“There are no roads where we work,” Irene Nyambura, World Concern’s One Village Transformed coordinator in South Sudan explains. Over the years, Irene has gotten used to going beyond the end of the road to reach the communities where she works.
Born and raised in Kenya, Irene has been working with extremely remote communities in South Sudan for a couple of years now. On a typical day, the One Village Transformed coordinator visits at least half a dozen remote villages and homes where she meets with community leaders and families and oversees training sessions in each village.
“Seeing leaders plan for their own communities and sharing this with us is very fulfilling,” she says. The mother of two especially enjoys seeing and hearing stories of progress among the people she works with. “For instance, the first time we visited Kuanya village, there was no road to get to the village. The community was happy to receive us and promised to make it easier for us to access them. Shortly after, they cleared off thickets for us, now our vehicle can drive in.”
In light of recent tensions within the young, volatile nation of South Sudan, however, Irene’s job can be even more challenging. In February, Wau town, where World Concern’s office is located, was under fire. “The gunfire was heavy. We could hear it very close to our office. I didn’t think we would make it,” she says.
Even as a humanitarian worker, Irene is not shielded from the day-to-day challenges facing ordinary citizens. “There are times when I cannot get food. Sometimes there is not enough water and I have to stay thirsty…There are few or no toilets in the village…” she says adding that long drives on rough terrain are back breaking.
“Working in South Sudan has been a humbling experience. It has taught me to see things differently and stop taking some things for granted, especially God,” explains Irene. The people she meets daily tell her that they wouldn’t be alive had it not been for God’s grace. Seeing what they have to go through, she knows it’s true.
Today, on World Humanitarian Day, we recognize Irene Nyambura, a humble servant to God and to the communities she works with in South Sudan. Thank you, Irene for all that you do to help train, grow and equip communities with the tools that they need to thrive and succeed for generations to come.
With all that’s happening across our world, we wanted to take a moment and thank you for all that you’re doing. The work of World Concern happens because of you—your prayers and your faithful support. And it’s through you, that Christ is shared, and lives are changed. This poem, written by a young Bangladeshi girl that was saved from child marriage, illustrates your impact perfectly.
Oh my dear World Concern,
From far away you are praised,
Your wondering works will never fade away.
You lightened up so many lives,
You will stay always in our hearts
Wiped out the darkness from our lives
You gave us a fulfilled life
Oh my dear World Concern.
As you ponder this precious girl’s thoughtful words, we want to leave with a reminder from Jacinta Tegman, the World Concern president, who shared a few years ago the reason for the season, and why our journey with the poorest people can be so life-changing.
With this in mind, we encourage you to pray about how you can show the love of Christ to a family that’s waiting for hope, and healing this Christmas.
Merry Christmas from everyone at World Concern!
As we celebrate this special time of year, it is a wonderful time to remember that God himself came to earth. What is so extraordinary is that He chose to identify with the poor and marginalized. He gave up all of His splendor, was born in a stable, and laid in a manager.
In 2 Corinthians 8:9 we read, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor.”
The heart of God is close to those who are poor, forgotten, and alone. Of all the classes and peoples on earth, He chose to identify with them. He lived and walked among them. He knew their pain and struggles. He opened His arms to bless and heal them.I am keenly aware that God continues to walk with the poor. He does that through you and me. I see it every day.
This Christmas, amidst all the joy we will experience, let us pause and remember. Join me in prayer for the poor and marginalized—those close to God’s heart.
It’s 7:30 a.m. when our little team of four load up our Jeep and head to Sri Nathkot.
This mountaintop village is just a three-hour drive from our hotel here in Pokhara, a popular tourist town in Nepal. The earthquake that rattled much of this region seemed to have mercy on this town with most of the buildings surprisingly still intact. But we’ve learned that just a few hours away, the village of Sri Nathkot was not so lucky. This community, home to around 150 people, has suffered major damage.
As we begin our journey, the clouds lift just enough to offer us a glimpse of Fish Tail, a majestic peak, not much lower than the famous Mt. Everest. Nepali driver barely took much notice. Living in the foothills of the Annapurna Mountain range, these sights have become commonplace to them.
We drive for a few hours and abruptly come to the end of the road. To this point, the earthquake had been quite selective, leaving most of the villages we passed through untouched. But ironically, as we leave the pavement behind and drive onward down dirt roads, the damage shows the magnitude of this earthquake. Homes are destroyed, some flattened, others partially collapsed. But almost all are uninhabitable. It was suddenly very easy to see how in just 90 seconds people’s lives were torn apart.
We press on towards Sri Nathkot, to visit with one of World Concern’s partners who has been working to help the survivors of this disaster. As we approach the foothills surrounding the village, the road narrows and the terrain changes dramatically. We carefully negotiate switchbacks etched into steep hillsides, mindful of the 100 foot drop-offs just a few feet from our tires.
As we make our way up another switchback, we see ahead that the road is completely impassible – for hundreds of yards, rocks had been placed in pile after pile by a local group of Nepali trying to improve passage up the mountain. We decide to turn around, go back to the fork in the road and try the other way. Our driver has not been this way before, but believes it to circle around and eventually provide access to Sri Nathkot.
The three hour mark has long passed, yet we press on and climb again for what seems to be an endless zigzag of switchbacks, each one taking us higher up the mountain. Then we reach a village. We stop and ask if this is the way to Sri Nathkot. and to our relief it is, but it’s still a couple of hours of driving on this ‘road’.
We arrive at a second village, and we’re told the same thing; a few more hours. With each turn, I’m convinced the road is becoming more and more impassible yet amazingly, we manage to climb higher. At this point, the driver tells us that he has never driven a road like this before (would have been nice to know before departing), but he’d brought us this far, so we push on.
By now, the sun is setting below the mountain tops and we are led only by the dim headlights on our Jeep (and a lot of faith!). We joke that it may be better we don’t see where we’re headed as the view in daylight, while breathtaking, was at times quite terrifying.
The sun quickly set and the moonlight was obscured by clouds, making it so dark that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But around (what felt like) one more switchback, we saw the glow of light coming from a small village….Sri Nathkot. We had arrived!
And as I reflect on this marathon journey that ended over 12 hours after it began, the reality of World Concern’s commitment to serving the most remote communities hit me. They truly go where no one else goes. There is simply no valley too deep or mountain too tall.
While we rested in Sri Nathkot that evening, my thoughts moved towards the people already here and the tragedy they’d just survived. I looked forward to meeting them, hearing their stories, and seeing how World Concern is bringing hope back to this isolated community.
In Sri Nathkot and beyond, World Concern is quite literally working at the end of the road to transform lives.
In the back of her classroom in rural Haiti, 12-year-old Dashna often puts her head down on her desk and prays. The pain in her stomach gets to be too much and she can no longer concentrate on the lesson being taught. She winces with pain and silently cries out to God for help.
Worms are ravaging Dashna’s insides, sucking away vital nutrients she needs to grow like vitamin A, and causing her excruciating pain. Can you imagine try to learn in a classroom when you are in so much pain?
This is common in places like Haiti, where children walk barefoot, drink from filthy streams contaminated by raw sewage, and parasites are rampant. Worms enter the body through dirty water, or when a child eats or touches her mouth without washing her hands after going to the bathroom. They can even enter through the soles of her feet.
Once worms enter a child’s body, they multiply and begin their painful pursuit of eating away at what little food she consumes. Sometimes, this can cause her stomach to hurt all day long.
Even more, parasites spread easily between family members living in cramped quarters with no access to toilets or a way to wash their hands. Because of this, Dashna’s two younger siblings are also sick.
The good news is that deworming medicine is inexpensive and can begin to work within hours of taking the pill. When coupled with vitamin A, which is depleted by worms, and long-term solutions like clean water, sanitation, and hygiene training, the 44-Cent Cure can prevent reinfection.
37. That’s the first number I heard when I woke up before dawn this morning to the news that another earthquake had struck Nepal and killed 37 people while I slept. A sense of dread rolled through me.
“Lord, after all they’ve been through, now another one?”
As the morning turned to afternoon here on the West Coast of the U.S., that number increased slowly to 39, then 42, and now I’m seeing 68 people have died.
68. Why does this number break my heart as much as, if not more so, than the 8,000+ lives taken by the April 25 earthquake? I guess it seems more personal. It’s easier for me to imagine a face and a name with each number when it’s smaller. Each one represents a daughter, a son, a mother, a father, a friend.
Whether it’s 8,000 or 68, each one represents a precious human life.
It also makes me sad to think of people in Nepal being so scared. I can’t imagine the terror little children and parents must have felt when the earth shook, yet again, today. That same terrifying sway of the building, as bricks fall and buildings threaten to collapse. Running into the streets, vowing this time for good not to go back inside.
“People are standing outside and they are scared,” described one of my coworkers by phone this morning from outside his hotel in Kathmandu. “I saw one woman who had been here for the first earthquake run out of the building crying. She fell to the ground and was nauseous.”
The trauma of this experience will no doubt haunt people for years.
So I pray. I pray for the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, to comfort the hearts and minds of the people in Nepal. And I pray for their hearts and minds to heal from this tragedy.
I’m encouraged by the stories of survival we’re hearing. Our staff on the ground are sharing photos and stories from people they’ve talked with in hard-hit communities.
Him Kumari was eating lunch with her 12-year-old son, the oldest of four, on April 25 when her house began to shake. She made her son run out of the house, but was not able to escape herself before it collapsed on her. Trapped beneath the rubble and boards, she went in and out of consciousness.
“When I came to, I was in the hospital,” she said. “I thought I would die as I was buried for four hours.”
Twenty-two of her neighbors did not survive. Nearly every home in her village was damaged or destroyed.
Him’s family is now living under a tarp they’ve made into a tent. She is grateful to be alive, but doesn’t know what the future holds.
Lok Shrestra is another mom whose future is uncertain. She was outside feeding her animals when the earthquake struck. Her daughter was inside their house on the second floor. Somehow, her daughter knew to stand in the doorway of her room, and as the roof collapsed and walls fell around her, she stood safely beneath the door frame.
While Lok and others will likely stay and try to rebuild in this village, many others wonder if they should start over in another place. “This looks like a different place now,” said a leader in the village. “This is not our community.”
Amidst the destruction, there is encouragement. Mark Estes, World Concern Asia Director, helped distribute supplies and aid to these moms and others in this area last week. “Walking around that community was heart wrenching – to see the loss, to see every home was just a heap of stones and sticks,” he said. “Nestled up in the foothills of the Himalayas, I can imagine what a beautiful place this would have been. I think that beauty now is surrounded by the opportunity that God gives us to serve these people.”
If you’d like to help reach families affected by the earthquakes in Nepal, providing practical help and hope to those who have lost everything, you can donate here.
I recently visited remote villages in South Sudan; a brief visit that has left me journeying through unexplored trails in my own heart.
One experience especially stands out.
It started during a village meeting, in which several ladies in Mayen offered to take me to their homes, to witness the impact of our projects – each terming her household as the “most transformed.” So I settled on visiting just three who stated that their houses were nearby.
Strapped for energy and time, my plan was to make a quick dash and back; but some plans don’t unwind as neatly – at least not in the field.
In an entourage of about 10, composed of residents and World Concern staff, we set off and immediately picked pace.
We walked and walked, trudging through snaky paths set on brownish grass amidst isolated huts and trees as the hot South Sudan sun stared down at us.
After a non-stop 45 minute walk, I let my protests be known. “I will go no further,” I swore. “Let’s turn back now!”
“But we’re just near,” the translator said, a line he repeated whenever I aired my calls of surrender, which was several times more.
It would be an eternity before Angelina Mir’s house came over to meet us. By then I had protested a handful more times hesitatingly agreeing to keep going each time. What’s the use of walking all this way and returning without a story? I kept thinking.
We finally arrived, worn and dusty. My interior was that of an angry man.
Angry at myself for suggesting the trek, angry at myself for forgetting to carry a water bottle, angry at the residents for ‘lying’ about the distance, angry at our vehicle for being unable to snake through the slender paths, and thorny shrubs – places never before driven on. . .
Then it dawned on me.
This heavy trudge for me was a normal walk for residents. My discomfort at having no drinking water for just a few hours, was a way of life for them (we only came across only two shallow wells, whose water we wouldn’t pour on our heads let alone drink). The hunger I felt was a lifestyle for them.
The people we serve live with these inconveniences every day.
Yet under the seemingly hopeless situation, they are determined to make their lives beautiful.
Angelina for instance borrowed a loan of 200 SSP ($36) from a micro-finance group started through World Concern. That loan ended up saving her son’s life. Four-year-old Marco Anae urgently needed surgery. His stomach had swelled and become intolerably painful from an intestinal blockage. He vomited spurts of blood and lost consciousness as it swelled on.
Although the normal reaction for community members is to sell livestock when in need of money, being a member of the Buak kukopadh (Let us go after something good) micro-finance group saved her income, as well as her son’s life. “I didn’t sell a goat. It’s a long process which involves taking the goat to the town center where it may stay for up to two days before anyone purchases it,” she explained.
Within only a day of borrowing, she was on her way to hospital – a journey that entailed a two hour long trek carrying Marco before boarding a vehicle to the next town. The loan helped facilitate expenses to the hospital and Marco’s new nutritional demands as the surgery was offered at no charge.
Her group of 21 women has so far saved 2205 SSP ($400) from which they borrow loans to boost their business and repay with interest. Angelina owns a total of 13 goats, one cow and lots of chickens. Besides boosting individual finances, some of the members have their spiritual lives nourished at nearby Pascal Catholic church. Through afternoon adult literacy classes at the church, Angelina is now able to write all her group members’ names!
Some views along the way:
On our way back, my mind was heavy in thought contemplating how impatient I have been whenever residents show up an hour or two later than scheduled. I realized it takes them just as long to walk to our meeting areas – even longer when rain falls; and mostly they come with parched mouths, empty stomachs, having already handled hundreds of roles, that especially make a woman who she is in the areas we work.
Yet they smile.
They have a strong will to keep going no matter how rough the trudge is.
This experience has brought me face to face with myself. Until now I thought I was patient, determined and perseverant among other countless virtues, but the people I met in South Sudan beat me at it. They roundly beat me at it.
Through One Village Transformed, World Concern and several partner churches are supporting Mayen village through protection of clean water, food production, livelihoods and robust microfinance. The project is a journey we’re taking alongside the community. You can be part of it. Here’s how.
Seventeen-year-old Leh bounded into the office of the village leader in her rural Laotian community with a handful of money, beaming with pride.
“I sold all of my sticky stick snacks in just an hour!” exclaimed the ecstatic teen. She held up her earnings, which she planned to share with her friends who helped her sell the snacks.
Leh’s village is just a few miles from the border of Thailand. Young girls often disappear after crossing the border into Thailand to look for work. Many are trafficked into Thailand’s insidious sex tourism industry. Others are forced to work for no pay, or other forms of exploitation. Three of Leh’s older siblings have gone to Thailand in search of work. When her father passed away three years ago, she considered doing the same thing so she could help support her disabled mother.
We’re offering alternatives—helping provide job skills and awareness training for girls like Leh in this region to earn income close to home and stay safe. Leh recently participated in cooking classes at World Concern’s youth center. That’s where she learned how easy it was to prepare sticky sticks. She knew immediately she could start a small business selling the tasty treats.
Leh was determined and started her business with $2 she saved to purchase a sack of flour, sugar, and oil. She sold her first batch of sticky sticks at the school during the students’ break time for 10 cents each. In just one hour, she had earned $5—a profit of $3 for an hour of selling.
“Doing this makes me happy,” she said, after several weeks of operating her snack business. “I wake up at 5:00 a.m., do my chores, and start cooking at 8:00 a.m.” She’s home by 11 a.m. with the day’s profits in hand.
“Thank you not only for changing my life but also my family’s life,” said Leh. “I am very grateful to the project for guiding me in choosing the right path and for securing my future and making me safe.”
Leh is sharing what she learned with her friends, and is now an active member of the youth campaign in her village that helps raise awareness about human trafficking.
So many of the issues we face combating poverty are incredibly complex. Thankfully, some are simpler to solve than others.
Parasites cause children to suffer and families to struggle. Sickness, absenteeism from school, loss of work for parents, malnutrition—all of these things worsen poverty. But the ripple effect of deworming medicine makes it one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. It’s so simple, and it costs just 44 cents.
Luxmi, a mom of two living in the Rishipara slum of Bangladesh’s capital city, was overjoyed to learn that World Concern was distributing deworming medicine in her neighborhood. Her children were constantly suffering from stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, and the effects of malnutrition. At a time in their young lives when they should have been growing and thriving, parasites were feeding off their bodies, sucking the vital nutrients from their food, and causing intense pain.
As soon as her children took the medicine, they started to feel better. “After a few days, their health problems vanished,” Luxmi said.
They are healthier, happier, and full of energy. They’re even completing their chores enthusiastically—something any mom loves to see!
“This tablet saved my daughter’s life”
Amidst the muddy, narrow streets and dilapidated shacks Kalyani and her neighbors call home, toilets are almost nonexistent. Diseases like diarrhea and parasites spread rapidly.
Kalyani’s daughters were sick and malnourished. Her infant daughter was extremely weak and suffered from constant stomach pains. Since Kalyani could not afford medicine, she had taken her little one to the local monk for help, but her daughter’s symptoms only worsened.
A few months ago, each member of Kalyani’s family received deworming medicine, and the results were dramatic. Her youngest daughter’s stomach pains completely stopped, and she started absorbing nutrients from her food. Today, she is a healthy, smiling little girl—full of life and bounding with energy.
“This tablet saved my daughter’s life,” exclaimed a grateful Kalyani.
With healthy kids, Kalyani can now focus on growing her small business and paying for her older daughters to attend school.
When children are free from parasites, it opens the way to addressing the larger problems of sanitation, hygiene, and access to clean water. That’s how a simple pill helps combat poverty.
Some stories are more dramatic than others. Some stories deserve to be heard. Mitu’s story is one of those stories.
Thankfully, Mitu’s story caught the attention of a perceptive staff member in Bangladesh who knew something must be done to free the little girl who was living in slavery in a neighbor’s home. Our Asia communication liaison, Taylor, first brought us this story on her blog.
At 5 years old, most little girls are going to school for the first time, making new friends, and learning to ride a bike. But this was not the case for young Mitu. Instead, by age 5, Mitu was scrubbing floors, cooking, washing clothes, and suffering from physical abuse with even the slightest misstep in her duties.
Scared, alone, and separated from her family, Mitu was forced to grow up overnight in order to care for another family’s children and housework when her own family was unable to care for her.
The nightmare began for Mitu when her parents divorced several years ago. Mitu’s mother sought work in the bleak conditions of Bangladesh’s garment factories, while her father struggled to get by. With neither parent able to support their young daughter, Mitu was left in the care of her elderly grandmother. Out of sheer desperation, Mitu’s helpless grandmother decided to send Mitu to work as a maidservant at a neighbor’s house. There, Mitu endured three years of bondage as a child laborer, receiving nothing but food to survive and suffering frequent physical abuse by her masters.
Thankfully, during a visit to Mitu’s hometown, a wise and perceptive World Concern staff member caught wind of Mitu’s horrible situation. Heartbroken and determined to rescue the little girl, she took the right steps to save young Mitu from her life of slavery, alerting a senior staff member who contacted Mitu’s father.
Today, Mitu is back under the care and support of her father, who, with World Concern’s counsel and support, now recognizes the importance of allowing his precious daughter to go to school and experience childhood to the fullest.
Mitu is now in school, making friends, and learning. Most importantly, she’s free.
Greetings from Sri Lanka! I’ve spent the past week and a half seeing our projects, meeting our dairy farmers, and spending lots of time with our Children’s Clubs – a safe haven for children at risk of trafficking.
I have two stories that really stand out to me that I want to share with you in the hopes that they will touch your hearts and encourage you today. You make this possible and are just as relevant in these stories as our staff on the ground.
We met with a family from the “untouchable” caste. The four children were abandoned by mother. Their father was killed in the war. The grandparents are caring for the children as best as they can. The grandmother is blind and the grandfather crippled, making supporting this family nearly impossible. Both of them received their injuries from the war.
One of these four children is a precious little girl who is being abused by local fishermen. Some days they don’t have food to eat. The day we visited was such a day. The little baby was cared for by the older sister (8 years old). He just cried and cried.
World Concern is intervening in this small community of 15 families. We have plans for small gardens, goats, Children’s Clubs, and other life-giving, life-saving interventions. Before we left, we prayed for this sweet forgotten family. Forgotten by most, but not by God, and not by World Concern.
Tonight we stopped at the hut of a young mother. She has five children. They have absolutely nothing. The clothing on their backs is all they have and when it is washed they have nothing to wear until it dries. The father too was killed in the war. This mom has no hope and tragically tried to take her own life and the life of her baby. The little one died. She survived. She is completely broken in every possible way.
Our compassionate staff is working with her and her situation. I wish you could have seen the tender way they met with her, cared for her, and prayed with her—it would have brought tears to your eyes as it did mine. They will look after her needs and the needs of her family, walking with her for the long journey.
World Concern is the hands, feet, and face of Jesus here. This is why we do what we do. And we couldn’t do any of this without you. Thank you for partnering with us.
I have never been more humbled and committed to our mission. Pray with me that the Lord will bless this work. It is a light in many dark places.