Let’s do more than talk about educating girls

Malala Yousafzai’s tragic experience of being shot for her advocacy of girls’ rights has brought much attention to the importance of and need for girls’ education worldwide. As Malala celebrates her 16th birthday with a visit to the UN, all eyes are on the world’s response.

Will we simply talk about the importance of educating girls? Or will we do something?

Christine in Kenya.
Christine was the only girl in her class in secondary school in rural Kenya. Now, she’s a role model for other girls in her community to pursue their education.

When I think of the incredible challenges faced by girls in developing countries to pursue an education, I think of girls like Christine.

Unlike most girls her age, Christine is one of the few in her rural Kenyan community to complete her education. Throughout secondary school, she was the only girl in her class. “It was difficult,” she said.

In this part of the world, most girls her age are either married off young—some as young as 10-years-old—or cannot afford to pay school fees. When finances are tight, parents tend to pay for their sons to go to school, rather than daughters. World Concern provides scholarships for girls like Christine to finish school.

Because she did not marry young, Christine and her family were ridiculed by others for their decision to pursue education. She found it hard to relate to her friends. But this never weakened her determination.

A young girl studying in Bangladesh.
A young girl studying in Bangladesh.

Christine is waiting for the results from her secondary exams so she can apply to university. “I want to become a dentist so that I can come back to the village and help others. One day I want to start a school to educate more girls.”

Christine is now a role model for girls in her community.

“The few girls in the area who are not married off are working hard so they can reach the level I’ve reached,” she said. Twirling her braids for a moment, she paused, then said, “I tell them to work hard because life is so hard.”

“In Maasai land, girls are very vulnerable,” explains Jennifer Warabi, the head teacher at a nearby primary school that provides scholarships for at-risk girls. “Parents send boys to school over girls. We have rescued many girls who were married at a young age, and brought them to school so they can continue their education.”

Ms. Warabi has taken a special interest in one of her teen students named Agnes, who was already married and pregnant when she came to the school. She gave birth while living at the school, but has been able to continue her studies. “She’s performing well,” said Ms. Warabi.

The situation in places like Haiti is critical too. Crushing poverty keeps many girls from attending school, and even fewer from completing their education.

It is especially important to support girls in their pursuit of education.  According to UNICEF, only 52% of girls in Haiti participate in primary school and the number drops to 21% in secondary.  The need is obvious, and the solution is simple.  Not only does an education provide increased social and economic opportunities for a girl but it helps break the cycle of poverty in her family and community.

After finishing high school, Manoucha hopes to become a nurse and help people in her rural village in Haiti.
After finishing high school, Manoucha hopes to become a nurse so she can help others in her rural village in Haiti.

Manoucha is 19 years old but still has a couple of years left of high school.  “I like to go to school but I have lost some years because I was sick,” explained Manoucha.

Although she has experienced challenges, Manoucha is committed to finishing high school.  “It’s the best way to help your family,” she said. She also has a dream of being able to help others one day. “When I become older I want to be a nurse because if someone is to get sick I will be able to give them aid.”

World Concern is helping Manoucha finish her education. In Haiti, we do this by providing young people like her a way to earn income and pay school fees. Manoucha received a goat and training on how to care for her goat.

Her goat’s first baby was returned to the program so it can be given to another child. This way, the program can sustain itself and kids are able to learn a skill and are given ownership.

A young girl works hard in her classroom in Laos.
A young girl works hard in her classroom in Laos.

“Once there are more baby goats I will sell them to purchase things I need,” she said.  “It will help me pay for school fees.”

You can help a girl like Christine or Manoucha finish her education, pursue her dreams and change the future of her entire community. As we stand in awe of Malala’s courage today, let’s help her celebrate this milestone birthday by taking action.

Click here to give the gift of education to a girl in need. $50 provides an entire year of schooling in a poor community.

“I want every girl, every child to be educated.” – Malala Yousafzai

Clean water that will last – even through storms

Girls filling buckets of water.
Young girls collect water from a public source in Grand Gosier, Haiti. Those who don’t live nearby will have to carry these buckets of water home.

World Concern makes providing clean water to communities that lack this life-saving resource a top priority. Recently, we visited the Southeast Department of Haiti and saw the direct link between disasters and the need for clean water.

We joined Bunet, World Concern’s Disaster Risk Reduction Coordinator, on this trip to Grand Gosier to see how we are providing clean water and preparing communities for future disasters.

Grand Gosier is a rather isolated commune (cluster of communities), near the sea and the Dominican Republic border. One reason it is so isolated is because of the poor condition of the road that leads to it. From Jacmel, the big city in Southeast Haiti, you must travel approximately 84 kilometers east to reach Grand Gosier.

Those 84 kilometers took us over four hours.

While crawling at a snail’s pace can be exhausting, the views are stunning. This is one contrast I noticed on the trip–poor infrastructure yet stunning natural beauty.

Once we arrived in Grand Gosier, we caught up with Pierre, the coordinator for the project in this commune.  He explained that the water system for the area had been damaged by a storm in 2007.  Since then, those not fortunate to live close to the water source have been forced to spend a lot of time and energy walking to reach water.  Even while we were visiting with Pierre, children and women walked past us carrying water.  All kinds of jugs, bottles, and containers are used to transport water.

Replacing old PVC pipe.
Women and girls carry water on their heads while workers replace the old PVC pipe to the community’s water source.

Occasionally we saw someone guiding a donkey, loaded down with water, but the majority of people were walking.  It was early afternoon, and limited cloud cover meant it was a hot and dusty journey for them.

Soon, those long journeys will not be necessary.  Once finished, the project will provide nine water collection points throughout the commune which will shorten the walk to water for many.

As we were listening to Pierre speak about the project, I wondered what precautions were being taken to ensure that this time the water system will be more resilient to withstand the next storm.  Hurricanes and heavy storms are all too common in Southeast Haiti.  Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy in 2012 are the most recent reminders of the devastation such storms can cause.  Combined, these two storms killed 87 and affected 205,623 people.  We cannot stop the rains and winds from coming, however we can be sure that communities are prepared as best as possible.

New metal pipe.
The new metal pipe, which you can see here, will ensure clean, safe water reaches families in this community, even when storms come.

Pierre explained that the prior water system had used PVC for the piping, but his team is working to replace all the PVC with metal pipes.  Though a seemingly small step, using metal will be a huge step towards increasing the system’s – and the community’s – resiliency.

When the repairs and construction are completed, this water system will provide clean water to people, whatever storms come their way.

You can help protect families and their resources from future disasters. Donate today.

Seeing the needs of the poor afresh

I’m reminded at times like this that the places where World Concern works are remote. It’s day three of “getting there” and we have at least another day to go.

Derek and Kathryn in Laos.
My wife Kathryn is with me in Laos, seeing the villages and meeting families here for the first time.

I’m in Lamam, Laos, now with my wife Kathryn and a team to document what donors equip us to do in these very poor and remote villages. It’s 6:30 a.m., but the roosters began crowing long ago, and people have already begun to work as day breaks.

The villages where we are working all start with the word “Dak.” Dak Din, Dak Noi, Dak Euy. Dak means water. Even though a stream runs nearby these villages, which I expect to be the source of the names, access to clean drinking water remains one of the most significant challenges in these communities.

You may have heard of Dak Din before. We’ve profiled it in our One Village Transformed campaign, and have begun work there with the villagers to bring new life to the community. With the villagers, we have identified clean water, education and income generation as some areas of urgent need.

Now that Dak Din (forest water) is underway, we’re checking in to see how things are going there – one year since our campaign began. We’re also visiting Dak Noi (small water) and Dak Euy (big water), neighboring communities that share similar challenges.

Little girls in Dak Din, Laos.
Little girls in Dak Din, Laos, who are about the age of my daughter, Violet, spend their days collecting water and working.

Last time I was here, one year ago, I met little girls who were about four years old, the age of my daughter, Violet. Their days are filled with labor, including pounding rice and fetching water – dirty water at that. Not all of them will have the chance to get medical care, or go to school. The supporters of One Village Transformed aim to change that.

I hope my heart breaks again. I don’t mean to be touchy-feely here, but I seem to forget how the majority of the world lives as I go about my day-t0-day regular-life job. It’s easy to forget this alternate reality, as my wife and I laugh at our daughter playing princess or ballerina, and we mind how much Violet watches the iPad, or if she’s eaten most of her dinner (most of which gets thrown away).

The fact is – our abundance blinds us to the rest of the world. And we will continue to stay blind to it until we decide to make the intentional choice to see it, and respond.

I believe that God loves people equally, regardless of where they happened to be born. As I read scripture, the call to the rich is a steep one, to give up what keeps us from seeing Him, and serving Him. Christ’s compassion for the poor is consistent. He takes sides, and expects us to also.

This is a week of renewed enlightenment, I pray – and I am reminded that we are not heroes here – going in to fix the problems and deliver the “poor” from their misery.

The reality is, God is already at work here. And the villagers here probably know more about life and joy than I ever will. They certainly know more about hardship. I believe the purpose of this work we do is to be with the poor – walking with them, learning with them – and arriving at a better place, in time, where the love and truth of God is fully realized.

It’s Giving Tuesday! Make your holiday shopping matter

You survived (or avoided) Black Friday and Cyber Monday and made it to Giving Tuesday!  A much more meaningful day, we think. Giving Tuesday was created to encourage giving to charity during the holiday season, which we heartily support!

A boy in South Sudan drinks clean water from a well.
Clean water is a life-saving gift. You can provide this for children like this boy in South Sudan, knowing your gift is changing lives.

Here at World Concern, we have a special Giving Tuesday challenge – an opportunity for you to double the impact of your gift. Any gift made to the Global Gift Guide by the end of today will be matched. We’re already more than half way to our goal! After hearing about the success of this challenge, another donor has offered up an additional $10,000 in challenge money. An amazing blessing.

Will you help us reach our goal and ensure the families we work with benefit from these matching funds? If you’ve been thinking about giving alternative gifts that truly impact the lives of the poor this year, today is the day to do it. You’ll double your impact, helping provide life-saving care and practical gifts to twice as many children and families living in extreme poverty.

Here’s a little inspiration – a few of our favorite gifts:

Clean WaterHelp build a well! For families who are used to walking for miles to fetch dirty water, a well is a real blessing.

Give a Goat!Help hungry children with a kid goat. Once full-grown, goats can produce up to a gallon of nutritious milk each day.

Soccer BallsSoccer is more than fun and good exercise—it’s a sport that unifies and builds friendships. A soccer ball shows kids somebody cares.

Thanks for helping us reach our Giving Tuesday matching challenge goal, and for giving gifts that really matter.

“God does not forget the faithful”

The following story was relayed by one of our fieldworkers, Jane Gunningham, who is currently serving in South Sudan.

Marco, a returnee from Sudan.
Marco (right, in cap) serves at a World Concern seed fair in Kuajok, South Sudan. He says that God, who cares for all, provides what he needs.

Marco and his wife live in a recent “housing development” near Kuajok, South Sudan, for returnees from Sudan. The first time he met our staff, he told us that his dream is to have the car that drives in the field (a tractor) so he can have a very big farm.

Marco and his wife joined our rent-to-own program and received a bicycle and some pots, pans and chairs, since they had nothing of their own. Shortly after beginning to use the bicycle for work as a messenger/delivery man, Marco’s house burned down in a suspicious fire. All of their hard earned assets were lost, but Marco’s first words were praise to God that none of his precious children were lost in the flames. “Things may be restored,” he said, “but lost life is final.”

When we suggested that World Concern reschedule his payments, he refused, saying that a debt is a debt. We offered him temporary work at the seed fairs, and he has proven to be utterly reliable, passionate about serving the poor, and uncomplaining no matter what we ask of him.

I know his finances are precarious, and there are days his family does not have enough to eat, but Marco affirms that God, who cares for all, provides what he needs.

I was deeply touched one day, when he asked to sweep the spilled seeds from the bed of the truck so he had sorghum to take to his wife. He had been handing out seeds all day to others, knowing that at home his wife had run out of food. As he carried the small bag of grain home, he said to me, “Look:  God does not forget the faithful.”

 

5 Ways to Fundraise for Your Cause

Whether you’re passionate about bringing clean water to thirsty African villages, or want to ensure children living in poverty get an education for a better future, personal fundraising is a trend that enables you to make a bigger impact.

It’s pretty simple: Ask friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances to donate to your cause. You can do this by dedicating your birthday for a cause, or designating an anniversary or other special day. Instead of gifts for yourself, you ask for donations to your cause.

You can also do this by participating in an event. Right now, hundreds of people are successfully raising money to help protect children from slavery by participating in the Free Them 5k Fun Run to Stop Human Trafficking. Last year, top fundraisers brought in more than $1,500 each in donations for a cause that’s near to their hearts.

Whatever your passion, here are some tips for increasing your impact with donations from others.

  1. Ask! You’ll be amazed at how willing people are to give if they’re asked. Some of us have received donations from unexpected Facebook friends or others, despite having little contact with them recently. You never know who’s just looking for an opportunity to give.
  2. Explain why you’re doing this. When you share from your heart, others will relate. If you’re a parent and issues like child trafficking touch your heart, tell other moms and dads about why you care.
    Carrie Yu
    , a Seattle mom of two young children, explains why she participates in the Free Them 5k. “As a parent, it’s heart-breaking to think about. I can’t imagine having to make the decision to sell a child into slavery in order to survive,” she said. “I can’t go into the mission field, but I can run for this cause. I can raise money. This is something I can do right now where I am in my life.”

    Bake sale for World Concern
    Kids at Trinity Family Fellowship in Yakima, Wash., held a bake sale and raised more than $1,100 for World Concern.
  3. Use your talents to raise funds. Lorene Jansson sells cinnamon rolls at her office as way to boost her fundraising. Last year, she was a top fundraiser for the 5k. This year, she started selling hand-made beaded jewelry as well. “You take your passion, whatever it is, and apply it to what you want to do,” suggests Lorene. “It’s inspiring to see so many like-minded people wanting to do something about trafficking.”
  4. Find out if your company matches donations. This is a super simple way to double your impact immediately and effortlessly. If you’re not sure if your company will match your donations, use our online tool to find out, or ask your HR department.
  5. Spread the word. Use Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, email, snail mail, or casual conversation to tell others what you’re doing. Be yourself and have fun with it. People will respond if they see the real you coming through. As someone who has never been a runner, all I had to do was tell my friends I was actually running and they showed their support by donating. Pretty cool!
An example of a 5k fundraising Facebook post.
My personal fundraising page tells more about why I'm helping fight human trafficking, but this Facebook post about the fact I'm actually running a 5k shocked my friends enough they showed their support with donations.

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