A small bag of flour.
A two-liter bottle of soda.
A pair of work boots.
Each of these weigh 5 pounds.
It will be Nala’s first birthday soon and yes, she only weighs five pounds.
Nala’s weak and malnourished body is what extreme poverty looks like in Somalia. Her desperate mother brought her to a health clinic, pleading for help. The minute Nala’s stick-thin arm was measured, it was confirmed that Nala was severely malnourished.
Somalia is experiencing a long-lasting drought, leaving fields barren and livestock dead. The result is that children like Nala are starving and horribly undernourished.
Malnutrition can be devastating for a child living in these conditions, especially one as young as Nala. Her growing body needs good food, and when deprived of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for any length of time, her vital organs begin to shut down. Her brain doesn’t develop properly. And if she doesn’t receive the help she needs, she is vulnerable to disease, stunted growth, and even death.
We’ve all seen the photos of emaciated children, their tiny faces stretched thin with sad, and staring eyes. And the bloated bellies—a gruesome sign that a child is acutely malnourished.
It’s called a nutripacket, and every small, foil packet contains enough nutrients to restore a child like Nala to health. When taken daily over the course of three months, it can save a malnourished child’s life.
So what’s in this miracle cure?
Inside each foil packet is a peanut-based paste that is packed with a concentrated dose of life-saving minerals and nutrients. Everything a malnourished child needs is there, including folic acid, calcium, potassium, iron, and more. So when eaten daily, it gives a starving child a nutrient boost that takes them from near death to survival almost immediately.
A few weeks ago I made an urgent trip to South Sudan.
As much as you can prepare to visit a country that’s been ravaged by war, and now has over two million of its people displaced … I simply wasn’t ready for the scale of this crisis.
The statistics alone are overwhelming—thousands of people killed, more than two million displaced, 700% inflation—but when you realize there are real stories behind these numbers, it takes your breath away.
I was hiking back out to the road after visiting a remote World Concern project when I saw her.
She was standing alone beside a simple mud hut, so I slowly began walking towards her. As I came closer, I noticed she was standing next to two mounds of dirt … graves. One was dry and sunbaked. The other was smaller, and piled with fresh dirt.
I looked up at her, searching her face for signs of what had happened. Her name was Uduru.
In whispers she told me that her husband had died a year ago. But then, her eyes shifted to the tiny, fresh grave. She said that just a week ago she buried her sweet 2-year-old boy. He had died hungry, the victim of a combination of malnutrition and a water-borne disease. On top of his grave were two tiny plastic shoes, this grieving mother’s only physical memory of her baby boy.
Uduru has three other children, each one is fighting to survive. I couldn’t speak. And just held this poor woman in my arms as she wept.
It’s in places like South Sudan where World Concern is working to meet the urgent needs of people like Uduru and her children.
But we can’t do it alone.
We’re working through local churches to reach families displaced by the crisis with emergency aid—tents and tarps for shelter from the rain, mosquito nets to protect them from malaria and other deadly diseases, hygiene kits, and life-saving food. But sometimes there is just not enough, and that’s why your help is needed.
The crisis in South Sudan is very real. During our emergency distribution I held a small child in my arms. He was probably only 3 years old. His pencil thin arm told me that he is already severely malnourished.
His mother had been standing in line all day but sadly by the time she got to the front of the line, our supplies had run out. We simply didn’t have enough to meet the need. She came to me pleading if we had more. She had been left out. I looked at her and the others behind her that had the same question. In faith I told her, we will be back.
You’ll hear this idiom more than anything else at my house. But I heard something this week that has convicted me of many things; most notably the way we speak.
But first let me assure you, I do feed my children … and they’re not starving.
I’m sure if they think hard enough, they’ll remember that they ate today. Many times. Their bellies are full, their eyes are bright and they’re able to move … not crippled over in pain from not having food in days … or weeks. They aren’t drinking fetid water from a hole in the ground that’s teeming with insects. Or pulling dry leaves from a nearby tree to stay alive.
No, they aren’t starving.
“You want to know how sick and hungry we are? Then let me show you the tombs of my two children.”
I quite literally gasped when I heard this.
My hand then covered my mouth … I felt sick … I couldn’t speak … tears filled my eyes.
The dad that uttered these horrifying words lives in a South Sudanese village. His name is Martin, and he has such a grieved stare in his eyes that I could barely stand to look at. His children were hungry. And he’d lost them because of it.
And when I think of these little ones … their tiny graves … and this father’s despair … I can’t help but feel completely distressed about it. And so I should.
I could have kept his children alive. But if only I knew …
If you’ve read this far I now have to tell you the rest of this story—his village is full of hungry children.
After wrestling with the guilt that I probably threw away enough food to have kept this man’s children alive, I realized something greater. That I owe him so much more than just my feelings.
I have to tell his story … and honor his children.
South Sudan is a mess right now. A young country that should still be bathing in the celebration of independence is instead caught in a web of raging violence … economic disaster … and dire food shortages. Poverty is tightening its grip and the poorest people can barely breathe.
Barefoot and dressed in filthy clothes, tiny Xay refused to leave his mother’s arms to play with the other children being evaluated for the Child Survival program. At 18 months old, Xay should be running, squealing, and playing with the other children. Instead, he was pale, thin, and listless. More critically, Xay is underweight, weak, and suffered from chronic diarrhea.
We measured his arm with a special band to determine his level of malnutrition. Xay’s arm measured 11cm, indicating he is severely malnourished.
For Xay’s mother, nothing is more important than saving her son – but she doesn’t have very many solutions. She knows the food she scavenges for in the woods outside her village in rural Laos each day isn’t enough. She knows her son is hungry and sick. She knows that without enough food, her beloved son could die.
With your help, this little guy can soon be eating healthy, gaining weight, and on his way to better health – in just a few short days.
A gift of $34 will provide nourishing, healthy food for Xay and others, rescuing them from the pain and sickness that comes with not having enough to eat. In addition, Xay’s mom and others will be able to participate in a special program where they learn how to grow and prepare locally available vegetables and other easily accessible foods, providing highly nutritious meals for their children. With these simple changes, 100% of children gain weight and show measurable improvement within 12 days.
Moms also learn the importance of good hygiene, safe drinking water, and using toilets to keep their children free from sickness and disease.
The best part is, they learn from other moms who are already successfully feeding and caring for their little ones – so each mom has support from a mentor right in her own village. This helps ensure kids keep gaining weight and growing strong.
With these vital tools and training, moms like Xay’s will be equipped to keep their sons and daughters healthy, ensuring they grow strong throughout their childhood.
“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you…” (Joel 2:26)
Because of matching grants, your gift to feed a hungry child like Xay’s will TRIPLE, helping feed three children throughout their childhood.
When Meo was born, she was tiny and frail. And it wasn’t long before the newborn started getting sick with fevers and colds. Her mom, Lak, was terrified her baby would not survive her first year. She had watched so many children in her village die from sickness and malnourishment.
In this part of rural Laos, where Lak lives, one child in three is underweight and stunted. And many children do not survive until their fifth birthday. For generations, her family and others have struggled—not having enough food, no clean water, no doctor nearby if a child gets sick.
But when little Meo was 7 months old, hope and practical help came to her village. Her mom, Lak, joined a program where moms of babies and toddlers learn to keep their children healthy by practicing good hygiene and preparing nutritious, locally-accessible food. No delivery truck of food—just moms working together and sharing knowledge about how to care for and nurture their children. The change is dramatic.
Lak put everything she learned into practice, and within 12 days, she saw a dramatic improvement in Meo’s health. She started gaining weight right away, and has not been sick since. This chubby little one is well on her way to surviving her first year, and staying healthy throughout her childhood.
Here’s how the program works: In almost every village where we work there is at least one mom whose kids are healthy. Knowing that moms learn best from each other, this mom becomes the village trainer, teaching others what she’s done to help her children thrive.
Through this vital training, Lak and other moms learn practical tools, like incorporating nutritious vegetables into their child’s diet, and using every drop of the vitamin-rich water their rice is prepared in. They learn the importance of good hygiene and how to keep their children clean in order to prevent the spread of disease and sickness.
Lak was relieved and excited to learn how to improve her daughter’s health. “I’m thankful for this knowledge … simple steps we didn’t know before,” said a proud and happy Lak.
Your gift to help hungry families provides much more than food for today—you help ensure moms like Lak have the tools and resources so their children develop properly and grow healthy. That’s lasting change!
Nine months pregnant and carrying her 2-year-old in her arms, Mary ran from her home in Unity State, South Sudan, where widespread violence has killed and injured thousands of people since December.
“Both of my neighbors were killed when we were running. My uncle was also killed,” said Mary. “When we were fleeing, my husband’s brother was shot. So my husband carried him to hospital. They are now in another IDP camp. There is also a woman I know who has lost her son. When we were being collected in the truck, the boy was left behind…”
Driving up a long, dusty dirt road, haphazardly created structures line the road as far as the eye can see. This is Mary’s temporary “home,” a camp for families displaced by the violence in South Sudan. Tents made of the only available materials – sticks, women’s clothing, old plastic bags, sheets, and pieces of canvas are scattered everywhere. Some people sleep under branches, without any covering at all.
Mary arrived at the camp just three days before giving birth to her second son. She named him Amel. She delivered Amel outdoors, with no help.
Can you imagine?
“At the time I delivered I was alone. I was feeling bad. My body was in pain and it was not well,” she said. Fortunately, someone felt compassion for her and allowed her to take shelter in a school building nearby.
Like thousands of others who fled for their lives, Mary doesn’t have food or even a pot to cook food, if she had any. She was given some beans and flour, but sold some for oil and salt to cook with. “We fear now that if we eat twice a day the food will be gone and we don’t know when we’ll get more,” she said.
And they’re sick. Amel has diarrhea – very dangerous for a newborn. Mary has stomach pains whenever she eats, too.
The rains have arrived early in South Sudan … not good news for families like Mary’s who are living in makeshift tents. Flooding and poor sanitation make diarrhea and sickness an even greater threat.
World Concern is responding in this area, providing shelter materials, emergency supplies, and food to displaced families. We’re also providing long-term support, so families like Mary’s can resettle, earn income, and begin to rebuild their lives. Click here to help.
“My heart is beating in fear for two reasons,” said Mary. “One, I don’t have a house. I just sleep in the open or in the school. Secondly, I don’t have my husband. Sometimes I spend many days without good food because we have no income.”
You and I can’t change the political situation in South Sudan, but we can do something to help
Mary and other moms whose “hearts are beating in fear” tonight.
This week I was browsing through photos and documents from 2006-2008, when our staff was assessing the needs of families in Chad in the wake of the Darfur war. Wow. The situation was grim. According to these documents, in 2007 there were about 230,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad, and 180,000 displaced Chadians.
We were planning a response in camps near Goz Beida, a town that previously supported a population of 5,000. By 2008, there were an additional 60,000 displaced people living there. Imagine if your hometown of 5,000 suddenly had 60,000 traumatized, homeless, and desperately needy visitors.
These families—what was left of them—had survived horrific violence. Armed militia on horseback (called Janjaweed), had lit their grass homes on fire, destroyed their villages, and killed everyone in their path. Only those who hid in the bush survived.
One of those who survived was a woman we’ll call Hawa. I discovered her story amidst pages of data collected by our staff. One way we determine how to help is by talking directly with families—hearing their stories. Hawa was eager to tell hers, and other women gathered around as she spoke, nodding their heads that their stories matched.
Hawa lived in a village of about 2,000 people, their houses scattered along the edge of a seasonal river. In the short rainy season, they cultivated grain, harvesting enough to feed themselves throughout the rest of the year, plus a bit to sell.
During the dry season, they dug wells in the dry river bed and grew vegetables to sell in the local market, or to dry for eating. Each family had about 60 animals that provided them with gallons of milk.
The girls fetched water while the boys looked after the animals, attending the local school when their chores were done. There were occasional droughts when times were tough, but they lived a full life and seldom went hungry…
Then one day, without notice, men mounted on horses and camels surrounded the village, encircling it, running around the perimeter of the houses, shooting into the air. Women scrambled, terrified, to collect their children. A few of the riders charged into the village, killing 40 of the men, setting the thatch roofs of the houses on fire.
In the chaos, the women ran with their children to hide beyond the riverbed. For hours the attackers systematically pillaged the village, taking anything of value that had survived and loading them up on the large train of camels they’d brought along for that purpose. They killed anyone they found remaining in the village, carrying away 3 women they captured alive.
The attackers even poked around in the ground to find their grain stores. The excess they could not carry away, they burned to make sure that no one could come back to live in this village.
After hiding for a couple of days, a few of their number returned to the village to see what they could salvage, to bury the dead and to find missing members of their families. Hawa held a scarred cooking pot. From all her possessions, it was the only thing she’d managed to save. But she had all of her children together and was grateful for this. She didn’t know where her husband was…
She sought safety amongst the tens of thousands of others in Goz Beida. Now she had only a grass hut, a crusty cooking pot, a cotton cloth to cover her children at night and a few kilograms of grain to feed her children. No milk, no vegetables, no oil or even salt. When she’d first arrived, she’d been lucky enough to receive a bag of grain as food aid, but she’d had to sell about half to buy some basics like a spoon, salt for the food, dried okra and soap.
Not willing to simply watch her children starve, she braved the threat of rape to collect firewood to sell in the hopes of earning maybe 25 or 30 cents which she would use to buy food. This takes time and plenty of stamina, but must be done in addition to the eight hours each day she spent collecting water. Even then, it is only enough for drinking, cooking and washing their faces.
Hawa had lost so much, but she retained her dignity and her will to fight for the survival of her family.
Around the time Hawa arrived in the camp, World Concern began providing emergency assistance there. Knowing that this kind of aid is temporary, we developed ways to help families become self-sufficient, mostly through cash for work, savings groups, and small business development.
The land had been depleted of trees for firewood, so when it rained, the water ran down hill, flooding certain areas, and leaving other places desolate and useless. Nothing was growing.
We began paying people cash to build rock lines that would cause rainwater to soak into the ground and allow plant life to grow again. At first glance, the work appeared tedious and pointless. But families could use the cash they earned to buy food or supplies. And the lush, green growth that emerged after it rained proved this system worked. Families began the long process of recovery.
I came across a statement in one of the reports written during this time that caught my attention. It said, “World Concern is committed to being a long term presence in the area.”
We’ve kept this commitment. We’re still there, five years later. Some of the camps have closed. Others turned into towns. Our focus in Chad has changed as people’s needs have changed.
I remember, about three years ago, asking the staff member who interviewed Hawa what the solution was—what these families really needed most.
She responded, “What they need is to go home.”
For the past year and a half, this is exactly what’s been happening. Families are returning to their villages—or the areas where their villages once existed—and they’re rebuilding their lives from nothing.
Once again, we started by assessing needs when several hundred families returned to the tiny village of Harako, about 40 miles from Goz Beida. A few grass huts were built as shelter, but fields for farming were overgrown with brush. The families had no tools to clear the fields or plant crops, and the planting season was near. Their only source of water was a muddy hole they dug in the sand.
Through One Village Transformed, and with the support of donors and groups like Westminster Presbyterian Church, things look very different in Harako today. Families received farming tools, seeds, and training to plant crops—and their first harvest provided enough to get them through the dry season. A well was dug, gushing forth thousands of gallons of fresh, clean water. And residents worked tirelessly, baking bricks to build the first classroom for their new school, which is scheduled to be completed this month.
Everywhere you look in Harako, lives are being transformed. Out of the ashes, families are rebuilding what they never thought they’d have again … homes, crops, schools, wells.
In a way, things have come full-circle from the horrible tragedy that swept through Eastern Chad a few years ago. Full circle, from disaster to resilience. And restoration of what was lost.
These families are going home. And we’re going with them. Join us, and witness the transformation.
Last month we told you about thousands of innocent families who were forced to flee their homes because of fighting in Northern Myanmar. These families arrived in overcrowded camps with nothing. People were sleeping outdoors in the cold and children were sick. Many of you stepped up and donated. Here are some photos just in from our staff in Myanmar showing how we’re helping.
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.
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.
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.
Getting food into the hands of the hungry in the Horn of Africa is about to go high tech. Seattle-based humanitarian organization World Concern is piloting a new mobile phone app in the drought-stricken region, aiming to streamline the process of tracking food distributed to hungry families and payment to local merchants.
World Concern has been distributing food and emergency supplies to families affected by the Horn of Africa drought since July 2011. As famine spread throughout the region, aid organizations struggled to reach millions of people, especially those living in southern Somalia. World Concern distributed vouchers to hungry families who were able to purchase food from local merchants. The system supports the local economy and helps ensure food reaches those in greatest need.
This method has been extremely effective, even in dangerous and hard-to-reach places. More than 30,000 vouchers have been distributed so far, each representing a two-week supply of rations for a family of six.
The new mobile app allows field staff to use a tool they are already carrying (a mobile phone) to record data in the field (instead of a pencil and paper), and negates the need for re-entry into a computer at a later date. This saves time and reduces the risk of errors.
The system tracks beneficiaries and the food they receive via bar codes that are scanned into a mobile phone. Merchants have an I.D. card with a barcode, which is also scanned so they can be paid via wire transfer almost instantly.
The mobile app was developed by Seattle start up ScanMyList, whose founder, Scott Dyer, created a mobile application to help retail businesses track inventory. When Dyer saw one of World Concern’s vouchers, he realized the same system could help the humanitarian organization reach people during a disaster more efficiently and track aid more accurately.
Dyer traveled to the Horn of Africa with World Concern to kick off the pilot program, which will put the new technology into action in the field this month, as 4,000 food vouchers are distributed in Eastern Kenya and Southern Somalia.
“Not many people can say they’ve birthed an idea and seen it to fruition,” said Dyer. “It’s super exciting.”
The real brain behind this technology is the custom database, which is not only programmed to receive data from mobile phones, but to “think” about what it receives. The database will identify possible duplicate entries, flag significant variations in data, and crosscheck entry errors. Then, the database is programmed to generate custom reports in real time. World Concern staff can view these on a website, seeing exactly how many meals are distributed immediately.
“This technology will enable our staff to report on their life-saving distribution in real-time, increasing our ability to respond to immediate needs as they arise,” said Chris Sheach, deputy director of disaster response for World Concern.
While the “famine” has officially ended in the Horn, the long-term effects of such a severe drought and crisis will be experienced for many years to come. As NGOs shift our response from disaster to development—teaching pastoralists who lost their herds to farm and other forms of livelihood diversification—there are still many hungry people to feed. This new technology will enable us to do this even more quickly and efficiently. It can also be used in other types of disasters, particularly in cash-for-work programs.