Last month we told you about thousands of innocent families who were forced to flee their homes because of fighting in Northern Myanmar. These families arrived in overcrowded camps with nothing. People were sleeping outdoors in the cold and children were sick. Many of you stepped up and donated. Here are some photos just in from our staff in Myanmar showing how we’re helping.
Note: This article was originally published on the Huffington Post Impact X blog on Oct. 10, 2012.
Getting food into the hands of the hungry in the Horn of Africa is about to go high tech. Seattle-based humanitarian organization World Concern is piloting a new mobile phone app in the drought-stricken region, aiming to streamline the process of tracking food distributed to hungry families and payment to local merchants.
World Concern has been distributing food and emergency supplies to families affected by the Horn of Africa drought since July 2011. As famine spread throughout the region, aid organizations struggled to reach millions of people, especially those living in southern Somalia. World Concern distributed vouchers to hungry families who were able to purchase food from local merchants. The system supports the local economy and helps ensure food reaches those in greatest need.
This method has been extremely effective, even in dangerous and hard-to-reach places. More than 30,000 vouchers have been distributed so far, each representing a two-week supply of rations for a family of six.
The new mobile app allows field staff to use a tool they are already carrying (a mobile phone) to record data in the field (instead of a pencil and paper), and negates the need for re-entry into a computer at a later date. This saves time and reduces the risk of errors.
The system tracks beneficiaries and the food they receive via bar codes that are scanned into a mobile phone. Merchants have an I.D. card with a barcode, which is also scanned so they can be paid via wire transfer almost instantly.
The mobile app was developed by Seattle start up ScanMyList, whose founder, Scott Dyer, created a mobile application to help retail businesses track inventory. When Dyer saw one of World Concern’s vouchers, he realized the same system could help the humanitarian organization reach people during a disaster more efficiently and track aid more accurately.
Dyer traveled to the Horn of Africa with World Concern to kick off the pilot program, which will put the new technology into action in the field this month, as 4,000 food vouchers are distributed in Eastern Kenya and Southern Somalia.
“Not many people can say they’ve birthed an idea and seen it to fruition,” said Dyer. “It’s super exciting.”
The real brain behind this technology is the custom database, which is not only programmed to receive data from mobile phones, but to “think” about what it receives. The database will identify possible duplicate entries, flag significant variations in data, and crosscheck entry errors. Then, the database is programmed to generate custom reports in real time. World Concern staff can view these on a website, seeing exactly how many meals are distributed immediately.
“This technology will enable our staff to report on their life-saving distribution in real-time, increasing our ability to respond to immediate needs as they arise,” said Chris Sheach, deputy director of disaster response for World Concern.
While the “famine” has officially ended in the Horn, the long-term effects of such a severe drought and crisis will be experienced for many years to come. As NGOs shift our response from disaster to development—teaching pastoralists who lost their herds to farm and other forms of livelihood diversification—there are still many hungry people to feed. This new technology will enable us to do this even more quickly and efficiently. It can also be used in other types of disasters, particularly in cash-for-work programs.
The viral KONY 2012 awareness campaign around Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is succeeding in breaking through apathy and engaging people with the atrocities taking place in South Sudan, Congo and Uganda. For that I am very grateful. It misses the nuances of the issue, but it still brings light to this injustice. I see the effects of violence and injustice as I travel to World Concern’s programs in incredibly poor places. The LRA’s reign of terror is part of this injustice, and it must end. Oppression, slavery and murder must end throughout the world.
Where does someone like Joseph Kony come from? Wherever people have more power than others, there is oppression. Where people have no power, they are taken advantage of, exploited and abused. Oppression happens in every nation in the world. Kony is a clear example that is being brought to light. We need to shine that same light on violence and injustice, as well as their sources, and take the discussion beyond a single person.
It is our nature to seek simple solutions. In some ways this is as simple as Kony needs to be stopped. But that is where the simplicity ends. In this case, an army must be demobilized. The cycle of poverty that creates vulnerability to abuse needs to be broken as well. Empowering people through economic security is the best defense against the Konys of this world.
Capturing Kony would be a huge victory and one we would all celebrate. But unfortunately, it won’t end the violence in South Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or other places. As strongly as this campaign advocates for involvement by the U.S. government to defeat one person, let us advocate for the long-term work of defeating extreme poverty and its ripple of devastating effects.
Real change takes time. This film took nine years to produce and it is just a call for change. The best solutions are not imposed from outside. Walking with the people affected to solve complex problems brings sustainable change.
We need this new found awareness of complex problems to lead to a shift in our sense of responsibility for the suffering around the world. The best aid is not delivered in a day by westerners, and of course, it cannot be solved over social media. I see dramatic change in the lives of vulnerable people when we help equip them with tools to take control of their own destiny long-term.
If the 70+ million people who have watched KONY 2012 get engaged and fight global injustice, it will have a significant impact ending oppression in these difficult places.
Sometimes we get asked, “Why do you help people in other countries instead of the poor right here at home in the U.S.?”
Good question and one I think is worth answering.
Every nonprofit has a mission – a calling they aim to fulfill through their work. There are more than a million nonprofits based in the U.S. Many help with domestic issues and serve people here, while others help internationally. Some do both.
We at World Concern feel a special calling to help those in the poorest, least developed and often hardest to reach places in the world. That’s our mission. We seek out places to serve where climate and geography, societal instability and scarce infrastructure create incredible challenges – both to the people living there, and in terms of reaching them with help.
One example of this is in our response to the Horn of Africa drought crisis. The most practical place to help would have probably been the refugee camps in eastern Kenya. But there were already many organizations responding within the camps. As we assessed the area and the situation, it became clear there was an added strain being put on communities surrounding the camps and near the Somalia border as tens of thousands of displaced people were arriving in these towns.
We saw an unmet need and made the decision to support these communities – with food, access to water, medical care and emergency supplies. Since August, we’ve fed thousands of people, many who had been walking for weeks in search of assistance. Some might not have survived the last leg of the journey to the camps. Others have settled in these communities – a better place to start a new life than a refugee camp.
These communities are dangerous places to work. They are under almost constant threat of attack by militia. On the Somalia side of the border, we are one of only a few organizations working there. But we see this as fulfilling our calling to reach people in desperate need in hard to reach places.
Some of the villages where we serve in Laos are cut off from society because of rain, mud, rivers and damaged roads. The people there have no way to access food or medical attention if needed.
Thanks to infrastructure, development and government assistance here in the U.S., communities are rarely cut off from aid, even in a disaster. We’re finding ways to reach people in remote parts of the world – because few others will.
In American culture, there is a an emphasis on helping ourselves before we help others. The self-help world tells us that taking care of our own needs first is as important as on our own oxygen mask on an airplane before assisting others. We secretly aim to make sure our own children have enough Christmas presents before giving to others in need. As Christians, we’re called to put the needs of others before our own (Phil. 2:3-4). This is not to say we shouldn’t support the needs of the poor here at home. But what would Jesus say about the idea of “helping our own” before reaching out to others?
In terms of challenges, southern Sudan faces some mammoth ones in the coming months and years. As if giving birth to a new nation on July 9 were not enough, recent violence and looting in the disputed border town of Abyei is threatening to impede the process.
Instability in the area is creating food and fuel crises. Think you’re getting gouged at the pump these days? One of our staff members in Sudan filled his tank yesterday at what was equivalent to $15 a gallon.
All of this is sending tens of thousands of people south. Some are returning “home” after living in the north for as long as a generation. Others are escaping the violence, in search of a new start.
Unfortunately, southern Sudan doesn’t have much to offer its newest residents.
In January, the New York Times reported some staggering statistics about the south.
- 83 percent of the population lives in rural areas
- The 3,400 miles of road are virtually unpaved and only passable during the dry season
- Life expectancy is 42 years
- 51% of the population lives below the national poverty line of $22 a month
- Only 1% of households have a bank account
- Only 1.9% of the population has completed primary school
In terms of development, “There’s almost a blank page,” says World Concern Senior Director of Disaster Response and Security Nick Archer.
We’re approaching these monumental challenges in several ways: meeting an immediate need for food by providing emergency rations of food to returnees, and helping develop an economy through vocational training, small savings groups and village banks.
“There is a dearth of skilled labor,” says Archer, pointing out this presents another challenge in establishing a new government for South Sudan as well.
“This area [where we work] is really remote. It has almost never had any kind of development. The clock has hardly started ticking,” he said.
But the clock is ticking toward July 9, and according to Archer, there is a window of about three to five years for southern Sudan’s government to demonstrate progress for the country to hold together. “There is a school of thought that if it doesn’t happen within that window, the country could disintegrate.” Ongoing tribal rivalries are primarily to blame for this, he said.
Since stimulating economic activity in Sudan is a critical step in building a new nation – and something we can help with – we’re focusing our efforts on this. Read how savings groups are bringing hope to women in Sudan.
It’s a small start, and development of this magnitude will take time. Please join us in praying for a peaceful, safe birth of this new nation.
World Concern Sudan Country Director Peter Macharia recently addressed a group of graduates from a 21-day training workshop for new leaders of a literacy and financial management program. The workshop was held in Juba and involved participants from all over Sudan.
His comments were published in the Sudan Vision Daily newspaper.
Here are Peter’s inspirational words shared with participants, church leaders and guests at the ceremony.
“This is a great day for all of us. For the trainer, it has been a long tiring month of learning. You have been bombarded with new knowledge, refreshed with new ideas, and challenged with new hope.
You are now being called to go out and make disciples. You are called to be the light to those in literacy darkness. You are called to be the salt to those who are finding life tasteless because of despair and hopelessness. You have been equipped and you now have the tools and the skills to bring transformation in the villages and in the cities.
As you go out, I will say like what God told Joshua, ‘Be strong and courageous.’ (1:6) I am also persuaded to remind you of what Paul told Timothy, ‘And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ.’ (2 Timothy 2:2)
Please go out and train others, empower them and make up. As for us, we will stand by you to support you and encourage you to achieve the program goals. We will also pray for you.
Remember, we are not doing it for ourselves, not for Mothers Union, not for World Concern, but for God and His people!
This program belongs to you. You are the one to make it a success or a failure. I will urge you to make it a success! Be prepared to leave behind a legacy that you will be remembered for. I challenge you to think of how you can achieve beyond your target for you are well able.
Thank you, and unto God’s grace I commend you!”
Media coverage of Sudan’s upcoming referendum scheduled for a vote in January 2011 has increased recently as the date draws closer and President Obama spoke on the issue at the UN General Assembly last week. World Concern works in southern Sudan, and the relative peace in that region over the past five years has allowed us to make great progress in extremely poor communities.
As a humanitarian agency, we limit our involvement in the political processes of the countries where we serve. We know, though, that violence hinders our work – and we expect violence if the vote is delayed. Therefore, we hope and pray for a peaceful outcome to the process this January.
Dave Eller, World Concern’s president, shares some thoughts below. He visited Sudan in June and saw firsthand the struggles people face there to overcome decades of war and violence – many of whom lost everything in a conflict they didn’t support.
“On a recent trip to southern Sudan I overheard many conversations about the referendum that is to take place in January. The people of southern Sudan are very anxious to have this vote take place as scheduled. They seem to believe that if the vote does not happen as scheduled it will be postponed indefinitely and may not happen. There is fear that if the referendum is not held there would be a return to violence.
The peace accords that were signed attest to the fact that is it is possible to end fighting. Turning back from the decisions made five years ago would seem to be a significant step backwards. While I am not an expert on Sudanese politics, it is easy to see the benefits that peace has brought.
In this time of relative peace since 2005 significant progress has been made in the development of the South. The people have had the opportunity to start rebuilding their lives. In World Concern’s work we have seen schools reestablished, businesses started, food provided equitably, and community health programs get underway. A return to violence would put the progress that has been made at risk.
The referendum needs to be more than just timely. The voting needs to be free and fair. The voices of the people need to be heard in this very important decision-making process. The people of Sudan desire to have a voice in their future. They have shared with me their heart to see a future lived out in peace and not conflict. The answers may or may not be found in this referendum, but clearly if it does not take place, or if it is not free and fair, it would be a step backwards.
It is my prayer that the leaders of north and south Sudan would find resolution to the remaining issues so that the people of Sudan might live in peace. Sudanese parents I spoke with desire to raise their children free from the threat of violence and war. This is what every parent would want. As international communities we should continue to hold all of the leaders to that standard, and recognize that the solutions must be found to keep from plunging the country back into civil war.
This is a critical time in the history of Sudan. It is a critical time in the lives of millions of people. Let us remember our brothers and sisters throughout the country of Sudan in our prayers.”
Early this morning, I joined a couple of co-workers for an unusual event in front of World Concern’s international headquarters in Seattle.
Hammering by streetlight, we finished placing 1,000 wooden crosses into the ground, each with a red felt ribbon.
Today is World AIDS Day, a time when the general public joins humanitarians to consider the enormity of the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
5,500 people will die today and another 6,000 will be infected. More than two million people will die this year because of AIDS.
The first 500 crosses went into the ground smoothly Sunday afternoon, then we finished in the darkness Monday morning. Hammering was easy. What’s difficult for me is the realization that 1,000 crosses doesn’t even account for one day of deaths due to AIDS. It’s about the number of deaths in four hours.
What has surprised me in my research of AIDS is that three out of four people who die from AIDS live in Africa, more specifically, sub-Saharan Africa, which is approximately the southern 3/4 of the continent. In this incredibly poor area of Africa, the rate of HIV/AIDS is often between 10 and 60 times higher than in America. Seven countries have rates over 15 percent. Generations are dying.
I am proud of World Concern’s work with those affected by HIV and AIDS. We provide humanitarian relief for those with HIV and AIDS, as well as others affected by the virus, including AIDS orphans. Since 2004, World Concern touched the lives of more than 150,000 people AIDS orphans, and nearly 40,000 caregivers. Our AIDS work includes the countries of Haiti, Zambia and Kenya.
I hope that the crosses help show the reality of AIDS. It is not something to be ignored. Most importantly, it is something you can help change, but supporting organizations like World Concern that have a direct, positive influence on the lives of poor and desperate people.
Feel free to come by today, if you are in the Seattle area. The display will be up today, and gone tomorrow. Of course, the challenge of HIV and AIDS will remain after World AIDS Day, and for that, we ask the you remember those affected by AIDS year-round.
World Concern is located on the campus of CRISTA ministries. The address: 19303 Fremont Ave. N, Shoreline, WA, 98133.
Whether you work for a humanitarian aid agency or simply care about the poor, it helps to find good resources. Below are a few of my favorites:
- The United Nations-sponsored World Food Programme: http://www.wfp.org/english/
- The CIA’s compilation of facts and figures from every country: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/
- Find out news about humanitarian organizations and activities, often before you will see it anywhere else. Reuters AlertNet: http://www.alertnet.org/
- A website dedicated to the issue of human trafficking: http://www.humantrafficking.org/
- A United Nations-sponsored website focusing on the welfare of children: http://www.childinfo.org/
- News about nonprofits and how they operate: The Chronicle of Philanthropy: http://philanthropy.com/
- A blog from Seattle pastor Eugene Cho, who has a particular compassion for the poor and marginalized: http://eugenecho.wordpress.com
- Advent Conspiracy, an idea to take consumerism out of Christmas, and instead give meaningful gifts to those you love and hope to the world’s poorest. http://www.adventconspiracy.org/
- And of course, World Concern: http://www.worldconcern.org
Day 2: Nothing much to say about this day, other than it’s not an overwhelmingly pleasant experience to try to sleep on 10 to 12 hour plane flights.
On the plus side, the airlines still have not cut the meals from these trans-continental flights. If they did, I am sure there would be a revolt.
Day 3: Daylight was just beginning to break when we arrived in Kenya. It was cooler than I expected, but still a little muggy. I was surprised to find the jet didn’t pull up to a gate. It just parked in the vast expanse of tarmac, a stairway was pulled up next to the plane, and everybody walked off onto the concrete.
We soon bought our visas, cleared customs and hooked up with Tracy, the knowledgeable outgoing country director for Kenya. She led us to our waiting white van. We met the Kenyan driver, an affable fellow named Gordon. He seemed to know a little bit about everything, including a complete history of giraffes in Kenya.
Once on the road, we saw the many matatus, small buses about the size of a Volkswagen Vanagon, packed full of people. The average matatu has 14 seats; it costs less than a dollar for a trip across town, about four dollars to cities two hours away. While some matatus are in good condition, others look as if they have been in a demolition derby, it seems that all matatus are driven in a very spirited fashion. I would not dare to drive in Kenya and am thankful we had a local at the wheel.
I was also amazed to see how many people walk in Kenya. And there are no sidewalks. People have just have cut paths through the trees, even along on the road leading up to the airport. They cannot afford vehicles, so they’re off on foot or bicycles. And just about everybody’s dressed up. It looks like they are off to job interviews, with polished shoes and briefcases as they walk through the dirt. Still, the unemployment here is significant. The country is one of the poorest in the world.
As we drove, we occasionally saw glimpses of the extreme poverty: fields covered in garbage, rows and rows of shacks with metal roofs and people cooking over campfires. Vendors walk through traffic and sell trinkets and newspapers. After we navigated through a couple of smoggy traffic jams, we got checked into the hotel, a quaint place with a couple of security guards that caters toward Christian relief workers.
Tracy then guided us to see where World Concern’s offices in Kenya, Africa. We met the staff, got a rundown of what World Concern does in Kenya, as well as an overview of all of the operations across Africa. This field office is for all of World Concern’s projects in the continent.