The blessing of peaceful sleep

“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.

kids sleeping in Somalia
Children sleeping on the ground in Somalia.

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.”

A Somali refugee mom
A little boy sleeps on his mother's lap as she rests on the long walk from Somalia to refugee camps in Kenya.

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.

A Haitian family's bed in their tent.
A family who lost their home in the Haiti earthquake sits on the bed inside their tent.

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.

15 months is a long time in a tent

The rebuilding efforts in Haiti may have faded from the headlines, but every week, we’re still handing over new homes to families in need. After 15 months in a tent in the yard, Fredine and her family are finally home.

Fredine in her new home.
Fredine in her new home.

Fredine proudly sweeps and cleans the new home in the Nazon area of Port au Prince. She’s certain, housework will never again feel like a chore. She’s thrilled to have a roof over their heads.

The family lived in a two-story home until the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. Their home was destroyed, but they thank God the entire family survived.

They had no choice but to move into a tent in the backyard. The tent was so small the children often stayed with neighbors and friends.  They couldn’t afford a new home because she and her husband rely on selling food and other items on the street for income.

World Concern partnered with CHF International to demolish their house and removed the rubble, clearing space to construct a transitional shelter.  Fredine’s new home was constructed by World Concern, and she moved in with her family on May 14, 2011.

After being handed the keys, Fredine went right to work, making her new house a home. It’s a major step in the process of healing for this family.

Read more about our work in Haiti and help others like Fredine rebuild their lives.

Taking hope farther: reaching rural communities affected by Haiti’s earthquake

The epicenter of Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake struck near the most densely populated urban areas of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital. Nevertheless, the effects of this disaster have rippled hundreds of miles out to rural areas such as Port-de-Paix, in the Northwest Department.

Many earthquake victims have taken shelter with family members living in rural areas, where they can at least be assured of meals and a roof over their heads. This migration has made life harder for rural communities that were already struggling and far from prepared for a population increase. In these areas, even a change in rain patterns can have devastating effects on daily life. Children are the first to be affected during tight times. School fees and uniforms are considered luxuries that often must be sacrificed.

Angela
Angela's family has taken in extended family members who lost their home in the earthquake. They're receiving help to start a business and keep Angela in school.

We’re working with community volunteers to help kids like Angela stay in school. Her parents have taken in additional family members and are barely able to keep food on the table, let alone pay for school fees. Angela’s school fees are being covered, to ensure her parents can get back on their feet again. And these school fees, in turn, help the school get much needed upgrades.

We work with local committees to determine which families need help. The local benevolent committee identified Angela’s parents to receive a cash grant, enabling them to buy some goats and start a small business. This business will increase their cash flow, and allow them to repair their home and feed their family, while Angela gets an education.

The devastating effects of Haiti’s quake reach far beyond the city, but so does help for families like Angela’s.

Read more about our work in Haiti.

Chris Sheach is World Concern’s deputy director of disaster response.

Angela's house
Angela and her extended family live in this mud house in rural Haiti.

From tents to transitional shelters – things are improving in Haiti

From tent to transitional shelter - what a difference!
From tent to transitional shelter - what a difference!

One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to return to disaster areas and see change. Yesterday I visited the Nazon neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I’m usually pretty good at recognizing landmarks and navigating in a place I’ve been before, but a lot has changed in the past three months – and that’s good to see. Countless times I stopped suddenly on our walk to exclaim, “This road was impassable before!” or “Where did that house come from?”

It’s interesting how, when you see the change gradually, like my Haitian colleagues, it seems unremarkable. For me, the difference was a pleasant surprise. Sure, you may hear that “little is being done” and “only 15% of the rubble has been removed,” but I can tell you, in the areas where World Concern works, the difference is huge.

Our walk was interrupted several times to stop and greet people. “This is one of our beneficiaries … this is one of our carpenters … this man is on the neighborhood committee.” I jokingly suggested that one of our community liaison officers should just move to Nazon, as she is more a member of this community than her own. Julie seemed to seriously consider the idea for a minute, before laughing and saying, “Only if I get a World Concern shelter to live in!”

Julie’s work, and that of the other liaison officers, is quite obvious. When I visited Nazon in the past, the community was distrustful of my motives. Yesterday, told me how great the work of our staff was, thanked me for our involvement in the community, and asked how World Concern will be involved in the next phase of reconstruction.

Another difference I noticed is the level of energy. Haitians have endured so much since the earthquake, with annual hurricanes, a deadly cholera outbreak, civil unrest and a disputed election process. Even so, streets that were formerly filled with rubble are now lined with merchants plying their trade, and people involved in the reconstruction process.

Serge and Sergio
Twin brothers Serge and Sergio helped World Concern rebuild their house.

I met Serge and Sergio, fraternal twin brothers in their mid-20s. These men were eager to have secure housing before the imminent hurricane season, but the narrow alley to their property was inaccessible to World Concern delivery trucks. Rather than waiting for staff to transport all the building materials by hand, Serge and Sergio donned gloves and hard hats and joined the work team, moving truckloads of sand, gravel and rocks by wheelbarrow load themselves.

This kind of enthusiasm is contagious. All over Nazon, you can see posters youth have created encouraging people to take an active role in rebuilding their own community.

Now that’s progress!

For more on World Concern’s work in Haiti, visit www.worldconcern.org/haiti.

Moved to respond: expertise in disasters

First responders in Japan.
Japan's first responders provide aid after the devastating earthquake on March 11, 2011. Reuters photo.

Watching the earthquake and tsunami disaster unfold in northeastern Japan this week has been painful for all of us. Hundreds of thousands of people have been impacted, and aftershocks continue on a daily basis, reminding the Japanese people that this tragedy is far from over.

World Concern, a member of the Global Relief Alliance, is responding by working through alliance partners that were already in place and at work in Japan prior to the disaster. Some may wonder why we’re not loading our staff onto a plane and heading into the disaster zone. Believe me, as a member of our disaster response team, it’s hard for us to “wait this one out,” but it’s important that we do so.

After the Haiti earthquake, we were able to respond immediately  because we have worked in that country for 30 years, had staff in place, and were able to make an immediate impact, utilizing resources and donation dollars in the best way possible. But the disaster in Japan is very different on a number of levels.

I have been encouraged by the response being undertaken in Japan. Countless lives have no doubt been spared by the efficiency of their mobilized volunteers, military, and emergency response teams. Rapid assessments, organized distribution lines for rations and water, and shelter provisions reduce uncertainty and anxiety.  Heavy equipment has been mobilized, clearing roads and restoring communications and transportation. Japan has very accurate national registries (hence their ability to report the numbers of those who are missing) and has reached out to contact everyone in the affected areas. The Japanese have been a model of disaster response, and we have lessons to learn about how we can improve our own system in North America to match theirs.

Contrast this with Haiti’s 2010 earthquake or Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar in 2008, where the number of victims will never truly be known due to lack of census records in the affected areas. The needs in these countries overwhelmed the fragile states, and basic necessities were unattainable. They desperately needed international support, simply to get food, water, and basic medical attention. World Concern had offices and programs in these places prior to the disasters and responded directly. We have continued to work – and will continue – in these countries long after they have faded from the headlines.

In Japan, after the immediate search and rescue and medical emergency needs are met, Japan’s disaster response teams will determine their need for additional help. Meanwhile, we are standing by, ready to deploy if needed in the field. Until that time, we will provide technical assistance and support to our partners on the ground, maximizing our team’s expertise and your donations.

Please join us in praying for the victims of this tragedy and their families, for the government of Japan as it coordinates the response, and for Christian partners and the church in Japan, as they work to support the local authorities and care for their neighbors.

For more information, visit www.worldconcern.org/disasters.

Japan quake highlights disaster risk reduction

Tsunami damage in Japan.
Houses, cars and buildings were washed away in a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake in Japan on March 11, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/KYODO, courtesy of Alertnet.

The dramatic events unfolding in Japan after a magnitude 8.9 earthquake off Japan’s east coast triggered a devastating tsunami are riveting. They also highlight the distinction between communities that participate in disaster risk reduction activities (like Japan) and those that have not been prepared (such as Haiti). No amount of preparation can stop an earthquake or tsunami, but the next few days will show how preparation and risk reduction have saved countless lives, and minimized the long term effects for the Japanese people. In other nations, this tragic event would have had much greater consequences.

We participate in risk reduction on a daily basis: when the radio identifies a forecast of rain, you assess the risk, and choose to reduce it by carrying an umbrella. On a national scale, this is much more complicated. It requires awareness, planning, and willingness to put plans in place. Today, a few low-lying communities in Washington State were evacuated due to the warnings issued by the West Coast and Alaska Warning Center, a part of the US early-warning system.

The effects of this earthquake in Japan are drastically different than the one measuring 7.0 which paralyzed Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010. In Haiti, low-quality construction practices, lack of awareness about the risk of earthquakes, and insufficient government capacity to respond created one of the worst humanitarian disasters in history. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was also a horrifying tragedy impacting unprepared communities from Indonesia to Somalia.

World Concern is currently involved in disaster risk reduction activities in risk prone areas around the world, training local communities to prepare for the next “big one.” With World Concern’s help, communities in Haiti, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are identifying risks and developing strategies to mitigate losses during disasters. Community members work together to find solutions, and educate others on how to protect themselves during a disaster.

In Haiti, for example, communities dig and maintain storm drains to counteract flooding during hurricanes. Other areas have installed emergency water facilities, in case their regular sources are contaminated by floodwaters.

After Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 130,000 in Myanmar, World Concern supported the establishment of Disaster Management Committees in affected communities, equipping them with disaster response supplies, and assisting them in developing an early warning system, coordination with local government, and implementation of multi-hazard action plans.

World Concern partners and donors are empowering the poorest in high-risk areas to make informed decisions and be proactive in protecting their loved ones and their way of life.

Help us respond to disasters, and prepare impoverished communities for future disasters by donating at  www.worldconcern.org/disasters


On the front lines: Haitians rebuilding Haiti

Sometimes it is hard to visualize how humanitarian aid works. We want to see empirical data that represents value for dollars. As Deputy Director of Disaster Response, I am often asked the question, “What is World Concern doing to help Haiti?”

Haiti staff member
A World Concern Haiti staff member helps distribute emergency supplies after the earthquake.

I can respond with facts and figures from the first year post earthquake: 7,091 Haitians have been given temporary employment, 1,284 houses have been repaired, 530 transitional shelters have been constructed, 989 grants have enabled Haitian business owners to get back to work, 32 churches were repaired or rebuilt; but those figures don’t tell the entire story.

World Concern has served in Haiti for more than 30 years, and some of our staff have worked for us more than 20 of those years. When the earthquake struck on January 12, 2010, every one of our more than 90 staff was directly affected.

The past year has indeed been a difficult one for Haiti, with political struggles, natural disasters and the outbreak of a disease not seen for decades. Again, the World Concern Haitian staff has endured these trials and not given up their work.

Some of our staff live in transitional housing, in camps, or in houses that need structural repair, yet they continue to meet the needs of more vulnerable people in their community. In the past year, these employees have learned many new skills, as we implement programs to get Haitians back on their feet. Some have learned to coordinate and run community gatherings, or participate in meetings with international agencies. Some have developed peacemaking skills, as they talk with disgruntled and frustrated people.

The World Concern staff is recognized in several communities for their knowledge of cholera treatment and promotion of good hygiene. They have gained respect among their neighbors, and set an example on our work sites. Many have improved their English skills, and are much more confident speaking in their third language.

Engineer Michel  Miliri says, “[World Concern] has allowed me to help communities where I have lived.” And community liaison Belony  Dorilien said, “The emergency program has allowed me to help people through activities I believe in.”

This is really how humanitarian aid works. Up to 90% of the work is done by disaster victims. Many staff told me World Concern programs solve problems that communities would not be able to address on their own, but this is not entirely true. Our World Concern Haiti team is solving problems in their own communities. They have been battle-tested, and have come through the past year better equipped to bring life, opportunity and hope to the poorest of the poor in their country.

To learn more about how World Concern is helping in Haiti, visit www.HaitiOneYear.org.

Chris Sheach is World Concern’s Deputy Director of Disaster Response.

Witness to Haiti One Year Later

Haitians remember the one year anniversary of the earthquake with their community and World Concern.

Haiti held it together. Although the one year anniversary of the earthquake was met with anguish and questions about the country’s future, Port-au-Prince did not resort to riots and widespread violence.

Being there first hand, I did see anger, as I witnessed people shouting at each other, arguing about housing. I heard what sounded like gunfire and saw people drinking heavily. But as I traveled through the city on Jan. 12, 2011, most people were not like that. They were simply remembering all they’ve lost, all that changed in 35 seconds of terror one year ago.

In parades and services great and small, many people dressed in white, the color of mourning. Many cried, prayed, and sang songs. I heard a report about thousands of people marching on the street, frustrated that there isn’t more progress in rebuilding. I saw many churches in session, with special one-year anniversary services.

At the site of what once was the Hotel Montana, a service was held, recounting the pain of that day, and praying for continued healing. Nearly all that remains of the destroyed main hotel is a vacant lot, with some rubble still visible on a hillside.

World Concern works through community groups as we equip neighborhoods to rebuild. We teamed up with a neighborhood group called Sove Moun and held our own service, with prayer, songs and stories. We felt that just remembering, and acknowledging Jan. 12, was important.

You hear a lot about the resiliency of Haitians. I agree with this. In the past week, I’ve seen many smiles and heard hopeful stories after the disaster. And the fact is, there has been much progress. It’s a story that has been grossly underreported, which is easy to do, as reporters look at the vastness of what remains to be done, rather that what has been accomplished.

Although about 700,000 have found homes or shelter since their earthquake, about 810,000 Haitians still want a place to live. No question, this healing takes time, especially in one of the most challenging political and logistical environments imaginable.

So, in spite of Haitians being resilient, and rolling with whatever disaster they’re faced with, I know that it still hurts. Like any humans, they want stability in their lives. They want a chance for their children to go to school. If given the choice, they would prefer not to endure disaster, followed by disaster.

One year after the quake, if you see smiles, know that they may be smiling through a lifetime of pain that you and I may never experience. Please continue to keep Haiti in your prayers.

A time to remember.
A service at the site of the Hotel Montana drew several hundred people, including representatives from the UN and rescuers.

Thank you for making 2010 amazing!

Children in Haiti received "Kids' Healing Kits," one part of a large response that has helped more than 100,000 people after the earthquake.

This past year was a mixture of tragedy and triumph in the world of humanitarian aid. It began with one of the worst disasters of our time. As eyes were glued to the news coverage of the massive earthquake in Haiti, hearts were moved to help. Donations came pouring in. The response was overwhelming, and it renewed our faith in the amazing generosity of people.

World Concern, being on the front lines in Haiti, went to work. There was food and water to be distributed, tarps to be hung, and medical supplies to be delivered. Then, there were, and still are, lives to be rebuilt.

The response in Haiti was a huge part of 2010, both in terms of donations and accomplishments. But it wasn’t everything World Concern did with your help. There were projects completed in numerous impoverished countries, and new ones started. There were children educated and protected, wells dug, fields planted, houses built and jobs created. In all, we’ve reached nearly 6 million people with assistance.

We praise God for all that has been accomplished. As we reflect on 2010 and look ahead to 2011, we also want to thank you. Without our donors, none of this would be possible. You are truly partners in this work.

Here’s a look back at just a few of the amazing, creative ways people gave in 2010:

  • A kindergartner raised $3,641 for Haiti earthquake relief.
  • A group of inner-city children sold lemonade and cookies to build a house in Haiti.
  • A teenager gave up his birthday to help others in need.
  • Families decided to forego more “stuff” for Christmas and gave meaningful, life-changing gifts.
  • Bloggers dedicated space to making a difference in the world.
  • A young donor sends a beautiful letter with her donation, entrusting us to help others with it.

In all of this, please take joy in what you’ve done with us. You played an essential role in 2010, and we pray you join us in our quest to ease suffering in the coming year.

Thank you and happy New Year!

– The World Concern Team

Inner City Kids Donate to Build House in Haiti

World Concern recently received a check for $1,313 to build a house for a family in Haiti left homeless after the earthquake. Receiving donations of this size is always a joy, but what makes this donation extraordinary is that the kids who sent it come from poverty themselves. The check came from a group of about 40 children, ranging from preschool through fifth grade, who attended East End Fellowship’s Vacation Bible School in an inner city neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia.

East End Fellowship meets in an old theater in Church Hill, a neighborhood where 82 percent of families are single parent households, and 37 percent live below the federal poverty line ($17,600 for a family of four). Half of the population is unemployed, and 50 percent of high school freshmen will not graduate.

Despite the impoverished state of the community, church members and parents decided the children would benefit from a mission project—something to allow them the chance to help others who are less fortunate than them. They decided to donate enough money to World Concern to help build a house in Haiti. Their goal was $1,200.

VBS kids baking cookies.
All of the children from the VBS class helped bake cookies.

“We knew the kids couldn’t bring the money in themselves,” said Ashley Hall, a church member and mother of three who participated in Vacation Bible School.

They decided to sell cookies and lemonade—each child having a hand in baking the cookies and manning the lemonade stand.  They set up two stands—one on a busy corridor and another near an abandoned building. And the community came out in droves to support them.

Each afternoon, they brought in their collection boxes and tallied up donations. The kids were amazed to learn that by Friday, they had exceeded their goal.

“It was really, truly amazing,” said Ashley. “It was great for the kids to see that they can make a difference. The whole goal was to have them look outside themselves.”

VBS kids sell lemonade.
Kids from East End Fellowship's VBS class sold lemonade and cookies at two stands, raising enough money for a house in Haiti.

East End Fellowship partnered in this endeavor with another community group called CHAT, which stands for Church Hill Activities and Tutoring, and was started by Angie and Percy Strickland, who moved to the neighborhood in 2002 with a mission to connect with the community’s youth. CHAT and other ministries in the area are influenced by the principles of the Christian Community Development Association, which promotes a development model that encourages people like themselves to become a part of a community to help it heal, rather than lofting in resources and people from the outside.

This model matches that of World Concern, which strives to lift the world’s poorest communities in places like Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia out of poverty with holistic, long term development. World Concern engages community members in their own growth through education programs, vocational and agricultural training, water and sanitation projects, healthcare programs and employment opportunities. In Haiti, for example, the house East End Fellowship’s children paid for will be built by Haitian workers hired through World Concern’s Cash for Work program. The program not only teaches marketable skills, such as construction, but helps boost Haiti’s economy by employing local workers.

To learn more about World Concern’s model for community development, visit www.worldconcern.org/whatwedo.

To learn more about East End Fellowship, visit www.eastendfellowship.org.