angela’s.

Read more about our work in Haiti.

Chris Sheach is World Concern’s deputy director of disaster response.

Angela's house

Angela and her extended family live in this mud house in rural Haiti.