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!

Building Homes, Empowering Haitians

We’ve had many delays as we rebuild in Haiti, but we’ve heard some great news. Our new Haitian staff are getting the hang of home construction and are taking on more responsibilities. This is exactly what we want to happen and truly an answer to prayer.

Since the earthquake, Humanitarian Aid organization World Concern has employed thousands of Haitians to clear rubble and repair or replace houses that were damaged or destroyed. More than 600 homes have already been repaired, and crews continue to complete approximately 80 homes per week. Now, we’re on to a new phase: assembling 500 “house-in-a-box” kits.

The following entry is from Scott Mitchell, who is from Seattle and overseeing the construction. The homes were in shipping containers, but the containers were held up in customs in Port-au-Prince for several weeks. It was a big frustration and delayed the unloading and construction schedule.

Here’s some of what Scott said on his blog:

I have been in Haiti 52 days. I was brought down here to build shelters I remember thinking before I left I had to put up 7 shelters a day to make it work. This is shelter number 1 of 500. By the grace of God He had different plans!

The team assembling 500 kit houses.
The team of workers hired to construct 500 "kit" houses in Haiti.

The picture here is the shelter team that will be doing the work. We all were pretty happy that this one shelter is put up. We took time at the end of the day to just thank Jesus and ask for more grace. We all need it. I don’t know where I would be without it.  We should be putting one up in the field next week. I am excited to see what God is doing with this team.

There are those that are here to learn, and learn they did. The difference between Monday and Friday was huge—going from never using a drill to now building a complete structure using nothing but screws to hold it together. They went from moving individual pieces of metal out of a container to putting roof structures that they build onto a shelter. They went from bug-eyed wonder to wonderful smiles of joy and a sense of competence. They went from not knowing a thing about metal to teaching others about metal.

A team from Steel Elements that was brought in to build the jigs (jigs are templates to build the building by) was amazed at the progress. They even went from a “good luck” mindset to an attitude of “they are really going to get this and do well.” They worked very closely with our foreman and despite the language barrier, by the end of the week they were communicating fairly effectively. Our guys learned a lot from them and I am pretty sure they learned a lot from our guys.

I feel blessed by God with the quality of foremen that we have found. Honestly, I don’t know where we found all of them but I am impressed. By the end of the week they were coming up with solutions to problems that we faced, they were pushing the Steel Element guys aside and doing the work themselves. They were eager and willing to do the work. It was evident that some of them took home a set of plans and studied them. They want to do a good job, and by God’s grace they will. I think it might take a few shelters for them to really get the hang of it, but they will get it down and they will produce a great finished product.

Learn and act.

Disaster Relief Journal: Day 7

disaster relief office
Not your standard disaster relief office, huh?

Today in the world of disaster relief was mostly an office and meeting day.  Yes, even here.  My least favorite kind of day.

The office is about 100m up a sandy road from the house.  Not far, but far enough for several children to ask me for something.  A year ago, very few would be so bold.  Apparently, soft-hearted but soft-headed disaster relief workers have been giving things to children who haven’t asked for anything but friendship.  Now the children no longer value us as people, certainly not adults who their culture would demand them to be respectful of.  It is a shame because it has made it much more difficult to get to know the kids.  It wasn’t like that just one year ago, and I miss the easy, joyful interaction with them.

First thing, most of the staff were called together for a disaster relief staff meeting.

We have been encouraging them to get bank accounts at the bank in Abeche (a full day’s drive away) for reasons of security, with only a portion of it given in cash here.  So they were given an account application form and an explanation.  Then we moved on to programmatic issues and the start-up of our third phase of the program.  They are quite anxious to get into the activities.

After the disaster relief meeting we moved into other meetings with the Country Director, Adrian, and the Livelihoods Coordinator, Derrek where we talked about more strategic stuff as well as details of several grants.  Right now they are the only expats here.  Ayamba was supposed to arrive back today from vacation, but the plane that he was supposed to take was taken by an entourage which included John McCain’s wife.  Random, eh?!

Disaster relief workers in chad
Disaster relief workers in Chad, Africa

Through most of the afternoon, I worked on training materials and boring stuff.  Late in the afternoon the field staff returned and the office became lively again.  They get back at about 3:30, then do their reports and stuff for the day.  The guys in the picture are sorting out requests for seeds from some of the people we will be helping to cultivate later this month.

Now, we are sitting in the Landcruiser outside the wall of the wall of UN HCR checking our email using their wireless signal.  The crew from ACTED, another NGO, are in a vehicle parked just behind us.  HCR used to let us go in and use their conference room, which then became a good place to meet other NGO people, but now we meet in a dusty street.  Ah well, at least it is a connection.

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Read other disaster relief journal entries


Disaster Relief: Day 4

UN tank used to protect disaster relief workers
UN tank used to protect disaster relief workers

Well, it was one of those roller-coaster days.  Check-in was at 6:30, so Adoum reliably picked me up at 6:00 and we rattled off to the airport.  My bag was 17kg and sometimes they’ll make a fuss over even 2kg, so I was relieved when they let it go, though later I found they’d lost a bundle that accompanied the checked bag.  There is only one gate at the airport, though it is dutifully numbered “gate 1” and about 5 flights of passengers were all crowded into the one cramped waiting room.  Just as my flight was due to head out, a bunch of soldiers armed with AK-47s, rockets and other small arms formed a perimeter around the parking ramp in front of us.  It was rather disconcerting that they were facing our door rather than the world at large.  Then President Deby’s plane came in to pick him up, people rolled out a red carpet, others swept it, soldiers in formal dress lined the carpet and everyone waited – for two hours, while the entire airport was closed down.

I didn’t mind waiting; I’m used to that.  But it was making me miss my connection to Goz Beida and I knew Nick would pay me back for my bragging about not having to spend the night in Abeche.  We landed in Abeche a couple of hours late.  I registered with the local government official and called our local man to come pick me up.  Stepping out onto the front step of the two-room airport building to wait for him, I heard someone say “all passengers for Goz Beida.”  I grabbed my bag, pushed it at a guy with tags and a stapler, and said, “Goz Beida?  I’m going to Goz Beida.”  So he grabbed my bag, tagged it, tagged my knapsack carry-on, and pointed out the tiny airplane parked across the crumbling brick-paved parking ramp.  I caught up with the 3 other passengers and told the pilot I was going to Goz Beida.  He scribbled my name onto the manifest and away I went, wondering when they would pitch me off the plane.  But they didn’t.  Usually there is a painfully long and bureaucratic check-in procedure in Abeche, so I was astonished that I was going to be let onto this flight.  Quickly I sent a text message to our man in Abeche and to the guys in Goz Beida that I was on my way.  Life occasionally throws a bone your way and I reveled in it.

All the team’s senior staff and Nick met me at the dusty clay airstrip.  It was a nice welcoming.  Off to one side was the MINURCAT (UN peacekeepers) compound with helicopter gunships stationed in a barricaded compound.  Last February rebels overran the local government military in Goz Beidafor the second time and occupied the town for the better part of the day before they were chased off.  Our team took shelter in their compound for a night or two.  To prevent another battle, UN peacekeepers have been based here to support the Chadian military.  If NGOs like World Concern have to leave because of security, then about 60,000 people will not get such basics as food, water and medical care, so the role of the peacekeepers is very important.

I was dropped at the house to collect my wits and eat the first food I’d had today.  Jetlag had me up at about 4am this morning, so I wasn’t much good.  Later, we went over to Oxfam’s compound to use their internet connection.  Even though I’m in Chad, I’m still supporting responses in other countries, so I had to answer several emails each from Kenya, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to keep things from stalling, as well as various administrative duties from HQ.  It’s hard to be in a place like Chad and think about budget planning for 2010.

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Read other disaster relief journal entries


Disaster Relief: Day 2 & 3

disaster relief aid chad
A 'tent city' where people in need of disaster relief live

This post is direct from the journal of Merry Fitzpatrick. She is providing disaster relief to the people in Chad, Africa.

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Today is Thanksgiving and I’m in Chad.  It means nothing to the people around me.  I knew I’d be out of the States today, so I celebrated with a nephew and some neighbors last Saturday just before leaving.  That helps.

I arrived on Tuesday afternoon (along with my baggage, hallelujah) and was picked up at the airport by Jonas, our local logistician.  All our work is on the other side of the country so the rest of the team is there.  Unfortunately, the capital has the one international airport so we have to pass through here when we arrive and depart.  So we keep a simple house and a room for Jonas’ office here.

Because of security, we have to take UN flights to get to the field.  Last week we were sending out a 4×4 vehicle we’d purchased and it was attacked along the way by bandits.  No one was hurt and nothing was stolen, but we did have to replace a couple of wheels.

Disaster relief supplies in chad
Disaster relief supplies

Jonas met me with Adoum, a taxi guy we use on occasion.  Adoum borrows a car off the owner and they split the fare.  The car is an ancient little sedan that rattles and shakes along on 2 to 3 cylinders at a time.  Sometimes the windows will open or close, sometimes not.  At the house I met up with Nick, our Deputy Relief Director who is also visiting Goz Beida.  All houses here are surrounded by high walls, even if your house is made of mud.  Our compound is rather small and the kitchen, such as it is, is tucked away in a little cement block room in the back corner of the compound.  Just inside the gate is a large bougainvillea vine that sprawls along the wall, showering down bright pink-purple flowers during the night (which the guard sweeps with maddening enthusiasm before 6am).  These plants are great in that they grow in both rainy and dry areas and their thorny confusion of branches provides much better security than barbed wire – while also being quite beautiful.

The walls and floors are cement and the walls are painted an odd pink.  The 3 bedrooms contain beds and nothing else.  Some built-in closets in one room provide storage for our field team’s city clothes and such.  The living room contains a small fridge (the only one in the house), a sofa/armchair set and a coffee table, and nothing else.  The house is mainly just for people to transit through, so it doesn’t need much more.  The compound across the narrow sandy street is occupied by a variety of young singles, so loud contemporary African music blares through most of the day.  Noise isn’t the villain here that it is in the States so you confuse people if you are upset by loud music or whatever.

Down the street, across an open sandy area littered with trash there are a few shops and restaurants.  The restaurants are tin shacks with plastic tables and chairs set around on a dirt floor.  In a corner 3 sinks with running water are lined up – a bit of a luxury in a place like this.  Usually there is just a metal tank with a spigot.  People eat mainly with their hands, so washing is important.  There are rarely ever any women in the restaurants as this is a Muslim section of town.  Because I’m obviously a foreigner, they don’t mind when I go there to eat.  Last night Nick and I went down there for a plate of fries and a large glass of fresh guava and banana juice for supper.  It didn’t make me sick, so I’ll probably go there for supper tonight too.

Disaster relief helps hungry children in Chad
Disaster relief helps hungry children in Chad, Africa

Nick’s flight to Goz Beida left early this morning and Jonas is chasing down a number of different signatures, so I’m largely on my own today.  Today is Thursday; Monday morning between flights was the last time I was able to download emails, so Jonas took me to a cyber café on the back of his motorcycle and dropped me off.  It is the best connection in town, but is still slow and erratic.  It took me about half an hour to receive my emails, then another hour of constant trying and retrying to get the emails in my outbox to send.  Everything here takes more time and effort.

Normally, we have to overnight on our way to Goz Beida in a pit of a town called Abeche, but miracle of miracles, I will be on a rare flight tomorrow that will connect directly with a flight to Goz Beida, arriving almost the same time as Nick, even though he left 24 hours before me – which I’ve kindly reminded him of about a hundred times.  The flights are coordinated by the UN and we’re allowed only 15kg (about 30 pounds) of luggage, including our carry-on bags because the planes are so small.  Considering an ordinary laptop weighs 4 to 5 pounds (2-3kg), this doesn’t leave much for personal gear.  There are also always supplies and spare parts to take to the field as well.  So we usually end up with about half the weight for our personal items.  That’s about enough for a few toiletries, shower shoes, a flashlight, about 4 changes of clothes, a towel, a book or two, and some small odds and ends.  Really though, that’s about all you need as long as you can get your clothes washed once or twice a week.

I pray all goes well tomorrow and I don’t get stuck in Abeche.

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Read other disaster relief journal entries


Disaster Relief Blog Launches

Disaster relief and aid
Devastation caused by disasters

Everyone can picture a hundred different types of disasters and what disaster relief means.  They’re often featured in news reports.  Many of us have also been victims of one type of disaster or another, big or small.  World Concern works in many places around the globe that are especially prone to disasters.  Poverty and vulnerability go hand in hand.

If there is a flood in the US, we generally have insurance and a bit of savings.  If there is a fire, there are firemen.  When our children are ill, we take them to the doctor.  To prevent the worst of illnesses, we have vaccinations available.  In our large and blessed country, if there is a drought in one part of the country help can come from another part across a vast network of paved roads, or reservoirs can be drawn on through another network of pipes and canals.  When we lose our jobs, there are usually unemployment benefits.  Above all, there is stability, security and peace in our land.

Imagine how much more frightening the world would be without any of this.  In such places, World Concern is often enough the only help at hand.

Although we can picture so many different types of disasters – floods, hurricanes, droughts, wars, earthquakes – we often think only of hand-outs as a response.  But there is so much more that can be done.

In our responses to disaster, World Concern tries to help people not only recover their goods, but also their homes, livelihoods and hope for the future.  We strive to help whole communities prevent crises from becoming overwhelming disasters, to reduce their vulnerability and increase their ability to cope.  Above all, we work to help people to find the face of God during some of the worst moments of their lives.

I’m writing this first blog posting on a plane, leaving the cold, damp, dark days of late autumn in Seattle, heading to the glaring, baking semi-desert of eastern Chad in central Africa.  Join me over the next few weeks as I work alongside our team in Chad, serving families who have literally lost everything in the Darfur conflict.