Tag Archives: humanitarian relief

From tents to transitional shelters – things are improving in Haiti

From tent to transitional shelter - what a difference!

From tent to transitional shelter - what a difference!

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

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

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

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

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

Serge and Sergio

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

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

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

Now that’s progress!

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

Facing the challenge of survival in Somalia

A nomadic family in Somalia.

A nomadic herder and his family move to find water in Somalia.

World Concern’s mission of reaching the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world means we work in some of the most challenging places on earth. A report I just received from our Somalia staff brought this reality to light afresh for me. It summarized the results of a survey of families in two areas where we’ve recently started working in Somaliland (northern Somalia). The figures indicate such dramatic need – it’s hard to fathom what these families face every day just to survive.

Here are a few of the most astonishing ones:

  • 92% of the families do not use latrines
  • 54% of people observed had noticeable eye infections
  • 59.6% have never attended any school
  • Only 13% have attended secondary school
  • 54.6% travel 1-2 hours a day to reach a water source with the largest percentage going three times a day
  • 83.3% are drinking water that is not safe for human consumption
  • A main source of income is livestock, yet only 10% of the animals in households are producing milk

It’s impossible to dig wells in some of these areas because the water, even below the surface, is salty. Rainwater and groundwater runoff collected in berkads (underground reservoirs) are the only source of clean water.  One of our projects is building more berkads in these areas.

Planting sack gardens in Somalia.

Teaching people to grow vegetables in sack gardens offers hope.

The soil is so dry and lifeless, nothing can grow here. People eat mostly bread, rice they buy from others. Even vegetable gardens wither. We’re teaching people to grow sack gardens, which hold moisture so things can grow.

Droughts are becoming more frequent and herds are shrinking. Their only hope for healthier herds may be to improve the land with rock lines that will direct rainwater into the soil. One goal is to improve livelihoods so families don’t have to be constantly moving in search of water.

In spite of the inhospitable environment, we know there are solutions: Collecting rainwater, growing food in sack gardens, sustaining herds.  Even in Somalia, we see hope.

Join us in bringing hope to this dry and weary land.

Starting over: One family’s story

World Concern supporter Kurt Campbell is in Sri Lanka visiting some of our programs. The following is an excerpt from his personal blog.

Chris, Teri and Dori.

Chris, Teri and Dori are grateful to be earning income from the cow they received from World Concern.

Boy meets girl. They wed and soon have a baby. A typical story that can be found around the world, but when it is played out in the middle of a violent war it often takes a turn for the worse. Such was the case of Chris and Teri and their daughter Dori (not their real names), who live in northern Sri Lanka.

Government soldiers one day came to their village and took Chris away to a military prison on suspicion of aiding the enemy. This left Teri and their young daughter alone in the middle of a war. It wouldn’t be long before they both joined several hundred thousand others in one of the war refugee camps.

When the war came to a close this family was reunited, but much had changed. Chris returned paralyzed from the waist down. To compound their problems they had no livelihood with the disappearance of their 16 cows. Yet despite all this they did not lose hope.

Recently World Concern began meeting with people from the area to develop a livelihood program that would help the community sustain itself in the future. It was agreed upon that creating a milk chilling station co-op would be a great place to start. The co-op started by selecting 10 of the most vulnerable people in the community that could benefit from a gifted milking cow from World Concern. One of those selected by the community was Teri.

Teri and her cow.

Teri and her cow, which now helps feed her family and earns them income.

Teri attended a five-day workshop led by World Concern that helped train the community on best practices in dairy farming.

Today Chris, Teri and their 8-year-old daughter have access to a balanced diet and a source of income that will help them build on a brighter future. Their community will soon have a milk chilling station as well, which will allow every dairy farmer an opportunity to sell their milk.

For more information on World Concern’s work in Sri Lanka, please visit www.worldconcern.org/srilanka

Moved to respond: expertise in disasters

First responders in Japan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan quake highlights disaster risk reduction

Tsunami damage in Japan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reaching 153,000 AIDS orphans

While it’s sometimes hard to quantify success, one thing is certain – the ripple effect and long-term effects of good development work impact more people for generations to come than any of us will know.

How many future generations will benefit from one child in a poor Kenyan village making her way to university because her high school tuition was paid?

How many lives will be saved from better nutrition resulting from improved farming methods and tools in rural Laos?

An AIDS orphan in Zambia

An AIDS orphan gets help putting on her new shoes, socks and uniform so she can attend school.

On the other hand, because of excellent tracking and reporting by our field staff, there are many occasions when we can quantify results, and they’re often quite amazing.

This week we received a report that details six years worth of work with AIDS orphans in Kenya, Zambia and Haiti. This work was accomplished through the support of numerous partner agencies and funding from donors and USAID/PEPFAR.

The numbers are pretty astonishing:

  • Awareness was raised to enable support for children affected by HIV and AIDS in 6,495,030 people.
  • Basic needs were met and support was strengthened for 153,663 orphans.
  • 27,943 orphans received access to formal education or vocational training.
  • 6,759 older children (ages 15-17) were equipped to meet their own needs.

It’s exciting and motivating to be a part of something so great, yet at the forefront of our minds are the individuals among these numbers – individuals like 16-year-old Jacqueline, who lost both her parents when she was in eighth grade. She was left in the care of her elderly grandmother, and had almost quit school when help came her way.

Jacqueline and her grandmother received resources to grow a garden and to raise pigs and chickens for income. They earned enough to keep Jacqueline in school, where she passed her basic exam, earning her a spot in high school. She plans to become a doctor and return to her village, pledging to support other AIDS orphans like herself.

Even if Jacqueline had been the only one, the work would be worth it. But we’re thankful, as we reflect on 2010 and look ahead to 2011 that there are thousands more lives being changed every day.

For more information on World Concern’s work around the world, visit www.worldconcern.org.

Latrines mean more than comfort and convenience

At least two bathrooms. That was the minimum we wanted for our 3 person family for a house we bought this year. I feel kind of silly that we have 2 and a half bathrooms after today, when I saw the joy families had of having one – in the form of an outhouse.

A latrine in Sri Lanka.

A woman stands with her baby outside a latrine built by World Concern in Sri Lanka.

I’m in Sri Lanka now, high in the tea-growing region – where poor tea pickers live in shanties on mountainsides. The average wage here is pretty terrible – and it’s part of the reason why these hard-working people can’t afford the basics of life – including a place to go to the bathroom.

Families I met today were so very happy. It’s like they were on the Oprah episode where, “Everybody gets a car! Wooo!” But no, they’re thrilled to have a toilet. Just think about it—to have a convenient place to go to the restroom is a pretty big deal. I met one mom who has six children, and up to this point, they have had to go to the bathroom off in the hills somewhere, or use one of only a few toilets at neighbors’ homes.

Aside from convenience – and pride – the health benefits of a latrine are enormous. Once we go into communities, install latrines, and teach how germs are spread, children are sick less. Disease is not spread at the same rate. Lives are improved – even saved – because of latrines.

Latrines in the Global Gift Guide

Suffering & Solace: Preparing to See Sri Lanka

Here are some thoughts from Mark Lamb, World Concern Ministry Development Coordinator, who is leaving tonight for Sri Lanka. He and other headquarters staff will be visiting areas of Sri Lanka where World Concern is helping victims of the country’s civil war rebuild their lives. They will be documenting their experiences on this blog.

I’m leaving for Sri Lanka tonight and I haven’t started packing.  I’m not worried about it yet because my wife has worried enough for both of us.  I probably shouldn’t take is so lightly, but I’m still wrapped up in the routine of American life.  I got up this morning at the same time I always do, got ready in the same order and got to work at exactly 7:40 a.m.  My days are governed by routine and the outcomes are almost always predictable.

A woman sheds tears in Sri Lanka.

A woman sheds tears after being released from a camp for displaced people following the violent end to Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009.

In 2009, a civil war which had affected an entire generation came to a close. More than 80,000 people lost their lives, entire villages were destroyed and countless children are now without fathers or mothers.

In two days I’ll be standing in these communities, among people who have experienced complete devastation.  I know from the stories our Sri Lanka staff relays that I’ll meet children who lost limbs during the fighting.  I know I’ll meet people who have watched as loved ones were maimed or killed, and I know I’ll be met by blank stares from people who have lost all hope for the future.

But right now I’m sitting at my desk, in my routine, and I know I don’t have the reaction I should.

- Mark

Learn more about World Concern’s work in Sri Lanka.

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.