A small bag of flour.
A two-liter bottle of soda.
A pair of work boots.
Each of these weigh 5 pounds.
It will be Nala’s first birthday soon and yes, she only weighs five pounds.
Nala’s weak and malnourished body is what extreme poverty looks like in Somalia. Her desperate mother brought her to a health clinic, pleading for help. The minute Nala’s stick-thin arm was measured, it was confirmed that Nala was severely malnourished.
Somalia is experiencing a long-lasting drought, leaving fields barren and livestock dead. The result is that children like Nala are starving and horribly undernourished.
Malnutrition can be devastating for a child living in these conditions, especially one as young as Nala. Her growing body needs good food, and when deprived of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for any length of time, her vital organs begin to shut down. Her brain doesn’t develop properly. And if she doesn’t receive the help she needs, she is vulnerable to disease, stunted growth, and even death.
We’ve all seen the photos of emaciated children, their tiny faces stretched thin with sad, and staring eyes. And the bloated bellies—a gruesome sign that a child is acutely malnourished.
It’s called a nutripacket, and every small, foil packet contains enough nutrients to restore a child like Nala to health. When taken daily over the course of three months, it can save a malnourished child’s life.
So what’s in this miracle cure?
Inside each foil packet is a peanut-based paste that is packed with a concentrated dose of life-saving minerals and nutrients. Everything a malnourished child needs is there, including folic acid, calcium, potassium, iron, and more. So when eaten daily, it gives a starving child a nutrient boost that takes them from near death to survival almost immediately.
A few weeks ago I made an urgent trip to South Sudan.
As much as you can prepare to visit a country that’s been ravaged by war, and now has over two million of its people displaced … I simply wasn’t ready for the scale of this crisis.
The statistics alone are overwhelming—thousands of people killed, more than two million displaced, 700% inflation—but when you realize there are real stories behind these numbers, it takes your breath away.
I was hiking back out to the road after visiting a remote World Concern project when I saw her.
She was standing alone beside a simple mud hut, so I slowly began walking towards her. As I came closer, I noticed she was standing next to two mounds of dirt … graves. One was dry and sunbaked. The other was smaller, and piled with fresh dirt.
I looked up at her, searching her face for signs of what had happened. Her name was Uduru.
In whispers she told me that her husband had died a year ago. But then, her eyes shifted to the tiny, fresh grave. She said that just a week ago she buried her sweet 2-year-old boy. He had died hungry, the victim of a combination of malnutrition and a water-borne disease. On top of his grave were two tiny plastic shoes, this grieving mother’s only physical memory of her baby boy.
Uduru has three other children, each one is fighting to survive. I couldn’t speak. And just held this poor woman in my arms as she wept.
It’s in places like South Sudan where World Concern is working to meet the urgent needs of people like Uduru and her children.
But we can’t do it alone.
We’re working through local churches to reach families displaced by the crisis with emergency aid—tents and tarps for shelter from the rain, mosquito nets to protect them from malaria and other deadly diseases, hygiene kits, and life-saving food. But sometimes there is just not enough, and that’s why your help is needed.
The crisis in South Sudan is very real. During our emergency distribution I held a small child in my arms. He was probably only 3 years old. His pencil thin arm told me that he is already severely malnourished.
His mother had been standing in line all day but sadly by the time she got to the front of the line, our supplies had run out. We simply didn’t have enough to meet the need. She came to me pleading if we had more. She had been left out. I looked at her and the others behind her that had the same question. In faith I told her, we will be back.
I woke up last Saturday morning in my 72 degree house, safe in my cozy bed. Birds chirping outside my window and thoughts of doing yard work today on this peaceful Saturday.
Little did I know, at that very moment, gunfire was erupting in a town in South Sudan. Bodies were strewn in the streets and families were running for their lives to the bush.
But God knew, and He redirected my thoughts. I had fallen asleep the night before reading an intense book about World War II. My pleasant early-morning meditations were interrupted by images of the horrors people suffer in war—especially children, who don’t understand what’s happening around them. All they know is that their parents are scared, chaos surrounds them, and “home” is wherever they can find a place to curl up and sleep that night.
These images haunted me as I got up to pour a cup of coffee. As a mom, I have such a strong instinct to protect my children. My heart aches for moms who are unable to keep their children safe. And it’s happening to millions of children around the world today.
Working at World Concern, I have to be mindful not to become anesthetized to the circumstances I hear about every day. A mother scooping up her child and fleeing gunfire in terror. Waking up the next day on the hard ground, enveloped in sweltering heat to hear her child crying because of hunger pains. Panic when she realizes the child is not just hungry, but sick with fever.
I can’t ever let this become “normal” to me.
I took a sip of my coffee and thought of the people in South Sudan whose tragic circumstances seem to get worse each day. A colleague who had recently returned from a visit told me he saw children picking leaves off of trees to eat to quell the hunger pains. I felt sick. He showed me a video he’d shot on his iPhone of a 14-year-old girl scooping scum-covered water from a hole in the ground, bees swirling around her head as she waited for the hole to fill up again.
“Sometimes I wait several hours for enough water to fill the hole again so I can scoop more,” she told him.
I pondered this as I sipped my cream-sweetened coffee, which suddenly tasted extraordinarily decadent.
And then I pick up my phone to see an email that our team was evacuated as violence erupted in Wau town, the base for several new villages in our One Village Transformed program. I prayed for the hundreds of families who lost loved ones in the fighting and for those who had fled in terror.
Earlier this month, I had barely noticed the automatic withdrawal from my checking account. $33. That’s my humble gift each month to that 14-year-old girl’s village outside of Wau.
It’s not much. I spent about that on a new shower curtain liner and cat litter at Fred Meyer yesterday.
But I felt a twinge of relief when I thought about that gift this morning. God reminded me I was doing something. That $33, combined with yours and someone else’s and others, is enough to do some amazing things in this one village. Not just a meal far better than leaves for today, but empowerment for the parents in her village to plant colorful, vibrant vegetable gardens that will supply many nutritious meals. It will help them dig a well where she can collect cool, fresh, disease-free water every day—without having to wait for a mud puddle to fill up. It will enable her to attend school, learn to read and write. And she’ll be introduced to a group of neighbors who meet twice a week under the shade of a giant tree to sing worship songs and study the Bible in her native language, allowing this child of war to experience peace in the midst of turmoil.
She will see her neighbors working and starting small businesses and thinking about the future, and it will all be new and different and hope-filled. She will begin to see the possibility for a better life and focus beyond waiting for the water hole to fill or picking leaves from a tree to eat.
I’ll never miss that $33 from my checking account each month. But it will mean a child of war is fed and cared for and a village in South Sudan is transformed.
The strange white car pulled up beside me as I walked to school.
I was only a few hundred yards from home and remember turning to see if my parents were still out the front of the house, waving me off. But they had long since gone inside.
My heart started to race … I was all alone.
The car pulled in front of me and the passenger door immediately opened. The smell of cigarette smoke filled my nostrils as a man I’d never seen before extended his hand and offered me a ride to school. He wore a thick black sweater with faded white graphics on the shoulder, and smiled politely through yellow and crooked teeth.
I was close enough to also see that another man sat in the back seat … watching … a large black garbage bag balled up on his lap. Almost 35 years later, I can still see this second man’s face—unshaven beneath a dirty baseball cap—his eyes fixed on me, waiting expectantly for me to join him.
I was nine-years-old when this happened.
A week or so later, I was playing safely in my bedroom when my parents told me that the police had arrested a local man fitting the description I had provided. I can’t imagine how different life would be had I stepped into that car.
I’ve thought a lot about that encounter recently, and realized that my experience is the terrifying daily reality for many of the world’s poorest children. And for these kids, the stories don’t always have a happy ending. They may not have parents to run home to, a safe place to hide, or any local police keeping an eye out for them. But most of all they lack the knowledge, and are easily tricked by evil men.
Throughout the month of May, World Concern is focusing its efforts on raising awareness of child trafficking, and giving you the opportunity to protect a vulnerable child from the threat of exploitation, abuse, and slavery.
It started with an event—the 8th Annual Free Them 5k—a family fun-run that attracted more than 1,400 participants and raised more than $200,000 to help stop trafficking. And this effort now continues with a special initiative that allows you to go one step further, and help cover a child in God’s love and protection.
These children live in poverty, so when something happens you won’t see their stories featured on the evening news, or an article written about their disappearance in a local newspaper. An Amber Alert won’t interrupt your television program, and you won’t see their faces on the community notice board at the local grocery store.
From an early age, I was taught about the dangers around me. I was educated and kept safe in a loving home and nurtured by a community of people that cared and looked out for my well being. But in villages across Southeast Asia, children don’t have this blessing, or the awareness that potentially saved me all those years ago.
So when I think about the men in the white car, and what could have happened that day—it makes protecting a child an easy decision.
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.
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.
Barefoot and dressed in filthy clothes, tiny Xay refused to leave his mother’s arms to play with the other children being evaluated for the Child Survival program. At 18 months old, Xay should be running, squealing, and playing with the other children. Instead, he was pale, thin, and listless. More critically, Xay is underweight, weak, and suffered from chronic diarrhea.
We measured his arm with a special band to determine his level of malnutrition. Xay’s arm measured 11cm, indicating he is severely malnourished.
For Xay’s mother, nothing is more important than saving her son – but she doesn’t have very many solutions. She knows the food she scavenges for in the woods outside her village in rural Laos each day isn’t enough. She knows her son is hungry and sick. She knows that without enough food, her beloved son could die.
With your help, this little guy can soon be eating healthy, gaining weight, and on his way to better health – in just a few short days.
A gift of $34 will provide nourishing, healthy food for Xay and others, rescuing them from the pain and sickness that comes with not having enough to eat. In addition, Xay’s mom and others will be able to participate in a special program where they learn how to grow and prepare locally available vegetables and other easily accessible foods, providing highly nutritious meals for their children. With these simple changes, 100% of children gain weight and show measurable improvement within 12 days.
Moms also learn the importance of good hygiene, safe drinking water, and using toilets to keep their children free from sickness and disease.
The best part is, they learn from other moms who are already successfully feeding and caring for their little ones – so each mom has support from a mentor right in her own village. This helps ensure kids keep gaining weight and growing strong.
With these vital tools and training, moms like Xay’s will be equipped to keep their sons and daughters healthy, ensuring they grow strong throughout their childhood.
“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you…” (Joel 2:26)
Because of matching grants, your gift to feed a hungry child like Xay’s will TRIPLE, helping feed three children throughout their childhood.
In most of the impoverished places where World Concern works, meeting needs starts with water. Why? Because when a mom is trying to keep her child alive, nothing else matters.
Through your gifts to provide clean water, you are the hands and feet of Jesus to these moms, meeting this critical need and opening the way for lasting transformation to take place. As you read the stories below, I hope you know how much your gift matters!
One Mom’s Story of Survival
War War knows her children are alive today because of the water you provided. For the first few years of her babies’ lives, War War did what all the moms in her village did – she retrieved water by the bucketful from the mucky, still water that sat in the pond in their village.
The water made them sick. At the same time her younger son became ill with severe diarrhea, War War herself got sick. With the help of friends and family, they eventually made the four-hour boat ride to the nearest hospital where they were treated for water-borne diseases.
In and out of consciousness, alone and fearful for her son’s life, War War learned it was the dirty water she had been giving her son that caused his sickness. She was devastated.
Thankfully, both survived. Because of you, the village now has clean water, and families like War War’s have learned the importance of good hygiene and sanitation to stay healthy.
Clean Water Changed Mohamad’s Life and Future
Clean water is changing the lives of students like 14-year-old Mohamad – helping him stay healthy and focused in school. Mohamad’s school in Somaliland (Northern Somalia) now has a tank that captures rainwater, providing plenty of fresh, clean drinking water for the students.
“Before, we didn’t have any water to drink while we were at school. We would feel thirsty, but we could not get anything to drink until we went home,” explained Mohamad.
The school now has a 6,600-gallon tank that captures rainwater through a gutter system on the roof, providing abundant clean water for students to drink and wash their hands with at school.
“Now it’s easier to learn because we have water,” said the grateful teen. “Now we are healthy.”
The Life-Changing Impact of Berkads
Many families in Somaliland now have clean water from berkads. Berkads are large concrete tanks that channel and store rainwater. With a berkad, one day of heavy rain can provide enough clean, fresh drinking water for an entire community for months. Here’s what a few people have to say about the impact of these berkads:
“Before the berkad was built, there was not enough water. We were going so far to gather water. Now that World Concern rehabilitated this berkad, it is good. When it rains, the berkad fills up and we save it for use when our water supply is low.”
– Asha, 48, mom of three
“In school we learned about hygiene—to wash our hands before we eat and to wear shoes when going to the toilets. It is good to do these things because if you don’t wash your hands and then you eat something, you will probably get a disease.”
– Sahra, 12, student in grade 2
“Before these berkads, we did not have enough water in our village. When the water ran out, we would have to travel three hours by foot to the mountains in order to gather water. These berkads provide us enough water. They also benefit us as we earn income to help build them. We very much appreciate the berkads because we now have enough water to cover our needs.”
– Sahra, 30, mom of three
The stories above show just how much your gifts matter. Clean water not only saves and transforms lives, but also brings immeasurable joy to families in need.
Every year, Reneé Smith’s family draws names for their Christmas gift exchange. It just so happened that in 2012, it was Reneé’s turn to buy a gift for her sister-in-law Patti.
Patti was battling a recurrence of breast cancer that had spread to her bones and liver. Christmas would be different for everyone that year.
“The news was devastating for all of us,” recalled Reneé.
Patti’s loving and generous spirit was evident in her family relationships. She was a wonderful mom and aunt to her nieces and nephews, and a former preschool teacher who loved children. But she was also an introvert—a quiet person who struggled to come to terms with the fact she was dying.
“She was terrified of dying and leaving her kids and her husband,” said Reneé.
Reneé felt led to help Patti, but their personalities where so different, and she felt unsure of how best to help. She started by just showing up. They lived three hours apart, but Reneé made the trek to Ridgefield, Wash., from her home in Gig Harbor every other weekend to help take care of Patti.
Over time, Reneé’s calling became clearer through three words she constantly felt impressed on her heart: “Love her extravagantly.” With each chemo visit, the bond between the sisters-in-law grew. Eventually, Patti allowed Reneé to bathe her and care for her in intimate ways.
Reneé started a Facebook page called “Pray for Patti Peace” (Patti’s last name is Peace) where friends and loved ones could stay updated on Patti’s condition. The group had about 100 members who posted regular messages for Patti. It became a great source of encouragement during the dark days of cancer treatment.
As Christmas drew near, Reneé often thought about Patti’s gift. “What do you get a dying person for Christmas?” she wondered.
One day, they were out shopping, surrounded by Christmas displays. They stopped at a table stacked with toys and Patti said to Reneé, “I don’t want any presents this year. I’d rather just help kids.”
That moment, Reneé had an idea. Rather than trying to find a gift that Patti wouldn’t be able to use, Reneé decided to fulfill her sister-in-law’s wish to help children.
World Concern’s Global Gift Guide had arrived in the mail and Reneé scoured it for ideas. “I got so excited. I was seeing all these gifts to help children get an education and animals to help them earn income and feed themselves. I knew this would bless Patti’s heart,” she said.
Reneé and her husband had a set budget for gifts. “Then I thought, wouldn’t it be neat if I had a whole lot more money? What if Patti could help a whole village? It dawned on me that she had all these Facebook followers on her page,” said Reneé.
Not wanting to spoil the surprise by posting on the page, Reneé emailed everyone she had addresses for and asked if they wanted to participate. Within a few days, Reneé had received almost $500 for Patti’s gift.
“It was just amazing to me. Even people who didn’t know Patti, had not ever met her, wanted to show love to her in this way and let them know they cared,” said Reneé. “I’m a church secretary and people would walk in the door and say, ‘Here’s $20 for Patti’s animals,’ or message me saying, ‘I’m mailing in a check.’”
Reneé was able to give 40 chickens, 24 ducks, two goats, and two pigs (all with vaccinations, feed, and supplies) in Patti’s name to help children living in places like rural Kenya, Myanmar, and Haiti.
She could hardly wait for Christmas. Reneé bought stuffed animals to symbolize each gift, and put a tag on each one with a note describing the impact of her gift, “In the name of Patti Peace, a child will receive ducklings, which will provide income and nutrition for years to come.”
On Christmas morning, Patti opened each gift and read each tag aloud.
Reneé will never forget Patti’s joy-filled response. “She looked up at me with tears rolling down her face and mouthed the words, ‘thank you.’”
“It felt like the best gift anyone could give her,” said Reneé.
Patti passed away in February, but Reneé and the entire family are comforted by the fact her memory will live on through the life-changing gifts given in her honor to children in need.
The Christmas season is upon us again, and like Patti’s gifts, yours can also have a memorable and lasting impact on children in need. You can look through the Global Gift Guide to find ways to change lives this Christmas and bring joy to your own.
I have been fortunate to take a few days off to relax at a friend’s cabin in the woods. I was thinking and praying while sitting in a camp chair in the Wenatchee River. It was the heat of the day and I was being refreshed with my feet soaking in the water.
The conversation I was having with God was about the vision He has given me for the world. There are many things which should be changed in our world, but I am called to a particular vision—a calling Melissa and I received in 1999 that has become clearer as we have sought to be obedient. We choose serving with World Concern because the vision we have been given intersects with World Concern’s.
I have a vision of a world where every parent (grandparent, caregiver) can meet the needs of their children. Traveling the world I have seen that parents everywhere care deeply about their children, even as I do about my four children. Parents are given the responsibility by God to raise up their children and in almost all cases this is what they desire to do. Yet hundreds of millions cannot provide the basic needs. It is not lack of concern or effort it is bigger world issues.
We must change the world. We must create a place where every parent can provide nutrition, shelter, health, education and spiritual nurture for their children. Our world view is formed within our families and communities. God created the family for this purpose. If we are going to change the world it must be done generationally through families.
How would I feel if someone else had to step in and provide care for my children? It is demoralizing to have others care for our children. When parents are set aside so that outsiders can meet their children’s needs, it may feel good to the outsider, but it is a very negative experience for the parent. We need to provide for the family needs by empowering the parents.
In disaster situations this may require direct food inputs, but let us do so with the family in mind. Most of the need in the world can be overcome through supporting the caregivers by providing education, health systems, water, food security, education, and income opportunity. Wrapping all of that will be the need for Biblical values that direct life decisions.
We know that future generations must be prepared to run this world. Strengthening the family to meet the needs of their children is a generational solution to poverty. Children raised by parents meeting their needs will learn to do the same for their children in turn. Parents have the greatest influence on the lives of children we can and must positively change that influence.