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.

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!

Staff Profile: Jillian Thorp’s Story of Survival

Jillian Thorp talks with engineers in Haiti.
World Concern Haiti staff member Jillian Thorp talks with engineers overseeing house repairs. Photo by Frank Thorp.

World Concern attracts people who feel called to help in the world’s most desperate situations. It attracts staff members willing—even longing—to live in poor, troubled places, and serve.

Jillian Thorp is one of those people.

Jan. 12 had been an emotional and busy day for Jillian. She was finishing one of several meetings at her office at another nonprofit in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that day when the building began to sway. “It was almost like having a dizzy spell, then things started to fall off tables,” she recalls. A coworker grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her under a door frame. “About 10 seconds later, everything came down around us.”

Jillian and her coworker were both trapped from the waist down on the first floor of a two-story building. A door had fallen on top of them, miraculously protecting them from being hammered by debris. Another miracle is that Jillian had fallen with her cell phone. Although she couldn’t call out, she received several phone calls from friends in the U.S. and was able to tell them she was trapped and needed help. The last call she received was from her husband, Frank, who was working about six hours north of Port-au-Prince. “He said, ‘We’re coming,’” she remembers. Then the phone line cut, leaving them without communication.

Three hours later, Jillian heard someone calling her name. It was two other coworkers who had come back to see if she was safe. She was able to call to them, and they began digging with their bare hands. Eventually they had to leave to get more help and tools to break up and remove the concrete that surrounded her. She and her coworker were trapped for 10 hours. Frank arrived about an hour before she was freed.

“They pulled me up onto the roof,” said Jillian, who was gasping for fresh air and reeling with the realization of what she’d just been through. “The house had completely pancaked. I could see that the only place I could have survived is where I was. It was just a complete miracle that I was there and the way the house fell, that I was protected and we made it out.”

As an American, Jillian was able to be treated for her injuries at a hospital in the Dominican Republic and then fly home to the U.S. the next day. She struggled with survivor’s guilt, leaving behind those who had become like family and who had risked their lives to rescue her. “Why did I make it through something like that when so many others didn’t?” She wondered.

She returned to Haiti, just five weeks after the disaster. “I’ve just got to try,” she told herself. “I’ve got to see if there’s something still in me, that I could help these people.”

Jillian heard about World Concern from family members at home, researched the work we do, and saw it as a shining example of a successful aid organization. She liked that we have a 30-year history in Haiti, and that nearly all staff are Haitians. “So many organizations brought in so many people, so many foreigners, who didn’t understand,” she said. With a background in advocacy and a degree in diplomacy and conflict resolution, “It felt just right,” said Jillian, who accepted the position of Program Support Manager for the Emergency Relief Team in March – just two months after the quake.

“It’s been so healing for me to work with an organization that’s so supportive. It’s been a blessing,” she said. “I was looking for a higher purpose. I got through this earthquake. There’s got to be a reason.”

Jillian understands the frustration people feel, watching from afar, at the pace of the recovery efforts, but being involved in it every day, she sees much progress. “There’s such hope for the future of this country, but there’s a long way to go for sure. There are some  hard decisions in front of the humanitarian community … we can’t figure it out in one day, or even a couple of years,” she said. “But we have 617 homes we’ve repaired. That’s 617 families who have returned to their homes. We have just over 2,000 people employed through Cash for Work,” which is World Concern’s program to employ local people to clean up rubble and rebuild.

“Whether you see it when you walk down the street or not, when you look at World Concern and you see those, it’s significant,” Jillian said.

Along with the entire World Concern staff, Jillian shares great compassion for the Haitian people. “They’ve been through a lot, but their spirit is so resilient. They still have dreams. They know all this money is coming into this country. They try to take ownership of this project – to be a part of the rebuilding process,” she said. “It really should be their own. The U.S. didn’t fall apart, Haiti did. Ask Haitians what they want and ask them to help us do it. World Concern is really great at that.”

Jillian Thorp's collapsed house.
This is all that was left of the building Jillian was in when the earthquake hit. Photo by Frank Thorp.
Jillian and Frank Thorp.
Jillilan and her husband Frank are grateful she survived the earthquake and continue to work in Haiti.

Why We Won’t Give Up On Haiti

A Haitian grandmother outside her tent.
A Haitian grandmother sits outside her tent, where she lives with nine other people.

It’s been six months. To me, it doesn’t seem that long since January 12. I know we’ve made progress in the recovery. But to Haitians still in need, the last six months probably have seemed like an eternity.

As someone who has visited the country a few times, before and after the quake, I am not surprised Haiti remains a mess. For homeless Haitians, they have no choice but to deal with it.

Last time I was there, I sat with a grandmother in an obliterated neighborhood who smiled, touched my hand – and reassured me – when describing her life in a tent with nine other people. She showed me how they prop up their tent on rocks during thunderstorms to allow rainwater to race underneath.

Let me step back and look at what life was like pre-quake. Before the earthquake, the fragile people – and the government – were surviving on a thread. This is a place that was enduring a food crisis, where the poorest people ate mud pies, just to feel like they were eating SOMETHING. Even then, Port-au-Prince looked a like a disaster zone.

For years, the lack of basic services and infrastructure – imagine city roads only passable by 4×4 because of rocks and ruts – and the astounding poverty (80% of the population) formed a framework of instability. Still, when I visited a year prior, the UN security force, MINUSTAH, was both tolerated by locals and was providing a baseline of stability. And amazingly, Haiti WAS slowly improving.

Countries teetering on the edge of failure, though, cannot handle something like a massive earthquake. Something of that scale would likely strain even solid governments. The quake seemed to push Haiti’s government off of the radar. It is easy to see why: nearly all of the government offices, including the presidential palace, still are in ruins.

But , here is the net effect: Right now, it is up to the desperately poor to pick up the pieces and continue on. These are people who make, on average, $1.25 or less a day, like the grandma in the tent. These are people who lost their homes, livelihoods and family members. THANKFULLY, the poor are not alone, as agencies like World Concern are providing critical assistance to rebuild.

I also know this to be true: Corruption and inefficiency remain in Haiti. I’ve heard first-hand stories about how the relief is not getting done quickly enough because of powerful people who want to control the flow of supplies – and get a cut from aid organizations. Add this to a crippled infrastructure and general complications with an enormous international response, and you have a mammoth ship with many captains that is difficult to steer.

Still, I get agitated when I hear people say that the U.S. should essentially write off Haiti. I often see comments like these in response to news stories about Haiti. The logic is, “Why don’t we spend that money here. It’s just going to waste over there.”

So – what should we do about it? What is the right thing to do about it?

I can tell you one thing for certain, that if we simply decide to look away, to say it is a lost cause, people will die. Haitians do not have the resources. Plain and simple. Thankfully, many compassionate people have decided that providing this aid is the right thing to do, even if it is complicated.

What do we value? To me, we have a responsibility – as people who are able – to save lives. In a situation like this, an epic humanitarian crisis, we must have the interest of the most vulnerable in mind, not an unwillingness to work in or with a country that has failed its people.

Though progress is slow, we are rebuilding lives. For its part, World Concern is using the money pledged to rebuild in productive ways. We have provided aid to 100,000 people in the form of some sort of relief supplies or services. We have rebuilt nearly 600 homes and are ready to assemble 500 “home kits.” And, we are restarting small businesses through grants, which total about $150,000 to date.

Without a doubt, Haiti has one of the most messed up governments in the world. And, by World Concern’s estimates, the recovery time needed to rebuild has gone from 3-5 years, to 20.

I wish people could sit with a grandma in Haiti as I have. It makes it so much more real. Instead of reciting the figure that 2 million people are directly affected by the quake, it is much more helpful to recall the individual people we are fighting for. The grandmother, who touches your hand in her miserable situation and prays and believes that she will get through this pain.

Despite Haiti’s troubles, that kind grandma, through no fault of her own, lives in Haiti – and just needs to go to bed at night knowing she won’t be washed away in the storm.

Read more about what we’re doing now in this Reuters article.

Learn more and join our response.

Kindergarten Humanitarian Raises $3,641 For Haiti Earthquake

Six-year-old Jonathon Kane gives World Concern President Dave Eller a handful of checks after a week and a half of Haiti fundraising.
Six-year-old Jonathon Kane gives World Concern President Dave Eller a handful of checks after a week and a half of Haiti fundraising.

When a disaster like the Haiti earthquake happens, it’s sometimes difficult for me to see an upside. But today, I saw an example of the something beautiful amidst the chaos. In this case, it took the form of a smart and outspoken 6-year old humanitarian named Jonathon Kane.

Shortly after the Haiti earthquake, Jonathon was captivated by television news coverage of the earthquake. He felt compassion for children in Haiti, telling his mom “their eyes look very sad.” He wanted to do something and asked his mom Susan how he could help. She said money would be the best thing, so Jonathon emptied his piggy bank of all $6.37.

“We couldn’t get there on a plane to help, but what we could do is donate money,” Susan told me. And that’s exactly what they did. But along with Jonathon were hundreds of other children at Cedar Wood Elementary in Mill Creek, Washington, who also decided to reach out to help children in Haiti.

In total, they raised $3,641.

I met Jonathon this afternoon when he, his mom and big sisters Melissa and Kristen brought by a fistful of checks for World Concern’s Haiti relief. What’s clear to me is that this amount of money, along with matching government grants for the relief, will make a real and significant impact on the lives of hundreds of people who are facing a life-and-death crisis. Not bad for a child who had $6.37 to offer.

Jonathan tells me that he feels sorry for people in Haiti and he cares about them. “I hope this money goes to replace stuff to make new homes,” he tells me. Many children acted like Jonathon, donating their birthday money, their piggy banks, their life savings – with no regard.  On the first day, they raised $700.

One of Jonathan’s sisters, Melissa, told me something that seems to be painfully true. She says that she found it more difficult to collect money from students who are older. “It’s interesting to see how much more willing little kids were to give whatever they had.”

This compassion reminds me of the kind of compassion Jesus has called us to when facing a need like this one, a need that clearly we have been called to address. He calls us to a faith that knows that we will be taken care of if we step out and give, not to receive anything in return, but give because it is simply the right thing to do.

When we grow older, I believe our vision becomes clouded by the world. Jonathon sees hurting eyes and does not look from them, but instead acts on his instinct – knowing that his decision was the right one to make.

Kristen Kane helped her little brother collect donations for Haiti.
Kristen Kane helped her little brother collect donations for Haiti.
Jonathon points out Haiti on a globe as Heidi Williams with World Concern watches.
Jonathon points out Haiti on a globe as Heidi Williams with World Concern watches.
The Kane family dropped off checks to World Concern after a successful fundraiser for Haiti at Cedar Wood Elementary in Mill Creek, Washington.
The Kane family dropped off checks to World Concern after a successful fundraiser for Haiti at Cedar Wood Elementary in Mill Creek, Washington.