Category Archives: Stories

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

The Freedom of Income

Leh showing her earnings for the day.

Seventeen-year-old Leh bounded into the office of the village leader in her rural Laotian community with a handful of money, beaming with pride.

“I sold all of my sticky stick snacks in just an hour!” exclaimed the ecstatic teen. She held up her earnings, which she planned to share with her friends who helped her sell the snacks.

Leh’s village is just a few miles from the border of Thailand. Young girls often disappear after crossing the border into Thailand to look for work. Many are trafficked into Thailand’s insidious sex tourism industry. Others are forced to work for no pay, or other forms of exploitation. Three of Leh’s older siblings have gone to Thailand in search of work. When her father passed away three years ago, she considered doing the same thing so she could help support her disabled mother.

We’re offering alternatives—helping provide job skills and awareness training for girls like Leh in this region to earn income close to home and stay safe. Leh recently participated in cooking classes at World Concern’s youth center. That’s where she learned how easy it was to prepare sticky sticks. She knew immediately she could start a small business selling the tasty treats.

Leh making her sticky stick snacks.

Leh making her sticky stick snacks.

Leh was determined and started her business with $2 she saved to purchase a sack of flour, sugar, and oil. She sold her first batch of sticky sticks at the school during the students’ break time for 10 cents each. In just one hour, she had earned $5—a profit of $3 for an hour of selling.

Ready for selling!

Ready for selling!

“Doing this makes me happy,” she said, after several weeks of operating her snack business. “I wake up at 5:00 a.m., do my chores, and start cooking at 8:00 a.m.” She’s home by 11 a.m. with the day’s profits in hand.

“Thank you not only for changing my life but also my family’s life,” said Leh. “I am very grateful to the project for guiding me in choosing the right path and for securing my future and making me safe.”

Leh is sharing what she learned with her friends, and is now an active member of the youth campaign in her village that helps raise awareness about human trafficking.

Leh teaching her friend how to make sticky sticks, so she can earn income too.

Leh teaching her friend how to make sticky sticks, so she can earn income too.

When you support World Concern’s child trafficking prevention programs, you help keep girls like Leh safe from harm. Whether by participating in the Free Them 5k, or by donating directly, you’re helping protect vulnerable girls and put an end to this horrific crime.

The Power of 44 Cents

So many of the issues we face combating poverty are incredibly complex. Thankfully, some are simpler to solve than others.

IMG_0994 - low resParasites cause children to suffer and families to struggle. Sickness, absenteeism from school, loss of work for parents, malnutrition—all of these things worsen poverty. But the ripple effect of deworming medicine makes it one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. It’s so simple, and it costs just 44 cents.

Luxmi’s children experienced immediate relief after receiving deworming medicine.

Luxmi, a mom of two living in the Rishipara slum of Bangladesh’s capital city, was overjoyed to learn that World Concern was distributing deworming medicine in her neighborhood. Her children were constantly suffering from stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, and the effects of malnutrition. At a time in their young lives when they should have been growing and thriving, parasites were feeding off their bodies, sucking the vital nutrients from their food, and causing intense pain.

As soon as her children took the medicine, they started to feel better. “After a few days, their health problems vanished,” Luxmi said.

They are healthier, happier, and full of energy. They’re even completing their chores enthusiastically—something any mom loves to see!

“This tablet saved my daughter’s life”

A girl stands by one of the slum's few latrines.

A girl stands by one of the slum’s few latrines.

Amidst the muddy, narrow streets and dilapidated shacks Kalyani and her neighbors call home, toilets are almost nonexistent. Diseases like diarrhea and parasites spread rapidly.

Kalyani’s daughters were sick and malnourished. Her infant daughter was extremely weak and suffered from constant stomach pains. Since Kalyani could not afford medicine, she had taken her little one to the local monk for help, but her daughter’s symptoms only worsened.

A few months ago, each member of Kalyani’s family received deworming medicine, and the results were dramatic. Her youngest daughter’s stomach pains completely stopped, and she started absorbing nutrients from her food. Today, she is a healthy, smiling little girl—full of life and bounding with energy.

Kalyani's youngest daughter was sick and malnourished from parasites. Today, she's a happy, healthy little girl.

Kalyani’s youngest daughter was sick and malnourished from parasites. Today, she’s a happy, healthy little girl.

“This tablet saved my daughter’s life,” exclaimed a grateful Kalyani.

With healthy kids, Kalyani can now focus on growing her small business and paying for her older daughters to attend school.

When children are free from parasites, it opens the way to addressing the larger problems of sanitation, hygiene, and access to clean water. That’s how a simple pill helps combat poverty.

Click here to cure a child from worms for just 44 cents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like any developing nation after disaster, Haiti has progressed “piti piti” (little by little)

After living in Haiti for two years where I worked with World Concern, I returned to the U.S. a couple weeks ago. Aside from getting used to much colder weather and way too many cereal options at the grocery store, I have been attempting to answer, as best as possible, all kinds of questions about Haiti.

Destruction after the earthquake shook Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010.

Destruction after the earthquake shook Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010.

One of the most common questions has been how the country is doing since the 2010 earthquake—Haiti’s strongest in two centuries, claiming more than 230,000 lives. This tells me that perhaps not everyone has forgotten about Haiti and that fateful day on January 12, 2010.

However it’s a challenge to answer that question. It’s a big question and I feel a burden to answer accurately and completely, but at the same time I realize most people are not asking for a lecture.

As someone who has lived in Haiti, I can tell you that it is a wonderful place full of color and life. Most of all, it is my friends there and the dozens of others I’ve met through my work with World Concern that I remember. These faces are what stand out in my mind when someone asks how Haiti is doing and each face is a beautiful creation of God with a distinct story. Everyone has a story and each is unique. And with the stories of healing and restoration have come ones of difficulty and loss.

World Concern has been serving small business owners, like Emilienne, by providing loans and training since 1998.

World Concern has been serving small business owners, like Emilienne, by providing loans and training since 1998.

The recovery process and transition to long-term development has been slow and difficult at times, but positive things have happened in the past five years. But there are major chronic issues that persist which keep people from living healthy and productive lives. This is the reality. Is Haiti progressing? The answer, in my opinion, is yes. Does Haiti face challenges? Also yes.

There are more people coming to Haiti as tourists and the country’s image is slowly improving, roads are being rebuilt with many paved for the first time, and the number of homeless people has fallen to less than 100,000 out of the 1.5 million initially without a home following the earthquake.

A road under construction in Haiti.

A road under construction in Haiti.

And what about the struggles? Cholera, which was first introduced in Haiti in October 2010, is on the rise again, and the water and sanitation infrastructure needed to defeat it is missing. Too many families are not able to get enough food with 2.6 million people food insecure as of July and a political crisis looms as long overdue elections in the country are yet to be held. And Haiti remains vulnerable to drought, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.

The earthquake highlighted the need to focus on helping communities become better prepared and less vulnerable. This is an area that the government and many organizations, including World Concern, have chosen to invest in since 2010 which is encouraging. A community that is more able to cope with a crisis on their own is one that will be more protected and have less loss of life.

Volunteers take part in a disaster simulation to learn how to be prepared and respond in an emergency.

Volunteers take part in a disaster simulation to learn how to be prepared and respond in an emergency.

At World Concern we have worked to train local first responders, build community shelters, establish early warning systems, and introduce drought resistant seeds to farmers. Our goal is to see communities empowered, resilient and able to stand on their own. We’re grateful for significant progress in this area.

Haitian Creole, the national language of Haiti, has lots of proverbs or sayings—one thing that makes the language so rich and beautiful. There is a common proverb that says “Piti piti wazo fè nich,” which means “Little by little a bird makes its nest.”

So how is Haiti now? How has the country moved forward? Well, things are better and there is a lot of hope, but piti piti wazo fè nich.

What do you get a dying person for Christmas?

Every year, Reneé Smith’s family draws names for their Christmas gift exchange. It just so happened that in 2012, it was Reneé’s turn to buy a gift for her sister-in-law Patti.

Patti was battling a recurrence of breast cancer that had spread to her bones and liver. Christmas would be different for everyone that year.

“The news was devastating for all of us,” recalled Reneé.

Patti’s loving and generous spirit was evident in her family relationships. She was a wonderful mom and aunt to her nieces and nephews, and a former preschool teacher who loved children. But she was also an introvert—a quiet person who struggled to come to terms with the fact she was dying.

“She was terrified of dying and leaving her kids and her husband,” said Reneé.

Reneé Smith (right) and her mom, Rosalie Miller (left) surrounded Patti with love and support during chemotherapy treatments.

Reneé Smith (right) and her mom, Rosalie Miller (left) surrounded Patti with love and support during chemotherapy treatments.

Reneé felt led to help Patti, but their personalities where so different, and she felt unsure of how best to help. She started by just showing up. They lived three hours apart, but Reneé made the trek to Ridgefield, Wash., from her home in Gig Harbor every other weekend to help take care of Patti.

Over time, Reneé’s calling became clearer through three words she constantly felt impressed on her heart: “Love her extravagantly.” With each chemo visit, the bond between the sisters-in-law grew. Eventually, Patti allowed Reneé to bathe her and care for her in intimate ways.

Reneé started a Facebook page called “Pray for Patti Peace” (Patti’s last name is Peace) where friends and loved ones could stay updated on Patti’s condition. The group had about 100 members who posted regular messages for Patti. It became a great source of encouragement during the dark days of cancer treatment.

As Christmas drew near, Reneé often thought about Patti’s gift. “What do you get a dying person for Christmas?” she wondered.

One day, they were out shopping, surrounded by Christmas displays. They stopped at a table stacked with toys and Patti said to Reneé, “I don’t want any presents this year. I’d rather just help kids.”

That moment, Reneé had an idea. Rather than trying to find a gift that Patti wouldn’t be able to use, Reneé decided to fulfill her sister-in-law’s wish to help children.

World Concern’s Global Gift Guide had arrived in the mail and Reneé scoured it for ideas. “I got so excited. I was seeing all these gifts to help children get an education and animals to help them earn income and feed themselves. I knew this would bless Patti’s heart,” she said.

Reneé and her husband had a set budget for gifts. “Then I thought, wouldn’t it be neat if I had a whole lot more money? What if Patti could help a whole village? It dawned on me that she had all these Facebook followers on her page,” said Reneé.

Not wanting to spoil the surprise by posting on the page, Reneé emailed everyone she had addresses for and asked if they wanted to participate. Within a few days, Reneé had received almost $500 for Patti’s gift.

“It was just amazing to me. Even people who didn’t know Patti, had not ever met her, wanted to show love to her in this way and let them know they cared,” said Reneé. “I’m a church secretary and people would walk in the door and say, ‘Here’s $20 for Patti’s animals,’ or message me saying, ‘I’m mailing in a check.’”

Reneé was able to give 40 chickens, 24 ducks, two goats, and two pigs (all with vaccinations, feed, and supplies) in Patti’s name to help children living in places like rural Kenya, Myanmar, and Haiti.

She could hardly wait for Christmas. Reneé bought stuffed animals to symbolize each gift, and put a tag on each one with a note describing the impact of her gift, “In the name of Patti Peace, a child will receive ducklings, which will provide income and nutrition for years to come.”

Patti on Christmas morning, 2012, with stuffed animals that symbolized the gifts given in her name to transform the lives of children around the world.

Patti on Christmas morning, 2012, with stuffed animals that symbolized the gifts given in her name to transform the lives of children around the world.

On Christmas morning, Patti opened each gift and read each tag aloud.

Reneé will never forget Patti’s joy-filled response. “She looked up at me with tears rolling down her face and mouthed the words, ‘thank you.’”

“It felt like the best gift anyone could give her,” said Reneé.

Patti passed away in February, but Reneé and the entire family are comforted by the fact her memory will live on through the life-changing gifts given in her honor to children in need.

The Christmas season is upon us again, and like Patti’s gifts, yours can also have a memorable and lasting impact on children in need. You can look through the Global Gift Guide to find ways to change lives this Christmas and bring joy to your own.

A Goat is a Treasured Asset for Fania

Have you seen the 2014 Global Gift Guide yet?  One of the more popular items are goats and for good reason.  Read about a young girl in Haiti named Fania to find out why the gift of a goat means she’ll get to stay in school.

In the rural community of Mersan in southern Haiti there is a primary school called Ecole Mixte Bon Berger.  Since 2012 World Concern has partnered with this school by providing goats and husbandry training to students.  With a goat students are able to earn an income by selling the goat’s offspring and using the money to pay for school tuition and other supplies.

One of these students in Mersan is named Fania Bien-Aime, a shy 14-year-old girl who has a smile that is hard to forget.  She lives a 15 minute walk from the school with her parents and six siblings.  “I always walk to school.  In the beginning it was difficult but now it is easy.”

Fania with her goat

Fania recently received a goat from World Concern and participated in the training where she learned how to take care of her goat and how to maintain its health.

“I know how to take care of the goat because I learned some things in the training,” she said.  “When it’s raining I have to shelter the goat but usually during the day it sits in the shade because the sun is too hot.”

Now her goat is in heat and Fania expects it to become pregnant shortly.  When working with communities, the ‘long view’ must be taken into consideration.  There may be solutions that would provide temporary assistance to Fania, however this lacks sustainability and requires a handout to be given repeatedly.  World Concern is interested instead in long term solutions.

A goat is a treasured asset in rural Haiti because it represents a steady income.  “Each year a goat can give between six and nine kids, and she may produce kids for up to 10 years,” explains Pierre Duclona, World Concern’s regional coordinator for southern Haiti.

While a goat and relevant training may not produce immediate results, it will provide students like Fania with a way to earn an income for years to come and give her new skills which she can carry into adulthood.

Fania will soon begin the 6th grade and is looking forward to returning to class after the summer break.

Fania and her friend

“The sciences and mathematics are the ones I like.  I like to study,” she shared.  “Education is important so I can help my parents and also for myself to feel good and help in society.”

“I would like to be a tailor but I can’t sew right now.  For now this is the profession that is in my head,” explained Fania.  “You can get money from this skill because when school begins, parents need to send their children’s uniforms to get sewed.”

Fania’s goat receives vaccines

With a goat and specific training, Fania is well-positioned to earn an income and therefore continue with her education which will give her opportunities to provide for herself and her family.  It is because of your generosity and partnership that we’re able to help keep girls like Fania in school!  Give the gift of a goat today.

 

Mitu washing dishes

Mitu is now free to learn

Some stories are more dramatic than others. Some stories deserve to be heard. Mitu’s story is one of those stories.

Thankfully, Mitu’s story caught the attention of a perceptive staff member in Bangladesh who knew something must be done to free the little girl who was living in slavery in a neighbor’s home. Our Asia communication liaison, Taylor, first brought us this story on her blog.

On this International Day of the Girl Child, we wanted Mitu’s story to be heard again.

At 5 years old, most little girls are going to school for the first time, making new friends, and learning to ride a bike. But this was not the case for young Mitu. Instead, by age 5, Mitu was scrubbing floors, cooking, washing clothes, and suffering from physical abuse with even the slightest misstep in her duties.

Mitu washing dishes

Instead of going to school and experiencing childhood, Mitu was cooking for and cleaning up after another family from the time she was 5 years old.

Scared, alone, and separated from her family, Mitu was forced to grow up overnight in order to care for another family’s children and housework when her own family was unable to care for her.

The nightmare began for Mitu when her parents divorced several years ago. Mitu’s mother sought work in the bleak conditions of Bangladesh’s garment factories, while her father struggled to get by. With neither parent able to support their young daughter, Mitu was left in the care of her elderly grandmother. Out of sheer desperation, Mitu’s helpless grandmother decided to send Mitu to work as a maidservant at a neighbor’s house. There, Mitu endured three years of bondage as a child laborer, receiving nothing but food to survive and suffering frequent physical abuse by her masters.

Mitu (right) is now in school, where she belongs, and spending time with her friends.

Mitu is now in school, where she belongs, and spending time with her friends.

Thankfully, during a visit to Mitu’s hometown, a wise and perceptive World Concern staff member caught wind of Mitu’s horrible situation. Heartbroken and determined to rescue the little girl, she took the right steps to save young Mitu from her life of slavery, alerting a senior staff member who contacted Mitu’s father.

Mitu, now 8 years old, in front of her school.

Mitu, now 8 years old, in front of her school.

Today, Mitu is back under the care and support of her father, who, with World Concern’s counsel and support, now recognizes the importance of allowing his precious daughter to go to school and experience childhood to the fullest.

Mitu is now in school, making friends, and learning. Most importantly, she’s free.

Forgotten by most, but not by God

Some of the precious children I met in Sri Lanka.

Some of the precious children I met in Sri Lanka.

Greetings from Sri Lanka! I’ve spent the past week and a half seeing our projects, meeting our dairy farmers, and spending lots of time with our Children’s Clubs – a safe haven for children at risk of trafficking.

I have two stories that really stand out to me that I want to share with you in the hopes that they will touch your hearts and encourage you today. You make this possible and are just as relevant in these stories as our staff on the ground.

We met with a family from the “untouchable” caste. The four children were abandoned by mother. Their father was killed in the war. The grandparents are caring for the children as best as they can. The grandmother is blind and the grandfather crippled, making supporting this family nearly impossible. Both of them received their injuries from the war.

This is the little girl I met.

This is the little girl I met.

One of these four children is a precious little girl who is being abused by local fishermen. Some days they don’t have food to eat. The day we visited was such a day. The little baby was cared for by the older sister (8 years old). He just cried and cried.

World Concern is intervening in this small community of 15 families. We have plans for small gardens, goats, Children’s Clubs, and other life-giving, life-saving interventions. Before we left, we prayed for this sweet forgotten family. Forgotten by most, but not by God, and not by World Concern.

Tonight we stopped at the hut of a young mother. She has five children. They have absolutely nothing. The clothing on their backs is all they have and when it is washed they have nothing to wear until it dries. The father too was killed in the war. This mom has no hope and tragically tried to take her own life and the life of her baby. The little one died. She survived. She is completely broken in every possible way.

Our compassionate staff is working with her and her situation. I wish you could have seen the tender way they met with her, cared for her, and prayed with her—it would have brought tears to your eyes as it did mine. They will look after her needs and the needs of her family, walking with her for the long journey.

FaithWorld Concern is the hands, feet, and face of Jesus here. This is why we do what we do. And we couldn’t do any of this without you. Thank you for partnering with us.

I have never been more humbled and committed to our mission. Pray with me that the Lord will bless this work. It is a light in many dark places.

For Girls, School Can Mean Escaping Child Marriage, Poverty, and Abuse

“I want to be the first girl from this village to go to high school.”

As 12-year-old Jackline spoke these words, she glanced up nervously to see if anyone listening to her believed it was possible.

Jackline outside primary school.

You can help a girl like Jackline be the first in her village to attend high school.

Jackline is a soft-spoken girl from rural Kenya. And she knows that in this part of the world if she doesn’t go to high school, she’ll likely be married off soon—to a man not of her choosing—just like her four sisters were.

But Jackline has a dream of a different kind of life. She dreams of the kind of life you or I would want for our children.

“My father is a sheep trader. He sells animals for money,” explained Jackline. In order for her to attend high school, her father would have to sacrifice too much of his flock, and risk losing the family’s livelihood completely if there was a drought.

“I’m the first girl in my family to go to primary school,” shared Jackline shyly.

In her village, girls Jackline’s age and younger who are not able to attend primary school are living a bleak and sometimes brutal reality.

Girls in Jackline's primary class.

Girls in Jackline’s primary class.

“They are caring for sheep. They don’t get to play, and they don’t go to school,” she explained. “Sometimes they are beaten by their parents if they make a mistake.”

In her Maasai culture, polygamy is still practiced, which means each of her sisters probably became co-wives of older men who have established flocks of sheep and income to support another young wife. Like most girls in this culture, her sisters will probably have several children by the time they reach 20 years old.

It gets worse… many young girls are subjected to female circumcision—a horrific practice that leaves them permanently marred. “If I were not in school, the process would have started to marry me off,” explained a sweet 10-year-old girl in Jackline’s village. “First, I would be circumcised, then married.”

A high school education for a girl can mean escaping child marriage, extreme poverty, and even abuse.

Listed on this chalk board in Jackline's classroom are some of the struggles girls in rural Kenya face.

Listed on this chalk board in Jackline’s classroom are some of the struggles girls in rural Kenya face.

But something has happened in a nearby village… something Jackline can hardly imagine. One of the girls who received a high school scholarship from World Concern has been accepted to a Kenyan university. Not only was she among the few girls in this region to attend high school, now she’s headed to college.

Jackline and her teacher, who inspires her to become a teacher one day herself and ensure other girls have the opportunity to go to school.

Jackline and her teacher, who inspires her to become a teacher one day herself and ensure other girls have the opportunity to go to school.

“I just want to go to the farthest possible level and complete school,” said Jackline. And if she gets this chance, she wants to make sure other girls have the same opportunity. “I want to become a teacher when I finish school so I can teach in this school.”

Happy girls in schoolI know that when girls are educated, amazing things can happen. I’ve seen it, and it’s life-changing. When you donate to the School4Girls campaign, $50 can provide an entire year of education for a girl like Jackline.

Turn her dream into reality by helping a girl like Jackline be the first in her village to attend high school. You’ll change her future and the future of her entire community.

Donate today: www.worldconcern.org/school4girls

Introducing Bernard: Husband, Father, Humanitarian

Today is World Humanitarian Day—a day to remember those who have lost their lives in humanitarian service and celebrate the spirit of humanitarian work around the world.  We’re honored to introduce you today to some of the remarkable people who work for World Concern.  Head to our Facebook page and check out our World Humanitarian Day album to meet a few of these people.  Continue reading here to meet Bernard, one of our #HumanitarianHeroes in Haiti.

Bernard Rozier is a husband and father of two who lives in the city of Les Cayes in southern Haiti.  Since 2004 he has worked with World Concern as the Hope to Kids (HTK) Program Manager.  This program began in 1998 and provides students with a goat and husbandry training which allows them to earn an income and pay for school.

Bernard HTK Program Supervisor (L) & Duclona(R)_Gilgeau Haiti_6-13

Bernard (left), with Pierre Duclona, the World Concern Regional Coordinator for southern Haiti.

Bernard is a soft spoken person but is well respected and loved by the children he serves.  He would be the first person to tell you that he is not superhuman but simply a man who loves God and wants to do his work well each day.  Grab a cup of coffee and sit down with us as we ask Bernard a bit more about his life and work:

Why did you choose to work in this field?

“First of all, as there is a lack of jobs in Haiti people do not always have a choice in choosing which field to work in, but I chose to work in this field as I always have a passion to work with kids and a passion for animals.  There is a custom in Haiti where people are afraid of animals like frogs, snakes, and spiders.   So animals create fear in the Haitian people and sometimes they kill them.   So as I work with the kids I teach them not to kill those animals because they all eat insects and therefore they help us to fight insects without using insecticides, which can be harmful if used on our vegetables.  I also teach them the importance of the goat milk as it is a good source a protein for kids.  So this field enables me to help educate the kids and I hope this will have a positive result in the future.”

What impact does the Hope to Kids project have on children in Haiti?

“The program teaches the children how to make a living with their work.  The care the children provide the goat will allow them to one day sell the offspring and make some income to meet their daily expenses and contribute with their parents to school expenses like buying books, uniform, pens, and other materials.  The goat we provide the students with is dependent upon them so the children will act as parents toward the goat, feeding them, leading them to water, and sheltering them.”

Goats Deworm Belts - Les Cayes_247

What motivates you to come to work each day?

“What motivates me to come to work each day is the hope that I bring for the kids by the goat I provide them and the joy I bring to them by playing with them.  When I visit the kids to give the goats shots and the goat cries, all the children are laughing so even the goat clinic brings joy to the kids too.”

Watching games

Do you have a hobby or activity you like doing outside of work?

“The activity I like to do outside of work is playing with kids and making them happy even for awhile. When some kids see me, they laugh so some of them call me ‘toy.’  I also sometimes act as a mentor for kids.”

What do you hope for the country of Haiti?

“What I hope for the country of Haiti is that all people, including the peasants, would have a source of revenue to respond to their daily needs.”4 - Goats, deworm, Les Cayes_065

For The Love of The Game

4 - Returnee Biz Kuajok -Sudan_092small

Dust flies as the boys’ feet shuffle across the dirt, their laughter piercing through the quiet late afternoon. The lush green bushes sway with the slight breeze, the sun beating down on their backs as they pass a worn soccer ball to each other. There’s nothing unusual about this playful pick up game – soccer has been played all over the world for centuries. But there’s one small detail that makes this scene extraordinary. The boys are from the Dinka and Nuer tribes – two tribes that have been at conflict with each other for generations.

In South Sudan, the main tribal groups include the Dinka and the Nuer. These nomadic tribes highly value strong warrior ethics. In fact, young men primarily achieve social status by raiding each other’s cattle herds. Young men in these communities, raised to make up a bulk of South Sudan’s guerrilla armies, grew up in a generation of brutal war and tribal tension. This tension is especially prevalent between young people that were educated in the North and those that grew up in the rural villages of the South. Many young people in the South resent those that had the opportunity to attend school in the North, away from the harsh realities of the war.

But among the thorns there are always wildflowers of hope peeking through. In Kuajok, South Sudan, one young man’s passion for loving others – and soccer – is sparking incredible ethnic reconciliation.

After receiving an education in the North, Akol Akol returned to his home village of Kuajok to work as a World Concern staff member. Rather than becoming discouraged by the fighting and disunity he saw in his community, Akol saw an opportunity to use his experiences to pour into the lives of others – and decided to take action.

Inspired by his passion for soccer, Akol organized two neighborhood soccer teams and began meeting with the community’s youth every afternoon for practice, as well as organize tournaments on the weekends. The tension between the Dinka and Nuer youth eased as relationships were built, and soon the constant fighting greatly declined.

There’s something truly beautiful about the way the mutual love of a sport unifies people of all different upbringings together – age gaps and cultural differences fade to the background as the love for the game takes center stage.

The older kids, inspired by Akol’s gentle spirit, began to recognize their responsibility to look after the younger children. The cycle of hate and prejudice began to break down, being replaced with one of acceptance and teamwork.

“He felt that soccer could be a form of reconciliation because they don’t need to be able to talk a lot, they just need to be able to understand the rules of the game and play together as a team,” explains Jane Gunningham, a World Concern staff member that worked closely with Akol. “He just had a heart for peace. He saw something specific he could do, something he knew how to do, and he just did it.”

Changing the world isn’t as hard as you may think. It doesn’t require daunting, expensive, over-the-top plans. It only requires a willingness to practice sincere kindness and invest in others at an individual level.

But sometimes, in a world with so much suffering and brokenness, it can be hard to know which action to take. That’s where World Concern comes in. Through World Concern’s numerous programs, hope isn’t just a distant idea; it’s a tangible reality. Through campaigns such as One Village Transformed, World Concern is committed to pursuing reconciliation and empowering the poor, so that they may in turn share with others.

Consider your passions. What’s that one topic you can’t stop talking about? What social issues make your heart ache? How can you imagine a way to respond to global poverty? For Akol, it’s reconciling community through soccer. For me, it’s protecting children through education. For you, it could be a number of things, from providing clean water to teaching job skills to empowering entrepreneurs.

One of my favorite quotes is by a 20th century cultural anthropologist named Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” How true and encouraging that is.

Just like the way a single skipped stone creates dozens of ripples, it only takes a one act of kindness to set off a tidal wave of reconciliation throughout a hurting world. Whatever cause it may be that tugs at your heartstrings, I encourage you to consider taking a step of faith and seeing where your passions take you – it’ll be worth the risk, I promise.