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 Community That Rebuilt Itself

Driving east out of Jacmel in south east Haiti, the paved road hugs the coast offering stunning views of the blue water beyond.  The view inland is equally impressive as rugged, green covered mountains look down on you.

This region is one of my favorites in Haiti and it was nice to be back.  On this particular day we were heading to the village of Figue to see firsthand how this community took the lead in a recent project.

Figue is located high up in these formidable mountains and several kilometers from the paved road along the coast.  To get there we followed a gravel road that steadily narrowed as we climbed.  The journey alone to some of the rural areas World Concern works is an adventure in itself.

Eventually the gravel disappeared and the road’s surface became rocky and soggy from the rain that falls each afternoon this time of year.

Robert, keeping everyone laughing.
Robert, keeping everyone laughing.

At one point Robert, our driver on the trip, stopped the truck and got out to lock the differentials and turn on the four wheel drive.

“Okay now we are ready,” he said.

Looking ahead I could see what he was referring to.  There was a particularly steep section that was incredibly narrow (can the truck even fit through that?) and the road dramatically dropped off on the passenger side (which is where I was sitting).

With my heart pounding in my chest, Robert expertly navigated the difficult section, as he has many times before, and then laughed out loud as a way to lighten the situation and celebrate his small victory.  At this point all of us couldn’t help but laugh too.

We continued on and soon reached the village of Figue which is surrounded by dense vegetation and rugged terrain.  There are 125 families in Figue with “five people per family minimum” as one man said.

In 2012 Figue suffered tremendously due to a harsh hurricane season.  In addition to crop loss, the village’s only church was completely destroyed.

Pastor Bonnet shares about his church
Pastor Bonnet shares about his church

“The wind was so strong during Hurricane Sandy,” explained Pastor Samuel Bonnet.  “The church was flattened.”

Pastor Bonnet has pastored the church in Figue for 32 years and his father pastored before him.  Although no one knew exactly when the church began, it’s obvious it has been serving Figue for some time and World Concern wanted to see that legacy continue.

While World Concern provided the materials and some technical support, it was the community of Figue who rebuilt their church.

“We built it!”  They chimed in unison when asked about their church.  It was clear that the community possessed a high level of ownership which is a beautiful thing to witness.

The new church building is an eye-catcher.  Not because it is flashy; in fact it is quite simple.  However it is the obvious strength of the structure that grabs your attention.  The old church was made of rock and dirt.  The new church is built with cement, ensuring it will serve its’ 200+ members well for years to come.

Inside the newly built (and well painted) church.
Inside the newly built (and well painted) church.

In addition to a new church, Figue now has access to consistent potable water thanks to the construction of a new water system.  Similar to the construction of the church, World Concern provided materials and technical support but the system was entirely built and managed by the community.

The primary water source is a spring a steep 10 minute walk from the main road passing through Figue.  Once the source was capped, piping was installed to carry the water down the hill to a reservoir.  This reservoir holds the water and once it reaches capacity, the water is piped further down the hill to a fountain on the main road.

64-year-old Amedene Tibo, a widow and mother of seven, has lived in Figue her entire life.  “Although the source was only a 10 minute walk from the road the path was bad and if you are carrying water you will fall,” she said.

Mrs. Tibo posing at the water system's reservoir.
Mrs. Tibo posing at the water system’s reservoir.

She is not joking.  After scrambling to reach the reservoir a few of us continued further up the hill to the actual source.  Even for a young person such as me, it was no easy trek.  The path itself is not clear and I was constantly slipping on the wet rocks that littered the ground (even though I was wearing low top hiking shoes with good traction).

Thankfully that difficult walk is not needed anymore.

As I sat listening to different people share about the water system and what a blessing it is I thought to myself, “What if it breaks?”  All too often systems such as this one end up rusting away as soon as something breaks if there is not a pre-determined plan established beforehand.

When there was a break in the chatter I asked that very question.

This fountain provides access to water to those in Figue and other nearby communities.
This fountain provides access to water to those in Figue and other nearby communities.

“If there is a problem with the system each family has agreed to give a little money so we can repair it,” explained Frednel Rimny, president of the local water management committee.

It was encouraging to hear that the committee understood the importance of creating a plan and had put one in place.

The progress in Figue and the community’s hard work should be celebrated.  A safe place to worship for the village’s church goers and a new water system are wonderful contributions that will certainly bless the people of Figue for quite some time.

This doesn’t mean Figue and other rural communities don’t face more challenges.  Poverty is complex and multi-dimensional.  This theme came up often in our discussions with our travel companions.  We’re learning that not everything can be “fixed” or perfected; and that’s okay.  Instead it’s about walking with people and helping them move forward one step at a time.  This is a slow process but one that World Concern is committed to living out.

 

Peaceful elections: One more thing we often take for granted

With the exception of that whole Florida recount controversy in 2000, one the many things we take for granted in the United States is that our votes will be counted accurately. Generally speaking, the U.S. population accepts the outcome of elections, whether or not things turn out the way we as individuals had hoped.

Trust in the democratic process is brought to mind this week as half a world away, Kenyans prepare to vote on a proposed new constitution, which would, among other things, attempt to guarantee more valid elections and limit the powers of the president.

Kenya’s most recent presidential election in December 2007 led to an outburst of violence over ethnic tensions and accusations of fraud and electoral manipulations. Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands fled their homes amid the post-election hostility. Some of the worst violence occurred in churches, including an Assembly of God church where dozens of children and adults seeking shelter were killed when the church was burned.

This week, World Concern will close our Kenya office for four days, beginning tomorrow, Aug. 3. The closure is a security precaution as the voting there takes place on Wednesday, Aug. 4. There has already been some violence leading up to referendum. Six people were killed and more than 100 were injured on June 13 in an explosion in a park where a rally was being held.

While our organization has no opinion on the referendum, we are praying for a peaceful process and that Kenyan citizens will have the opportunity to express their opinions and have their votes counted accurately. It is also a time to be reminded that our employees in the field do face security issues regularly. We serve in places where the need is greatest, and some of these areas are politically unstable. We don’t let this stop us from helping the poor in developing countries. We take every security measure reasonable – and remember to pray. It’s the undergirding of everything we do.

A school boy in Kenya
School children in Kenya.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” – Ephesians 6:14-18

Disaster Relief Journal – Visit to Church – Part 2

Ayamba, our Congolese logistics officer surprised me today.  He was the preacher of the day.  He said he preaches at the local church about once every month or so and this was his third time preaching there.

About 6 months ago there was a general assembly meeting and the attendees were broken into groups for a debate.  The topic was whether or not just giving the tithe is enough.  He spoke for his group and the church leaders were so impressed that they asked him to be a regular guest speaker.

Ayamba and I have worked together off and on in disaster relief for over 10 years, yet he still manages to surprise me with stuff like this.  He spoke very well, being funny without intending to.

Ayamba is a short, stocky fellow with very large, emphatic gestures.  Many people, when they first meet him completely underestimate him and a ken perception hiding behind a very simple, unsophisticated, humble demeanor.

He really engaged the congregation, held their attention, and pointed out to them a real problem they have with the way they treat adultery.

As most of the congregation is married, but with their spouses far away in safer places, it was an important topic.  Most sermons would have come across very heavy-handed, but he was able to get them to see how ridiculous they are being in pretending they aren’t doing what they are doing, as well as just considering it wrong on the woman’s part, not the man’s.

Today, I was pleased and proud that my friend should have given such a sermon as he did today, that this first time working outside of his own country, he should have landed so solidly on his feet.

Disaster Relief Journal – Visit to Church – Part 1

Attending church in other countries is always an experience.  You are an observer and an observed, but you are also an equal participant and become a part of the local life, if only for a couple of hours.

Goz Beida is in a Muslim region of Chad, but Chadians come here from Christian regions looking for work or with the government or army, often related to disaster relief.  A church has sprung up here to serve these workers.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve watched the congregation grow from a small handful to more than 200.  The original collapsing, melting mud and thatch building has been gradually replaced by a solid tin-roofed structure 3 times as big and with a cement floor.  It is all very clean and tidy now.

On Sunday we squeeze butt-to-butt on simple wooden benches.  Men on the left side of the room and women on the right.  The choir, in blue and white robes, sits up from with their drums and such.  Everyone has cleaned up and dressed up for the occasion, especially the women.  The women wear an assortment of bright dresses and some unbelievably complicated head-dresses.  All the women wear something on their heads while all the men go bare-headed.

We start off with about an hour of singing while the sanctuary gradually fills.  Some songs are in French, some in local languages.  The choir thumps away on gourds and drums.  Some people clap and dance.  A few women really get into it.  Finally, we all settle down onto the benches.  The sermon is in French and translated into local Arabic.  Most of the elementary-age children are elsewhere.  Little ones wander in and out at will.  Babies nurse unabated.  At a signal, a young man with a bucket of drinking water will bring you some water in the communal cup.  important in such a hot, dry place.

After the sermon is the collection – a big deal.  The treasurer places out two large bowls and lines them with a white cloth.  Ushers indicate rows of people in turn to come forward and place their offering in the bowls.  Singing accompanies the ceremony.  And then, sometimes for some reason, a second round.  More singing and dancing.

Finally, the announcements and introductions/travels.  A Congolese man who’d gone home for a visit had run into a man from this church and carries his greetings.  Another is in the military and has recently arrived.  Others may also be part of disaster relief. And so it goes…

With the final hymn, people file out very orderly through a side door, each stopping in a line to shake hands with those that follow.  So if you are half-way through the crowd going out, you shake the hands of those ahead of you in a sort of reception line, then take your place at the end of the lin to shake the hands of those who follow.  Everyone ends up shaking everyone else’s hand.

Some people scatter quickly, but a surprising number clump into groups, standing in theshad of a tree to chat, as if to stretch out the precious weekly ceremony.  Gradually, people wander off in colorful clumps, down hot sandy lanes in the glaring, baking sun as Muslim children stand and gawk, wondering what it is all about.