Tag Archives: global poverty

Sahel map showing drought and malnutrition

Crisis is brewing in the Sahel

Sahel map showing drought and malnutrition

A UN map shows areas of the Sahel affected by drought in pink. Red circles indicate expected cases of severe malnutrition in 2012.

There’s a crisis brewing in the Sahel – a swath of dry land that cuts through Central Africa. The people who live in the Sahel are familiar with crisis. They face ongoing challenges – armed conflicts, drought, poverty and lack of resources.

It rarely rains in parts of the Sahel. Nevertheless, entire populations are dependent on rain-fed crops for survival. The rains this past season were less than average and sporadic. Crops failed, food prices soared, and now, the UN is alerting the world to a looming food crisis.

In Chad, where World Concern works with families displaced by the Darfur war and conflicts within Chad, a million and a half people are at risk of hunger. The UN estimates that 127,000 children under the age of 5 will be affected by severe acute malnutrition this year in Chad’s Sahel region.

A mother in Chad with her donkey plow.

A mother in Chad gets ready to plow her field with her donkey plow she received from World Concern.

The lean season—the period between harvests when families depend on stored food from the previous harvest—is expected to be the most severe in years.

World Concern’s programs in Chad provide families with farming tools, training and seeds to grow drought-resistant crops. Now is the time to respond to this growing crisis and help families survive the lean season, and prepare for the next harvest.

You can help save lives and prevent this crisis from worsening. Click here to donate.

From one scarred hand to another

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.

Sierra Leone donation

A blind woman in Sierra Leone is led forward at the Women of Hope International Christmas party to offer a donation to the famine relief.

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.

“It’s perfect.”

Should Christians only help other Christians?

Should Christians help the poor? The immediate response for most of us is, “of course.” But we’ve heard from people who believe Christians should only help other Christians. Their rationale is based on the stories of the early church that involve believers helping one another – not the poor in general.

While the Bible certainly encourages believers to help one another, such as in Acts 2:45, doesn’t it also command us to love others, help others and give generously, without regard to a person’s beliefs?

This opinion was a bit surprising, especially for those of us who believe so strongly in feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and healing the sick. We serve those in greatest need, regardless of race, gender or religion. We take joy in serving others, expecting nothing in return.

Helping a woman in Somalia

A World Concern staff member listens to the needs of an elderly muslim widow in Somalia.

Jesus certainly helped many people who were not necessarily believers. When he fed the 5,000, he didn’t require his disciples who were distributing the fish and loaves to verify each person’s beliefs.

Prior to telling the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus referred an expert in the law to what he must do to inherit eternal life. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The man asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus then told the parable, in which a priest ignores a man who had been beaten by robbers, but a Samaritan helps him. Jesus then instructs his listener to “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus certainly did not require conversion before ministering to people. His healing touch or words were often what opened someone’s heart to receive his love and forgiveness. We find that same principle at work in our service to the poor every day.

A Sri Lankan man who had lost everything in the war, told us, “Our suffering and hardship caused us to question whether there is a God. But through the continued support and love shown towards us by the World Concern staff, we believe that there is a God and we now have hope in life.”

What if we hadn’t helped this man because he was not a Christian? He would have given up on God. Our help was the tangible expression of God’s love he needed in order to believe.

A pastor who supports World Concern says, “Jesus came with a message and a mission. Sometimes churches are all about the message and forget about the mission.”

Like this pastor, we believe it’s important to share Christ’s love in word and deed. In situations where appropriate, we offer an opportunity to hear the gospel. But what about the places where we can’t? Should those people be left to starve or die of thirst? In contexts hostile to Christianity, our witness is simply reflected through the work we do.

In the verse above, we are commanded to love our neighbor. That’s why we do what we do. Just like in the Good Samaritan story, our “neighbor” is often someone with whom we have nothing in common.

I have a friend who went to church pregnant and unmarried. The love and support she received led her to recommit her life to Christ. Today, 20 years later, she’s happily married, a mother of three, and a committed Christian. She admits, had she been hit with the gospel the minute she walked in the door of that church, she would have never returned.

If we were to plunk ourselves into a drought or disaster stricken community and start preaching the gospel, with no offer to help, very few people would be receptive. Practical help often opens the door to be able to share why we do what we do.

 

A long way from home

“Some people don’t even have a home, mom!”

This was the response scribbled by my 19-year-old daughter on a note I left asking her to clean up the house.  I had written, “This house has been such a mess, I’m starting to dread coming home,” scolding my family for not being tidier.

Hard to believe she had to remind her humanitarian-aid-writer mother that I should be thankful just to have a home. But she’s right. In fact, millions of people don’t have a home; many through no fault of their own.

Refugee mom and daughter.

A mom and her daughter wash dishes outside their hut in the Djabal Refugee Camp in Eastern Chad.

Today is World Refugee Day, and it’s an opportunity for all of us to think about those who had to leave everything behind and start over in a new place – usually in very dire circumstances.

World Concern works with thousands of refugees who are trying to begin a new life in a foreign land. They live in camps, often for years, before their lives are stabilized enough for them to think about the next step. We help provide food, access to clean water, health and hygiene training, education, income generation and more.

But what’s the ultimate goal?

“For them to be able to go home,” says Chris Sheach, deputy director of disaster response for World Concern.

Many of those who fled Darfur during the war, for example, are still living in camps in Chad, where World Concern works. Their homes and villages were burned. They would love nothing more than to go home, but there is nothing for them to return to.

“If they can’t go home, we help them integrate into a new society,” says Sheach. World Concern’s Cash for Work program in Chad has enabled families to earn income to support themselves and contribute to the local economy, thereby reducing the risk of creating conflict in their host community. We also assist them in obtaining land to farm, and provide seeds and farming tools to grow their own food and earn income.

In an ideal world, situations wouldn’t escalate to the point where people had to flee their homes for survival in the first place. Sometimes they do go home, such as in Somaliland (northern Somalia), where returnees from Ethiopia and other areas are settling in camps in their homeland. Their hope is that they’ll be able to find a new home. But 96% of them are dependent on food aid. We’re teaching them to plant vegetable gardens to feed their families, and hopefully improve their diet beyond the staple grains they receive from aid agencies.

A bricklayer in Chad.

Paying cash for labor is one way World Concern helps refugees support their families.

Nearly every parent’s desire is to provide a better life for their children. A home is the foundation that provides the stability kids need to pursue their dreams. I’m blessed to be able to provide that for my kids (despite it being a bit messy at times). The circumstances refugees find themselves in today is one of those things that makes me want to scream, “It’s not fair!” And it’s not. But we can stomp our feet, or we can do something about it. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that’s doing something about it.

Rather than fostering any hint of a global pity party, we’re empowering refugees by giving them the the tools to move forward. Whether or not they can return home, we can help them focus on the future and the hope of having place to call home.

For more information on World Concern’s work with Darfur war refugees in Chad, visit http://www.worldconcern.org/darfurcrisis

 

Oury, Navin and Pandey in their school uniforms.

Three young friends are now safe from harm

Oury, Navin and Pandey in their school uniforms.

Oury, Navin and Pandey attend school regularly, instead of spending their days at the city dump.

When I opened the email and saw this photo, I could hardly believe my eyes. Were these the same boys that captured our hearts last July? The sight of them in their clean white school uniform shirts brought a lump to my throat.

They’re okay, I thought. No, look at them! They’re better than okay.

We first heard the story of these three inseparable 11-year-old friends last summer. Our child protection team in Asia had identified the boys, Oury, Navin and Pandey, as being at high risk for trafficking.

They spent their days, unsupervised, digging through garbage at the city dump, looking for recyclables to sell. The orange tint to Pandey’s hair – a sign of malnutrition – indicated he wasn’t getting enough to eat. He is the fifth of six children. His father is disabled and drinks every day.

The three boys in the dump.

When we first met these three boys, they were collecting garbage to sell.

Their broken families and hardships brought them together as friends. Their will to survive bonded them. They worked together as partners, they said, because they could collect more trash and finish sooner. They dreamed of using their “profits” to become engineers and building skyscrapers in Cambodia some day.

We worked with them, slowly encouraging them to attend our School on a Mat program, knowing they would resist giving up their income from the dump. At first, they continued to go to the dump in the mornings and attended school in the afternoons. They learned about the dangers of trafficking and how to avoid abuse and exploitation.

Now they’re safe and attending school regularly. And, they’re one step closer to their dream of becoming engineers.

Prevention works. You can get involved in preventing child trafficking by fundraising for the “Free Them” 5k or by supporting World Concern’s child protection programs.

Pandey in school.

Pandey is now attending school regularly.

Pandey at School on a Mat

Pandey, when he first started attending School on a Mat.

Garden = better test scores and more in rural Kenya

School children in Kenya.

Students hard at work at Naado Primary School in Kenya.

Kathryn Sciba is visiting some of our programs in Kenya this week. The following excerpt is from her blog about her trip.

We began our eventful journey to a primary school near Narok. This is the kind of land where safari animals roam wild. The children and teachers at this school blew my mind with how well they welcomed us. The people here are Maasai, nomadic herdsmen. This school has changed their lives since World Concern started working with them in 2008.

The school has a 28-acre garden that World Concern built a fence around so the elephants wouldn’t destroy it. The lack of farming means the families have had to follow the herds and lack a balanced diet.

In the past three years World Concern has not only built a solar powered electric fence around the school’s garden but they’ve also trained the community about farming. Now the families can stay put if they want to. Now the community has wheat and corn fields. The school produces more than enough food for their enrollment and is able to sell the rest. They grow passion fruit, mango, bananas, and vegetables, including basics like beans, corn and wheat.

They do have a water catchment system, which catches rain from the roof and carries it through pipes to the garden, but they need rain to sustain it. Please pray for a great rainy season which was supposed to begin this month but has been lousy so far.

Students in Kenya.

About 800 students receive education and nutritious meals at Naado Primary School in Narok, Kenya.

The garden has provided essential nutrition and that’s helped the student’s test schools improve dramatically. In 2007, 191 children graduated with a Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (a national standardized test required to pass primary school). In 2008, 216 students graduated and in 2009 the number was 261.

Enrollment has been increasing because the community is sending their children there to be well fed and educated instead of having them roam with the herds. The school provides boarding to 150 girls who would otherwise roam with their families. By having girls live at the school, their families may feel less urgency to marry them off at a young age in exchange for a 20 cow dowry.

There are currently about 400 boys and 400 girls enrolled in the school.

 

 

Hunger and waiting

We’re more than half way through the Global Hunger Challenge and are gaining some powerful insights about how we approach and think about food. First on our minds: snacking. We’re not doing any. And we miss it. There just wasn’t room in the budget to factor in snacks beyond the three meals a day we planned in our $34 budget for the week. It’s amazing how much food is offered by others in our culture too. At least five times this week I was offered a treat or something to drink by generous friends, which made it very hard to refuse.

A woman tends a fire for cooking in Chad.

Pots heated over a fire for cooking in a refugee camp in Chad.

Over the weekend I made soup in my crock pot, not thinking about how hard it would be to smell it cooking all day and having to wait until dinner time when it was done. The aroma definitely intensified the snack cravings. It made me think about those who live in some of the places where World Concern serves, and how much of their day is consumed with gathering, planning and preparing food. I’ve also never been so thankful for food when meal time does arrive after an hour or so of my stomach grumbling.

In parts of Africa where we work, three meals a day is not the norm. The two “meals” (which are not even close in quantity to our meals) take most of the day to prepare. Pounding whole grain, such as maize, millet or sorghum, with a mortar and pedestal expends an incredible amount of time and energy. Someone gathers sticks for a fire from a few distant trees. The grain is then cooked in water and possibly fried if there is oil available. Aside from seasoning it with some onions or garlic, or being blessed with a seasonal green as a side dish, most families eat the same food every day. A piece of fruit is considered a rich dessert on a special occasion.

Imagine the patience involved in plowing hard, dry soil, planting seeds, hand-carrying water from a stream or well miles away to irrigate your meager crops, then waiting for signs of growth. Just when sprouts of green begin to push through the cracked soil, all your hard work is washed away by a flash flood. It’s hard to fathom the disappointment parents feel, knowing their children will have to wait even longer for food now.

A woman plows a field in Chad

A woman plows her field in Chad.

It’s exhausting to think about, isn’t it? This week’s Hunger Challenge has given us a tiny glimpse into what millions of people experience every day of their lives. Hunger. And waiting.

Join us in making a difference.

Will the Hunger Challenge be as “fun” as it seems?

Today was shopping day for some of our staff participating in the Hunger Challenge. The task: to figure out what to buy in order to eat on just $34.33 for the next week. The amount is equivalent to the $1.25 a day that many people in Haiti live on. Our adjusted amount will be $4.90 a day, which doesn’t sound too difficult, but our first eye opener was how much planning, calculating and creativity went into making $34 stretch for a week.

A week's worth of groceries.

Here's what Mark and Erin bought with their $34. Will it last them a week?

Mark and his wife Erin had a lot of fun planning their menu together for the week, then figuring out which things—like a hunk of cheese or a loaf of bread—could be used in more than one meal. They decided to spend only half of their combined $68 on groceries and save the rest for a few splurges, like Erin’s daily Dr. Pepper from the gas station soda fountain. They’re also planning dinner out on Friday night while shopping at Ikea. The store has a hot dog, chips and a drink for $1.99, which fits in their budget. Monday is their anniversary, so they’ll order pizza from Little Caesar’s for $5.

Other meals include taco soup, minus the meat (for three nights), grilled cheese sandwiches, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and of course, some Top Ramen for snacks.

The hardest things to give up? “Soft drinks,” said Mark, who usually drinks soda with lunch and dinner, but will be drinking only water this week.

“We really realized that if you’re careful, you can save a whole bunch,” he said. “We were surprised at how much food we could get.” It may be a little monotonous, he admits, but they’ve got a bag of chocolate chip cookies dipped in milk to look forward to at the end of the day.

But the Hunger Challenge is not all about budgeting and careful shopping. It’s about experiencing—just an inkling—of what other people live with every day of their lives.

Think about the fact that we’re spending our entire $34 on food. What about all the other things families need to be healthy like soap and toothpaste? Here are just a few things I would normally include in my grocery budget, but won’t be buying this week or I’d starve:

Toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, cleaning products, cat food, cat litter, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, over-the-counter medicines, staples (flour, sugar, spices, shortening, oil, etc.), condiments (salad dressing, mayo, ketchup, teriyaki sauce, etc.), soft drinks, juice, other beverages, light bulbs … I could go on and on.

The point is, when you’re faced with a small amount of money needing to stretch for a week, food alone becomes the priority.

Planning for this week might feel “fun” to those of us who don’t live this way every day, but I find it hard to imagine those living in constant poverty would even have the energy to plan a week’s worth of meals. For us, this is a week-long experiment. For millions of people, it’s a way of life.

Follow our team’s Hunger Challenge updates on Facebook and Twitter, as well as this blog.

Women & World Poverty

Women in Poverty

On Thursday, January 29, 2009, President Obama signed his first bill – the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act (CNN article).

For many years, Lilly Ledbetter worked received much less than her male counterparts who were doing exactly the same work but she did not discover the discrepancy until she reached retirement. She wanted some restitution for the years she had been underpaid but a narrow interpretation of the Statute of Limitations required that she file suit within 180 days of her first unfair paycheck. Since she did not discover the unfairness in the pay system until her retirement, the Supreme Court, on the basis of the present law, threw out the favorable judgment of the lower courts. This law changed the Statute of Limitations to 180 days after the most recent paycheck, providing more recourse to women who do not discover the inequity for many years.

I hope that Lilly Ledbetter will now be able to receive a fair judgment but, if we trace this news event backwards from today’s headlines, we discover that it is rooted in a core belief about equity and gender that is not a part of many of the cultures where I have worked during the years.

If Lilly had herself believed that it’s OK to pay women unequal pay for equal work because that’s just how things were, she would never have brought suit to begin with. That belief, in turn, is rooted in an even more basic belief that women are inherently worth less than men. And that is the core belief, shared by both women and men, in many of the countries of our work that we challenge and begin to change through our microfinance.

On a recent trip to Bangladesh, I asked Khushi (her name means “Happy”) what in her leadership of Women’s Small Business Assistance Center (WSBAC), World Concern’s micro-finance program for women in poverty, brought her the greatest satisfaction. She did not point first to increased family income or even the impact of that income on the women’s families—kids going to school, getting needed health care or enabling the further growth of the women’s businesses. Instead she said, “When we start the program the women look at the ground, many will not speak and, those who do speak share without confidence or spirit. Later in the program, they speak directly and with confidence. They talk of what they can do. They have a much greater influence in their family—their husbands respect them more. They know that they can do things.”

I’ve come to think of this experience as “seeing the lights go on in the eyes” because, quite literally, that is what happens as something that had been asleep in the women is stirred into life, shines through their eyes and is pantomimed in their confident body language—heads up, leaning forward, even interrupting one another to share with confidence and enthusiasm.

I saw it in the eyes of Anowa who was the head of a women’s microcredit group in the village of Kalipur.  This group helps women in poverty lift themselves up.  She sews together jute bags for cement and other items. Wholesalers now place orders with her and she has hired two additional women to help her. Another, after the death of her son caused her to lose her snack shop, began a rickshaw repair business and now owns two rickshaws. A third bought a good milk cow and now sells the five liters of milk it produces a day for Taka 50 (about $.70) a liter. Others make dresses, run market stalls, buy and sell. The eight women call named their community bank “Hashi” or “smile.”

Why is giving women loans, training and encouragement to run their own businesses so different from simply giving them money? This week I discovered a new (to me) insight that I had never seen in quite the same way before. I was again reading the first few chapters of Genesis, foundational to transforming development.

God spoke the animals into being, giving them their life. But Adam and Eve spoke their names into being, giving them their identities. There is great power in both actions. Only God can do the first, giving life to a baby girl in Bangladesh, but people, especially the child’s family, give the girl and the woman she becomes her identity.

Our staff and the WSBAC program speak three new identities into being for these women—community bank member, businesswoman and borrower.

  • Community bank member—As a community bank member, the women participate in making decisions that make a difference. The group must decide who will get the loans first and who will not. The women must become critical thinkers, evaluating the credit-worthiness and character of the applicant, and the likelihood of her success. Girls who transition quickly from the rote memorization of primary school—if they are able to attend—to the passive submission and obedience of a teen-aged wife and mother, may never have engaged in critical thought and decision-making. When the women in the group pay off their loans on time, as over 95% of the over 3,000 clients do, the group members come to be known as smart, insightful and savvy rather than slow, passive and dull women how must look to men for insight.
  • Borrower—As a borrower who must repay her loan with interest, a woman, whose identity was shaped by dependence upon others, is renamed as trusted, responsible and respected. For a woman whose identity is almost exclusively shaped by child-bearing and passive obedience to their husbands, becoming a debtor is a tribute to the confidence that others have in her competence. And when she pays off the first loan successfully and moves to larger second and third loans, respect for her grows within the village and with her husband and family.
  • Businesswoman—Businesswomen must plan, use simple accounting to make business decisions, and find suppliers and markets—even if their business is only a market stall. The women, many for the first time, must make investment decisions regarding money. They must decide what risks they are willing to take. For women whose time line for most decisions extend no later than the next day, extending their sense of control and influence permits hope to take root. If we feel that the decisions that we take today will have no influence over what happens in the future, our hope either dies or slips inexorably into numbing passivity.

Why, then, does the light shine in the eyes of these women? It is because we speak the same words of identity to them that God communicated to Eve—the good news of Genesis. “You are created in my image. Therefore you have value in and of yourself. Together with Adam you are to exercise dominion and stewardship over my creation—responsibly exercising your initiative, intelligence and creativity to make it productive.” Nobody has ever spoken this identity into being for millions of women in the world—an identity that is rooted in the character and action of God. The gifts and responsibility that God gave these women by virtue of their creation have not been awakened or developed. For many this awakening is the first step on a pathway that draws them nearer to the one whose image they bear.