Category Archives: Stories

Explore stories about individuals who have been helped by humanitarian aid organizations.

Eye Contact: Seeing a woman’s story in her eyes

A young girl in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A young girl in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

As I walked through a village ravaged by drought and famine, I saw women scavenging for scraps of firewood that they could barter for food to feed their families. I met a young mother who couldn’t have been more than 14 years old. She had two small children to feed and care for, and barely enough food to give them. She went hungry that day so that they could eat. Our eyes met and I reached out to squeeze her hand. In that moment I knew what sacrifice looks like.

In rural Kenya, I met a little girl named Zincia who was in sixth grade and was the only girl left in her class. All the other girls had dropped out of school by her age—some forced into early marriages. Others dropped out simply because there was no water source in their village. Their families needed them to fetch water. This duty consumed six hours of their day, round trip. It is a hard and dangerous chore that leaves no time to even consider school. But one brave little girl managed to grab onto a hope that education would provide for her a better life. I met her eyes and I was humbled by her dedication.

A mom in Haiti.

A mom in Haiti.

In Haiti, I had to force myself to look into the eyes of a mother who lost a child in the earthquake. The same day she buried her child she was out looking for work. She had three other children who needed her. There was no time for self-pity or even for grieving. Her children depended on her and so she got up and did what she needed to do so that they would eat that day. As our eyes met, I was no longer a humanitarian; I was just a mom who saw my sister’s suffering.

Through my work with World Concern, I have walked in some of the neediest places in the world. It’s hard to see some of the things I see … until I remember that God sees each of those that suffer and He knows them by name. Sometimes what I see makes my cry. Sometimes I want to look away… But I am always amazed by the resilience and strength I see too in the women I meet. And they—my sisters—are worthy of respect and dignity, not pity.

A woman in South Sudan.

A woman in South Sudan.

March 8 is International Women’s Day. The first International Women’s Day was observed in 1911. Now, more than 100 years later, the need to see, recognize, and respond to the issues women face in developing nations remains great. They each have a story of sacrifice, resilience, hard work, and determination. And, I am committed to maintaining “eye contact” with them until they and their daughters are truly seen.

Water gushes from the newly drilled well in Maramara, a village of about 200 families in Eastern Chad.

The Joy of Clean Water in One Village

For the first time ever in its 40-year existence, the village of Maramara has clean water.

Life in Eastern Chad has been a constant struggle. Water is scarce in the parched Sahel desert. Most of the region was destroyed during the Darfur conflict, causing communities like Maramara to have to fight even harder to survive.

Up until last month, the nearest source of clean water is a three-hour walk—each way. Mothers often abandoned this burden and gathered dirty, contaminated water from a closer source. As a result, children were sick with diarrhea and diseases like dysentery.

Water gushes from the newly drilled well in Maramara, a village of about 200 families in Eastern Chad.

Water gushes from the newly drilled well in Maramara, a village of about 200 families in Eastern Chad.

With the support of World Concern through a One Village Transformed partnership with Northridge Church, the community was empowered to contribute to the construction of their new well. Village members provided 500 bricks, sand, gravel and their own human resources. A drilling rig was brought in, and the result is fresh, safe drinking water, better health … and joy in the hearts of Maramara residents.

We invite you to share in the excitement of what clean water means to this community through their own words:

“To God who exposed water to dust! Now, I make as many trips as needed and plenty of water. Enough time to look for food for my children. Children take a bath every day. I now can make supplies of hay in good quantity for my cattle. May God reward love towards us.” – Amkhallah Souleymane

Ahmat Abbo Dahab

Ahmat Abbo Dahab

“Since I started drinking clean water from the pump, I wake up each morning energized. Kids have shining faces and clean clothes. There are no more worries about women delaying when fetching water. Thank you very much and may God bless you.” – Ahmat Abbo Dahab

 

Mustapha Mahamat

Mustapha Mahamat

“The taste makes me want to drink without stopping! Pains that I often used to feel at certain times of the day have begun to disappear. The water well we use to drink from is now used by many to make bricks for housing. From the bottom of your heart you decided that we get water and I see the commitment you have to help us. May the Almighty bless you.” – Mustapha Mahamat

 

Hassani Moussa

Hassani Moussa

“When I see how clean the water is in a container, I laugh. My body and clothes are clean since I started using this water. The millet I wash is clean. The food is well prepared because I have water and time. I am grateful to God and ask Him to protect and bless you in your activities.” – Hassani Moussa

 

Fatimé Zakaria

Fatimé Zakaria

“I follow my mom with a small container. It makes me happy to see mom jump when pumping water. Thank you.” – Fatimé Zakaria

 

“I feel less pain in my body.  I don’t have to borrow a donkey to fetch water. Invitations to fetch water are over.  I’m thankful for the rest you allow me to have.” – Achta bireme

Learn more about how you can partner with a village like Maramara and help transform lives.

 

5 Key Principles for Working with the Poor: # 5 Transformation through Relationships

This is the last of five posts covering key principles in ministry with the poor intended to help churches move from transactional to transformational ministry.  In the previous post, we discussed the fact that we are all created to be creative.

5. Transformation through Relationships

“The tasks we think are so critical are not more important than the people God has entrusted to us.” – Sherwood Lingenfelter

Are you like me at work and keep your “To-Do” list within arm’s reach? I’m probably a little weird, but I find it cathartic to scratch stuff off that list. Sometimes I keep scratching through it a little longer than I need to.

Unfortunately, I think we often treat ministry with the poor like a “To-Do” list. We make it more about crossing things off our list than we do about the people themselves. In your church, is it more common to see drives for shoeboxes and back packs full of schools supplies, or mentor programs that focus on being with people? Ask most outreach pastors and they’ll tell you that close to 100 people will sign up to provide a shoebox for every one person who agrees to volunteer for a weekly mentor program.

We forget that poverty is ultimately about people, and ministry is relational. We tend to focus on the material problems rather than the people themselves. “See a problem, Fix a problem.”  If ministry with the poor is relational in nature like other types of ministry, shouldn’t it look more like small groups at our churches?

Community members and leaders in the village of Harako, Chad, meet with World Concern staff to share their needs and their goals for transforming their own village.

Community members and leaders in the village of Harako, Chad, meet with World Concern staff to share their needs and their goals for transforming their own village.

At World Concern, our community development process starts, in most cases, with several months of meeting with the community and its leaders. We want to hear the story of their village, ask them about their vision for the future and their struggles that keep them being where they want to be.

Then, we begin to work with them on the goals they’ve set by building on what they already do well. Seeing lives transformed in this way takes time and requires walking with people patiently through the ups and downs of life. It’s not a quick fix, but it is lasting.

In my next post, I’ll tell you about how World Concern pulls these five principles together in our community development process by telling you the story of one village.

Former Hear School student passes on the ability to communicate

Asad could only mumble sounds as a child. Today, he teaches other hearing-impaired children in Bangladesh to communicate.

Asad could only mumble sounds as a child. Today, he teaches other hearing-impaired children in Bangladesh to communicate.

From the time Asad first learned to communicate, he dreamed of being a teacher so he could help other hearing impaired children speak, just like he had.

When Asad was born, his parents were hopeful their son would become a doctor someday. They were concerned when, at two years old, he still couldn’t speak and didn’t respond to sound.

The village doctor assured the family that he was normal. But an ear, nose, and throat doctor recommended a hearing test. The family traveled to Dhaka for the test in 1990, and young Asad was diagnosed as severely deaf. He was referred to a special school in Dhaka, but his family couldn’t afford it.

When they heard that World Concern was opening a Hear School for deaf children in Barisal, Asad’s parents took him there. Assessments showed profound hearing loss. The staff recommended hearing aids and orientation classes for his parents. The teachers were confident Asad could learn to communicate with treatment and special education.

Asad teaches a hearing impaired boy to speak at World Concern's Hear School in Bangladesh. Asad learned to communicate at the same school as a child.

Asad teaches a hearing impaired boy to speak at World Concern’s Hear School in Bangladesh. Asad learned to communicate at the same school as a child.

When he started at the Hear School, Asad could only say simple words, like “mom,” and communicate through gestures. But with compassionate training, Asad started speaking in complete sentences. Soon, he was also able to read English and solve math problems easily.

Asad eventually integrated into a mainstream primary school. He passed all ten classes with good grades, and in 2008 he was admitted to college.

Asad kept in contact with the Hear School even after graduating, talking with and encouraging parents and students with his story. He had become skilled in computers, and writing in both Bangla and English.

When one of the teachers at the Hear School resigned, Asad was hired, fulfilling his dream of becoming a teacher for deaf students.

Asad works with parents to help them understand their hearing-impaired children's needs, and learn to communicate with them.

Asad works with parents to help them understand their hearing-impaired children’s needs, and learn to communicate with them.

Now, he’s able to share his success and encourage children who are struggling to communicate, just like he was.

You can open up a world of sound to hearing impaired children in Bangladesh. Donate here.

The Lasting Impact of Living Out our Faith

I had an amazing answer to prayer I want to share with you. I have been out traveling for the past two weeks, first at a conference in Haiti, then meeting with donors in the U.S. I ended the trip with a meeting with a foundation in Colorado.

The foundation wanted to meet World Concern’s new president and hear my vision for the future of World Concern. During the meeting, the executive director asked me how World Concern lives out our Christian faith in our work. I explained the challenges of the different contexts where we work, and mentioned to her that one of the ways we express our faith is during staff devotions in all of our offices around the world.

The executive director became very excited as I shared. She told me that she had met a young woman in Colorado who was from Laos. She was here studying and was working part time at a Christian agency. She was intrigued by how this young woman had become a Christian, so she invited her to lunch on her last day in the U.S. before returning home to Laos.

The young woman explained that in 2007 she had worked as an intern for a Christian organization in Laos, where every day they prayed and read from the Bible to start the day. During this time she had opened her heart to this Jesus she had heard about through those devotions, and gave her life to Christ. The executive director was so moved by this story that she wept in the restaurant and thanked God that there were agencies that truly lived out their faith in places like Laos.

She asked the young woman to send her a CV so that she could introduce her to her daughter, who also worked in Laos. At this moment in our meeting, the executive director searched through her files and found the CV. There on the CV was the name of the organization that through their daily devotions had led this young woman to Christ.

It was World Concern.

I cannot even begin to explain how moving this experience was for me and for this executive director. I am so grateful the Lord allowed us to see his work.

That young woman from Laos was only involved with World Concern for a few months and now, all these years later, she continues to live out her faith. However you are connected to World Concern—as a staff member, a supporter, or a beneficiary, let us believe that God will continue to go before us in extraordinary ways and supply our every need. Surely He is able.

The Community That Rebuilt Itself

Driving east out of Jacmel in south east Haiti, the paved road hugs the coast offering stunning views of the blue water beyond.  The view inland is equally impressive as rugged, green covered mountains look down on you.

This region is one of my favorites in Haiti and it was nice to be back.  On this particular day we were heading to the village of Figue to see firsthand how this community took the lead in a recent project.

Figue is located high up in these formidable mountains and several kilometers from the paved road along the coast.  To get there we followed a gravel road that steadily narrowed as we climbed.  The journey alone to some of the rural areas World Concern works is an adventure in itself.

Eventually the gravel disappeared and the road’s surface became rocky and soggy from the rain that falls each afternoon this time of year.

Robert, keeping everyone laughing.

Robert, keeping everyone laughing.

At one point Robert, our driver on the trip, stopped the truck and got out to lock the differentials and turn on the four wheel drive.

“Okay now we are ready,” he said.

Looking ahead I could see what he was referring to.  There was a particularly steep section that was incredibly narrow (can the truck even fit through that?) and the road dramatically dropped off on the passenger side (which is where I was sitting).

With my heart pounding in my chest, Robert expertly navigated the difficult section, as he has many times before, and then laughed out loud as a way to lighten the situation and celebrate his small victory.  At this point all of us couldn’t help but laugh too.

We continued on and soon reached the village of Figue which is surrounded by dense vegetation and rugged terrain.  There are 125 families in Figue with “five people per family minimum” as one man said.

In 2012 Figue suffered tremendously due to a harsh hurricane season.  In addition to crop loss, the village’s only church was completely destroyed.

Pastor Bonnet shares about his church

Pastor Bonnet shares about his church

“The wind was so strong during Hurricane Sandy,” explained Pastor Samuel Bonnet.  “The church was flattened.”

Pastor Bonnet has pastored the church in Figue for 32 years and his father pastored before him.  Although no one knew exactly when the church began, it’s obvious it has been serving Figue for some time and World Concern wanted to see that legacy continue.

While World Concern provided the materials and some technical support, it was the community of Figue who rebuilt their church.

“We built it!”  They chimed in unison when asked about their church.  It was clear that the community possessed a high level of ownership which is a beautiful thing to witness.

The new church building is an eye-catcher.  Not because it is flashy; in fact it is quite simple.  However it is the obvious strength of the structure that grabs your attention.  The old church was made of rock and dirt.  The new church is built with cement, ensuring it will serve its’ 200+ members well for years to come.

Inside the newly built (and well painted) church.

Inside the newly built (and well painted) church.

In addition to a new church, Figue now has access to consistent potable water thanks to the construction of a new water system.  Similar to the construction of the church, World Concern provided materials and technical support but the system was entirely built and managed by the community.

The primary water source is a spring a steep 10 minute walk from the main road passing through Figue.  Once the source was capped, piping was installed to carry the water down the hill to a reservoir.  This reservoir holds the water and once it reaches capacity, the water is piped further down the hill to a fountain on the main road.

64-year-old Amedene Tibo, a widow and mother of seven, has lived in Figue her entire life.  “Although the source was only a 10 minute walk from the road the path was bad and if you are carrying water you will fall,” she said.

Mrs. Tibo posing at the water system's reservoir.

Mrs. Tibo posing at the water system’s reservoir.

She is not joking.  After scrambling to reach the reservoir a few of us continued further up the hill to the actual source.  Even for a young person such as me, it was no easy trek.  The path itself is not clear and I was constantly slipping on the wet rocks that littered the ground (even though I was wearing low top hiking shoes with good traction).

Thankfully that difficult walk is not needed anymore.

As I sat listening to different people share about the water system and what a blessing it is I thought to myself, “What if it breaks?”  All too often systems such as this one end up rusting away as soon as something breaks if there is not a pre-determined plan established beforehand.

When there was a break in the chatter I asked that very question.

This fountain provides access to water to those in Figue and other nearby communities.

This fountain provides access to water to those in Figue and other nearby communities.

“If there is a problem with the system each family has agreed to give a little money so we can repair it,” explained Frednel Rimny, president of the local water management committee.

It was encouraging to hear that the committee understood the importance of creating a plan and had put one in place.

The progress in Figue and the community’s hard work should be celebrated.  A safe place to worship for the village’s church goers and a new water system are wonderful contributions that will certainly bless the people of Figue for quite some time.

This doesn’t mean Figue and other rural communities don’t face more challenges.  Poverty is complex and multi-dimensional.  This theme came up often in our discussions with our travel companions.  We’re learning that not everything can be “fixed” or perfected; and that’s okay.  Instead it’s about walking with people and helping them move forward one step at a time.  This is a slow process but one that World Concern is committed to living out.

 

Praying for Marubot

Finally, the first tears fell tonight. I’m ashamed to say, I’ve been too busy to cry. I’ve been quoting statistics all week, since the fury of Typhoon Haiyan left a bleeding gash on the Philippine islands. And repeating the message of why we need to help—now.

10 million affected

10,000 possibly dead

650,000 displaced

For some reason, those numbers just felt like numbers.

But tonight, sitting in my darkened car, reading the email on my phone about the first assessments in an area that took 7 hours to reach by car, it finally hit me.

Marubot. That’s the community the assessment team reached today. It has a name. It’s important for us to know its name, don’t you think?

And then the numbers:

24 barangays (villages)

15,946 individuals affected

7,344 families

2,058 dead.

That’s when the tears came. 2,058. Each one, a precious life. Unprotected from this God-awful, mammoth storm that made history. Gone.

“The municipality is totally destroyed,” the report reads. “Not one house is left standing. The barangays are 100% damaged.”

“People are eating coconut meat mixed with salt for survival.”

And they’re sick. With no drinking water, diarrhea is spreading fast.

No water. No electricity. No cellphone signal.

And until today, no one had been there yet to help. This team was the first.

This area is just one of hundreds waiting for help to arrive.

Suddenly, the numbers came to life. 10 million affected.

Lord, help them. Please help them.

I am encouraged by the flood of support pouring in. I listen to the phones ring at World Concern all day, and I hear my coworkers blessing and thanking generous donors whose hearts are also broken.

It makes me feel like we’re in this together. All of us. People whose homes are still standing, and who have something more to eat than coconut and salt.

Thank you for giving, and for caring. And for praying.

We’re coming, people of Marubot. Keep hanging on. We’re in this together.

 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
(Psalm 121:1-2)

 

 

Making bracelets that make a difference

Carpia's World Concern bracelet design features our butterfly logo on the charm.

Carpia’s World Concern bracelet design features our butterfly logo on the charm.

We’re thrilled that Hong Kong-based jewelry designer Fiona Ho and her company, Carpia, has chosen to partner with World Concern to help transform the village of Lietnhom, South Sudan. Carpia has created three unique, custom-made, limited-edition World Concern bracelets, featuring gorgeous fall colors and our butterfly logo. For each bracelet sold, $8 will be donated to our One Village Transformed project in Lietnhom, helping bring sustainable sources of income, food, education, and more.

We asked Fiona to share her heart for helping nonprofits raise awareness and fund through her beautiful jewelry designs. Here’s what she had to say:

At Carpia we believe that you can incorporate “doing good” into everyday life.

Spending most of our time at work, what better way to do good than making products that give back? Originally a jewelry design company, we decided to design gifts that support charities worldwide.

carpia adKnowing our every decision is one step closer to supporting a good cause, we design better, work harder and create faster. Every stone, every charm and every detail of packaging are geared towards attracting supporters for the world’s greatest causes.

We chose World Concern’s One Village Transformed project because the project focuses on long-term solutions such as clean water, fighting hunger, providing job skill training, and micro-financing to enable village members to break out of the poverty cycle and be self-sustainable.

The project is the epitome of the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

The World Concern bracelet comes in 3 colors, marbleized beige (shown here), fall brown, and black.

The World Concern bracelet comes in 3 colors, marbleized beige (shown here), fall brown, and black.

Now that’s a project worth supporting! 

We designed the World Concern bracelets with agate beads embellished with a caterpillar and the butterfly charm to reflect this transformation. 

When you wear or gift your One Village Transformed bracelet, you help fund and raise awareness for the villagers of Lietmhom, South Sudan.

Bracelets are available at www.carpia.org. *Free shipping during the month of October!

 

Check out Fiona’s video about this project:

Carpia x World Concern| For | Lietnhom, South Sudan

Ilova outside her home.

Ilova no longer fears snakes, buffalo, or cholera

It’s noon, the least ideal time of day for interviewing and taking pictures. Stomachs are rumbling, the brisk morning air has been swallowed up by the afternoon heat, and the sun is positioned directly over our heads.

Ilova

Ilova

Ilova Kokoto and I move into the shade of Ilova’s meager brick home. She lives here with her daughter and granddaughter. Natural light streams through the doorway and frames Ilova’s face – exposing her wisdom-induced wrinkles and deep brown eyes. ”I’m not able to know my age,” Ilova shares, but it is apparent that she has lived to see a thing or two.

We are in Basuba, a rural village in Lamu county – a detour off of the journey up Kenya’s coast, the road toward Somalia.

“Life in Basuba is difficult. For many years, we have suffered from famine due to numerous droughts,” Ilova explains in perfect Kiswahili, an infamous attribute of Kenya’s coastal region.

Resting her chin on her weathered hands, the mother of four continues, “Until two years ago, we had no clean water. We traveled far to collect dirty water, and many people died from cholera.”

Though proud of Basuba’s recent clean water improvement, Ilova further informs me about the village’s ongoing challenges – many of which will soon be considered a shida (Kiswahili for trouble) of the past.

Take hygiene, for example. When World Concern first visited Basuba, the community was living naively in hygiene indifference. Having never been educated about the importance of drinking clean water, relieving oneself in a contained area, and washing one’s hands, preventable diseases were rampant among local residents.

Because of their partnership with World Concern, Basuba’s residents are now able to collect clean water in this djabia.

Because of their partnership with World Concern, Basuba’s residents are now able to collect clean water in this djabia.

In the past three years, World Concern has partnered with the people of Basuba to install a large djabia (a clean water catchment pictured above) and 20 latrines.

Peter standing proud.

Ilova laughs recalling her defecation memories of the past. “When we would relieve ourselves, we would have to go deep in the bush. Even at night. Sometimes I would encounter snakes and buffalo and have to run for my life. It was very hectic.”

It did not require much consideration for the Basuba community to insert latrine use into their daily routines. Ilova explains, ”The toilets are nice, we are using them often. We now don’t have to go where there is a lot of danger.” 

Sitting on the dirt in Ilova’s doorway, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the glaring simplicity that is such an immense issue – an issue that is lessening both the quality and length of human life all over the world. Simply put, many survive without available, clean water and hygiene education. These should be a basic human rights, yes?

Though the people of Basuba still suffer from poor farming conditions, World Concern’s partnership has transformed a significant part of their daily life. According to Ilova, “Because of the toilets, we don’t feel the sicknesses we used to have. We used to complain of stomach issues but we no longer do because the conditions are clean.”

Peter Okongi, a Basuba primary school teacher who has been translating for me throughout the interview, proceeds to chime in (though I will toot my own horn a little here – I could understand about half of Ilova’s sentences. Mimi nimefahamu!), “When I first moved here, there was no clean water and no latrines. Clean water was very difficult to find. People could travel between 4 – 5 km to collect unhygienic water. My students would often complain of stomach ache. Even me, I was often sick.”

Ilova outside her home.

Ilova outside her home.

[Right to Left]: Ilova, her granddaughter Basho, and her daughter Ahaldo.

 

Beautiful Ahaldo.

Beautiful Ahaldo.

A Nairobi native, 36-year-old Peter was assigned to teach in Basuba three years prior – just before World Concern installed the djabia. Frustrated that his students frequently missed school as a result of their poor health and the distance of the remote water locations, Peter is particularly jovial about the community’s recent improvements, “Even school attendance has increased. Students used to travel so far that they sometimes had to stay a night away. But now that the water is available, more are able to attend school, where we are also teaching about hygiene.”

In front/inside of Basuba's school.

In front/inside of Basuba’s school.

Ilova’s gorgeous daughter and granddaughter step into the home, plopping themselves into plastic chairs. Looking at her loved ones, Ilova warmly expresses, “Now that the toilets are built, we are no longer afraid. We feel supported.”

Snakes, buffalo, and cholera be gone. “We feel supported.”

Support empowers people live with dignity – to live a quality of life that is deserved by all human beings. Empowered with clean water and education, in partnership with World Concern, the people of Basuba are jumping across stepping stones toward holistic transformation.

Here’s the most beautiful part: with education, training, and proper equipment, on their own, the people of Basuba are going to be able to maintain a lifestyle that includes clean water and hygiene for years to come.