You’ll hear this idiom more than anything else at my house. But I heard something this week that has convicted me of many things; most notably the way we speak.
But first let me assure you, I do feed my children … and they’re not starving.
I’m sure if they think hard enough, they’ll remember that they ate today. Many times. Their bellies are full, their eyes are bright and they’re able to move … not crippled over in pain from not having food in days … or weeks. They aren’t drinking fetid water from a hole in the ground that’s teeming with insects. Or pulling dry leaves from a nearby tree to stay alive.
No, they aren’t starving.
“You want to know how sick and hungry we are? Then let me show you the tombs of my two children.”
I quite literally gasped when I heard this.
My hand then covered my mouth … I felt sick … I couldn’t speak … tears filled my eyes.
The dad that uttered these horrifying words lives in a South Sudanese village. His name is Martin, and he has such a grieved stare in his eyes that I could barely stand to look at. His children were hungry. And he’d lost them because of it.
And when I think of these little ones … their tiny graves … and this father’s despair … I can’t help but feel completely distressed about it. And so I should.
I could have kept his children alive. But if only I knew …
If you’ve read this far I now have to tell you the rest of this story—his village is full of hungry children.
After wrestling with the guilt that I probably threw away enough food to have kept this man’s children alive, I realized something greater. That I owe him so much more than just my feelings.
I have to tell his story … and honor his children.
South Sudan is a mess right now. A young country that should still be bathing in the celebration of independence is instead caught in a web of raging violence … economic disaster … and dire food shortages. Poverty is tightening its grip and the poorest people can barely breathe.
There’s no denying that at this time of year, distractions are everywhere. And while ugly Christmas sweaters and foam reindeer antlers on car antennas might make you look twice, it’s the busyness of the season that can really get to you.
Whether you’re preparing to host Christmas dinner, trying to keep the kids entertained, or battling to find a parking space at the mall, we often get so distracted that we miss out on the little things.
And it’s the little things that matter most.
It’s Christmas here at World Concern, and our halls are decked with boughs of holly (actually, just tinsel and pretty lights) and in the midst of this frantic season, there’s always one thing that makes us stop and see the overwhelming joy in the little things—you.
It’s your generosity, and heartfelt desire to illuminate the lives of needy children and families that snaps us out of the busyness, and reminds us why we’re all doing this.
Take Marie for example. Like you, she is a special part of our family and shares your compassion for shining Christ’s light on those living in darkness. Every month for the past 13 years, Marie has wrapped two dollar bills in a napkin, and sent it into World Concern. I want you to understand this—two dollars, hidden in a napkin, every month, for 13 years—amazing.
Marie often includes a small note, thoughtfully written, telling us why she sent her gift. The story varies, but the purpose is always the same—she wants to bless others with what she has.
The little things.
The Bible says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin,” and at this time of year, we want you to know that when it’s made from the heart, it’s these small beginnings that make the biggest difference—it’s how the work begins, and then grows into something beautiful.
To encourage you in the midst of this Christmas season, we want to leave you with a poem written by a Bangladeshi girl, who you saved from the horror of child marriage by giving her a scholarship to stay in school with her friends. She writes:
Oh my dear World Concern,
From far away you are praised,
Your wondering works will never fade away.
You lightened up so many lives,
You will stay always in our hearts
Wiped out the darkness from our lives
You gave us a fulfilled life
Oh my dear World Concern.
Yes, it’s absolutely the little things. Merry Christmas.
Pushing my shopping cart hurriedly through the supermarket aisles, I paused briefly to glance at my watch.
Four-thirty. Great, I still had time to get what I needed and make my doctor’s appointment.
Weaving past carts filled with food, expertly avoiding strollers,
and randomly placed boxes, I barely slowed down to grab each item off the shelf and toss it in my cart. I was on a roll; a can of peanuts, lightly salted of course … a bag of washed potatoes … risotto rice … a bunch of fresh celery … a dozen free-range eggs … and the list went on.
Within ten minutes I’d finished my shopping, proudly looking at the pile of groceries that now spilled over the side of my cart. I’d checked off every item on my list, and managed to find a checkout aisle with less than four people waiting. I am the greatest shopper in the world.
Out of breath, I now stood impatiently in the checkout line, waiting to now unload everything that I’d just put in. Well, at least they would repack it for me. It was around the time I was contemplating whether I wanted the 2 for 1 candy bar offer that I thought of April. Not the month, but a little one-year-old girl I’d been reading about earlier that afternoon.
Before my frantic trip to the grocery store, I’d spent a few hours with little April. She lives with her mom in a small village in Myanmar. I wasn’t physically sitting with her, but reading her story it sure felt like it. I read about how this precious one had been sick for over six months. That’s half her life.
Her mother shared April’s story with a colleague of mine, and told of how hungry they both were. She earned enough to buy the very basics; rice, and a few vegetables every now and then. But they were never fresh, and something always had to be sacrificed in order to afford them. It was clearly April’s health.
I unpacked my cart, haphazardly placing each item on the belt as the checker scanned, and dropped them in a paper bag. My thoughts were not on whether my eggs were cracked, but firmly focused on April, and the dire situation she was in.
April and her mom had been screened for malnutrition, and the results were not good. In villages across Myanmar (and elsewhere in Asia and Africa), World Concern staff visit children like April and test them for malnutrition and other illnesses. It’s a free service, and the results (while often shocking) can save a child’s life.
I read about how April’s mom carried her to the mobile clinic, sitting quietly on a chair and waiting for the volunteer to call them. April did nothing but cry; not a wail or an impatient tear, but a whimper, as if there was simply nothing left to cry about. Her mom did everything she could to comfort April—making faces, singing, and bouncing her on her knee—nothing worked. So she sat there, totally defeated, and waited for her daughter’s name to be called.
When it was April’s turn to be seen, the nurse first weighed April in a sling, kind of like a hammock, recording her weight before moving onto the next, and most
important test. The nurse delicately threaded a paper tape around April’s upper arm. This measures the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) and diagnoses the level of malnourishment according to a color scale—green is considered healthy, yellow shows that the child is malnourished, and red indicates severe and acute malnutrition.
April’s arm was in the red. And by a long way.
The cheerful grocery checker had almost finished packing my groceries, but at this stage all I could think about was April, and all I could hear was the beep … beep … beep … beep … of my food being scanned. Then I saw my total.
I quickly moved my eyes to my two bags of groceries. How is that $181.91?
Little April was starving, and here I am buying $181.91 worth of groceries. Her tiny immune system simply didn’t have the energy to keep on fighting, and so it was slowly giving up. She needed nutritious food, and quickly.
Thankfully, that’s exactly what World Concern is doing for hungry children in Myanmar and other communities like April’s. So after the clinic visit April’s mom was given an emergency food kit and told lovingly to come back when the basket was empty to receive more.
The basket they carried home that day was filled with locally-sourced, highly nutritious, fresh food—a bag of potatoes … nuts and beans … rice … fresh vegetables … free-range eggs—pretty much everything that I’d just bought.
And the cost of the emergency food kit? Only $22. I could feed 8 hungry children with what I just bought.
Collecting my receipt and trudging out to the car, I cringed at the abundance that was around me. Food was readily available. I had money to buy it. And I was about to visit my family doctor.
Later that evening I spoke with my son about April, and how we could give a hungry child basically everything I’d bought at the supermarket, for just $22.
My son is seven, and his response to me was exactly what ours should be:
The high-school scholarships are arriving in Bangladesh, and girls are grinning from ear to ear.
A small team of our staff recently visited a handful of Bangladeshi villages, and got to see first-hand how your gifts are not only making a difference, but bringing smiles to young faces.
We met some remarkable girls who, after bravely sharing their fears of becoming child brides, couldn’t stop thanking you for giving them a one-year scholarship to stay in school.
For many girls living here (some as young as 10), child marriage is a terrible reality, and one that won’t seem to go away. It’s a generational problem that’s fueled by warped cultural beliefs and choking poverty; the effects of which see desperate parents marry their daughters off to alleviate the financial burden of care. So when 16-year-old Happy learned that her father had plans to marry her off, she threw herself at his feet and begged him to change his mind. It’s heartbreaking to know that girls like Happy are losing their childhoods and being placed in danger, largely because their parents see no way out.
The solution is education, and girls like Happy rely on the generosity of people like you to help make it happen. The more time we spent with Happy, the more we realized what a scholarship gift really meant. She (like every other girl we met) cried tears of joy and relief knowing that she could now attend school and avoid child marriage.
“Without this scholarship, I would already be married,” shares 15-year-old Dipa, who wants to become a doctor when she’s older. Dipa has such a heart for learning that it’s hard to imagine her not in a classroom, let alone bound to a complete stranger. But like Happy, getting married was a fear that Dipa lived with daily until her sister did something unthinkable.
When Dipa was just 13, her sister volunteered herself to live as a stranger’s wife to save Dipa and give her the chance to stay in school. “I was sad and I felt lonely when my sister got married and left,” explains Dipa. “She didn’t want to get married, but she knew if she did it would take the pressure off me,”
But as Dipa grew older, the risk of her being married off returned, as did her fears. So when your one-year scholarship arrived, Dipa couldn’t stop smiling!
She feels safe for the first time in years and now has the confidence to finish school and chase her dreams—maybe even one day marry the man that God has intended.
In the rural villages of Bangladesh, girls like Dipa and Happy are smiling once again thanks to you.
For the past few months, heavy monsoonal rains have caused flash flooding and landslides across Myanmar. Huge swathes of the country have been affected, with homes, crops and lives all being lost. Thousands of people are still displaced.
But the flooding has also brought another, longer lasting, and more sinister threat to survivors: malaria. Right now, pools of warm, stagnant water lay on the ground and mosquito breeding will skyrocket. Malaria deaths will almost certainly rise.
In one of the many villages affected by the flooding sleeps 2-year-old Ahdee. It’s humid, and so Ahdee’s mother has put him in the open air, hoping that the slight breeze will help her son sleep.
What she doesn’t know is that just one bite from the thousands of mosquitoes that are buzzing around her home has the potential to kill Ahdee.
This threatening picture is the same in villages right across Myanmar; parents just don’t know the risks. And so the need to protect children like Ahdee is urgent.
World Concern is on the ground in Myanmar, working with these isolated rural communities to fight malaria and keep children like Ahdee safe. With your help, we can continue to attack malaria from four very important angles:
Immediate blood testing is made available to even the poorest families so that if a child becomes sick (high fever, and seizures), a blood test can be taken for health-workers to make an accurate diagnosis. This is the crucial first stage.
If the mosquitoes poison is in the child’s bloodstream, malaria can kill in a matter of hours, so medicine is quickly needed. Life-saving medicine is given to the child and works by battling malaria head on, and keeping the dangerous fevers away. But most importantly, the medicine keeps a child like Ahdee alive.
But there’s still work to be done to protect children at risk. Families are given insecticide treated bed nets to hang over sleeping little ones. These nets are large, specially coated in mosquito repellent and can often cover a number of children. But they’re also portable, meaning that family members can take them out of the home if they are outside at night. The thin blue netting keeps the mosquitoes away and puts a hedge of protection around those under it.
Last year, parent’s in Ahdee’s village sadly buried many young boys and girls, all killed by malaria. “We didn’t know why all the children kept dying.” said Ahdee’s mother.
So World Concern goes one step further and provides training for parents to be made aware of malaria’s deadly warning signs and what to do if their children get sick.
Children like Ahdee are sleeping unprotected and with all the extra water from the floods, the need is urgent. A gift of just $59 will cure and protect children like Ahdee before it’s too late. You will be giving them access to rapid blood tests, life-saving medicine and bed nets, and also be training parents on how to keep their kids safe.
And with the malaria threat so high in Myanmar, your gift today will be tripled! You can cure and protect 3x as many children as Ahdee, thanks to a special matching grant.
I sat down on the steps of a small rural high school in Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh, expectantly waiting to talk with some of the girls who have received scholarships from World Concern. Dressed in her blue and white uniform, 16-year-old Rima sat down next to me. I started asking questions about school – what she enjoys studying and her future plans.
With her first words, tears spilled down her cheeks. Staring off into the distance and weeping, she told me that from the time she was 14, her father has been trying to marry her off.
“My father works as a guard at the hospital. He works all night, but only earns 4,000 taka ($52) per month,” Rima explained through her tears.
The oldest of four children, Rima carries an emotional burden for the constant struggle her family experiences living in such poverty.
“We don’t eat well,” she said.
“My father keeps telling my mom, ‘I am only earning so little, how can I afford to pay for education? I want to get Rima married,’ but my mom says, ‘No, no, no, she must go to school.’”
“My dad says, ‘There is no use of her studies because she is going to get married anyway and go to the house of her husband and she will end up washing dishes in the kitchen…’”
Rima’s mother was married to her father at just 13. She knows the reality of being a child bride and bearing children far too young. She wants Rima to have a better life than she’s had.
“My mom is preventing him from marrying me off,” Rima said. “I don’t want to get married, but my dad keeps telling me, ‘If you left, then I would be able to take care of my other children better.’”
In Bangladeshi culture—especially amongst the poorest people—it is common for girls as young as 10 or 12 years to be married off to men in their thirties or forties.
Rima is at such a tender age. She dreams of finishing high school, going to college, and becoming a teacher one day.
“I want to be a teacher and teach poor children in my area, free of cost,” she said.
But instead of dreaming about her future, she lives under the constant threat of being sent to live with a man she doesn’t even know. Some of her friends have already gotten married. And some already have babies.
“Please don’t cross my name off the [scholarship] list,” she pleaded. “If World Concern didn’t help us, I would have gotten married a long time ago, and my life would have been in the darkness.”
No adolescent girl should have to live in fear of being forced to get married. An educated girl is six times less likely to be married off during her teen years. You can provide a scholarship for a girl like Rima for an entire year for just $50 and change her future.
It’s 7:30 a.m. when our little team of four load up our Jeep and head to Sri Nathkot.
This mountaintop village is just a three-hour drive from our hotel here in Pokhara, a popular tourist town in Nepal. The earthquake that rattled much of this region seemed to have mercy on this town with most of the buildings surprisingly still intact. But we’ve learned that just a few hours away, the village of Sri Nathkot was not so lucky. This community, home to around 150 people, has suffered major damage.
As we begin our journey, the clouds lift just enough to offer us a glimpse of Fish Tail, a majestic peak, not much lower than the famous Mt. Everest. Nepali driver barely took much notice. Living in the foothills of the Annapurna Mountain range, these sights have become commonplace to them.
We drive for a few hours and abruptly come to the end of the road. To this point, the earthquake had been quite selective, leaving most of the villages we passed through untouched. But ironically, as we leave the pavement behind and drive onward down dirt roads, the damage shows the magnitude of this earthquake. Homes are destroyed, some flattened, others partially collapsed. But almost all are uninhabitable. It was suddenly very easy to see how in just 90 seconds people’s lives were torn apart.
We press on towards Sri Nathkot, to visit with one of World Concern’s partners who has been working to help the survivors of this disaster. As we approach the foothills surrounding the village, the road narrows and the terrain changes dramatically. We carefully negotiate switchbacks etched into steep hillsides, mindful of the 100 foot drop-offs just a few feet from our tires.
As we make our way up another switchback, we see ahead that the road is completely impassible – for hundreds of yards, rocks had been placed in pile after pile by a local group of Nepali trying to improve passage up the mountain. We decide to turn around, go back to the fork in the road and try the other way. Our driver has not been this way before, but believes it to circle around and eventually provide access to Sri Nathkot.
The three hour mark has long passed, yet we press on and climb again for what seems to be an endless zigzag of switchbacks, each one taking us higher up the mountain. Then we reach a village. We stop and ask if this is the way to Sri Nathkot. and to our relief it is, but it’s still a couple of hours of driving on this ‘road’.
We arrive at a second village, and we’re told the same thing; a few more hours. With each turn, I’m convinced the road is becoming more and more impassible yet amazingly, we manage to climb higher. At this point, the driver tells us that he has never driven a road like this before (would have been nice to know before departing), but he’d brought us this far, so we push on.
By now, the sun is setting below the mountain tops and we are led only by the dim headlights on our Jeep (and a lot of faith!). We joke that it may be better we don’t see where we’re headed as the view in daylight, while breathtaking, was at times quite terrifying.
The sun quickly set and the moonlight was obscured by clouds, making it so dark that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But around (what felt like) one more switchback, we saw the glow of light coming from a small village….Sri Nathkot. We had arrived!
And as I reflect on this marathon journey that ended over 12 hours after it began, the reality of World Concern’s commitment to serving the most remote communities hit me. They truly go where no one else goes. There is simply no valley too deep or mountain too tall.
While we rested in Sri Nathkot that evening, my thoughts moved towards the people already here and the tragedy they’d just survived. I looked forward to meeting them, hearing their stories, and seeing how World Concern is bringing hope back to this isolated community.
In Sri Nathkot and beyond, World Concern is quite literally working at the end of the road to transform lives.
When Karima was just 8 years-old, her father left. And she took it hard.
She had not lived a day without him by her side. This man had protected her, and worked to keep her in school. So when he abandoned her mother and two sisters, Karima’s world came crashing down. Nobody came to console her. Nobody was there to wipe away her tears.
And sadly things would only get worse.
Karima’s village is in Bangladesh, and while she was too young to know it, it’s a country where many young girls are married off as child brides. Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world, where 1 in every 5 girls is married before they turn 15.
Mired in poverty after her husband left, Karima’s mother managed to survive in a small dilapidated shack, no bigger than your average kitchen. She fiercely protected Karima, and fought to keep her in school, knowing that an education was the only thing that would help her escape this life.
So she did what any mother would—she worked to find a way.
But with no money, and never having worked before, it was close to impossible. She finally found a day laboring job but the wage was small, barely enough to pay for food. There were days when the family would go without just so Karima could stay in school. It was an overwhelming sacrifice and money was quickly running out.
In Bangladesh, stories like this are far too common. In this article, a 15-year-old child bride sadly reflects on her situation saying, “We were very poor. Sometimes we would eat every two or three days,” she says. “Even though they [parents] really wanted all three of their daughter to study, it wasn’t possible –so they got me married.” Her older sisters married at 11 and 12.
So for Karima’s mother, it was no surprise when a friend suggested her daughter be married off as a child bride. This is the shocking reality for girls like Karima. They have no say, no choice. Their only hope of avoiding this terrifying prospect is to stay in school.
At World Concern, we consider every child precious. And for that reason we’re focusing our efforts on preventing girls like Karima from becoming child brides, by doing all we can to keep them in school.
We do this by providing scholarships for girls like Karima. The scholarship gives them an education and keeps them from being married off too young.
It’s a rainy Friday afternoon in Myanmar’s Shan State and some 50 concerned villagers, who represent six different villages in the region, have come together to help further devise a plan to put an end to drug use in their communities. One woman, a 45-year-old mother of three named Nadhaw, is more than eager to share her thoughts about the increasingly destructive problem that has plagued so many lives and families in her village, including her own.
“There are many drug-users in my village,” Nadhaw shares, “and now many people are migrating to China.”
The number of drug users in and around Shan State in northern Myanmar—part of the infamous Golden Triangle—has steadily increased over the past few years. According to the United Nations, poppy cultivation—the key ingredient to heroin—has tripled since 2006. And China reports that 90 percent of heroin seized in 2014 was produced in the Golden Triangle.
It’s not surprising that men—who have better access to the poppy fields that are nearby the rice and corn farms they work in everyday—are more likely to use drugs than women. Such men admit to using drugs because of peer pressure, its easy accessibility, and because they believe it will help them work longer so they can earn more money. In actuality, drug users become less productive, not surprisingly, and end up dragging their families deeper into emotional and financial stress. The result is women being left to fend for themselves after their husbands are no longer able to work or support their families. Desperately seeking a better life for themselves and their children, women and children often migrate across the border into China where they end up being trafficked into the sex or child labor trade.
This reality impacts many women like Nadhaw, whose husband—the village leader—is also a drug user.
During the past year, World Concern has partnered with proactive community members like Nadhaw to create sustainable drug prevention programs in these villages. The main goal has been to prevent first-time drug use, especially among at-risk youth, as well as to raise awareness of the negative effects and long-term damage that drug use causes.
With a background in health, Nadhaw is one of the few people in her village who already had some knowledge about the harmful effects drugs like opium can cause to one’s health and mental state. But for many who are learning these things for the first time, this information is shocking.
As a mother of three adolescent children with a husband who is a drug user, as well as being a trained midwife and health volunteer, it is no wonder that Nadhaw is so concerned about putting an end to this issue.
“I want to stop drug use in my village immediately,” she said. Her concern for her own family as well as others and her background in health has enabled Nadhaw to facilitate health awareness trainings each week for at-risk youth in her village.
“More than 10 youths who have never used drugs come to the meetings every Sunday,” Nadhaw proudly shares. She teaches them about why using drugs is dangerous, how easily they can become addicted, and about the long-term effects of using drugs. “Since we have been giving trainings to the youth in our village, most people see that [the trainings are] a good thing,” she said.
Nadhaw’s 16-year-old son, who has already started drinking alcohol, has undoubtedly been exposed to the drug-use that is prevalent within his community.
“I worry a lot about my oldest son,” Nadhaw says, “I try to tell him why doing drugs is bad and hope he doesn’t ever use them.”
Last year, Nadhaw recalls there were 17 tuberculosis cases in her village. “I think there are probably many more hidden TB cases in our village that we don’t know about,” she said. Among the many health problems related to drug use, TB is spreading rapidly through these villages. Drug users, with their weakened immune systems, are more likely to contract the disease that is already common in rural, villages like these.
Despite the damaging effects of drug use on her community and so many others, Nadhaw’s inspiring commitment to raise awareness and put an end to this devastating problem is the first step in tackling such an overwhelming issue.
In the back of her classroom in rural Haiti, 12-year-old Dashna often puts her head down on her desk and prays. The pain in her stomach gets to be too much and she can no longer concentrate on the lesson being taught. She winces with pain and silently cries out to God for help.
Worms are ravaging Dashna’s insides, sucking away vital nutrients she needs to grow like vitamin A, and causing her excruciating pain. Can you imagine try to learn in a classroom when you are in so much pain?
This is common in places like Haiti, where children walk barefoot, drink from filthy streams contaminated by raw sewage, and parasites are rampant. Worms enter the body through dirty water, or when a child eats or touches her mouth without washing her hands after going to the bathroom. They can even enter through the soles of her feet.
Once worms enter a child’s body, they multiply and begin their painful pursuit of eating away at what little food she consumes. Sometimes, this can cause her stomach to hurt all day long.
Even more, parasites spread easily between family members living in cramped quarters with no access to toilets or a way to wash their hands. Because of this, Dashna’s two younger siblings are also sick.
The good news is that deworming medicine is inexpensive and can begin to work within hours of taking the pill. When coupled with vitamin A, which is depleted by worms, and long-term solutions like clean water, sanitation, and hygiene training, the 44-Cent Cure can prevent reinfection.