This week, I’ve been traveling in Kenya with ExOfficio, a generous company that has outfitted our field staff with new shirts.
Yesterday, we visited two villages in Kenya that have been dramatically changed by access to water.
In the first village, Naroomoru, Maasai boys danced for us, singing a special song about how World Concern and their water pump has changed their village. Incredible. Before the pump, villagers were drinking out of a disease-filled lagoon. The kids in the village were sick all of the time. Typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea…
The teacher in Naroomoru was telling me he once had to call for a medic because a child was having uncontrollable diarrhea and needed to be rushed to the hospital. No more. With clean water, hygiene and sanitation, this plague of diseases has ended.
School performance has also increased, as the children are not sick. The school’s rating in the area has increased from about 160 out of 180 schools in the area, to about the 30th best performing school out of the 180 schools. Huge.
The second village, Mpiro, now has a water pan—a protected man-made pond for providing water for livestock. Before the water pan, the villagers had to walk their animals for three hours, round trip, to get water at the base of a mountain. This area is filled with dangerous animals. One man told me about his nephew being trampled to death by an elephant. Now, the access to water is 5 minutes away.
In Mpiro, we and our clothing partners from ExOfficio had the opportunity to work with the villagers as they planted sisal, a drought-resistant plant, along the edges of the water pan. This planting helps protect the berms of the water pan from degradation, and reduces the amount of crud that blows into the pond.
An incredible day—to reflect on how blessed I am to have unlimited, clean water—and a reminder of the dramatic ways life can change for the better by partnering with villages to tackle these problems head-on.
As I visited our work in villages in Laos with my wife, I was reminded more clearly than ever that basic hygiene and sanitation just doesn’t exist in some places in the world.
In the village of Dak Euy, we saw children barely old enough to walk relieving themselves right in the middle of the village.
Human beings should not have to live like this. It’s not just a matter of dignity. For these villagers, this lack of hygiene and sanitation is killing them.
You and I know how to prevent disease, but people who live in poor and marginalized villages have not yet heard. They don’t know to use toilets – or to at least isolate where they go to the bathroom or wash their hands.
What they are very familiar with, however, is disease, illness and death.
It is common for kids to die before they reach their fifth birthday in Dak Euy and the surrounding villages. Conservatively, through our interviews, I estimate at least 10% of children don’t reach the age of five. This is 17 times higher than the child mortality rate in the U.S.
By another estimate, half of the children are, dying before age five. It is no wonder that in these tribal communities, children are not immediately named, and that repeatedly throughout our trip, we met mothers who have lost children. As the father of a healthy, silly, 4-year-old girl, it hurts to even begin to imagine their pain.
Malaria, typhoid, dysentery – these preventable diseases all plague villagers – and especially hit the most vulnerable people the worst: children born into unclean environments, with little food, no clean water, and fragile immune systems.
Poor sanitation and accompanying water-borne disease is one of the worst health problems in the world. It is undoubtedly one of the primary killers of these kids.
With no sanitation, the cycle of sickness repeats itself over and over again.
As a hardy world traveler, I pride myself on never getting sick. But on this trip, I ended my stint in SE Asia with a flat-on-my-back, gotta-be-near-the bathroom, upset stomach yuck fest. I did not want to do anything but read a book, go to sleep, and stay near the bathroom. And I was clutching my stomach in a hotel room in Bangkok, not on the dirty, hard floor of a hut with no bathroom at all.
I cannot imagine dealing with that kind of discomfort, and far worse, for much of my life. I shudder to think about what that would do to me both physically and mentally, to have this occur over and over again. But this is daily life for so many villagers in Dak Euy, and many other struggling communities.
I am glad to say that our supporters (that’s you!) are helping villagers get beyond this cycle of disease.
While I was visiting our villages, our contracted drilling truck arrived and we hit water for a new well in Dak Din. It was incredible, one of the most exciting moments of my life! Just imagine the transformative power of clean, convenient water. We are also teaching villagers about hygiene (thank God!), and doing it in a way that it will stick.
We will be constructing latrines in these communities, with the help of the villagers. And because they are learning why and how, they can build more latrines once we leave. The idea with all of our work is for it to be transformational, not temporary. Our desire in these villages is for children to use a latrine, wash their hands – and stay healthy.
When I look at the ground in these villages, I am repelled that people and animals relieve themselves wherever they please. And yet I know by visiting developing communities, that life does get better. Disease subsides. And that’s what we’re shooting for in these villages in Laos.
Changing lives is working with people over time, revealing a better path – not just directing people to “our way.” In doing so, in loving people with sincerity, we show them a clearer look at the life God would want for any of us.
I’m reminded at times like this that the places where World Concern works are remote. It’s day three of “getting there” and we have at least another day to go.
I’m in Lamam, Laos, now with my wife Kathryn and a team to document what donors equip us to do in these very poor and remote villages. It’s 6:30 a.m., but the roosters began crowing long ago, and people have already begun to work as day breaks.
The villages where we are working all start with the word “Dak.” Dak Din, Dak Noi, Dak Euy. Dak means water. Even though a stream runs nearby these villages, which I expect to be the source of the names, access to clean drinking water remains one of the most significant challenges in these communities.
You may have heard of Dak Din before. We’ve profiled it in our One Village Transformed campaign, and have begun work there with the villagers to bring new life to the community. With the villagers, we have identified clean water, education and income generation as some areas of urgent need.
Now that Dak Din (forest water) is underway, we’re checking in to see how things are going there – one year since our campaign began. We’re also visiting Dak Noi (small water) and Dak Euy (big water), neighboring communities that share similar challenges.
Last time I was here, one year ago, I met little girls who were about four years old, the age of my daughter, Violet. Their days are filled with labor, including pounding rice and fetching water – dirty water at that. Not all of them will have the chance to get medical care, or go to school. The supporters of One Village Transformed aim to change that.
I hope my heart breaks again. I don’t mean to be touchy-feely here, but I seem to forget how the majority of the world lives as I go about my day-t0-day regular-life job. It’s easy to forget this alternate reality, as my wife and I laugh at our daughter playing princess or ballerina, and we mind how much Violet watches the iPad, or if she’s eaten most of her dinner (most of which gets thrown away).
The fact is – our abundance blinds us to the rest of the world. And we will continue to stay blind to it until we decide to make the intentional choice to see it, and respond.
I believe that God loves people equally, regardless of where they happened to be born. As I read scripture, the call to the rich is a steep one, to give up what keeps us from seeing Him, and serving Him. Christ’s compassion for the poor is consistent. He takes sides, and expects us to also.
This is a week of renewed enlightenment, I pray – and I am reminded that we are not heroes here – going in to fix the problems and deliver the “poor” from their misery.
The reality is, God is already at work here. And the villagers here probably know more about life and joy than I ever will. They certainly know more about hardship. I believe the purpose of this work we do is to be with the poor – walking with them, learning with them – and arriving at a better place, in time, where the love and truth of God is fully realized.
Our trip began in some places we’re just starting to work– desperately poor villages with great needs. Haiti is dotted with rural villages that lack development and basic services, like clean water, schools and health care. And to be honest, the poverty in this country can seem overwhelming.
Children in tattered, dirty clothes and bare feet ran out to greet us. Some had bloated bellies—a likely sign of intestinal parasites. This was confirmed as their mothers and grandmothers talked of painful stomach aches that woke their children at night.
“She has stomach aches all the time—so bad that sometimes she cries out in her sleep,” said Angelicia a mom of two. Her 10-year-old daughter, Belony, a wide-eyed girl with braided hair, looked no older than 7. Her legs were stick-skinny and her growth was clearly stunted. “She doesn’t eat well, and even if she eats, she’s not growing.”
We all watched with excitement as Belony chewed up one of the small white deworming pills we were distributing to children in the village that day. What a joy it was to be able to tell Angelicia that her little girl would be feeling much better very soon!
“I’m so happy … so happy,” she said. “I pray that the next time you come, you will see a change in Belony.” We assured her that this was certain.
As we traveled further along dusty, twisting mountain roads, I began to see evidence of progress and hope in villages where we’ve worked in for many years. After several hours, we arrived in a village I first visited in 2009 called Lyncee. There was such a
contrast in the appearance of the children in this village compared to others we’d seen. Their eyes were bright and their bodies looked strong and healthy. Even their clothes were clean and pressed. The biggest difference I noticed—they were all smiling and laughing as they proudly showed off the goats they’d received from World Concern.
World Concern built a school here in Lyncee, more than 15 years ago. It’s totally self-sustaining now, and the classrooms are bursting with enthusiastic learners. They’re learning math and reading, of course, but they’re also learning animal husbandry through raising and breeding their goats.
Delona, an 18-year-old student who is studying in 6th grade (not uncommon in rural Haiti), received her first goat last year. Her goat got pregnant, and through the sale of that baby goat, she was able to pay for almost an entire year of school.
“It’s all I have, and it’s providing for us,” she said.
As I was talking with the children, a sweet, freckle-faced girl with a cheerful grin caught my attention. I instantly I recognized her as a young girl I had met in 2009.
Her name is Marguerite (I remembered this because it’s my grandmother’s name). Marguerite is now a healthy, growing 12-year-old! She’s doing great in school and, thanks to support from World Concern donors, she’s able to pay her tuition and other expenses through income from several goats she’s owned over the years.
I was so encouraged to see the progress in Lyncee. When you give gifts through the Global Gift Guide, you are a part of this progress.
Together, we are helping put an end to extreme poverty—one child, one family, one village at a time.
Please visit donateagoat.org to donate a goat and change a life this Christmas.
You’ll notice that World Concern has a new logo – and tagline. We’re pretty excited about this, as it helps you – and us – tell the story about what we’re doing together.
Here’s a little background on how we reached this point.
I’ve traveled around the world and have seen nearly all of the work we do, in some of the toughest places on Earth. Over time, something has stood out in my mind.
I saw it in the life of a businesswoman in Chad. She escaped a war, with nothing but her wits, and built a new business – when given a chance. I saw it in a family in Bangladesh that went from poverty to prosperity, with education, job training, and a fish farm.
A theme that I see, over and over, is the transformation of lives. People who were hopeless, now have reasons to live.
In some ways, World Concern is not unique. There are many humanitarian organizations that seek to do good. And of those, quite a few have Christian backgrounds. In fact, there are several good ones that have either the word “World” or “Concern” in their name.
But what we see that is unique about World Concern is the one-on-one relationships that we build with people and communities, relationships that sometimes span years. We see that we make the biggest difference in people’s lives when we know them, work with them individually, and equip them with the tools they need to thrive.
We don’t just do good. We do good that lasts. In turn, those we help see themselves, and their lives, in new ways.
They know that God loves them. They have value. They can indeed succeed in life.
So – we’re inviting you, along with those we serve, and anyone else with eyes to see, to “witness the transformation.” Our work does make a difference.
We wanted to bring this idea to an icon as well. The icon we chose hints at transformation and new life: an emerging butterfly, motion, and several parts coming together into one unit. Here’s more about our new look.
We truly cannot do it without you.
In the coming months we will also unveil a new website, with features to make us more transparent, and equip you to act.
Thank you for your compassion for the world’s poor!
When we set out to visit the community of Dhobley, Somalia, it came after a security assessment from several people, and the knowledge that whatever the security may tell us, it’s still a dangerous place to go.
The militant group Al Shabaab, which has ties with Al Qaeda, was pushed farther back into Somalia a few months ago, helping Dhobley maintain some order. Security forces from Kenya and Somalia’s transitional government continue to make gains and reclaim territory. Still, news reports I’ve read indicate that Al Shabaab fighters are not very far outside of the community. And it’s clear that Al Shabaab is not far from the minds of the refugees.
When I talk with families fleeing the famine, I hear one thing again and again. It’s not just hunger that has driven families to leave. It’s the lawlessness that has flourished in the failed state of Somalia. I’ve heard horror stories of the innocent being victimized by evil men in unspeakable ways.
Even if these families had moderate success with their businesses or farming in Somalia, nearly all did it while living in fear. With the painful backdrop of poor security, the famine was the inescapable problem that pushed them over the edge, sending them on an uncertain journey for food and water. In order to affect long-term change, security must improve.
Heading to the nearly unmarked border
On a day we traveled to Somalia to work, we left World Concern’s base for famine response in Dadaab, Kenya. This town is home to the rapidly-growing complex of refugee camps you’ve seen on the news, as well as a large UN compound. It takes about two hours to drive from Dadaab to Dhobley, just across the Somalia border. Like other agencies, we have elected to have a security detail join us on the road.
The road to Somalia has no signs, just tire tracks in deep sand on a twisting road through scrub brush. Before reaching the border, we had to stop in the Kenyan border town of Liboi on our way to Dhobley, to get our passports stamped, knowing that there was no similar immigration checkpoint in Somalia.
The border has two non-descript markers, short unmarked concrete obelisks set along the road, in a section of sand and scrub that looks like any other. But that was our sign to stop. Our Kenyan vehicles could go no farther. Soon, after we called our contacts in Somalia, an ancient small Nissan transport van arrived, and we switched vehicles, from our Kenyan trucks, to the rented Somali van. Inside were Somali men who run a partner agency in Dadaab, and they would be leading us around town.
Gunfire seems normal
Dhobley was filled with livestock searching for a drink, and small shops like I have seen in other more established towns in Kenya. What was unusual was the military presence. Hundreds of young TFG soldiers dressed in green fatigues held old assault rifles and wandered around, on foot and in the back of pick-up trucks.
Every so often, I’d hear gunshots. Who was firing? I’m really not sure. I’d bet, though, that with no real functioning government, many people are armed. The crack of gunshots are common in Dhobley. People are saying, “Hi, how are you doing!” or “I am angry!” or some other message. But what we did not hear was prolonged gunfire to indicate an actual fight. And so, strangely, I stopped flinching when I heard a shot, and it just became ambient noise.
No hospital, but a medical clinic
World Concern is joined in Dhobley with our partners at Medical Teams International, who work under World Concern in the response. One man and a woman are from Uganda, and usually work in that country. They are extremely talented folks with much relevant experience. Because of the crisis, they’ve been called up. Another man is a physician from Oregon who specializes at diagnosing rare diseases, along with a nurse who is an expert in disaster medical care. Both of them have been in about seven missions with MTI.
The MTI team saw patients in a small clinic. The one story building is under construction, and helps the community compensate for the loss of a hospital. Locals say that Al Shabaab commandeered the hospital when it controlled the town, using the building as a base of operations. During the fight to reclaim Dhobley, the building was more or less destroyed.
Searching for working water wells
While the MTI team saw patients, a team from World Concern drove from water source to water source in town to see how the systems were functioning. After evaluating several pumping stations, we see they need work, and form a plan for how to help. With a large population of displaced people, the demand for food and water has increased. We also notice that people are using a watering hole for livestock as their source of drinking water. This is a guaranteed way to spread disease.
We’re also working here to ensure the hungry are fed. By using a voucher system, those in need are able to buy food from local businesses. We find that this is safer than trucking food down a road that is also home to bandits. And by buying from local vendors, we help the economy.
It is a safe bet that Dhobley receives many more refugees in the coming months. The primary road to the Dadaab refugee camps passes right through Dhobley. With continued unrest elsewhere in Somalia, and the growing famine, more families will decide to leave their homes, and search for a new life in Kenya as refugees.
Working for sustainability – with an eye on who’s really hurting
By helping communities with food, water and more, World Concern is working to help keep Somalis in Somalia, if possible, and out of the overburdened camps. And in our work with communities, we’re also helping ensure those who live in these towns on the border can survive the flood of travelers.
It is a complex problem, happening in a dangerous area, and it will get worse before it gets better. It is a difficult logistical and political equation to ensure long-term stability that will allow us to do the long-term transformational work that the community really needs.
What remains consistent, however, is the desperation from families who find themselves caught in the middle. It doesn’t matter that the security is rotten, and that bad people still roam freely here. The fact is that these families – men, women, boys and girls – need the basics of life. They need food and water, and without it, they will die.
Our goal is to be here long-term, to help the communities become more self sufficient, and less vulnerable. We want to see the communities transform. But the reality for now is that we are in a life-or-death crisis.
With those who are supporting us, we are able to make a small difference in this big disaster, making sure that families we touch will make it through this famine alive.
Don’t take anything for granted. It’s something that was evident to me while witnessing an amazing life-passage for 34 people.
I attended the first graduation of Lietnhom Vocational Training Center in South Sudan. Thirty-two men and two women, for the first-time ever, now have skills to earn a living.
These men and women never finished school. Only one made it to high school, and dropped out after one year because the school fees were too expensive. Others had some elementary school; others had no education at all.
Most of them never really had a chance. War here in Sudan forced many of them to move as refugees in their own country. Finishing school hardly an option, considering they faced generations of poverty – and no history of education.
One man I met is named Joseph, and he traveled here to this rural area from Wau. He’s apart from his family, but considers the year here as a great investment in his family’s future. He celebrated today, reminded of South Sudan’s independence one month ago from Sudan. The independence brings hope of peace at last.
“I give thanks to God,” Joseph said. “The life of Southern Sudan and my own life are synonymous. It is a new beginning.”
Joseph showed me one of his new skills: repairing engines. With confidence, he scoured the engine of an old World Concern truck to try and identify an electrical problem. He’s smart – and has a great chance to find work close to his family.
“None of my forefathers have had these skills,” he smiled, as he proudly waved his certificate for completing the program.
World Concern began this job-training program last year, and since then, other non-profits have joined us in the mission. The work is difficult, and certainly not a hand-out.
The leader of the program, Mechanics Trainer Moses Khamadi, says the students grow more committed over time.
One graduate now plans to complete secondary school, which gives him a shot a college. Moses says there are many opportunities for these new graduates.
“The mechanics are already fixing motorbikes locally and making money,” Moses said. “Initially when we began, some thought they were wasting their time. But they began to realize that if they work, they’ll get money. They can buy food and something to improve their livelihoods.”
Although the context differs, I see this spark of life time and again when visiting World Concern development projects across the world. When we work in a meaningful way with people, they realize that life is not hopeless. They realize they have value. In spite of their poverty, they find reason after reason to continue on.
I visited a classroom in South Sudan today unlike anything I experienced as a child. For some of the class time, the elementary-aged students met in a circle under a tree. With a song, they learned about the importance of hand-washing. And to make it fun, it was combined with something like duck-duck-goose. So there was some chasing and screaming involved … and that always keeps kids interested.
The students in this World Concern school come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are from the local community of Wau, and others have fled conflict in Abeyei, a town that is currently in crisis because of a border dispute with Sudan.
Some of the children have endured quite a trial in their young lives. If they are from Abeyei, they have walked many, many miles. We know of families whose children have died as they fled, because of a lack of water and food.
“They were in bad health,” the teacher, Mary Akuot told me. “The children were suffering from hunger.”
The school is in South Sudan, a country that has existed for less than a month. Though independence means freedom from oppression experienced when they were part of Sudan, the challenges here are breathtaking. A 27% literacy rate. The entire country has about 40 miles of paved roads. They’ve endured decades of unrest and war. The culture must shift … and education is a critical element of this transformation.
What this simple school means to each child is different. For some, it supplements their regular education. For others, it is their only education. For all children, the school teaches the basics of math, language, sanitation and health. And it also includes teaching from the Bible and songs.
Teacher Mary is from the Dinka tribe, Sudanese by birth. She sees education as key to escaping poverty, and always points her students to stay in school for as long as they can. She says, if they do, they’ll open up opportunities just like American children have.
“Some of the children who come from the outside villages do not know what an education is,” Mary said. “And now we tell them to stay in school. The children are changed.”
I will always think of the little boys with the pond scum mustaches when I consider the developing world’s water crisis. I met them in Kenya this week as the World Concern team was surveying an extremely remote village where we are planning further development.
We drove to a water pan – essentially a man-made pond for water collection. Water pans are usually reserved for livestock, but in this case, a couple of water pans were the community’s source of drinking water. After slipping through a fence made of gnarled branches and walking toward the muddy pond, I saw the water. It was green with algae, and moving with life. Over the surface of the water was a film of muck, essentially – pond scum.
As I was getting video and photos of this water pan, reality set in, as a group of five friends – thin and quiet little boys around 10 years old – came with filthy jugs, out to get a drink. They lined up alongside the pond, dipped their jugs in the water, brought the water to their mouths, and tipped the jugs back.
I knew at that moment that the boys were being infected, as they had been many times before, with parasites and bacteria that would make them sick. We scooped up some of this water in a clean, clear bottle – and with the naked eye could see worms and other creatures flex and swim through the opaque mess.
I could not believe the heartbreaking scene that I was witnessing. But for these little boys, there is no other source of water nearby. As they drank I noticed that around their small mouths was green pond scum.
In many cultures where World Concern works, there is a sense of fatalism. The tragic circumstances dealt to people are their fate, and they just need to accept them. Part of it is religious, part of it is cultural, part of it is just the fact that they haven’t seen anything better. Why would they hope for something they had not seen or heard about?
Here is the truth: God aches for these boys, as do we. What we know that the little boys don’t is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Working together, we are can bring the love of Christ in tangible ways to relieve the suffering that families have endured for generations. It just doesn’t have to be this way.
In communities where we have worked in a more significant way – communities that have seen the benefits of clean water, of sanitation, of education for children, of opportunities to work and save money – we have seen something happen. A spark of realization in the minds of hopeless people that the misery they’ve endured is not the final word. When they get it, mountains move. Children grow. Goals are set. Communities change – long term.
Water is one of the most important ways we can begin the process of this transformation, to show the light of Christ to people who have suffered for so long.
To learn more about World Concern’s water programs, or to help bring clean water to communities like this, visit www.worldconcern.org/water
Haiti held it together. Although the one year anniversary of the earthquake was met with anguish and questions about the country’s future, Port-au-Prince did not resort to riots and widespread violence.
Being there first hand, I did see anger, as I witnessed people shouting at each other, arguing about housing. I heard what sounded like gunfire and saw people drinking heavily. But as I traveled through the city on Jan. 12, 2011, most people were not like that. They were simply remembering all they’ve lost, all that changed in 35 seconds of terror one year ago.
In parades and services great and small, many people dressed in white, the color of mourning. Many cried, prayed, and sang songs. I heard a report about thousands of people marching on the street, frustrated that there isn’t more progress in rebuilding. I saw many churches in session, with special one-year anniversary services.
At the site of what once was the Hotel Montana, a service was held, recounting the pain of that day, and praying for continued healing. Nearly all that remains of the destroyed main hotel is a vacant lot, with some rubble still visible on a hillside.
World Concern works through community groups as we equip neighborhoods to rebuild. We teamed up with a neighborhood group called Sove Moun and held our own service, with prayer, songs and stories. We felt that just remembering, and acknowledging Jan. 12, was important.
You hear a lot about the resiliency of Haitians. I agree with this. In the past week, I’ve seen many smiles and heard hopeful stories after the disaster. And the fact is, there has been much progress. It’s a story that has been grossly underreported, which is easy to do, as reporters look at the vastness of what remains to be done, rather that what has been accomplished.
Although about 700,000 have found homes or shelter since their earthquake, about 810,000 Haitians still want a place to live. No question, this healing takes time, especially in one of the most challenging political and logistical environments imaginable.
So, in spite of Haitians being resilient, and rolling with whatever disaster they’re faced with, I know that it still hurts. Like any humans, they want stability in their lives. They want a chance for their children to go to school. If given the choice, they would prefer not to endure disaster, followed by disaster.
One year after the quake, if you see smiles, know that they may be smiling through a lifetime of pain that you and I may never experience. Please continue to keep Haiti in your prayers.