A 7-Year-Old’s Heart for One Village in Chad

Nina Tomlinson asked for donations to help the families in Maramara, Chad, for her 7th birthday.
Nina Tomlinson asked for donations to help the families in Maramara, Chad, for her 7th birthday.

When 7-year-old Nina Tomlinson heard that fire had destroyed most of the homes and crops in the remote village of Maramara, Chad, she was heartbroken for the families who lost everything. Nina’s church partners with the village of Maramara through World Concern’s One Village Transformed project. Nina had also just learned about habitats in school, so she understood how bad this disaster was.

“I know that you need food, water, and shelter to survive and Maramara lost two of those things,” the concerned first-grader told her mom. “I want to help!”

Nina's friends and family gave nearly $1,500 to help provide food and shelter to families in Maramara.
Nina’s friends and family gave nearly $1,500 to help provide food and shelter to families in Maramara.

Nina’s birthday was coming up and she decided to ask friends and family to donate to help the people of Maramara instead of giving her gifts. Her mom, Brie, created a Facebook event to tell others about Nina’s cause, and the donations started pouring in.

“It was awesome to show her other peoples’ generous hearts,” said Brie.

At her birthday party, an excited Nina revealed the total her friends had given. After it was all over, “She ended up raising just about $1,500,” said Brie.

Nina said she feels pretty awesome about being able to help other children and families facing devastating circumstances. Her birthday donation, along with additional support from her church, will enable people in Maramara to rebuild their homes, have enough food to eat until their crops can be restored, and most importantly, have hope for the future, knowing people like Nina care enough to help.

Women in the remote village of Maramara, Chad, stand amidst the ashes after a fire destroyed homes and crops.
Women in the remote village of Maramara, Chad, stand amidst the ashes after a fire destroyed homes and crops.
With help from Nina and her church, families in Maramara are rebuilding their homes and replanting crops.
With help from Nina and her church, families in Maramara are rebuilding their homes and replanting crops.
Children in Maramara received emergency food after the fire, thanks to support from Nina's church.
Children in Maramara received emergency food after the fire, thanks to support from Nina’s church.

 

The Joy of Clean Water in One Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahmat Abbo Dahab
Ahmat Abbo Dahab

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

 

Mustapha Mahamat
Mustapha Mahamat

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

 

Hassani Moussa
Hassani Moussa

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

 

Fatimé Zakaria
Fatimé Zakaria

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

5. Transformation through Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come with me to rural Chad

3 1/2 weeks.
10 villages. Over 35 interviews. 7 airplanes. A large variety of beds.
15 Cokes. 3 Coke-car-explosions (inevitable). 2 head-scarfs.
2 times getting the Land Rover stuck – once in a wadi & once in mud. 25 cups of hot tea. 1,596.97 moments of wishing I spoke French. 42 herds of camels.
Countless painful stories. Countless stories of resilience and hope.
1 fantastic team of colleagues.
Over 4,000 photos.

The following photos are highlights of Africa Communication Liaison Kelly Ranck’s time spent visiting World Concern’s projects in the Sila Region of Chad. “I’m fairly certain I could write over 30 blog posts based on everything and everyone that I saw, heard, met, and experienced. But, for now, I give you photos,” says Kelly.If you haven’t caught my last two posts on Chad, make sure to check them out here and here.”
Amkharouba, Chad.
Amkharouba, Chad.
Achta has 8 children and had twin boys just three days before I met her - Hassan and Hissein. Her twins were born two days apart, "I was in so much pain that I did not know who I was." When I met Achta, she was still recovering from a difficult, at-home birth (the nearest hospital is over three hours away by foot) and was unable to walk outside of her compound. Her husband is too old to work and her children have either moved from the village or are two young to assist in the fields. Despite the joy of new life (I've never held a smaller child), Achta was clearly distraught. Thankfully her community was able to look out for her enough that she had the minimal water and food to survive (a few days later, I came back to visit and Achta was not producing enough milk to feed her boys). // Harako, Chad
Achta has 8 children and had twin boys just three days before I met her – Hassan and Hissein. Her twins were born two days apart, “I was in so much pain that I did not know who I was.” When I met Achta, she was still recovering from a difficult, at-home birth (the nearest hospital is over three hours away by foot) and was unable to walk outside of her compound. Her husband is too old to work and her children have either moved from the village or are two young to assist in the fields. Despite the joy of new life (I’ve never held a smaller child), Achta was clearly distraught. Thankfully her community was able to look out for her enough that she had the minimal water and food to survive (a few days later, I came back to visit and Achta was not producing enough milk to feed her boys). // Harako, Chad
“We only have one water source and we are many in population. We used to get food, but we no longer grow millet like before. It’s too hard to see your children hungry. It really affects you.” – Mariam // Abeche, Chad
This is Achta - wife to Yaya and mother of seven precious children. Achta is a returnee - meaning that she was forced to flee when the Janjaweed attacked her village (three times). Achta recently returned with her family  and has been spending her days cultivating the land - praying that the rains will come and their harvest will be bountiful. // Amkrereribe, Chad
This is Achta – wife to Yaya and mother of seven precious children. Achta is a returnee – meaning that she was forced to flee when the Janjaweed attacked her village (three times). Achta recently returned with her family and has been spending her days cultivating the land – praying that the rains will come and their harvest will be bountiful. // Amkrereribe, Chad
Halime is 25 years old and has eight children. // Amkrereribe, Chad.
Halime is 25 years old and has eight children. // Amkrereribe, Chad.
"Our biggest need is that we don't have any food. But our people are very good farmers - this is our strength. We can grow potatoes and tomatoes very well." - Halime // Amkrereribe, Chad.
“Our biggest need is that we don’t have any food. But our people are very good farmers – this is our strength. We can grow potatoes and tomatoes very well.” – Halime // Amkrereribe, Chad.
"Our biggest need is clean water. There is no clean water to drink and we are too tired from farming to boil our water." - Yaya // Amkrereribe, Chad.
“Our biggest need is clean water. There is no clean water to drink and we are too tired from farming to boil our water.” – Yaya // Amkrereribe, Chad.
Three months ago, Abdulai returned to his home village with his two sons. They plan to rebuild their homes, all seven were destroyed by the Janjaweed, and farm in order to prepare a comfortable life for the rest of the family. "Let my two wives stay in the camp until I have food to feed all of my children." // N'djamena Village, Chad.
Three months ago, Abdulai returned to his home village with his two sons. They plan to rebuild their homes, all seven were destroyed by the Janjaweed, and farm in order to prepare a comfortable life for the rest of the family. “Let my two wives stay in the camp until I have food to feed all of my children.” // N’djamena Village, Chad.
The beautiful Achta Mahamat. I've yet to meet a stronger woman. At 50-years- old, Achta has survived  losing her entire home to the Janjaweed and four children to preventable diseases. "We don't have a hospital here. It is too hard for a mother to see your children dying. I don't know if it was the water that was giving them sickness." // N'djamena Village, Chad.
The beautiful Achta Mahamat. I’ve yet to meet a stronger woman. At 50-years- old, Achta has survived losing her entire home to the Janjaweed and four children to preventable diseases. “We don’t have a hospital here. It is too hard for a mother to see your children dying. I don’t know if it was the water that was giving them sickness.” // N’djamena Village, Chad.
Age is beauty. // Karona, Chad.
Age is beauty. // Karona, Chad.
Buddies stand outside their new school (built by the community!). // Harako, Chad.
Buddies stand outside their new school (built by the community!). // Harako, Chad.
The power of a woman. // Tessou, Chad.
The power of a woman. // Tessou, Chad.
Joining the locals and taking a break during the heat of the day. We laughed a lot. // Amkrereribe, Chad
Joining the locals and taking a break during the heat of the day. We laughed a lot. // Amkrereribe, Chad
"In Gassire, people were not giving us foods. Even if it is not safe here, we would rather farm our own lands." - Achta // N'djamena, Chad.
“In Gassire, people were not giving us foods. Even if it is not safe here, we would rather farm our own lands.” – Achta // N’djamena, Chad.
Abdulai and his son. // N'djamena, Chad.
Abdulai and his son. // N’djamena, Chad
Sibling fascination. // Abeche, Chad.
Sibling fascination. // Abeche, Chad.
Amkharouba, Chad.
Amkharouba, Chad.

 

Thanks for coming! – Kelly

 

Going Home: Eastern Chad, then and now

This week I was browsing through photos and documents from 2006-2008, when our staff was assessing the needs of families in Chad in the wake of the Darfur war. Wow. The situation was grim. According to these documents, in 2007 there were about 230,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad, and 180,000 displaced Chadians.

We were planning a response in camps near Goz Beida, a town that previously supported a population of 5,000. By 2008, there were an additional 60,000 displaced people living there. Imagine if your hometown of 5,000 suddenly had 60,000 traumatized, homeless, and desperately needy visitors.

Village destroyed by fire
A village in E. Chad, destroyed by fire.

These families—what was left of them—had survived horrific violence. Armed militia on horseback (called Janjaweed), had lit their grass homes on fire, destroyed their villages, and killed everyone in their path. Only those who hid in the bush survived.

One of those who survived was a woman we’ll call Hawa. I discovered her story amidst pages of data collected by our staff. One way we determine how to help is by talking directly with families—hearing their stories. Hawa was eager to tell hers, and other women gathered around as she spoke, nodding their heads that their stories matched.

Hawa lived in a village of about 2,000 people, their houses scattered along the edge of a seasonal river.  In the short rainy season, they cultivated grain, harvesting enough to feed themselves throughout the rest of the year, plus a bit to sell. 

During the dry season, they dug wells in the dry river bed and grew vegetables to sell in the local market, or to dry for eating.  Each family had about 60 animals that provided them with gallons of milk. 

The girls fetched water while the boys looked after the animals, attending the local school when their chores were done.  There were occasional droughts when times were tough, but they lived a full life and seldom went hungry…

Broken grain containers
Broken grain containers.

Then one day, without notice, men mounted on horses and camels surrounded the village, encircling it, running around the perimeter of the houses, shooting into the air.  Women scrambled, terrified, to collect their children.  A few of the riders charged into the village, killing 40 of the men, setting the thatch roofs of the houses on fire. 

In the chaos, the women ran with their children to hide beyond the riverbed.  For hours the attackers systematically pillaged the village, taking anything of value that had survived and loading them up on the large train of camels they’d brought along for that purpose.  They killed anyone they found remaining in the village, carrying away 3 women they captured alive. 

The attackers even poked around in the ground to find their grain stores.  The excess they could not carry away, they burned to make sure that no one could come back to live in this village.

After hiding for a couple of days, a few of their number returned to the village to see what they could salvage, to bury the dead and to find missing members of their families.  Hawa held a scarred cooking pot.  From all her possessions, it was the only thing she’d managed to save.  But she had all of her children together and was grateful for this.  She didn’t know where her husband was…

Family inside IDP hut
A family inside their hut in a camp for displaced families.

She sought safety amongst the tens of thousands of others in Goz Beida.  Now she had only a grass hut, a crusty cooking pot, a cotton cloth to cover her children at night and a few kilograms of grain to feed her children.  No milk, no vegetables, no oil or even salt. When she’d first arrived, she’d been lucky enough to receive a bag of grain as food aid, but she’d had to sell about half to buy some basics like a spoon, salt for the food, dried okra and soap. 

Not willing to simply watch her children starve, she braved the threat of rape to collect firewood to sell in the hopes of earning maybe 25 or 30 cents which she would use to buy food.  This takes time and plenty of stamina, but must be done in addition to the eight hours each day she spent collecting water.  Even then, it is only enough for drinking, cooking and washing their faces. 

Hawa had lost so much, but she retained her dignity and her will to fight for the survival of her family.

Children during the crisis.
Children during the crisis.

Around the time Hawa arrived in the camp, World Concern began providing emergency assistance there. Knowing that this kind of aid is temporary, we developed ways to help families become self-sufficient, mostly through cash for work, savings groups, and small business development.

The land had been depleted of trees for firewood, so when it rained, the water ran down hill, flooding certain areas, and leaving other places desolate and useless. Nothing was growing.

We began paying people cash to build rock lines that would cause rainwater to soak into the ground and allow plant life to grow again. At first glance, the work appeared tedious and pointless. But families could use the cash they earned to buy food or supplies. And the lush, green growth that emerged after it rained proved this system worked. Families began the long process of recovery.

I came across a statement in one of the reports written during this time that caught my attention. It said, “World Concern is committed to being a long term presence in the area.”

We’ve kept this commitment. We’re still there, five years later. Some of the camps have closed. Others turned into towns. Our focus in Chad has changed as people’s needs have changed.

I remember, about three years ago, asking the staff member who interviewed Hawa what the solution was—what these families really needed most.

She responded, “What they need is to go home.”

For the past year and a half, this is exactly what’s been happening. Families are returning to their villages—or the areas where their villages once existed—and they’re rebuilding their lives from nothing.

Scooping water from a hole in the ground in Harako.
A young girl scoops water from a hole in the ground in the village of Harako, Chad.

Once again, we started by assessing needs when several hundred families returned to the tiny village of Harako, about 40 miles from Goz Beida. A few grass huts were built as shelter, but fields for farming were overgrown with brush. The families had no tools to clear the fields or plant crops, and the planting season was near. Their only source of water was a muddy hole they dug in the sand.

Through One Village Transformed, and with the support of donors and groups like Westminster Presbyterian Church, things look very different in Harako today. Families received farming tools, seeds, and training to plant crops—and their first harvest provided enough to get them through the dry season. A well was dug, gushing forth thousands of gallons of fresh, clean water. And residents worked tirelessly, baking bricks to build the first classroom for their new school, which is scheduled to be completed this month.

New well in Harako.
The new well in Harako, built with the help of One Village Transformed supporters.

Everywhere you look in Harako, lives are being transformed. Out of the ashes, families are rebuilding what they never thought they’d have again … homes, crops, schools, wells.

In a way, things have come full-circle from the horrible tragedy that swept through Eastern Chad a few years ago. Full circle, from disaster to resilience. And restoration of what was lost.

These families are going home. And we’re going with them. Join us, and witness the transformation.

Farmer's group in Harako.
A World Concern supported farmer’s group in Harako that shares tools, knowledge, and seeds to grow healthy crops.
School construction in Harako.
Construction of a new school in Harako has been a team effort. Bricks were baked by villagers, and construction is supported by One Village Transformed partner Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Crisis is brewing in the Sahel

Sahel map showing drought and malnutrition
A UN map shows areas of the Sahel affected by drought in pink. Red circles indicate expected cases of severe malnutrition in 2012.

There’s a crisis brewing in the Sahel – a swath of dry land that cuts through Central Africa. The people who live in the Sahel are familiar with crisis. They face ongoing challenges – armed conflicts, drought, poverty and lack of resources.

It rarely rains in parts of the Sahel. Nevertheless, entire populations are dependent on rain-fed crops for survival. The rains this past season were less than average and sporadic. Crops failed, food prices soared, and now, the UN is alerting the world to a looming food crisis.

In Chad, where World Concern works with families displaced by the Darfur war and conflicts within Chad, a million and a half people are at risk of hunger. The UN estimates that 127,000 children under the age of 5 will be affected by severe acute malnutrition this year in Chad’s Sahel region.

A mother in Chad with her donkey plow.
A mother in Chad gets ready to plow her field with her donkey plow she received from World Concern.

The lean season—the period between harvests when families depend on stored food from the previous harvest—is expected to be the most severe in years.

World Concern’s programs in Chad provide families with farming tools, training and seeds to grow drought-resistant crops. Now is the time to respond to this growing crisis and help families survive the lean season, and prepare for the next harvest.

You can help save lives and prevent this crisis from worsening. Click here to donate.

A long way from home

“Some people don’t even have a home, mom!”

This was the response scribbled by my 19-year-old daughter on a note I left asking her to clean up the house.  I had written, “This house has been such a mess, I’m starting to dread coming home,” scolding my family for not being tidier.

Hard to believe she had to remind her humanitarian-aid-writer mother that I should be thankful just to have a home. But she’s right. In fact, millions of people don’t have a home; many through no fault of their own.

Refugee mom and daughter.
A mom and her daughter wash dishes outside their hut in the Djabal Refugee Camp in Eastern Chad.

Today is World Refugee Day, and it’s an opportunity for all of us to think about those who had to leave everything behind and start over in a new place – usually in very dire circumstances.

World Concern works with thousands of refugees who are trying to begin a new life in a foreign land. They live in camps, often for years, before their lives are stabilized enough for them to think about the next step. We help provide food, access to clean water, health and hygiene training, education, income generation and more.

But what’s the ultimate goal?

“For them to be able to go home,” says Chris Sheach, deputy director of disaster response for World Concern.

Many of those who fled Darfur during the war, for example, are still living in camps in Chad, where World Concern works. Their homes and villages were burned. They would love nothing more than to go home, but there is nothing for them to return to.

“If they can’t go home, we help them integrate into a new society,” says Sheach. World Concern’s Cash for Work program in Chad has enabled families to earn income to support themselves and contribute to the local economy, thereby reducing the risk of creating conflict in their host community. We also assist them in obtaining land to farm, and provide seeds and farming tools to grow their own food and earn income.

In an ideal world, situations wouldn’t escalate to the point where people had to flee their homes for survival in the first place. Sometimes they do go home, such as in Somaliland (northern Somalia), where returnees from Ethiopia and other areas are settling in camps in their homeland. Their hope is that they’ll be able to find a new home. But 96% of them are dependent on food aid. We’re teaching them to plant vegetable gardens to feed their families, and hopefully improve their diet beyond the staple grains they receive from aid agencies.

A bricklayer in Chad.
Paying cash for labor is one way World Concern helps refugees support their families.

Nearly every parent’s desire is to provide a better life for their children. A home is the foundation that provides the stability kids need to pursue their dreams. I’m blessed to be able to provide that for my kids (despite it being a bit messy at times). The circumstances refugees find themselves in today is one of those things that makes me want to scream, “It’s not fair!” And it’s not. But we can stomp our feet, or we can do something about it. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that’s doing something about it.

Rather than fostering any hint of a global pity party, we’re empowering refugees by giving them the the tools to move forward. Whether or not they can return home, we can help them focus on the future and the hope of having place to call home.

For more information on World Concern’s work with Darfur war refugees in Chad, visit http://www.worldconcern.org/darfurcrisis

 

Grow your own sack garden

Sack gardenOur staff in Chad have been teaching people living in refugee camps there how to grow sack gardens. It’s a great way to improve a family’s diet by adding fresh vegetables with less water needed than a typical garden.

Since spring is a time many people are thinking about gardening, we thought we’d share these instructions for growing your own sack garden! If you do, please share it with us! We’ll be sure to share how things are growing in Chad too.

Our agronomists first learned about sack gardens from Manor House Agricultural Centre in Kenya, and we learned more about various container and urban gardening methods at ECHO Global Farm. These instructions have been pulled from Gardens From Health.

 

Materials needed:

  • A burlap or plastic sack (we use discarded food aid sacks, which make perfect sack gardens, especially for symbolic reasons)
  • Soil mixed with organic compost
  • Rocks for irrigation
  • A cylindrical bucket or tin, open on both ends (we use seed tins or vegetable oil tins, but a coffee can would work well too)

 

Instructions:

1.    Fill the bottom of the sack with soil mixed with organic compost. Fill the tin with rocks. This will serve as an irrigation channel.

 

2.    Surround the tin with more soil, and slowly lift it up, so that the rocks remain.

 

3.    Fill the tin with more rocks, and surround it again with soil. Repeat this until the sack is filled with a tower of rocks surrounded by soil.

 

4.    Poke holes into the side of the sack an even distance apart.

 

5.    Transplant seedlings into the sides of the sack.

 

6.    You can try direct seeding beets, carrots or other vegetables or herbs in the top of the sack.

 

7.    Enjoy your harvest!

 

For more information on how World Concern is improving nutrition in impoverished countries, please visit www.worldconcern.org/poverty.

Water: It's not just for drinking

Reading the riveting accounts of the Chilean miners’ ordeal this week, I came across a story that described how they survived the first 17 days before contact was established with the world above ground. Not only did they have to ration tiny amounts of food, but they drank water that trickled through the mine from an underground spring. The water, they said, was oily and had a foul taste. But they knew they had to drink it to survive.

Dirty water in Chad.
Dirty water in Chad.

People around the world are forced to make this same decision every day: Drink the dirty water that’s available, or die from dehydration. Unfortunately, when they do this, people often become sick from the water, contracting diarrheal disease or parasites, which also result in dehydration and even malnutrition. The cycle worsens when their fragile immune systems make them more vulnerable to other diseases.

When I think of water as it relates to health, I think mostly of thirst and dehydration. But having clean water to drink is only one aspect of how water contributes to health. Being able to wash your body, your clothes, and go to the bathroom someplace other than a field or stream, are vital to good health.

When I used to bathe my children when they were young, I thought of it more as a comfort than a necessity for health. Sure, a mother knows keeping her child clean is important, but bath time was usually more about making sure they smelled and looked decent after a day of being toddlers. I’ve always appreciated being able to wash away the day in the shower or bath, and start the next day fresh and clean.

women in Kenya gather water
Women in Kenya gather water.

For many moms around the world, this luxury is not available. Dirty children are often sick children. In poor villages in Africa, touching a contaminated surface or the face of an infected person, then touching your eye can actually lead to blindness as diseases like trachoma are spread this way.

In crowded conditions (i.e. most homes around the world), skin diseases like scabies spread easily from sharing unwashed clothing and bedding. The incessant itching can lead to open sores and dangerous infection. Kids are not allowed to attend school for being too dirty, or displaying the symptoms of scabies. This creates another huge problem—kids not being educated—all because of lack of water.

When I first learned about World Concern distributing bars of soap to refugees living in crowded camps in Chad, I thought, oh that’s nice. Now they won’t smell bad. But running water and a bar of soap are much more than that; they are the solution to stopping the spread of many communicable diseases. The people there use the bars of soap to wash clothes and bathe with. And their overall health is improved. We also teach them the basics of hygiene, like hand washing and using a latrine. It’s amazing how many of them don’t know why this is important.

Since I started working at World Concern, I have become acutely aware of the blessing of taking a shower. I never take that warm, running water for granted, and I want so much to ensure that moms like me around the world have a way to bathe their children at night, making them smell good, and protecting their lives.

To learn more about World Concern’s water programs and get involved, visit www.worldconcern.org/water.

Tangible ways to change lives in the poorest places on earth

A few months back I saw a photograph of a boy sifting through garbage in a dump in Bangladesh, looking for something that wasn’t rotten to eat. My heart ached for him, and I felt compelled to help this young victim of extreme poverty in some way.  Short of praying for him to receive help, there didn’t seem much I could do for that particular boy. But I can help others just like him, in some very tangible ways. And so can you.

Think about how buying a farm animal for a family goes so far beyond a temporary fix – it’s a source of lasting income and nutrition. Or, how sending a child like that boy in the dump to school for a year, or purchasing a uniform and school supplies, offer hope for a better future beyond a single meal or hand out.

World Concern’s Global Gift Guide literally allows you to “shop” for ways to transform lives with powerfully meaningful gifts. At the same time, you’re solving the dilemma of what to get friends and family members this holiday season.

The 2011 Global Gift Guide is hot off the press and in the mail this week, or you can also easily order online. Here’s what’s new this year:

solar cooker
A solar cooker saves money normally spent on cooking fuel in Chad.

A solar cooker for a Darfur war refugee in Chad. Imagine cooking in a crock pot, heated by the sun’s energy. But its benefits go far beyond a warm meal. A solar cooker means that women who usually gather firewood will no longer have to risk her safety gathering sticks – or spend her family’s meager income on fuel for cooking. Plus, her children can’t burn themselves on the solar cooker, and the family’s hut is safe from fire.

A profitable pig for a family in Myanmar. One sow can produce 20 piglets a year, and in six months, each piglet grows to 200 pounds. Pigs produce pigs – and in turn – help make an income. They also provide protein for undernourished girls and boys in this country recovering from a devastating cyclone.

Farm tools to share. A donkey or horse plow, automatic seeder, horse cart or peanut huller helps up to 25 families.  This gear, including a horse plow, is shared or rented – making higher-yield production. The farm tools benefit families in Chad who are refugees or displaced because of the Darfur war.

haiti earthquake damage
A gift of "disaster response" from the Global Gift Guide helps communities rebuild after a disaster.

Disaster recovery for a community. With the one-year anniversary of the massive earthquake in Haiti approaching on Jan. 12, and an estimated one million people still homeless, your Christmas shopping money could mean  a family is equipped to start their live over in a disaster-torn community. What could have more impact than shelter from a storm or being able to restart a business that was destroyed?

In addition to these new items, the guide is full of life-changing gifts: wells for villages in Kenya, schooling for a deaf child in Bangladesh, plus vegetable gardens, orchards, immunizations and business loans.

Please join us and share this with your friends. You can make a lasting difference in the lives of others – including your loved ones in whose names the gifts are given.

Merry Christmas!