Investing in Disaster Risk Reduction Saves Lives

My dad used to always say, “It’s better to build a guardrail on a curve than a hospital at the bottom of the hill.” As an adult, I’ve come to understand that wisdom of his words. We all want to rescue someone after they’re hurt. But isn’t it better to protect them from harm in the first place?

Today, as the president of World Concern, I have an opportunity to put my dad’s wisdom into practice. Our focus is on disaster risk reduction: equipping vulnerable communities for a disaster before it happens, and taking practical steps to minimize its destructive impact.

We work to provide infrastructure within and around a community to protect its residents from disaster. This is far better than repeatedly helping them rebuild… and grieving with families who have lost loved ones in a devastating earthquake or hurricane.

Mercila no longer fears disaster in her village along Haiti's northern coast. She is helping her community prepare for future disasters.
Mercila no longer fears disaster in her village along Haiti’s northern coast. She is helping her community prepare for future disasters.

Mercila’s story is a great example of how communities can protect themselves.

“When there is flooding, the houses fill with water and people lose many things. When there is a hurricane… houses are destroyed,” said Mercila, a young mom who lives in Haiti. Hurricane season comes every year, and her village’s precarious location along Haiti’s northern coast leaves the entire community vulnerable to frequent natural disasters.

Her one-year-old son’s safety weighs heavily on her mind. “My dream for my son is to let him grow up in Anse-á-Foleur where disaster will not impact our town again.”

Mercila's village of Anse-a-Foleur has a new storm shelter where families can go to stay safe when the next hurricane comes.
Mercila’s village has a new storm shelter where families can stay safe during a hurricane.

World Concern is taking action to keep everyone in Anse-á-Foleur safe. We’ve trained Mercila as an emergency responder for her village. Now, she is teaching her entire community, passing along all the disaster preparedness training she’s received.

The community was equipped to establish an early warning system to alert villagers of coming danger, and built rock walls along the river to prevent flooding. They also constructed a storm shelter, so families will have a safe place to go when a hurricane is near.

“Because of the activities of World Concern, Anse-á-Foleur has become a new town,” Mercila proclaimed. “We are not afraid about anything.”

Mercila no longer fears disaster,

but many others in vulnerable communities are living in the path of destruction. Families in Bangladesh, for example, know that the month of May brings another cyclone season… and certain destruction. Together, we can help them prepare and survive.

Kanomrani's family lives in a coastal village in Bangladesh that is in the direct path of cyclones. You can help protect a family like hers from the storms ahead.
Kanomrani’s family lives in a coastal village in Bangladesh that is in the direct path of cyclones. You can help protect a family like hers from the storms ahead.

World Concern will always be there for those who are suffering after disaster. But it’s a wise and critical investment to protect vulnerable moms, dads, and little ones from future disasters.

You can help protect them. Give online at www.worldconcern.org/savelives  

 

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.

5 Key Principles for Working with the Poor: #4 Created to Be Creative

This is the fourth 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 importance of building on God-given skills and abilities when we help the poor.

4. Created to Be Creative

“Like all good and satisfying work, the worker sees himself in it.” – Tim Keller

This woman in Bangladesh earns income by using her skills as a seamstress.
This woman in Bangladesh earns income by using her skills as a seamstress.

In the last post, we talked about the importance of starting with what people have not with what they lack when doing ministry with the poor. In this post, we’re going to continue that thought, but focusing on the God-given need we all have to use our skills and abilities.

From the outset of the Bible, we see God at work in creation, and throughout the Bible we see God continuing to work within creation. We also see God reflect back on His work with joy, for instance at the end of each day of creation. I think this is, in part, because His work bears His signature, it’s a reflection of who He is in some sense. Pslam 19 affirms this idea:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Tim Keller says, “Like all good and satisfying work, the worker sees himself in it.” This is not only true of God, but being made in His image, we’re also designed to use our unique skills and abilities.  Keller also says:

“Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer, and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul. Without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness. People who are cut off from work because of physical or other reasons quickly discover how much they need work to thrive emotionally, physically, and spiritually.”

A young Haitian man uses his construction skills to rebuild homes in Haiti.
A young Haitian man uses his construction skills to rebuild homes in Haiti.

This video, “Eggs in Rwanda,” shows an example of how good intentions of helping actually undermined the God-given need for a person in that community to work.

Let’s be sure we’re equipping people use their God-given skills and abilities when we help the poor.

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 “Proverbs 31” women of Bangladesh

Microcredit - homeowner

She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.
She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

Microcredit - property owner

She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. 

She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

Lady holding clothing - Bangladesh

She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.

Bangladesh mom and baby

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

World Concern Dhaka showroom - microcredit

Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Verses are from Proverbs 31 (NIV)

Empowering women to earn income safely through microloans

Dhaka slum
A woman sweeps up garbage in a Dhaka slum.

Bithi and her husband left their families in rural Bangladesh and moved to the over-crowded city of Dhaka—home to 5 million people—in search of a better life. The only work they could find was in a garment factory, earning meager wages. The couple rented a small, one-room home in a slum near the garment factory.

Thousands of Dhaka residents, desperate for work, accept low-paying—and often dangerous jobs in garment factories. Others work as rickshaw pullers or day laborers.

The couple was barely surviving when Bithi became pregnant. She gave birth to a little girl named Jannath, which means “heaven.” Bithi was referred to a World Concern clinic so Jannath could receive immunizations. During her visit to the clinic, doctors discovered that Jannath had a hole in her heart. The family was referred to a local hospital where their daughter received treatment.

A woman sews in her business.
A young Bangladeshi mother operates her own sewing business, with the help of a World Concern microloan.

As Jannath grew, Bithi visited the clinic regularly for checkups. She built a relationship with the staff there, who support and encourage her to keep her daughter healthy. But they also noticed that Bithi was struggling emotionally and financially. Her husband blamed her for Jannath’s health problems. And their daughter was often left in the care of others so that Bithi could work at the garment factory.

Realizing that Bithi needed a better income to afford treatment for her daughter’s heart condition and to support herself and her family, the staff recommended her for a World Concern microloan. With Bithi’s first loan of $270, she was able to quit her job at the garment factory and start her own business as a seamstress.

She’s now able to care for her daughter full-time, and has hope for a better future, beyond grinding poverty and exhausting, long hours in the factory.

Microcredit training
Women receive training in business ethics through World Concern’s microcredit program.

World Concern microloans help thousands of women like Bithi transform their lives by starting their own businesses. Women who are helped through our microcredit program are provided with loans, training on how to profit from a business and ethical business practices, and ongoing support to grow their businesses – even hiring more women who need to earn income safely.

 

 

screen printing business
This woman operates a successful screen printing business in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with the help of World Concern.

Learn more and support a Bangladeshi entrepreneur with a small business loan.

A mother’s heart is the same around the world

Last night my 4 month old daughter, Alyssa laughed for the first time.  She had been showing signs of the laughter soon to come with short giggles for several weeks, but last night was different.  Last night was full out, joy filled, uncontainable laughter.  I thought about going to get the camera to record it but was so excited to see her laugh that I decided not to waste my time with the camera.  I wanted to relish in this beautiful moment and so I did and loved every moment.

I could choose to stay home with Alyssa each day and spend all day teaching her how to blow bubbles and roll over, but instead each morning I give her a kiss good bye and send her to daycare with her daddy.  I make this decision, because I work for World Concern and I love my job.

I know it’s not the most glamorous job, nor do I find myself at the front lines of our work, but I know that I am part of a team – a team that brings food and water to victims of famine, healthcare to the sick and small loans to the poor.  I get to come into work each day and hear all the stories of people World Concern is helping around the world. I know that most of those stories come from women not all that different than myself.

Somali mother giving baby water
A Somali mother tries to give her newborn some water by hand during the Horn of Africa famine.

These women have suffered much more than I could imagine and have faced tragedy like I have never seen. I have so much respect and compassion for them.  I know that if you look deep in their eyes, I mean really deep, past the pain, the hunger, and fear you can see a woman, a mom, and a wife who wants nothing more than to be able to provide for her family.  She is a mom who just wants to be able to play with her newborn and see laughter in her baby’s eyes.

Instead, of laughter, she has to listen to the hunger pains and the tired voices of her little ones.  Instead of wrapping chubby little legs in blankets at night, she gets to wrap her small and fragile child in scraps of clothing.  These women, long for something better for their children and I know that World Concern works hard to give that to them.

World Concern is participating in the 1,000 Days campaign by serving mothers, newborns and children (often the most vulnerable to malnutrition) through nutrition education, healthcare, emergency feeding programs, home gardening, and agricultural support.   In Chad, World Concern trains women and their families to grow sack gardens outside their homes. Sack gardens produce leafy green vegetables in order to supplement the family’s diets with much needed nutrients.  Ninety-six percent of these families reported that they were harvesting crops weekly and most were convinced that sack gardening was useful and helped women feed their families a healthy diet.

Many of these same families later participated in a follow up training on water management and vegetable business production so that women can continue to grow crops longer into the dry season as well as sell some of her crops to other families.  By selling her crops, a woman not only creates an income for her family but also encourages others to eat nutritious vegetables as well.

Bangladesh moms with babies
Women like these in Bangladesh are better able to feed and provide for their children with the help of microloans for small businesses.

Much of Bangladesh’s population earns a living through agriculture but for the young woman without any land to grow crops for her family, she must find a way to earn a living another way.  World Concern is giving these women microloans to start their own businesses.  These women learn to embroider cloth, make candles, sew table cloths and more. They are also given business training like managing accounts, banking and cash flow projection along with training on discrimination of women, basic health and environmental concerns.  The income earned allows an entrepreneur to provide a safe and warm home for her children as well as education and good nutrition.

So, for me, yes my heart breaks a little each time I have to say goodbye to my little girl, even for just a few hours. But it’s worth it.  I know that I am part of a team transforming the lives of people in the most desperate circumstances so that, like myself they can see joy instead of hunger in their children’s eyes.

This is one way that I can make a small sacrifice and teach my daughter the importance of caring for those in need.  I know that Alyssa will be there waiting for me when I come to pick her up and she’ll give me a giant grin, and maybe now even break out into laughter.

 

The freedom to make a living

Sitting at my desk on this International Women’s Day, I’m reminded of the opportunities I’ve been given to be educated and earn an income to support my family. I don’t take this for granted, especially when I read stories like that of Rashida Begum, who grew up in the overcrowded slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh. She never went to school and was forced into marriage at just 13 years old. By the time she was 18, she had five children.

Rashida working.
Rashida has a thriving business making and selling beaded and embroidered fabric.

Despite the odds against her, today, Rashida has a thriving business. She’s able to use the talents she learned as a child – embroidery and bead work – and has gained self-confidence from the growing list of customer orders she receives. Even though she’s illiterate and living in a male-dominated, oppressive society, Rashida is able to support her family with her income.

It all began with a small business loan, which she desperately needed. Unfortunately, in many countries, skill and incentive aren’t enough. The loan enabled her to buy materials and start selling things. It’s amazing to think how different her life is, simply because she’s able to work. She’s also able to pay for her kids to go to school, which means the benefits of her business will carry into the next generation.

Microlending is a simple concept that leads to independence for so many women around the world. In honor of International Women’s Day, take a minute to learn more about it. For a small investment, you could change a life in a developing country.

Returning home to Bangladesh

World Concern Director of International Health Programs Dr. Paul Robinson began his new position with a trip to Bangladesh, his native country. He visited World Concern’s programs there and shares some of his experiences below.

Meet Doctor Ragib

A student in Bangladesh.
With World Concern's support, Rajib is on his way to fulfilling his dream to be a doctor.

At a World Concern sponsored elementary school in Bangladesh, I met a young boy named Rajib. I asked him what he hopes to become when he grows up. Rajib looked straight at me and matter-of-factly, with great confidence in his voice, told me without batting eye, “I will be a doctor.”

This short encounter reminded me of another young boy in Bangladesh, who some decades ago dreamt of becoming a doctor. He had very little chance on his own and his family had no resources for his medical education. But only thru God’s grace and His provision that young school boy not only earned his medical degree in Bangladesh, but also became a seminary graduate, and a public health professional in the U.S.

I know this story of God’s miracle very well because I am that boy. And I know He can do the same for Ragib.

With World Concern support, Ragib is well on his way to becoming an accomplished physician as he continues to come to school every day with his dad giving him a ride on his bicycle.

Completing the circle

Her bright eyes, warm smile and gentle spirit connect this young teacher, Jhoomoor Roy, to her elementary students at a World Concern sponsored school in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A teacher in Bangladesh.
Jhoomoor Roy was once a student at this World Concern sponsored school. Now she's teaching children there and giving them the same opportunities she has had.

Watching her in the classroom, it was hard for me to believe that Jhoomoor used to sit on these same benches in this same school just a few years ago, herself a young, student whose education was sponsored by World Concern.

With stellar results, she passed her school and college finals. As she continues her studies at the university, Jhoomoor teaches at this school, completing a full circle from being a student here herself to helping children who, like her, are now being educated.

Donations to World Concern have not only brought blessings to one, but to successive generations as well.

Snapshots From A Bangladesh Slum

A boy wades through a festering trash pile in Bangladesh, looking for food. Humanitarian organization World Concern is working nearby, improving opportunities in the neighborhood with small business funding.
A boy wades through a festering trash pile in Bangladesh, looking for food. Humanitarian organization World Concern is working nearby, improving opportunities in the neighborhood with small business funding.

I knew we were on our way to a Dhaka slum, but on the way, the slum wafted into the car. The sour, stomach-turning odor matched what I began seeing: fly-covered piles of trash lining the sides of this Bangladeshi road. Crows and cows picked through the festering debris, hunting for food. Plastic bags and chicken bones emerged from the piles, all cooking in the sticky 100 degree heat. And on top of the mess: a couple of barefoot, shirtless kids.

The boys wandered through the piles, looking for something to eat. My van stopped nearby, and I popped open the door, holding my breath, which only works for so long. I watched one boy, maybe five years old, as he held a piece of scrap metal and poked at the garbage. He would head in one direction, then change routes, scanning the ground.

At one point, the tan, black-haired boy picked up what looked like half of a rotten melon. He brought it to his face, took a whiff, dropped it, then silently kept on moving. He eventually disappeared from view behind a shack, near where a woman (his mother?) was prodding at another pile of trash. It was almost as if they were thinking, “surely, this is not all there is for me.”

Across the street I saw row after row of ramshackle homes. Waterfront shanties, with front lawns of blowing trash. The nearby lake was red with pollution. Who knows what chemicals had been dumped in there to make that unnatural color. Later in my trip across Bangladesh, I saw a river that was black with grime, and saw a barge pump something grey directly into a lake. I am not sure if the fishermen nearby even noticed.

Without a doubt, this experience is depressing. Still, I know that World Concern is doing something to change this situation. A few minutes after we drove away from the slum, we visited a woman now able to provide for her family because of a small business loan. After that, I met another woman who has a growing screen-printing business because of World Concern.

We can’t take care of all of the problems in this slum, but we are doing what we can to change the picture of poverty here, one person at a time.

A woman picks through rotting trash in a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A woman picks through rotting trash in a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Near a Bangladesh slum, heavy pollution near a turned this lake red.
Near a Bangladesh slum, heavy pollution turned this lake red.
A fly-covered melon is one of the treats to be found in a Bangladesh dump frequented by hungry children.
A fly-covered melon is one of the treats to be found in a Bangladesh dump frequented by hungry children.