Success with Humanitarian Aid in Kenya

World Concern President Dave Eller spends time reading to Maasai boys in Kenya. World Concern works with the Maasai to provide many aspects of sustainable humanitarian aid.
World Concern President Dave Eller spends time reading to Maasai boys in Kenya. World Concern works with the Maasai to provide many aspects of sustainable humanitarian aid.

Here’s a handy tip for keeping elephants from eating your garden: You should install several low-voltage electric lines close together along your fence. If they are spaced wide, the elephant will rip one out, reach between, and eat your vegetables.

That gardening trip is from World Concern President Dave Eller, who has returned to Kenya to get an update on our projects. Dave and his family lived in Kenya for several years, as Dave served as the country director. It was refreshing for Dave to arrive and see many successes in a variety of areas of Humanitarian Aid. As an executive, he often deals with problems and doesn’t get to relish the victories.

Here is some of what he’s seen:

  • Maasai herders are learning how to farm.  This year they built a one acre farm behind a solar electric fence and the first crop has been harvested. With dwindling availability for open rangeland, it is important for the Maasai to think beyond what they’ve done in the past (herding) and look to new opportunities (agriculture, small business). It was at this pilot project farm that Dave saw the low-voltage electric fence to keep out elephants.
  • Stigma against AIDS orphans is way down. The children are being accepted by the community after World Concern’s educational and support services began five years ago. World Concern has reached 5,000 children and is preparing to turn over this particular orphans project to churches to run indefinitely on their own.  Many of the volunteers providing the Humanitarian Aid are from Christian churches, and the outlook from the orphans has grown much more hopeful.
  • We now have seven Financial Service Associations, also known as village banks. The first five are making a profit and adding services.  Three are doing phone money transfers, all are cashing third party checks and offering over night safe storage. One of them is a post office and they are setting up direct deposit with government agencies.  These are in addition to the basic services of savings and loans.
  • World Concern Kenya’s newest Humanitarian Aid project focuses on water and sanitation, including in a community called Lamu, which is on the Somalia border. After water surveys, five hand-dug wells have begun. Three of them have struck water and are complete.  The other two should be done soon.  Water committees are in training and sanitation training has started.  This is a large scale project meant to provide clean and consistent water to 98,000 people over the next three years.

Dave will soon be joined by Matt Case, a radio host on Spirit 105.3 in Seattle. We want people to know of this fantastic Humanitarian Aid, so we can grow our resources and help more people reach their full God-given potential.

A Maasai herdsman provides water for his goats at a World Concern water pan, a pond dug to retain water even in the dry season.
A Maasai herdsman provides water for his goats at a World Concern water pan, a pond dug to retain water even in the dry season.

A New Leader for Myanmar Humanitarian Aid

New Myanmar Country Director Rebecca Htin will be leading World Concern's Humanitarian Aid. She's a medical doctor and grew up in the country.
New Myanmar Country Director Rebecca Htin will be leading World Concern's Humanitarian Aid. She's a medical doctor and grew up in the country.

I met an amazingly qualified new co-worker of mine yesterday, a medical doctor who once worked in a leprosy mission and has a masters degree in public administration from the Kennedy School in Boston.

Naw Rebecca Htin is a world-class humanitarian. She begins this month as the new World Concern country director for Myanmar (Burma). She’s a mother of three and her husband is a neurosurgeon. And she also grew up in Burma, which was the name of her native country until 1989, when the current military government decided to reinforce the country’s separation from British colonial rule.

Naw is “Ms.” in her language. We call her Rebecca, and she’s also an answer to prayer. Our Humanitarian Aid programs in Myanmar make up World Concern’s largest operation in any country where we work. And yet for several months, we have been searching for a leader who qualified and able to take on the challeneges in this country filled with obstacles.

Rebecca told me, “Not many people in the country has the opportunity like I’ve had to study, to have this exposure. I think I need to give something back.”

What she says is very true. I just returned from SE Asia and visited some of World Concern’s Humanitarian Aid projects in the delta region, where 140,000 people died in a cyclone last year. What we need is a leader who understands the multifaceted need in a region that seems to be getting back on its feet, but still in a bit of a collective shock.

Rebecca told me,”Psychologically, economically, emotionally, there are many things yet to do to continue life again.”

Often people know book knowledge, but don’t know how to put it in to practice. Rebecca used to work as a leader in World Vision Myanmar, and more recently has experience in the hard-hit delta region. She has been serving in a Christian mobile mission in Bogelay, a fishing village where tens of thousands died in the storm.

Before the cyclone and to this day, World Concern has also worked with ethnic minorities in Myanmar, people who have generally not had the same opportunities for education and jobs. Also in this regard, Rebecca brings personal knowledge, as she grew up in the Karen state and understands the challenges.

Rebecca will be off to Myanmar today, a long couple of flights back home. Like many called into the field of humanitarian aid, she says she’s been preparing for an opportunity like this, to show the compassion of Christ through action, not expecting anything in return.

World Concern's humanitarian aid in Myanmar includes supplying fishermen with boats. They repay a small portion of the cost of the boat, and are able to regain their livelihoods after the 2008 cyclone Nargis.
World Concern's humanitarian aid in Myanmar includes supplying fishermen with boats. They repay a small portion of the cost of the boat, and are able to regain their livelihoods after the 2008 cyclone Nargis.
Humanitarian Naw Rebecca Htin received her orientation at World Concern's Seattle headquarters in July.
Humanitarian Naw Rebecca Htin received her orientation at World Concern's Seattle headquarters in July.

Not A Moment of Humanitarian Excellence

World Concern's Humanitarian Aid outreach in Vietname includes employing people with disabilities. They show time and again that they have much to offer.
World Concern's Humanitarian Aid outreach in Vietname includes employing people with disabilities. This young man works in a photocopy shop and handles customers with ease, yet he couldn't easily find work elsewhere because of a slight deformation.

I always want to give somebody, or even a company, the benefit of the doubt. But it seems that there may be a pretty big problem here.

If you haven’t seen it, someone else has decided to sue trendy clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch for disability discrimination. A beautiful young woman in London named Riam Dean claims that she was forced to work in the stockroom in the back of the store because she has a prosthetic arm. Dean was born without her left forearm and says she has not experienced this kind of discrimination before.

From a Guardian article about the case:

Dean claims that when she told A&F about her disability after getting the job, the firm agreed she could wear a white cardigan to cover the link between her prosthesis and her upper arm. But shortly afterwards, she was told she could not work on the shop floor unless she took off the cardigan as she was breaking the firm’s “look policy”. She told the tribunal that someone in the A&F head office suggested she stay in the stockroom “until the winter uniform arrives”.

The “look policy” stipulates that all employees “represent Abercrombie & Fitch with natural, classic American style consistent with the company’s brand” and “look great while exhibiting individuality”. Workers must wear a “clean, natural, classic hairstyle” and have nails which extend “no more than a quarter inch beyond the tip of the finger”.

Dean said today in her evidence: “A female A&F manager used the ‘look policy’ and the wearing of the cardigan as an excuse to hide me away in the stockroom.

If this is all true, I could kind of understand if there was a heartless manager who didn’t care about the civil rights and emotions of an otherwise capable young woman.

What surprised me the most was this, from a Wall Street Journal article:

The New Albany, Ohio, company has faced criticism in the past from some who claim it deliberately selects young, good-looking people to work in its stores. In 2004 it spent $50 million to settle a number of employment discrimination suits in the U.S.

Really? $50 million dollars? That’s a lot of cash to pay out and not reform your company policies. More than that, it shows a widespread pattern.

When I was in Vietnam a couple of months ago to document World Concern’s Humanitarian Aid activities, I met dozens of people with disabilities. They showed that they have more abilities, than disabilities, as our Vietnam country director says. These people included seamstresses, small business employees and entrepreneurs.

World Concern tackles humanitiarian aid in a sustainable way. We teach people how to work and maximize their abilities. We offer microloans at a lower rate than they could get elsewhere. We outline a path to success, and if someone has the initiative, they can probably achieve their dreams.

The best part about the outreach to the “disabled?” Their confidence. If you can offer someone the ability to see that they have value, that they were created in the image of God, it’s the best possible outcome.

The can do far more.

Good Humanitarian Aid: Talk To The Chief.

Humanitarians in rural areas must talk with village leaders, like this chief in a remote village in Laos.
Humanitarians in rural areas must work with local leaders. World Concern employees shared many meals with this chief (center) in a remote village in Laos.

In tribal villages, you don’t barge in and demand permission to install an outhouse, or provide an education to the children who cannot read. After exploring World Concern’s humanitarian projects in six countries in Southeast Asia, I see that if you want something done in a tribal village, you must first talk with the chief.

I used to think of a chief as a wise old Native American man with a feather headdress, looking off into the distance as he calmly plots the tribe’s next move. Instead, in these SE Asian tribal cultures, the chief might be in his mid-30s or 40s, and wear a polo shirt and Adidas track pants.

First, let me tell you about a chief I met in a village in Laos. World Concern provides humanitarian aid in some remote places, and this is sure one of them. No running water. No power. To get there, we drove for seven hours on dirt roads, crossing two rivers. We found ourselves in a region still pockmarked by craters, from bombs dropped on Vietnamese convoys as they traveled through the jungle during the war.

Rickety wooden fences surround the village, to hold in the livestock, and to keep out whatever creatures may lurk in the jungle. We drove in and everybody stopped to look at the vehicle, a novelty in an area where people measure distances in hours or days to walk.

We found the chief at one of the larger homes built on stilts. Dressed casual, but very business-like. No surprise, though, because working in his village has been a team effort. Since we began our humanitarian aid here five years ago, he’s come to see what we’re all about, and wants more and more aid for his village.

Although he has a very limited education, he sees the hope that education brings, whether it is to improve personal hygiene or to provide schooling for the children. He held a couple of meetings while we were there, and in the end, after seeing how our projects work, he was stumping for further humanitarian aid.

Another chief I met was a man somewhere close to 50 years old, the leader of a village in the Myanmar delta. On the day I visited, he was preparing to marry off his daughter. In his home, bright streamers stretched across the room. On the wall hung a photo of his wife and young son, both killed during the cyclone last year. He was pleased to see us, and invited us to take photos of his village. Without permission, though, the rest of the villagers would not be comfortable with us wandering around with cameras.

It’s just how it is. The chief is respected and considered the village visionary and protector, and he carries a lot of influence. And we listen, not only because it’s polite, but also because listening usually makes the project better.

Humanitarian Aid Arrives By Fish

Abdul mends nets in the day, after waking early to tend to his fish. Good humanitarian aid works with people like Abdul, who sieze opportunities.
Abdul mends nets in the day, after waking early to tend to his fish. Good humanitarian aid works with people like Abdul, who seize opportunities.

Surely some of the excitement was just being able to hold the flopping carp for a moment. But the joy beaming across the face of a young fisherman was sincere. He and others had just pulled in their nets and revealed thousands of healthy fish, income for people who have struggled for so long. Once I learned the back-story behind this Bangladeshi fishing hole, and others like it, I was amazed to hear how it has come to be.

First, let me introduce you to Abdul. He lives in a Bangladesh farming community where small village businesses are set on stilts above rice paddies, and watermelons are piled high on the sidewalks. Here, it’s just as likely to travel by canoe as by car. Charming in its own way, but still incredibly poor.

Abdul has a large family; his wife and four of his girls were home when I visited. He was unable to support them on his meager income as a rickshaw driver. No matter if he worked eight hours a day – or 15 – he was still coming up short, and was not always able to provide them with enough food. No education for the girls. No savings. Not even a mindset of a future.

But about six years ago, Abdul was interested in World Concern‘s offer to begin a fish farming business. He began receiving – and repaying – loans for fish farm nets, feed and other supplies. And he got busy, making sure the fish had a healthy pond. He stuck to the plan. And it worked.

The fish grew, along with his confidence. He eventually was able to buy land for his family, and build a home. He makes and mends nets by hand. He saves at least $500 US every year, which is a tremendous amount of money in Bangladesh. In addition to the money, World Concern has walked with him, teaching him about fish farming and how to ethically run his small business.  Now, he is the driving force behind this fish pond, one of many ponds in the area now able to support families in significant ways.

That happy young fisherman I described at the beginning of this story is one of many who benefit from World Concern’s humanitarian work with Abdul and other entrepreneurs. Many men in the village now raise fish frys, providing the men with steady income. The wealth spreads. Good humanitarian aid works that way, in changing the lives of not only one person, but in working through that person to help others in the community.

Abdul is buying cows now, building wealth. Sitting in front of his home, with his family inside about ready to sit down for lunch, he grinned and told me he is blessed and grateful to have the chance to live a better life.

My initial impressions of Bangladesh.

A teenage fisherman holds his catch from a Bangladesh pond, a large carp that will mean income or a delicious dinner.
A teenage fisherman proudly holds his catch from a Bangladesh pond, a large carp that will mean income or a delicious dinner.
When the fishermen drag the nets into the shallows, the pond explodes with life. I'm surprised a flying fish didn't poke out my eye.
When the fishermen drag the nets into the shallows, the pond explodes with life. I'm surprised a flying fish didn't poke out my eye.

Finding Hope in Haiti

I find it interesting how people react when I tell them that I am going to Haiti for a week and a half. “We’ll pray for you,” is a common response. No one seems to have a good impression of the country, though many Haitians try as hard as they can to live good lives. The problem is that the country is broken in many ways, and has been for far too long. The rate of AIDS is quite high (5.6%), Port-au-Prince is a haven for crime (don’t go out after dark, I am told), and people are eating dirt out of desperation (really).

World Concern's Derek Sciba shows boys in Kenya their image on a video camera viewfinder.
World Concern's Derek Sciba shows boys in Kenya their image on a video camera viewfinder.

World Concern humanitarians have worked in Haiti for a long time, through crises and hurricanes and political upheaval. We’ve had the same director there for the past couple of decades. In spite of the ongoing poverty, we’ve had a significant impact on the thousands of lives we’ve been able to touch.

My goal in Haiti is to document what’s going on there right now. Our programs include support for those with HIV and children orphaned from AIDS. We are rebuilding water systems and livelihoods after hurricanes roared across the island last year. We’re even doing simple things that mean so much, like giving children goats. The goats have babies and produce milk, providing income and tuition for schools.

I’ll have a still camera, a video camera and a notepad, and will travel with Christon, the country director, to projects across the island. If I can get my international phone to work as I wish – I will also microblog on World Concern’s Twitter account. We want to show our supporters how their money is being spent – and relay stories about those promising people who are determined to change the nature of the country.

After I return from Haiti, I will spend a couple of weeks back in America, then head to Southeast Asia to document World Concern’s work in that region.

Humanitarian Aid in Darfur

humanitarian aid in Darfur
Refugees in Darfur leave everything to escape with their lives, only to be moved yet again.

Humanitarian aid and relief groups are asking President-elect Obama to pay attention to the human rights disaster in Darfur, Sudan, as soon as he takes office. The idea is referred to as a “peace surge,” a way to reach an agreement to work out terms of peace by bringing the warring groups to the table together.

Obama may have a better chance to work out a deal right now, because the president of Sudan has agreed to an immediate, unconditional cease-fire with Darfur rebels.

Here is a link to the CNN story on the Darfur:

Humanitarian Aid in Myanmar

Destruction after Cyclone Nagris, Myanmar. A blur has been added to this photo.
Destruction after Cyclone Nagris, Myanmar. A blur has been added to this photo.

Just imagine what’s left over from a major storm along the coast. Debris clogging a bay under a blue sky, floating and rolling with the waves and the tide. Branches, tarps, trash. Then imagine taking a closer look – and realizing that among the debris are bodies, bobbing and haphazardly mixed up in the mess. Bloated. Filthy. Sons, daughters, friends and wives. Dozens of humans, maybe even a hundred.

I saw a photo today the scene I just described. I may never forget it.

One of World Concern’s humanitarian relief workers in Southeast Asia took the photo several months ago. The location: Myanmar. You may remember a cyclone hit there a few months ago. It’s always difficult to grasp large numbers, but 138,000 people died in the storm, according to official figures. That’s the population of Syracuse, New York.

World Concern was working in Myanmar when the storm hit. We were helping people build simple livelihoods in the incredibly poor country. We were showing people techniques to run fish farms and helping them secure clean water supplies and education for their children. These kinds of projects bring people just off of the brink – and hopefully lay the groundwork for healthier, sustainable lives.

When the storm hit, that all changed.

World Concern Myanmar quickly switched from development mode into full-time humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Because we were one of a select few relief agencies permitted to be in the country, working there since 1995, we were in an excellent position to help. Nearly all of the 200 staff members at World Concern Myanmar are from the country. Undoubtedly, they all suffered personal loss because of Cyclone Nargris. Still, they continued to help with the relief efforts.

One of the most significant ways World Concern helped in Myanmar was to retrieve bodies. A tough responsibility. Not only did we want to respect the dead, it truly became a health hazard. I cannot imagine how emotionally traumatizing this work must have been for our staff.

Since the cyclone, people in Myanmar are rebuilding their lives, as best they can. We are helping them in a variety of ways, including the renewal of clean water supplies, reconstruction of homes and by offering them resources to get back to work.

I cannot forget the photo of the debris-clogged bay. I am just stunned by the amount of destruction and human loss people there have faced. All of this reminds me that even with economic turmoil here in America, we cannot possibly look away from disasters like this in good conscience.