This week we received a donation of $60. While that might not seem worthy of its own blog post, it is. Trust me.
The check was sent by Kim Kargbo, the director of Women of Hope International, a fellow Christian nonprofit that helps women with disabilities in Sierra Leone improve their lives. I called Kim to learn why another humanitarian agency would send us a donation instead of putting it toward their own programs.
The story she told me confirmed my belief that anyone, in any circumstances, can be changed by giving.
A few months ago, Kim and her staff held a meeting with the women they serve. They do this each month to talk about issues related to their disabilities and ways to overcome them.
These women live hard lives – most of them are beggars themselves, living on less than $1 a day. Women of Hope helps restore dignity and purpose to their lives through their programs.
“I really felt like the Lord was telling me to challenge them to look outside themselves,” recalled Kim. “To go beyond themselves, and he would bless them.”
Having heard about the famine in Somalia, Kim went online to look for a video she could show the women. She came across World Concern’s Eyewitness to the Famine video and shared it with them.
She also shared with them the story of the widow in 1 Kings 17 who was suffering in a drought and preparing her last meal when Elijah came and asked her for food. The widow trusted God and gave all she had, being promised, “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.”
The women were moved by the video and Kim’s explanation of famine. Most of the women are illiterate and some didn’t know that Somalia even existed. But they knew about refugee camps from their own country’s experience with war.
Then, Kim asked them a question. “If any of you didn’t eat today, would you die?” They all shook their heads, no. They might be hungry, they said, but they wouldn’t die. “Well, some of these people, if they don’t eat today, will die,” she said. “Do you think there’s anything you could do to help?”
This time they nodded their heads, yes. Even if each of them pitched in just a few coins, surely it would help a little. Kim agreed and told them that Women of Hope would match whatever they raised.
The women returned a month later for their Christmas party and had raised a bit of money, but not much. They wanted to do more. So they decided to take an offering that night. What happened next was amazing.
About 50 women came forward to give. One by one, they lined up – blind women being led by the hands of children, and others in wheelchairs – to drop their few coins in a cardboard box.
At the end of the night, they had $30. With their matching gift, they were able to send $60 to World Concern.
“I know it’s not much,” Kim said when I spoke with her on the phone.
“Oh, but it is,” I said. We’ve been asking donors to give $60 to provide emergency food rations, access to clean water, and long-term assistance to a family affected by the famine.
“When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” Proverbs 3:24
Most of us love to sleep. We dread the alarm clock that interrupts our blissful 8-hour escape to dreamland. We look forward to weekends when we can catch up and sleep in a bit. As we get older, we appreciate bedtime more.
Good sleep protects our health, boosts our immune system, and helps our bodies and brains restore themselves. Most of us live in places where we can lock our doors at night and sleep in relative peace without fear of harm. It’s a blessing we often take for granted.
I was reminded of this while touring an exhibit at Medical Teams International yesterday. Visitors are invited to step inside tents and shelters that serve as homes for people in places like Haiti and Uganda. Imagining the discomfort of sleeping on the ground with six people in a tent was troubling, but what disturbed me the most was thinking about the insecurity these families must feel when darkness falls.
They have no doors to lock, and a plastic tarp offers no protection from potential intruders.
During an interview last summer, a South Sudanese widow named Rebecca told us she is haunted by memories of hiding in the bush at night with her children when their village was attacked. “The memories of war … there are many,” she said. Those memories have become nightmares now and she has trouble sleeping. “Thank God I am alive. That day was horrible.”
In Somalia, families fleeing violence and famine travel by foot for weeks in search of food and water. About 80% of them are traveling without a male companion. They sleep outside in the open air. Many women are raped along the way, or even after they reach the refugee camps in Kenya. In spite of this, one mother told us, “I will sleep better at night, knowing my children have something to eat in the camp.”
Those who have survived a sudden disaster, like the earthquake in Haiti, often sleep lightly with one eye on the door and are jolted awake by the slightest sensation of shaking. Others living in crowded tent cities for months fear the danger of intruders. Families who have received new homes from World Concern are grateful to have doors and windows, they tell us.
Being able to sleep is one of blessings of having a home.
Tonight, when you crawl into bed, take a moment to thank God for the gift of a good night’s sleep and say a prayer for those who don’t have this.
I confess I’ve avoided writing about the families in this post for weeks. I doubt I’ll ever get to the point where photos like these don’t disturb me, but I will say there are fewer that shake me up inside – mostly because I know we’re doing something to help.
This set of photos and stories, sent by our staff in Somaliland (northern Somalia), really affected me. They were taken during an assessment of drought-affected communities to determine the needs of people there. One of World Concern’s priorities is to reach the most vulnerable first, so the families we help are often headed by females, have sick or disabled members, or are among the poorest of the poor; in this case, in the fifth poorest country in the world.
These are some of the families we met. I wanted to share their stories and photos so that others know their circumstances. To give them a voice, in a way.
It took me a moment to figure out what was going on in this photo to the right. It shows Khadra, a young mother of three from the Sanaag region outside her small hut fashioned from sticks, plastic and pieces of fabric. The family had 200 sheep and goats before the drought. They lost them all.
While talking with Khadra, our staff learned her husband is mentally ill, suffering from psychosis. Khadra said that she feels she has no alternative other than to tie him to their hut so he won’t wander away.
I can assure you, there aren’t any social services in this part of Somalia. Definitely no mental health counseling.
Imagine being in Khadra’s position and not knowing what else to do. My heart aches for her.
The part of Salah’s family photo (left) that troubles me most is their home. You can see they’ve tried to use scraps of trash, or whatever they can find to create some sort of shelter, but it’s no match for the searing daytime sun or cold desert nights.
I’m assuming this father has lost his wife. I’m told he has chronic respiratory problems and is very sick. He and his children survive off of food provided by neighbors and relatives.
Arale (below, right) is a disabled father of four who migrated to Garadag after losing his herds to drought. Their only source of income is to send their children to look for animals owned by other families, for which the children earn a small daily wage.
World Concern is helping these families, and thousands of others, initially by trucking water into drought-affected communities in this region and distributing emergency food. Families also receive plastic tarps for shelter, jerrycans, mosquito nets and cooking pots.
Long-term, we’re building berkads (semi-underground water reservoirs) and digging new wells – 36 of them in the coming months! Another way we’re helping is providing people with the tools and knowledge to grow vegetables and improve nutrition through kitchen gardens.
There is hope for these families.
Somaliland is slightly more politically stable and has experienced more peace than the rest of Somalia, having declared its independence in 1991. This is one reason we’ve been able to make progress there. Time is another factor. We’ve worked there for 30 years, enabling us to respond quickly when disasters like drought, war or famine strike.
We’re hoping to reach more families like these throughout Somalia.
“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9
What’s in the news today? Lindsey Lohan is going to jail and Kim Kardashian is getting divorced. I guess these things are considered news…
Unfortunately, there’s less and less coverage of the ongoing famine crisis in the Horn of Africa. Yet the UN estimates 750,000 lives are at risk, and millions are still hungry. Most of the recent articles seem to focus on the hopelessness of Somalia, where the greatest number of people are suffering.
But amidst the news articles about the dangers and challenges faced by aid organizations trying to reach these people, we’ve been blessed with some excellent exposure in the New York Times today and last week. Our innovative use of vouchers was highlighted in a column called “Fixes,” which looks at solutions to social problems and why they work.
Of all the ways to have our work recognized, we’re most appreciative when the focus is on the solution. If you’re a supporter of World Concern, you are part of that solution. Instead of wringing our hands in despair, together, we’re doing something. It feels good, doesn’t it?
In the past few months, we’ve reached more than 30,000 people with food vouchers. Families are able to purchase specific food items (beans, rice, oil, salt and sugar) – enough to last them several weeks. The system supports the local economy and helps ensure aid ends up in the hands of those who need it most.
There are other creative solutions being implemented. In drought-affected communities, we’re using existing resources to bring clean water to people. We’re enlisting the support and input of community members to find solutions, such as fixing broken wells, de-silting aging water pans and adding pumps to increase the capacity of wells. In one Kenyan community along the border that hosts refugees fleeing Somalia, the community paid for half the repairs. They will get their investment back if they take care of the well. You can bet their newly appointed water committee is doing just that!
This is not to say our staff isn’t facing the same challenges many aid organizations are facing in the Horn of Africa, including insecurity and conflict, limited access and resources, and even … mud (pictured here). But despite these challenges, we’re forging ahead – because people need help.
Within a week of a recent attack on the town of Dhobley, Somalia, we were back, distributing vouchers so the neediest families could purchase food and emergency supplies. Recent rains in the area have prevented easy travel to the towns where we’re helping. There have been many long hours spent stuck in mud puddles, or coming up against water-covered roadways.
We know it is only because of God’s grace that we’ve been able to help in areas with limited access. We’re praying that more help reaches the people of Somalia soon. Please join us in praying for more solutions to this complex crisis.
I have just left Dhobley in Southern Somalia. My travels with World Concern have taken me too many difficult places. I have been to refugee camps in Chad, holding camps after Sri Lanka’s civil war, and South Sudan before independence. Even with all of this experience with poverty and suffering, seeing the people in Dhobley was tragic.
We visited a medical clinic that we partner with and saw three young children laying on mats with IVs, so weak they could not walk. Their mothers were hoping that they would survive. To be honest, I’m not sure whether they will make it or not given their acute diarrhea. It’s devastating to know that beyond these three there are many who didn’t make it to the clinic.
The people in Dhobley broke my heart. It was not just the extreme need. People are hungry, sick and without resources. There was such defeat in the eyes of the people on street. They are not only lacking the basics of life – clean water, food and shelter – they have no sense of security. The week before a battle took place in this town that sent people fleeing again into the bush to survive. Are they safe today? None believe they are. Living day after day in insecurity has taken a toll beyond any I can imagine. There is sorrow upon sorrow.
Yet in the midst of such darkness, there is hope. When we engaged with people on the street and talked, the spark of hope was still there. Hope comes in the form of others caring and reaching out.
World Concern is bringing food and other essential items for survival, but they need so much more. There are people in need of love, joy, hope and peace. God has called us to care for the least of these. I found them in Somalia. I pray we can bring healing beyond survival.
Today, as yesterday, the issue for the people of Southern Somalia is survival, and the World Concern staff is pouring themselves out to keep people alive. My desire is to see us walk together through this immediate need into a time and place in the future where people can live in peace.
World Concern staff members are safe after an attack on the Somali border town of Dhobley by the militant group al-Shabaab. In the early morning hours of Sept. 30, al-Shabaab attacked the town where World Concern, along with partners Medical Teams International (MTI) and AFREC, have been providing aid to families affected by the famine and insecurity in Somalia.
We’re grateful that no staff members or partners were in Dhobley at the time of the attacks, but our hearts are broken over this deadly attack on a town that is already suffering so much. Initial reports indicate that 44 Somali military members were injured and 30 were killed in the attack. Two civilians were also killed and two others injured, including a young girl. There are reports of seven al-Shabaab members being killed in the fighting.
Dhobley is a place where many families traveling from all over southern Somalia can get food, water and rest on their long journey to the refugee camps in Kenya. Despite daily security issues, World Concern has been able to feed 13,000 people with two-week rations of beans, rice, oil, sugar and salt, and provide emergency supplies such as blankets, water jugs, mosquito nets and more to another 1,300 families.
World Concern and MTI staff will continue to assist in the response just across the border in Liboi, Kenya. As soon as it is safe to return to Dhobley, World Concern will resume activities there, as we’re one of the few international organizations able to work in the area.
Insecurity has been a major challenge for humanitarian organizations to reach people affected by the famine. “We could double or triple our food distribution with better access,” said Deputy Director of Disaster Response Chris Sheach. “Every day we’re not able to get into Dhobley represents 2,500 people who don’t receive help,” he said.
One way World Concern is working around these challenges is by using vouchers, which are redeemed for food and emergency supplies at local merchants. We then reimburse merchants through direct cash transfers. This system supports the local economy, builds relationships with community leaders, and ensures food ends up in the hands of those who need it most.
Please pray for the families affected by the attack this morning and that further violence will not hinder our ability to reach people in desperate need.
When Jason Kim heard about the 13 million people affected by drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, he felt compelled to do something to help. Knowing he could do more with the support of others, he joined forces with some friends and organized a fundraiser. The event, called iFed, was held this past Sunday, Sept. 25 at Phil Smart Mercedes-Benz in Seattle’s SODO district.
Jason and a group of volunteers raised $4,600 to help with World Concern’s famine response – enough to feed nearly 500 people for an entire month.
“People – no matter where they are – they’re human beings. They’re looking for a cup of clean water,” said Jason. “There’s a calling on us as fellow human beings to do something. My parents are missionaries, I work for an employer who does a lot, I have generous friends … I am surrounded by people like this, and I am able and capable to do something.”
Jason works at the Mercedes dealership, and when he approached his employer about hosting the event, he immediately agreed. Potential supporters were invited via Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth to come down, have their car pampered in an exclusive Mercedes car wash, enjoy a barbeque lunch, and watch the Seahawks game on giant screen TVs throughout the venue – all for a donation. They also sold T-shirts that said “iFed Africa” at the event.
Shannon Olsen is a friend of Jason’s and helped plan the fundraiser. She admits it was a ton of hard work, but well worth the effort to know lives will be saved because of it.
“It’s so fun to see your friends support something like this,” said Shannon. “Really, it comes down to the fact that most people do care, but they don’t know what to do. When you know someone who is doing something, it’s easy to jump in. In the end, it was great to see the group come together and how a small amount of money can bring fresh water and food to help people.”
Shannon was inspired to help raise funds after seeing World Concern’s photographs of people suffering in Somalia and Kenya. “I saw all the dead animals in the road and people walking over them. I imagined the smell, and how those people must be feeling so hopeless. It’s important to call attention to the fact that this is not just something else going on in Africa. This crisis is unique,” she said.
For both Jason and Shannon, the iFed fundraiser was just the beginning. They plan to continue raising awareness and funds to help.
“I can’t just dust my hands off and feel I’ve done my thing. It’s ongoing. We still need to keep going,” said Shannon. “I hope people think, ‘Shannon’s really busy and she did it. Priorities can be moved around and I could do something too.’ Hopefully people will catch on.”
If you’re inspired to tap your network and make an even greater impact on the lives of those suffering in Somalia and Kenya, why not start your own fundraiser? We’ve got a simple set up. Check out http://www.firstgiving.com/worldconcern/famine and start your personal fundraiser today!
When we set out to visit the community of Dhobley, Somalia, it came after a security assessment from several people, and the knowledge that whatever the security may tell us, it’s still a dangerous place to go.
The militant group Al Shabaab, which has ties with Al Qaeda, was pushed farther back into Somalia a few months ago, helping Dhobley maintain some order. Security forces from Kenya and Somalia’s transitional government continue to make gains and reclaim territory. Still, news reports I’ve read indicate that Al Shabaab fighters are not very far outside of the community. And it’s clear that Al Shabaab is not far from the minds of the refugees.
When I talk with families fleeing the famine, I hear one thing again and again. It’s not just hunger that has driven families to leave. It’s the lawlessness that has flourished in the failed state of Somalia. I’ve heard horror stories of the innocent being victimized by evil men in unspeakable ways.
Even if these families had moderate success with their businesses or farming in Somalia, nearly all did it while living in fear. With the painful backdrop of poor security, the famine was the inescapable problem that pushed them over the edge, sending them on an uncertain journey for food and water. In order to affect long-term change, security must improve.
Heading to the nearly unmarked border
On a day we traveled to Somalia to work, we left World Concern’s base for famine response in Dadaab, Kenya. This town is home to the rapidly-growing complex of refugee camps you’ve seen on the news, as well as a large UN compound. It takes about two hours to drive from Dadaab to Dhobley, just across the Somalia border. Like other agencies, we have elected to have a security detail join us on the road.
The road to Somalia has no signs, just tire tracks in deep sand on a twisting road through scrub brush. Before reaching the border, we had to stop in the Kenyan border town of Liboi on our way to Dhobley, to get our passports stamped, knowing that there was no similar immigration checkpoint in Somalia.
The border has two non-descript markers, short unmarked concrete obelisks set along the road, in a section of sand and scrub that looks like any other. But that was our sign to stop. Our Kenyan vehicles could go no farther. Soon, after we called our contacts in Somalia, an ancient small Nissan transport van arrived, and we switched vehicles, from our Kenyan trucks, to the rented Somali van. Inside were Somali men who run a partner agency in Dadaab, and they would be leading us around town.
Gunfire seems normal
Dhobley was filled with livestock searching for a drink, and small shops like I have seen in other more established towns in Kenya. What was unusual was the military presence. Hundreds of young TFG soldiers dressed in green fatigues held old assault rifles and wandered around, on foot and in the back of pick-up trucks.
Every so often, I’d hear gunshots. Who was firing? I’m really not sure. I’d bet, though, that with no real functioning government, many people are armed. The crack of gunshots are common in Dhobley. People are saying, “Hi, how are you doing!” or “I am angry!” or some other message. But what we did not hear was prolonged gunfire to indicate an actual fight. And so, strangely, I stopped flinching when I heard a shot, and it just became ambient noise.
No hospital, but a medical clinic
World Concern is joined in Dhobley with our partners at Medical Teams International, who work under World Concern in the response. One man and a woman are from Uganda, and usually work in that country. They are extremely talented folks with much relevant experience. Because of the crisis, they’ve been called up. Another man is a physician from Oregon who specializes at diagnosing rare diseases, along with a nurse who is an expert in disaster medical care. Both of them have been in about seven missions with MTI.
The MTI team saw patients in a small clinic. The one story building is under construction, and helps the community compensate for the loss of a hospital. Locals say that Al Shabaab commandeered the hospital when it controlled the town, using the building as a base of operations. During the fight to reclaim Dhobley, the building was more or less destroyed.
Searching for working water wells
While the MTI team saw patients, a team from World Concern drove from water source to water source in town to see how the systems were functioning. After evaluating several pumping stations, we see they need work, and form a plan for how to help. With a large population of displaced people, the demand for food and water has increased. We also notice that people are using a watering hole for livestock as their source of drinking water. This is a guaranteed way to spread disease.
We’re also working here to ensure the hungry are fed. By using a voucher system, those in need are able to buy food from local businesses. We find that this is safer than trucking food down a road that is also home to bandits. And by buying from local vendors, we help the economy.
It is a safe bet that Dhobley receives many more refugees in the coming months. The primary road to the Dadaab refugee camps passes right through Dhobley. With continued unrest elsewhere in Somalia, and the growing famine, more families will decide to leave their homes, and search for a new life in Kenya as refugees.
Working for sustainability – with an eye on who’s really hurting
By helping communities with food, water and more, World Concern is working to help keep Somalis in Somalia, if possible, and out of the overburdened camps. And in our work with communities, we’re also helping ensure those who live in these towns on the border can survive the flood of travelers.
It is a complex problem, happening in a dangerous area, and it will get worse before it gets better. It is a difficult logistical and political equation to ensure long-term stability that will allow us to do the long-term transformational work that the community really needs.
What remains consistent, however, is the desperation from families who find themselves caught in the middle. It doesn’t matter that the security is rotten, and that bad people still roam freely here. The fact is that these families – men, women, boys and girls – need the basics of life. They need food and water, and without it, they will die.
Our goal is to be here long-term, to help the communities become more self sufficient, and less vulnerable. We want to see the communities transform. But the reality for now is that we are in a life-or-death crisis.
With those who are supporting us, we are able to make a small difference in this big disaster, making sure that families we touch will make it through this famine alive.
There is water in Damajale, Kenya today, bringing relief and smiles to the faces of thirsty children and families.
About a week ago, the only deep well in this village along the Kenya-Somalia border failed. The pump, 150 meters underground, was working round the clock and finally quit. Watch the CNN iReport here.
Damajale is one of many host communities that has seen a massive influx of refugees. In the past month, an additional 2,000 to 3,000 people have arrived here, having walked for days – even weeks – in search of food and water.
Fatuma, a mother of eight, was brought to tears when she realized there was no water. She had walked 30 kilometers through the night to Damajale to find only empty jerrycans stacked around the well.
“I struggle to stand here now, because I am so thirsty,” Fatuma said. “I don’t know when I will come back to my home. I may die on the way.”
World Concern is working in outlying host villages like this to get water and food to people there. Repairing and increasing the capacity of existing wells is one way we’re doing that.
In Damajale, we were able to get a new pump flown in, and engineers worked through the night to fix the well.
Today, water is flowing from the well.
To those who have donated to the famine response, the chairman of the elders of Damajale says, “You have come and rescued us. May God bless you.”
As I read the daily news articles about the famine in the Horn of Africa, I’m continuously shocked at the angry comments posted at the end of these articles. Many of them are downright hateful, and imply that we as Americans should not help other countries where there are groups that have expressed hatred toward the U.S.
I’ve even heard questions like, “Why should I care?” Or, “Haven’t those people brought this on themselves with their violence?”
To me, this is irrational thinking. Humanitarian organizations provide aid in some challenging places. We do so because there are innocent children and families who are caught in the middle and need help. In the case of Somalia, these families have no government to turn to for help. It doesn’t exist. Their crops have failed, their animals have died, and they have left their homes in search of survival.
In almost all suffering it is possible to point to people individually or corporately that are responsible for the injustice. The most intense suffering and hardest to overcome is that which people inflict on others. Injustice is not limited to the rich oppressing the poor. Wherever people have an element of power – whether wealth, land, social, political or positional – over another person, there is the risk for oppression. This is the situation in Somalia. There are those with power that are oppressing the powerless. This has held people down so they have been living just above the survival line in the best of times. The drought has limited food production for the last two years and plunged the population below the survival line. Oppressed people are dying.
So what is to be done about the oppressors in Somalia and the rest of the world? As humanitarians, we believe reaching out to people in need shows a path other than violence as the answer. I am not suggesting that if we care for those in need the oppressors will see the acts of kindness and change their ways. But those who receive help are given a chance to see compassion, rather than violence, in action.
All other concerns aside – these are people that are dying. When a child is withering away it really does not matter whether the cause is drought, ignorance, or social injustice. It is a precious child that is dying. If we determine that any person is of less value because of where they were born, we have lost our humanity.
As one who deals with the issues of injustice everyday in my profession, I realize the impossibility of meeting every need myself. I feel the frustration of the overwhelming need weighed against limited resources. But I also know that the real question I must answer is not how much can I help? But rather, should I care? We can all do something. If everyone did what they could, then extreme poverty could be conquered.
What is the purpose of our freedom if not to help the powerless? We must do more than “do no evil.” We must “do good.” It is not enough to point fingers at the oppressors. We must help those that are oppressed. We must reach out to those who cannot repay us and will never know our names.
This is what compassion is about. This is what makes us different from those that oppress.