Remembering Nepal

It’s been a year since the earth shook in Nepal.

A little before noon on Saturday, April 25, a huge chunk of rock sitting miles below the busy Nepalese villages moved, and unleashed a 7.8 magnitude shock wave that tore through the Kathmandu Valley.

The quake was shallow. And so as the giant rock shifted, the rocky ground above splintered violently and threw tons of debris onto the lowland communities. Entire villages were destroyed in just minutes. Homes became rubble. Infrastructure toppled. Cropland ruined. Livelihoods lost. And life in Nepal was forever changed.

Over 8,000 people were killed that day. Another 21,000 severely injured. Everyone affected. Within hours, the nation of Nepal had collectively called for help. And with your help, World Concern answered.

Homes were in ruins, leaving families homeless and exposed.
Homes were in ruins, leaving families homeless and exposed.

In the days that followed this tragic event, you joined with thousands of others to reach out and lend support to World Concern’s emergency response in the region. It was your swift action that kept hope alive for countless desperate, and homeless families.

Your gifts were immediately used to provide emergency assistance to the hardest hit areas. These essentials literally meant the difference between life and death. The destroyed villages were difficult to reach, with winding mountain roads blocked by fallen rocks. But driven on by your prayers and the need in each village, rescue teams pushed on and rapidly distributed food, water, and shelter materials to hungry and frightened families.

Excited families rush to World Concern distribution points, grateful for your help when they needed it the most.
Excited families rush to World Concern distribution points, grateful for your help when they needed it the most.

As the months passed, and many organizations had long since left, World Concern remained committed to the Nepalese people, and the rebuilding process. But it was only thanks to you that this was possible. And on the anniversary of this disaster, your gifts have helped a staggering 24,276 people.

“I am so thankful for the people that joined us in supporting the recovery efforts,” says Chris Sheach, World Concern’s Deputy Director of Disaster Response. “Donations were made immediately, and our partnerships across the United States and Canada, and in Nepal, enabled a quick response.”

Today, those same donations are empowering each community to grow and work together with local churches to restore the physical, emotional and spiritual health of the families affected.

“It’s amazing to work with the local church in Nepal, and helping them be the hands and feet of Christ to their neighbors.” Chris says. One woman even started attending church for the first time after the church reached out to her.

Nirmala and her husband were so blessed by your support that they started going to church!

Anita is a young mother that has benefited from this relationship. She watched as her home crumbled, then sheltered with her family under a thin piece of plastic until supported your gifts, the local church, provided her with materials to build a metal shelter. It was temporary, but it kept them safe, and protected from the rain and wind.

Anita was given shelter materials to rebuild after the earthquake.
Anita was given shelter materials to rebuild after the earthquake.

“We thank God, and the church for providing,” Anita exclaimed.

As we remember the day the earth shook in Nepal, we thank you for helping survivors like Anita write a new, and hopeful story. World Concern continues to serve in Nepal and remains committed to working with our Nepalese partners in building the resilience of their people.

 

Beyond the End of the Road in Nepal

It’s 7:30 a.m. when our little team of four load up our Jeep and head to Sri Nathkot.

This mountaintop village is just a three-hour drive from our hotel here in Pokhara, a popular tourist town in Nepal. The earthquake that rattled much of this region seemed to have mercy on this town with most of the buildings surprisingly still intact. But we’ve learned that just a few hours away, the village of Sri Nathkot was not so lucky. This community, home to around 150 people, has suffered major damage.

This Jeep took us to the end of the road...and beyond.
This Jeep took us to the end of the road…and beyond.

As we begin our journey, the clouds lift just enough to offer us a glimpse of Fish Tail, a majestic peak, not much lower than the famous Mt. Everest. Nepali driver barely took much notice. Living in the foothills of the Annapurna Mountain range, these sights have become commonplace to them.

We drive for a few hours and abruptly come to the end of the road. To this point, the earthquake had been quite selective, leaving most of the villages we passed through untouched. But ironically, as we leave the pavement behind and drive onward down dirt roads, the damage shows the magnitude of this earthquake. Homes are destroyed, some flattened, others partially collapsed. But almost all are uninhabitable. It was suddenly very easy to see how in just 90 seconds people’s lives were torn apart.

While some homes still stood, others lay flat. But all were unlivable.
While some homes still stood, others lay flat. But all were unlivable.

We press on towards Sri Nathkot, to visit with one of World Concern’s partners who has been working to help the survivors of this disaster. As we approach the foothills surrounding the village, the road narrows and the terrain changes dramatically. We carefully negotiate switchbacks etched into steep hillsides, mindful of the 100 foot drop-offs just a few feet from our tires.

As we make our way up another switchback, we see ahead that the road is completely impassible – for hundreds of yards, rocks had been placed in pile after pile by a local group of Nepali trying to improve passage up the mountain. We decide to turn around, go back to the fork in the road and try the other way. Our driver has not been this way before, but believes it to circle around and eventually provide access to Sri Nathkot.

The three hour mark has long passed, yet we press on and climb again for what seems to be an endless zigzag of switchbacks, each one taking us higher up the mountain. Then we reach a village. We stop and ask if this is the way to Sri Nathkot. and to our relief it is, but it’s still a couple of hours of driving on this ‘road’.

Walking the road ahead to see if our Jeep would even make it through.
The view from the Jeep window, shows just one of the dozens of switchbacks we’d encounter.

We arrive at a second village, and we’re told the same thing; a few more hours. With each turn, I’m convinced the road is becoming more and more impassible yet amazingly, we manage to climb higher. At this point, the driver tells us that he has never driven a road like this before (would have been nice to know before departing), but he’d brought us this far, so we push on.

By now, the sun is setting below the mountain tops and we are led only by the dim headlights on our Jeep (and a lot of faith!). We joke that it may be better we don’t see where we’re headed as the view in daylight, while breathtaking, was at times quite terrifying.

The sun quickly set and the moonlight was obscured by clouds, making it so dark that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But around (what felt like) one more switchback, we saw the glow of light coming from a small village….Sri Nathkot. We had arrived!

And as I reflect on this marathon journey that ended over 12 hours after it began, the reality of World Concern’s commitment to serving the most remote communities hit me. They truly go where no one else goes. There is simply no valley too deep or mountain too tall.

While we rested in Sri Nathkot that evening, my thoughts moved towards the people already here and the tragedy they’d just survived. I looked forward to meeting them, hearing their stories, and seeing how World Concern is bringing hope back to this isolated community.

In Sri Nathkot and beyond, World Concern is quite literally working at the end of the road to transform lives.

68. Why This Number Breaks My Heart

37. That’s the first number I heard when I woke up before dawn this morning to the news that another earthquake had struck Nepal and killed 37 people while I slept. A sense of dread rolled through me.

“Lord, after all they’ve been through, now another one?”

A young girl walks near her tent amidst the rubble in Khalte, Nepal.
A young girl walks near her tent amidst the rubble in Khalte, Nepal.

As the morning turned to afternoon here on the West Coast of the U.S., that number increased slowly to 39, then 42, and now I’m seeing 68 people have died.

68. Why does this number break my heart as much as, if not more so, than the 8,000+ lives taken by the April 25 earthquake? I guess it seems more personal. It’s easier for me to imagine a face and a name with each number when it’s smaller. Each one represents a daughter, a son, a mother, a father, a friend.

Whether it’s 8,000 or 68, each one represents a precious human life.

It also makes me sad to think of people in Nepal being so scared. I can’t imagine the terror little children and parents must have felt when the earth shook, yet again, today. That same terrifying sway of the building, as bricks fall and buildings threaten to collapse. Running into the streets, vowing this time for good not to go back inside.

“People are standing outside and they are scared,” described one of my coworkers by phone this morning from outside his hotel in Kathmandu. “I saw one woman who had been here for the first earthquake run out of the building crying. She fell to the ground and was nauseous.”

The trauma of this experience will no doubt haunt people for years.

So I pray. I pray for the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, to comfort the hearts and minds of the people in Nepal. And I pray for their hearts and minds to heal from this tragedy.

Him Kumari (left) was injured when her house collapsed on her during the earthquake. The cow behind her was dying when this photo was taken last week.
Him Kumari (left) was injured when her house collapsed on her during the earthquake. The cow behind her was dying when this photo was taken last week.

I’m encouraged by the stories of survival we’re hearing. Our staff on the ground are sharing photos and stories from people they’ve talked with in hard-hit communities.

Him Kumari was eating lunch with her 12-year-old son, the oldest of four, on April 25 when her house began to shake. She made her son run out of the house, but was not able to escape herself before it collapsed on her. Trapped beneath the rubble and boards, she went in and out of consciousness.

“When I came to, I was in the hospital,” she said. “I thought I would die as I was buried for four hours.”

Twenty-two of her neighbors did not survive. Nearly every home in her village was damaged or destroyed.

Him’s family is now living under a tarp they’ve made into a tent. She is grateful to be alive, but doesn’t know what the future holds.

This is all that's left of Lok's home.
This is all that’s left of Lok’s home.

Lok Shrestra is another mom whose future is uncertain. She was outside feeding her animals when the earthquake struck. Her daughter was inside their house on the second floor. Somehow, her daughter knew to stand in the doorway of her room, and as the roof collapsed and walls fell around her, she stood safely beneath the door frame.

While Lok and others will likely stay and try to rebuild in this village, many others wonder if they should start over in another place. “This looks like a different place now,” said a leader in the village. “This is not our community.”

With the help of World Concern donors, Mark Estes, Asia Director, helps distribute emergency food and supplies to victims of the earthquake.
With the help of World Concern donors, Mark Estes, Asia Director, helps distribute emergency food and supplies to victims of the earthquake.

Amidst the destruction, there is encouragement. Mark Estes, World Concern Asia Director, helped distribute supplies and aid to these moms and others in this area last week. “Walking around that community was heart wrenching – to see the loss, to see every home was just a heap of stones and sticks,” he said. “Nestled up in the foothills of the Himalayas, I can imagine what a beautiful place this would have been. I think that beauty now is surrounded by the opportunity that God gives us to serve these people.”

If you’d like to help reach families affected by the earthquakes in Nepal, providing practical help and hope to those who have lost everything, you can donate here.

Nepali church volunteers joyfully put together earthquake survival kits for families affected by the earthquake.
Nepali church volunteers joyfully put together earthquake survival kits for families affected by the earthquake.

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Emergency supplies being unloaded into Lok's village in the middle of the night.
Emergency supplies being unloaded into Lok’s village in the middle of the night.

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Beautiful Lok and her daughter.
Beautiful Lok and her daughter.

One Year Later, South Sudan Remains in Turmoil

In December 2013, the world’s newest nation, only two years into a season without war, plunged back into crisis-mode. Though the explanation for this eruption of conflict is far from definitive, one thing is clear – South Sudan is still hurting.

As we approach the one year anniversary of this newest conflict in South Sudan – a land that has suffered almost continuous war for over two decades – we (the world) need to remember that this war persists and tensions are only growing. And, as we so strongly believe at World Concern, we remind ourselves that war is about so much more than politics and land and resources. It is about the thousands, if not millions, of people whose lives are torn apart.

According to the UNHCR, South Sudan now has more than 1.4 million internally displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes. Additionally, tens of thousands of people (at this point an exact number is difficult to track) have lost their lives.

Though there has always been community tension and a scarcity of resources, we have never ceased to see the country for its potential to transform. When South Sudan gained independence in 2011, we celebrated with them. Unfortunately, the celebration was short-lived. South Sudan has faced immense challenges over the past three years. The recent conflict is bringing the nation to the brink of famine and starvation continues to be a very real risk.

Since the country’s independence, World Concern has focused on empowering South Sudanese communities to move beyond a state of relief and toward long-term development. Eager to farm their own land, feed their own children, and be educated, people have been more than willing to take part in their community’s development. In fact, many of the communities we partner with now have their own gardens, banks, savings groups, job opportunities, and thriving markets.

But many others were displaced from their homes and land when violence came dangerously close to their communities. As a result, hundreds of thousands were unable to plant crops before South Sudan’s annual rainy season. Because of this, many will go hungry this year. And too many are still homeless, living in squalid camps, waiting for peace.

Mary (right) and her newborn son sit inside a vacated school they now call home.

Last February I traveled to South Sudan to visit Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, sit with people, and listen to their stories. Among the many painful narratives shared, I will never forget Mary YarTur’s. Nine months pregnant when violence broke out in her village, Mary had no choice but to run.

“Both of my neighbors were killed when we were running,” she solemnly explained. “My uncle was also killed.”

After days on the run, Mary and others settled outside of a closed school building. Two days later, she went into labor.

Women sit outside of the school where Mary gave birth.
Women sit outside of the school where Mary gave birth.

“At the time I delivered I was feeling bad. My body was in pain and it was not well,” she shared. “During the time I came from my home in Unity State, I was running with little food. Then I delivered right away when I arrived here.”

In the three days I spent visiting camps, Mary was one of five women I met with newborn babies – a small representation of the thousands of children that have already been born without medical assistance beneath trees, outside of buildings, and underneath haphazard shelters.

A silhouetted pregnant woman rests at an IDP site.
A silhouetted pregnant woman rests at an IDP site.

“My child was delivered outside, now they have problems,” Mary told me. “I’m not feeling better now. The food we have to eat takes a very long time to cook – and when I eat it it gives me stomach pains. So, I don’t eat much – I feel weak and faint. I live in fear because I don’t know where my husband is and I sleep in the open, many days without food and no income.”

Sick, taking care of a newborn, husband-less, without food, homeless – it’s no wonder so many people feel hopeless.

A Bleak Future Without Development

Because of the recent crisis, funding for development projects has reduced. Life-saving disaster response efforts are vital, but without the ability to fund long-term projects, the country’s development comes to a halt.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced families have fled northern South Sudan to Warrap State, where we work. With no choice but to build makeshift shelters on land that was once someone else’s farms, their presence is a cause for tension and puts a strain on local resources.

The majority of the people we serve know at least one person who has been killed. Thus, a large portion of a family’s resources and time have been spent on hosting and traveling to burial services.

Additionally, the South Sudanese pound continues to lose value against the American dollar, skyrocketing import costs and consequently making many resources unbearably expensive.

“Foreign exchange is low. Prices of commodities are rising every day. Many markets are in short supply of essential commodities,” said a World Concern staff member in Warrap State. “The chamber of commerce has attributed this to lack of dollar in the market. Given that he country heavily relies on import of food, fuel, and almost all essential commodities, shortage of dollar in the market spells doom for ordinary citizens of the country.”

Much of South Sudan’s younger generation was born into war, thus all they know is war. When asked, many say they would love to live in a world without war, yet most of them have no idea what that would look like. Because of this, instilling the notion of hope and the possibility of change can be a very complex process.

We believe that we have been called to South Sudan for a reason. And we believe that reconciliation, peace, and healing are possible. We know that the One who created us all, can surely bring hope and peace to the seemingly hopeless circumstances in South Sudan. And despite the horrible things we, as humans, do, He is still holding out for us, waiting patiently and moving us toward a world renewed.

So today, this morning, this evening, whenever you read this, though you may feel bombarded by a world of painful things, we ask that you remember South Sudan and pray for peace.

And please continue to pray for South Sudan’s leaders – that they would lead with integrity. South Sudan was recently ranked the 5th most corrupt nation in the world. Also, pray for safety, healthy, and strength for our field staff – they are the hands and feet of world Concern.

Please consider giving a gift to bring hope and life to the people of South Sudan.

In the midst of pain, in the depths of suffering, under the tarps of IDP camps and tin roofs of refugee shelters, we know that there exists a surpassing peace and hope for a world transformed.

 

Six Months After Haiyan, Lives are Being Rebuilt

Rosario waves from inside the frame of her new home. Her former home was destroyed when Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Medair.
Rosario waves from inside the frame of her new home. Her former home was destroyed when Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Medair.

“We are now safe…” Rosario was overcome with emotion as she uttered those four simple words. The 62-year-old grandmother is raising a young grandson. Their home was destroyed when Typhoon Haiyan struck on November 8, 2013.

It was six months ago today that Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines—leaving more than 3 million people homeless and taking the lives of 7,300. In the months since this tragedy, World Concern and our Integral Alliance partners have been helping people like Rosario rebuild their lives. There is much work left to do, but seeing the hope on faces like Rosario’s and her grandson’s is encouraging.

With help from donors who gave selflessly after the typhoon, Rosario and her 8-year-old grandson have a home of their very own once again. “I can continue on now… and be safe in a strong shelter,” she says.

World Concern and our partners Medair and Food for the Hungry have been able to make a great impact in the Philippines. Immediately after the tragedy, our donors helped provide food, water, emergency supplies, and psychosocial support for traumatized children.

More recently, we’re focusing on providing shelter and housing—like Rosario’s home, which  was being built in March when these photos were taken. Rosario says her grandson is “very proud and happy” to have such a strong shelter to live in. “He feels special and noticed,” she tells us.

A family in the Philippines outside their newly constructed home. Photo by Miguel Samper, courtesy of Medair.
A family in the Philippines outside their newly constructed home. Photo by Miguel Samper, courtesy of Medair.

Rosario and others in her community also received disaster risk reduction training, so that when the next storm hits, they’ll be prepared and know how to stay safe. It may take years to rebuild in the Philippines, but organizations, churches, and communities are committed to building back better.

“It is hard to express in words, but I am very thankful,” Rosario says. “We now have new hope and the courage to move on.”

 

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  

 

World Concern disaster response expert doubles as Red Cross volunteer for Oso landslide

On March 22, 30 seconds altered the lives of residents of Oso forever. That night, I received an urgent email from the American Red Cross chapter of Snohomish County. They needed volunteers to staff the evacuation shelter which they were providing for families affected by the slide. While I couldn’t help during the day, I was able to volunteer for the night shift, providing support in the shelter from 8 pm to 8 am.

Chris Sheach uses his disaster experience with World Concern in places like Haiti, and closer to home as a Red Cross volunteer. He recently served at a Red Cross shelter for victims of the tragic Oso landslide.
Chris Sheach uses his disaster experience with World Concern in places like Haiti, and closer to home as a Red Cross volunteer. He recently served at a Red Cross shelter for victims of the tragic Oso landslide.

Driving up to Arlington, passing very familiar landmarks, it was a bit discomforting to see the elementary school with Red Cross signs posted on it, and to see people who last week may have stood behind me in the grocery store checkout were now sleeping on a cot with only the clothes on their back, waiting anxiously to hear word of their missing loved ones. It’s a very different thing to respond so close to home, but wearing a Red Cross vest, I was instantly recognized as someone trustworthy, and there to help. During a time when many families were beset by national and international media, they were very grateful for the safe place we offered, the hot food, showers and listening ear.

I’ve been a volunteer for a year and am now a certified Red Cross disaster instructor. In some ways it’s a natural fit, since my role at World Concern means I respond to disasters like the Haiti earthquake, and am familiar with these kinds of crises. I do this work because I have a heart for those whose lives have been devastated by disaster. Now, as a registered Disaster Team Specialist, as well as a member of my Community Emergency Response Team, I know that I will be able to fulfill my calling at home, and not just overseas.

Clean water that will last – even through storms

Girls filling buckets of water.
Young girls collect water from a public source in Grand Gosier, Haiti. Those who don’t live nearby will have to carry these buckets of water home.

World Concern makes providing clean water to communities that lack this life-saving resource a top priority. Recently, we visited the Southeast Department of Haiti and saw the direct link between disasters and the need for clean water.

We joined Bunet, World Concern’s Disaster Risk Reduction Coordinator, on this trip to Grand Gosier to see how we are providing clean water and preparing communities for future disasters.

Grand Gosier is a rather isolated commune (cluster of communities), near the sea and the Dominican Republic border. One reason it is so isolated is because of the poor condition of the road that leads to it. From Jacmel, the big city in Southeast Haiti, you must travel approximately 84 kilometers east to reach Grand Gosier.

Those 84 kilometers took us over four hours.

While crawling at a snail’s pace can be exhausting, the views are stunning. This is one contrast I noticed on the trip–poor infrastructure yet stunning natural beauty.

Once we arrived in Grand Gosier, we caught up with Pierre, the coordinator for the project in this commune.  He explained that the water system for the area had been damaged by a storm in 2007.  Since then, those not fortunate to live close to the water source have been forced to spend a lot of time and energy walking to reach water.  Even while we were visiting with Pierre, children and women walked past us carrying water.  All kinds of jugs, bottles, and containers are used to transport water.

Replacing old PVC pipe.
Women and girls carry water on their heads while workers replace the old PVC pipe to the community’s water source.

Occasionally we saw someone guiding a donkey, loaded down with water, but the majority of people were walking.  It was early afternoon, and limited cloud cover meant it was a hot and dusty journey for them.

Soon, those long journeys will not be necessary.  Once finished, the project will provide nine water collection points throughout the commune which will shorten the walk to water for many.

As we were listening to Pierre speak about the project, I wondered what precautions were being taken to ensure that this time the water system will be more resilient to withstand the next storm.  Hurricanes and heavy storms are all too common in Southeast Haiti.  Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy in 2012 are the most recent reminders of the devastation such storms can cause.  Combined, these two storms killed 87 and affected 205,623 people.  We cannot stop the rains and winds from coming, however we can be sure that communities are prepared as best as possible.

New metal pipe.
The new metal pipe, which you can see here, will ensure clean, safe water reaches families in this community, even when storms come.

Pierre explained that the prior water system had used PVC for the piping, but his team is working to replace all the PVC with metal pipes.  Though a seemingly small step, using metal will be a huge step towards increasing the system’s – and the community’s – resiliency.

When the repairs and construction are completed, this water system will provide clean water to people, whatever storms come their way.

You can help protect families and their resources from future disasters. Donate today.

“The road is long; don’t kill the dog”

Chris Sheach is World Concern’s Deputy Director of Disaster Response. He’s blogging from Haiti on the third anniversary of the earthquake.

Haiti earthquake damage
One of the 200,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings that were destroyed in the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

It was three years ago today that a 7.0 earthquake devastated the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We in the humanitarian community were shocked at the severity of this disaster. Almost 3.5 million people were affected by the earthquake, close to a quarter of a million died, and 2.3 million people were left homeless. The estimated $7.8 billion loss is equivalent to 15 months of Haiti’s GDP. All this in a country where the average family’s annual income is $660, 58% of the population lacks access to clean water, and more than half of the children are under-nourished.

This was a disaster decades in the making, and it’s certainly not going to be an easy fix.

I’ve spent the last week in Haiti, looking at some of the work World Concern has done, and working with our staff here in Haiti to develop the way forward. Coming back every few months, as I have for the last three years, I have seen continued progress and constant change. World Concern built more than 2,000 temporary shelters in the first 18 months after the earthquake, and this week I was hard pressed to find one—not because they’ve deteriorated, but because people are going beyond their temporary situation, improving and rebuilding their homes, moving along the road to the future.

This does not mean that it has been easy. Recent news articles emphasize the long road to recovery, filled with potholes, roadblocks and detours. A road complicated by mismanagement and conflicting priorities.

When I mentioned the long road to my Haitian colleagues, they laughed and told me they know the road is long. In fact, they explained, there is a Haitian proverb, “Chemen lwen, pa touye chen,” which means, “The road is long; don’t kill the dog.”

The dog in Haiti is a symbol of resilience and perseverance. If you’ve been to Haiti you know why. Stray dogs are often stepped on, starved, and rejected, but they just keep surviving. As it was explained to me, “A dog just keeps walking and walking, and it always gets where it’s going.” Haitians don’t expect the road to recovery to be a sprint, but rather a marathon. They will keep moving forward, step by step, until they reach their destination. And we plan to walk this road with them.

T-shelter in Haiti
A mom washes clothes in her transitional shelter World Concern built after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Many families have turned these into permanent homes by making long-term improvements to the structures.

World Concern is shifting our focus from disaster response work in Haiti, as we continue to take steps along the road. Disasters are too common in a country with less than 2% forest cover, poor sanitation infrastructure, and unsafe building practices. Regular tropical storms cause flooding, soil erosion, landslides and collapsed buildings on a yearly basis.

With the help of our donors, World Concern engages communities in reducing their risk to these disasters. Earthquake, tsunami and hurricane preparedness is being taught in schools, and spread through community groups. Early warning systems, flood control, and improved sanitation systems are being established. Schools and churches designated as evacuation centers are being retrofitted to ensure their stability. Local disaster response committees continue to plan, prepare, and train their communities.

Building resilient communities enables Haitians to continue to persevere—and to move beyond their current vulnerability. The earthquake was a significant setback on the road to progress. some estimate that 10 years of development were lost. We want to ensure that, even if natural disasters happen, they are not as debilitating.

The road may be long, but we must continue to walk it, no matter how long it takes. I am grateful for donors that continue to support World Concern and the people of Haiti on the road to resiliency.

You can help protect vulnerable families from disasters and help them prepare: www.worldconcern.org/preventdisaster.

Food Distribution in the Horn of Africa Goes High Tech

Note: This article was originally published on the Huffington Post Impact X blog on Oct. 10, 2012.

World Concern Horn of Africa beneficiaries
As NGOs shift our response from disaster to development, there are still many hungry people to feed.

Getting food into the hands of the hungry in the Horn of Africa is about to go high tech. Seattle-based humanitarian organization World Concern is piloting a new mobile phone app in the drought-stricken region, aiming to streamline the process of tracking food distributed to hungry families and payment to local merchants.

World Concern has been distributing food and emergency supplies to families affected by the Horn of Africa drought since July 2011. As famine spread throughout the region, aid organizations struggled to reach millions of people, especially those living in southern Somalia. World Concern distributed vouchers to hungry families who were able to purchase food from local merchants. The system supports the local economy and helps ensure food reaches those in greatest need.

This method has been extremely effective, even in dangerous and hard-to-reach places. More than 30,000 vouchers have been distributed so far, each representing a two-week supply of rations for a family of six.

World Concern staff uses mobile technology  in the Horn of Africa
World Concern staff members learn to use a new mobile app to track food distributions in the Horn of Africa.

The new mobile app allows field staff to use a tool they are already carrying (a mobile phone) to record data in the field (instead of a pencil and paper), and negates the need for re-entry into a computer at a later date. This saves time and reduces the risk of errors.

The system tracks beneficiaries and the food they receive via bar codes that are scanned into a mobile phone. Merchants have an I.D. card with a barcode, which is also scanned so they can be paid via wire transfer almost instantly.

The mobile app was developed by Seattle start up ScanMyList, whose founder, Scott Dyer, created a mobile application to help retail businesses track inventory. When Dyer saw one of World Concern’s vouchers, he realized the same system could help the humanitarian organization reach people during a disaster more efficiently and track aid more accurately.

Dyer traveled to the Horn of Africa with World Concern to kick off the pilot program, which will put the new technology into action in the field this month, as 4,000 food vouchers are distributed in Eastern Kenya and Southern Somalia.

“Not many people can say they’ve birthed an idea and seen it to fruition,” said Dyer. “It’s super exciting.”

The real brain behind this technology is the custom database, which is not only programmed to receive data from mobile phones, but to “think” about what it receives. The database will identify possible duplicate entries, flag significant variations in data, and crosscheck entry errors. Then, the database is programmed to generate custom reports in real time. World Concern staff can view these on a website, seeing exactly how many meals are distributed immediately.

World Concern and partner agency staff practice scanning bar codes with their mobile phones during a training last week.
World Concern and partner agency staff practice scanning bar codes with their mobile phones during a training last week.

“This technology will enable our staff to report on their life-saving distribution in real-time, increasing our ability to respond to immediate needs as they arise,” said Chris Sheach, deputy director of disaster response for World Concern.

While the “famine” has officially ended in the Horn, the long-term effects of such a severe drought and crisis will be experienced for many years to come. As NGOs shift our response from disaster to development—teaching pastoralists who lost their herds to farm and other forms of livelihood diversification—there are still many hungry people to feed. This new technology will enable us to do this even more quickly and efficiently. It can also be used in other types of disasters, particularly in cash-for-work programs.