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.
This is a guest blog post by singer Jenny Simmons, who recently traveled to South Sudan with World Concern to see the great need in this country and witness the transformation taking place with the help of her supporters.
It is a simple memory—but one that haunts my mind.
The sound of rain coming for me.
Last week in Lietnhom, South Sudan, I slept under a tin roof (one of the only tin roofs in the village; everything else is thatched) during one of the biggest thunderstorms I have ever heard in my life. The rain sounded like an army. Constant, steady, violent, encroaching. Angry. All night long it pounded away at the roof like artillery fire.
It is odd to sit in my living room today and watch the soundless rain roll off my shingled roof.
Like most of South Sudan, there is no electricity in the village of Lietnhom. So when it is dark, it is very dark. And when bolts of lightning strike, they pierce the sky with an unbelievably cruel, taunting brightness.
It must be scary as a small child to live in a hut with a thatched roof and no electricity during a thunderstorm.
It is utter darkness. No sound of cars in the distance. No highways. No stadium lights or street lights or sirens. Can you even imagine that kind of darkness? That kind of silence?
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.
In fact, the truth is,I was scared during much of my trip to South Sudan.
The people were kind beyond measure. They offered us the very best of every single thing they had. Their food. Their beds. Their friendship. Still, I found myself lying in bed each night praying several different prayers of desperation.
“Lord, please send a UN helicopter to come get me.”
“God, if you’re gonna end the world somehow, someway—tonight would be a perfect night for you to go ahead and do that.”
“God I will do anything—I will serve you anywhere—if you will please, please just deliver me from this place.”
It is with great shame that I confess: My solution, as I interacted with people living in extreme poverty, was to beg God to put an end to the world. Or at the very least, send in a special UN convoy to rescue me from latrines, mosquito nets, cold showers, no electricity and the really scary thunderstorm in the black of night that rattled the tin roof above my head like an army, coming to pillage.
Just because I spent a few days in the bush of South Sudan doesn’t make me a saint or a hero or even a humanitarian. I’m not. I straight up spent most of my time praying for the apocalypse just so I would not have to pee in another bush on the side of a dirt road. Is that really end-of-the-world worthy? I think not.
If you make any conclusion about me based on my trip to South Sudan, conclude this: I am scared and selfish.
Scared to eat food that comes out of a tin shack with mud floors and barefoot women. Scared to eat the chicken on my plate (because I swear he was just roaming around my bedroom window a few minutes ago). Scared to use the latrines, convinced that the horrific smell has created some sort of critter that will come out and eat me. Scared to sleep in pitch black darkness. Scared to hold a baby that may not live to be a little girl. Scared to hug a momma who has to bury that little girl. Scared to look at both of them in the eyes and imagine it being me and my little girl. Scared to love them and see them as people … because what if I go home and forget about their stories? Forget their cries for help?
“No milk. No milk,” the momma shows me her breasts, drooping and empty, “You take her.” And she tries to hand me her four-month-old baby.
Scared to look her in the eyes—scared that seeing her as human means I must act.
Scared that the problem is too big to be solved.
Scared that the only solution is death.
At the end of the day, I was just scared.
Though the country was beautiful and the people I met were amazing… the truth is, I couldn’t get home fast enough. When I got to Washington, D.C. my dad picked me up from the airport. I asked if we could go straight to a restaurant for breakfast. I scarfed down croissants and muffins. A latte. In a pastry shop that serves the up and up of Washington, D.C. elites. From there I went straight to the store and bought a new outfit. A razor. Body scrub. Face wash. I showered for nearly an hour. An entire hour of wasted water and gas. And then, we went out to eat again for Mexican food. I ordered $10 table-side guacamole. By the time I caught my flight back to Nashville I had spent more money in half a day than the families I had just been with, spend in a year.
And the spending and eating and gluttony on all levels was cathartic. A sort of cleansing of the poverty via a frenzy of money spending. It was like something in me needed to spend money. Needed to consume. Needed to re-ground myself in wealth and comfort as quickly as possible.
And that speaks to my own selfishness. My own poverty.
An unhealthy dependence on the things of this world to make me feel comfortable and happy.
So now you know the truth. I am just a girl. Mostly scared. Mostly selfish. Entirely out of her element in the small village of Lietnhom, South Sudan. Praying, begging for some end-of-the-world moment, simply so I could be delivered from my own discomfort.
Poverty does that to us. It makes us uncomfortable. And if we can just get to the center lane, so we don’t have to pull up right next to the homeless person on the corner and look them in the eyes, we have saved ourselves the discomfort of having to know and having to act.
The truth is, my trip to South Sudan with World Concern was one of the hardest trips of my entire life. And I feel like a baby saying that because my teammates joyously snapped pictures, conducted interviews, pooped in latrines without complaint and ate the poor little pet chickens without hesitation. But for me, it was hard. It was hard on my body and soul. It was an affront to every single way of life I have ever known.
South Sudan was hard for me.
We are all a little scared to stare poverty in the face. And we should be.
Poverty displays the very essence of our brokenness as people. Those living in it and the rest of us … avoiding it. We both operate out of poverty.
Jesus came to alleviate poverty. He didn’t avoid it. In fact, in the New Testament, many times Jesus went out of his way—literally, through different villages and cities in order to stare the broken, hurting, poor, widowed, ostracized people in the eyes. He looked poverty in the face, in order to give hope. Other times, he went out of his way to teach those with wealth what it truly looked like to follow him. To give away possessions, and more importantly, to be willing to follow His lead even when it meant personal comfort would be diminished. He knew that people were either impoverished in their spirit or in their possessions. A lack of faith or a lack of bread were the same in His eyes—and he sought to shine new life into both kinds of people.
We go where God sends us. To the least of these. And the truth is: we’re mostly too scared and too selfish to do this on our own. But God walks us through our greatest fears.
So at the end of the day, I do not stand here a proud girl, telling you of all the amazing things I did to serve the poor.
I stand here as a girl who prayed for a UN helicopter to come rescue me. And instead, found a Savior who gave me strength, comfort and overflowing power and love to stare poverty in the face and at the end of the day—to sleep through the storm.
I don’t know what it is but I’ve been drawn to food trucks for the last few years like a moth to a flame, as they say. Maybe it’s the excitement of discovering something new, or just the fact that I love good food. Regardless, all I know is there is a special place in my heart for food trucks. Even when traveling, I always research where to find new street food.
It seems like this growing passion is taking place in the hearts of other Seattleites too. Some might even say Seattle is having a food truck revolution. I say, it’s about time! So many awesome trucks are popping up around the greater Seattle area showcasing their delicious curbside offerings.
So I’m sitting at my computer at World Concern one day making myself hungry thinking about how much I love food trucks. I started thinking about ways these roving restaurants on wheels could do more than just fill bellies in Seattle. Then followed a genius idea: what if we invited some of the best food trucks in Seattle to World Concern and raise money to fight global hunger?! Beautiful! Two things that are very dear to my heart have united: helping the poor and food trucks!
The Mobile Food Fight for Hunger was born, and now you have the opportunity to taste some of the best food trucks in Seattle right here at World Concern on Aug. 19. Plus, there will be zero guilt about all this eating because you’ll be helping feed hungry people in places like South Sudan, Chad and Somalia. Ten percent of the proceeds from the Mobile Food Fight for Hunger will help fight hunger through World Concern’s sustainable agricultural programs.
So get on this bandwagon of awesomeness and join us as we make a difference in the world through this delicious event!
This year I celebrated my very first Independence Day as a resident of the U.S. In fact, I was able to celebrate my nation as well, by catching Canada Day celebrations a few days earlier!
Last year, I missed the fireworks, as I witnessed the birth of the Republic of South Sudan and joined the Independence Day celebrations there. The South Sudanese understand the cost of freedom, having spent almost 60 years embroiled in civil wars. The streets of Juba, Wau and every other town in South Sudan were jubilant. The end of war and the power to decide their own fate were on the minds of every new citizen, and the words to the hastily released anthem were being tripped over with joy.
But the 10th brought a return to reality: more than 700,000 refugees and displaced people, many homeless and unemployed, were crowding into a nation where more than 50% live on less than $1/day, only 27% of adults are literate, and 78% of the population depends on crop farming or animal husbandry as their primary sources of income.
As they look back at their first year of independence, the price is still being paid. In what has been called a “write-off” year, the country has been plagued with a litany of difficulties both internal and external. Within a month, attacks and bombing along the border with Sudan recommenced, and tribal conflicts within the country caused another wave of displacement. While the government tried to build an economy and fuel the growth of their nation, corrupt officials stole billions, and economic disputes over oil led to the decision to shut down the oil pipeline which provides over 90% of the national revenue. Flooding in some parts of the country and drought in others has caused food shortages, malnutrition and illness. This is a long way from the euphoria experienced one very long year ago.
The South Sudanese, however, are more optimistic about the future than outsiders looking in. Just as they stood behind their leaders during the long battles for independence, they are digging in and building a better future. Some have taken up voluntary collections to support government expenses during the economic crisis. Schools are growing on a daily basis, as new citizens move back. Schoolchildren paint the future on walls, describing the construction of schools and hospitals. Children can dream big, but they can’t eat dreams.
This has been a year of growth for World Concern in South Sudan as well. We are providing emergency food to more of the estimated 2.4 million food-insecure people and helping more than 20,000 new mothers with nutrition supplements for their children. In partnership with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF, we are building classrooms as fast as possible to shelter eager young learners, and sponsoring young adults to attend vocational training centers. Recognizing the importance of agriculture and fishing to both income and food security, World Concern is helping kick-start farming and fishing associations with tools and training, as well as engaging new government officials in protecting natural resources, such as rivers and woodlands. We are seeing progress, one community at a time.
One of the things celebrated on the 4th of July is liberty, which is something very few of us truly understand. The people of South Sudan have not achieved the end of the road to freedom yet, but through the past year, despite many obstacles, they have persevered. As they stop to catch their breath, looking back at the year that was, and looking forward to the long road ahead, those of us who eat the fruits of independence need to lend our support to those still in the struggle to attain it.
The bumpy roads here in rural Haiti toss you around like a bull rider. Hairpin turns wind you through steep mountains, striking even the toughest travelers with motion sickness. And the roads seem to go on forever. Just when you think the road couldn’t go any further, it keeps going.
A sense of dread came over our team visiting Haiti this week when one of our Haitian staff informed us, after 7 hours on these roads, that we were about to go on “the worst road in Haiti.” We thought it couldn’t possibly be any worse than we had experienced. But it was. Dust and dirt swirled around us as our Land Cruiser lurched up rocky mountains with cliffs on either side.
It is at the end of many of these roads, far beyond where most are willing to go, that World Concern works.
When our vehicles pull into villages, children wave and grin excitedly. The leader of the community often greets our Haitian staff warmly with a hug of recognition, signaling relationships that have been formed over time.
People who live in these remote communities are grateful because someone has come so far for them. Mothers whisk their children home to put on their best clothes. Little girls in dirty, torn shorts and T-shirts return wearing frilly dresses, looking more like they’re going to a wedding than meeting visitors.
Parents talk openly about their struggles: not having opportunities to earn income, lack of clean water, and sick children. Some fear earthquakes and flooding will threaten their lives again soon.
They are strengthened by the help they receive—not a handout, as it is starkly obvious to those of us visiting that this would not change anything. This kind of widespread, extreme poverty, requires a long-term, well-planned response—the kind of help that brings the chance for something different. A better future.
“If we have water, we can do anything,” said one farmer whose community has a new canal that channels rainwater away from homes and into the fields where it waters crops.
“Education is the key,” said a second grade teacher who has served his village since 1995.
These people tell us they want to learn new ways of doing things. They don’t want handouts. They want changes that will last. They want to do the work themselves, with our support and assistance, but they want ownership over the projects.
This is where you come in. You don’t have to go to the end of the road to help. We invite you to witness the transformation in Haiti by supporting the work of World Concern. We’re encouraged on days like this, to know that even at the end of a tough road, real and lasting change is possible.
Maria Abdi arrived in Dhobley, Somalia, with her five children and nothing but the clothes on their backs. She fled her hometown of Afmadow because there was no work there and the children were hungry. A relative paid her way to travel to Dhobley after Maria pleaded with them, having heard there was assistance here. But there was a charge for luggage and she couldn’t afford it, so she came empty-handed.
“I need everything a human being needs—all the basic necessities,” she said.
Maria’s family is among a new influx of arrivals in Dhobley, a transit point near the border for those traveling from Somalia to the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya.
World Concern has been responding to the crisis in Dhobley since August, but staff members are seeing a sudden sharp increase in new arrivals. Ongoing drought and conflict in other parts of Southern Somalia are to blame for the influx. However, some people are returning from the refugee camps in Dadaab, citing insecurity and lack of food and other support in the camps as the reason for leaving.
“We visited the areas where families are settling in Dhobley and conditions are bad,” said World Concern Africa Director Buck Deines. “Most live in very temporary shelters, inadequate to protect them from the harsh weather. In some cases the shelters are nothing more than sticks and mosquito nets. We saw the interiors of several shelters, and in most cases, the families have no supplies of any kind.”
Deines estimates there are approximately 12,000 people that have settled in makeshift camps and are in immediate need of help. World Concern is planning to distribute vouchers that will supply families with a two-week supply of food, as well as emergency supplies like tarps, blankets, cooking pots, water jugs and more. However, additional funding is needed to respond immediately.
World Concern has been supporting people affected by the famine and drought in the Horn of Africa for nine months, and the recent increase in displaced families presents an urgent need.
Khayro Yussuf sits inside her shelter made from faded garments and held together by rope. Two metal cups are the only possessions inside her tent, except for an orange flask, which a relative uses to bring her tea.
She fled her village after three of her brothers and her uncle were killed in front of her. Khayro and her children came to Dhobley, fearing for their lives.
She received some food rations, but when she put it on a donkey cart, the owner of the cart took off with her only food. “When he realized I was not a resident and that I didn’t know where to go, he ran away with it,” she said.
Shortly after arriving, Khayro sent her son to Dadaab. “I was afraid he would be absorbed by militia … I never wanted my son to carry a gun or to join such kinds of groups,” she said.
Her daughter is staying with her in Dhobley. “If she is to die, she will die here with me,” said Khayro.
The following story was relayed by one of our fieldworkers, Jane Gunningham, who is currently serving in South Sudan.
Marco and his wife live in a recent “housing development” near Kuajok, South Sudan, for returnees from Sudan. The first time he met our staff, he told us that his dream is to have the car that drives in the field (a tractor) so he can have a very big farm.
Marco and his wife joined our rent-to-own program and received a bicycle and some pots, pans and chairs, since they had nothing of their own. Shortly after beginning to use the bicycle for work as a messenger/delivery man, Marco’s house burned down in a suspicious fire. All of their hard earned assets were lost, but Marco’s first words were praise to God that none of his precious children were lost in the flames. “Things may be restored,” he said, “but lost life is final.”
When we suggested that World Concern reschedule his payments, he refused, saying that a debt is a debt. We offered him temporary work at the seed fairs, and he has proven to be utterly reliable, passionate about serving the poor, and uncomplaining no matter what we ask of him.
I know his finances are precarious, and there are days his family does not have enough to eat, but Marco affirms that God, who cares for all, provides what he needs.
I was deeply touched one day, when he asked to sweep the spilled seeds from the bed of the truck so he had sorghum to take to his wife. He had been handing out seeds all day to others, knowing that at home his wife had run out of food. As he carried the small bag of grain home, he said to me, “Look: God does not forget the faithful.”
There’s a crisis brewing in the Sahel – a swath of dry land that cuts through Central Africa. The people who live in the Sahel are familiar with crisis. They face ongoing challenges – armed conflicts, drought, poverty and lack of resources.
It rarely rains in parts of the Sahel. Nevertheless, entire populations are dependent on rain-fed crops for survival. The rains this past season were less than average and sporadic. Crops failed, food prices soared, and now, the UN is alerting the world to a looming food crisis.
In Chad, where World Concern works with families displaced by the Darfur war and conflicts within Chad, a million and a half people are at risk of hunger. The UN estimates that 127,000 children under the age of 5 will be affected by severe acute malnutrition this year in Chad’s Sahel region.
The lean season—the period between harvests when families depend on stored food from the previous harvest—is expected to be the most severe in years.
World Concern’s programs in Chad provide families with farming tools, training and seeds to grow drought-resistant crops. Now is the time to respond to this growing crisis and help families survive the lean season, and prepare for the next harvest.
Baby Adey’s mother must have felt desperate as she lay sick and bedridden in her home in Garissa—an area of Northeastern Kenya badly affected by the Horn of Africa drought. But as a mother, her own illness was surely not as frightening as her child’s.
Our health workers in Garissa—where one in three infants is underweight—discovered Adey and her mother during a visit to their home. They were too sick to travel, so we went to them. Adey’s father told us his wife hadn’t been able to breastfeed because she had no milk. Six-month-old Adey appeared tiny, weak and lethargic.
The average 6-month-old baby girl in the U.S. weighs 16 lbs. Adey weighed just 4 lbs. 6 oz.—less than most newborns. She was malnourished, dehydrated and had an upper respiratory infection.
World Concern staff transported Adey and her mother to the hospital, where the baby received antibiotics, fluids and emergency nutrition. Her mom, who was also malnourished, was treated for her illness and given nutritionally fortified porridge.
Three weeks later, a much happier, healthier baby Adey was discharged from the hospital weighing 8 lbs. 2 oz.—almost doubling her weight.
Receiving Baby Adey’s story in my inbox reminded me that the crisis in the Horn of Africa is not over. When the U.N. declared parts of Somalia were no longer experiencing famine conditions (in which 30% of children are acutely malnourished and 2 adult or 4 child deaths per 10,000 occur each day), the food crisis disappeared from the headlines. But it’s not over.
At the time of the UN declaration, there were still 9 million people in need of aid in the Horn of Africa. Baby Adey and her family were among them.
World Concern is expanding its drought response in the Horn of Africa into several new communities near the Kenya-Somalia border, reaching a larger number of displaced, hungry families and refugees who often travel through or settle in these towns. We’re providing vouchers for emergency food, supplies and access to water through repaired wells, rehabilitated water pans and construction of rainwater catchment systems in these unreached communities.
Despite the declaration by the United Nations on Feb. 3, 2012 that official famine conditions have ended in Somalia, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says there are still 9.5 million people in need throughout the Horn of Africa. In Somalia, 2.3 million people are still suffering the effects of drought and ongoing conflict, and in Kenya, 4.3 million need assistance.
Among those we’ve helped is 23-year-old Habon Farah, a mother of 9-month-old twins who fled her hometown of Jilib, Somalia, and traveled on foot 155 miles to Dhobley.
Habon says she left Jilib because her family was hungry. There had been no harvest for three years, according to officials in the area. Although she hopes for a better life for her children, right now, her biggest concern is survival. We met her in a crowded tent with about 30 other families and have assisted her with food, water and emergency supplies.
With support from donors, we’re able to expand our response in the Horn of Africa and reach more families like Habon’s.
“The crisis is far from over. We will continue to help save and protect lives affected by this disaster, reaching as many of those suffering as possible,” said World Concern President David Eller. “Our expertise working in challenging conditions enables us to remain on the front lines of this disaster. With the generosity of our donors, we’re grateful to be able to expand our response and reach even more people in need.”