There is water in Damajale, Kenya today, bringing relief and smiles to the faces of thirsty children and families.
About a week ago, the only deep well in this village along the Kenya-Somalia border failed. The pump, 150 meters underground, was working round the clock and finally quit. Watch the CNN iReport here.
Damajale is one of many host communities that has seen a massive influx of refugees. In the past month, an additional 2,000 to 3,000 people have arrived here, having walked for days – even weeks – in search of food and water.
Fatuma, a mother of eight, was brought to tears when she realized there was no water. She had walked 30 kilometers through the night to Damajale to find only empty jerrycans stacked around the well.
“I struggle to stand here now, because I am so thirsty,” Fatuma said. “I don’t know when I will come back to my home. I may die on the way.”
World Concern is working in outlying host villages like this to get water and food to people there. Repairing and increasing the capacity of existing wells is one way we’re doing that.
In Damajale, we were able to get a new pump flown in, and engineers worked through the night to fix the well.
Today, water is flowing from the well.
To those who have donated to the famine response, the chairman of the elders of Damajale says, “You have come and rescued us. May God bless you.”
As I read the daily news articles about the famine in the Horn of Africa, I’m continuously shocked at the angry comments posted at the end of these articles. Many of them are downright hateful, and imply that we as Americans should not help other countries where there are groups that have expressed hatred toward the U.S.
I’ve even heard questions like, “Why should I care?” Or, “Haven’t those people brought this on themselves with their violence?”
To me, this is irrational thinking. Humanitarian organizations provide aid in some challenging places. We do so because there are innocent children and families who are caught in the middle and need help. In the case of Somalia, these families have no government to turn to for help. It doesn’t exist. Their crops have failed, their animals have died, and they have left their homes in search of survival.
In almost all suffering it is possible to point to people individually or corporately that are responsible for the injustice. The most intense suffering and hardest to overcome is that which people inflict on others. Injustice is not limited to the rich oppressing the poor. Wherever people have an element of power – whether wealth, land, social, political or positional – over another person, there is the risk for oppression. This is the situation in Somalia. There are those with power that are oppressing the powerless. This has held people down so they have been living just above the survival line in the best of times. The drought has limited food production for the last two years and plunged the population below the survival line. Oppressed people are dying.
So what is to be done about the oppressors in Somalia and the rest of the world? As humanitarians, we believe reaching out to people in need shows a path other than violence as the answer. I am not suggesting that if we care for those in need the oppressors will see the acts of kindness and change their ways. But those who receive help are given a chance to see compassion, rather than violence, in action.
All other concerns aside – these are people that are dying. When a child is withering away it really does not matter whether the cause is drought, ignorance, or social injustice. It is a precious child that is dying. If we determine that any person is of less value because of where they were born, we have lost our humanity.
As one who deals with the issues of injustice everyday in my profession, I realize the impossibility of meeting every need myself. I feel the frustration of the overwhelming need weighed against limited resources. But I also know that the real question I must answer is not how much can I help? But rather, should I care? We can all do something. If everyone did what they could, then extreme poverty could be conquered.
What is the purpose of our freedom if not to help the powerless? We must do more than “do no evil.” We must “do good.” It is not enough to point fingers at the oppressors. We must help those that are oppressed. We must reach out to those who cannot repay us and will never know our names.
This is what compassion is about. This is what makes us different from those that oppress.
Last week we said goodbye to our Emergency Coordinator Tracy Stover as she boarded a plane for Dadaab, Kenya, where hundreds of thousands of refugees are in need of food and water. Watching her heavily loaded backpack disappear into the crowd at Sea-Tac airport, I found myself wondering, can one person really make a difference?
Tracy will be serving in the midst of the worst crisis facing the world today. The U.N. estimates 12.4 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. Half a million children are at risk of death from famine.
Figures like this cause us to wonder if even thousands of aid workers and millions of dollars can make a difference.
But Tracy is not going alone. She and the rest of the World Concern team working in the Horn of Africa have the support of donors. Like an invisible, potent force, those who are giving to this cause are making it possible for aid workers to save lives.
Can one person make a difference?
Anyone whose heart was touched by the tragic passing of 9-year-old Rachel Beckwith knows the answer is yes. Rachel’s legacy will live on for decades as entire villages will have clean water for generations to come because of her selfless act.
You can make a difference too. And you don’t have to do it alone. Most people will help if they are simply asked. Here are a few ways you could do that:
Host a dinner for friends. Ask each person to bring a potluck dish to share. Present some information about the famine in the Horn of Africa. Include stories of people who are hungry and in need. Ask everyone to consider donating whatever they would have spent on a nice dinner out to help families survive this disaster.
Sixty dollars can provide food and water for a family for a month. Think about that: the cost of one meal in a restaurant can keep five people alive for an entire month.
Hold a garage sale or rummage sale. Round up some friends at your church and ask members to donate unused clothing and household items for a charity sale. Donate the proceeds to help in the famine relief.
You can also dedicate a birthday, anniversary or even a day’s work to the cause. World Concern partner One Day’s Wages is raising funds to support the famine response. Check out their personal fundraising tools and think about what you could do to create your own fundraiser.
The term “famine” is not used loosely. In fact, there hasn’t been an official famine since 1984-85 when a million people died in Ethiopia and Sudan. Many of us remember the shocking images of hollow-cheeked, emaciated children on the news.
After multiple consecutive seasons of failed rains, the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Northeastern Kenya and Eastern Ethiopia) – is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. The region is on the brink of famine.
In order to declare a famine, three conditions must be met:
Lack of resources to meet basic food requirements
Acute malnutrition rates above 30 percent
The mortality rate reaches five people per 10,000 per day
Somali refugees are experiencing the first two of these, and Kenyan populations, the second. Acute malnutrition in the region is the highest since 2003, according to USAID. More than 10 million people are affected.
The forecast is bleak. August is expected to be dry. About 1,300 people a day are crossing the border from Somalia into Kenya, landing in ill-equipped, over-crowded refugee camps.
Skyrocketing food prices, conflict, and limited humanitarian access have added to the crisis. Between January and April 2011, food prices increased more than 25% in Kenya. Maize prices in Somalia rose 117% since May of last year, according to the UN. Most of these populations are entirely dependent on livestock for income, but animals are dying at a rate of 40-60% above normal in Ethiopia. In some parts of Kenya most severely affected by drought, water is being trucked in.
“The current situation has been looming for some time; predications and scenarios spoken of three months ago are now, sadly, coming to fruition,” said World Concern Senior Director of Disaster Response and Security Nick Archer.
Our staff in Kenya and Somalia are assessing the needs of people in Eastern Kenya and Somalia this week. We already work in the region, and have for many years, developing clean water sources and more in drought-affected communities.
With the announcement that Al Shabaab, the militant group in control of Southern Somalia, having lifted its ban on humanitarian agencies entering the area, we’re considering resuming work in the Juba Valley – an area so plagued by conflict, we had to leave several years ago.
The faces of starving children from past famines still haunt us. Millions of concerned people around the world responded to the Ethiopia famine with donations. In a crisis, our instinct is to help. As the word “famine” teeters on the tips of officials’ tongues, we’re thankful to be able to do something. You can help World Concern respond by donating here as we deliver water and more to families enduring this crisis.
Our staff in Chad have been teaching people living in refugee camps there how to grow sack gardens. It’s a great way to improve a family’s diet by adding fresh vegetables with less water needed than a typical garden.
Since spring is a time many people are thinking about gardening, we thought we’d share these instructions for growing your own sack garden! If you do, please share it with us! We’ll be sure to share how things are growing in Chad too.
We get excited here at World Concern when a large donation comes in because we envision the difference that money will make in the lives of those we serve. Dollar signs translate into construction materials for homes in a disaster area, or containers filled with deworming medication for children in need.
We get just as excited when a smaller donation arrives, knowing the person’s wish is the same no matter the amount of their check – they want to help someone who is suffering.
Just today we received a $10,000 check, and moments later, opened an envelope with $10 inside from a young girl named Autumn. Her hand written Christmas card and drawings brought grins to the faces of our staff members. Here’s what she wrote:
Dear World Concern,
I want to give money to you because I think it is the right thing to do. My mamma gave me ten dollars and told me to pick a charity and I picked World Concern. Please help people with this money.
We feel an incredible responsibility to honor Autumn’s wish to help people with her money. And we will do just that.
Thank you Autumn, and all of you who have trusted us to use your donations to reach people with help and hope in the most challenging places on Earth.
We’re in the final stretch of the Hunger Challenge and the topic of the day amongst those of us who participated is what we’re going to eat tomorrow.
“A big cheeseburger. And no one’s going to stop me,” declared Mark.
Me? I’m celebrating with a giant, warm cinnamon roll for breakfast at 8:01 a.m.
While we all agreed we missed our comfort foods this week, none of us found the challenge to be overly difficult. In fact, Chelsey went so far as to say she was disappointed that the amount of money we were allotted wasn’t less. Some of us have decided to continue certain aspects of it, like eating less sugar or sticking to a smaller daily food budget. Now that we know it’s possible, we feel inspired to give more and eat less.
Here are some other thoughts from World Concern participants.
“Erin and I have begun training for a half marathon. It’s actually the first race that we’ve trained for together for, but we’ve both run regularly since we married. As I ran tonight I began to think about the millions of people around the world without enough food to make it through the day, and I was ashamed. I was ashamed because I recognized that my consistent exercise has always been primarily about burning off the extra food that I eat each day. I have to run to reduce the side effects of eating more than my share. Embarassing. I eat more than my share while others go hungry.
Reducing the amount of food I eat is only a small step, but donating the extra money I would save to organizations like World Concern will make a significant difference in someone’s life” – Mark
“Bored with my food is how I would describe it. I was never hungry, always had what I needed, but was bored with eating the same thing day after day. This feeling of being bored actually made me feel really ashamed. How blessed am I to eat tuna or peanut butter and banana every day, when people around the world are eating the same rice?
The fact that I was bored, made me realize how much emphasis I put on food—what kind of food will I be making? Where are we going to go out to eat? I look forward to eating meals and look forward to trying to cook new things, or trying out new restaurants. These things make me happy. These things are luxuries—luxuries most of the world does not have.
Someone asked me the other day what comfort foods I missed during the challenge. This question made me really think. That’s the thing: I often eat out of comfort, not necessity. Doing this challenge, I had all the necessary food I needed; I was not starving. It made me realize that so many times a day I make decisions out of my need to feel comfortable. Why do I even feel the right to feel comfortable? God did not call us to feel comfortable.” – Erin
For us, this challenge has come to an end. For millions of people, the challenge is a daily reality. If the purpose of the Hunger Challenge was to raise our awareness about food insecurity, it definitely did just that.
I continue to be amazed at the complex causes of hunger. But whether a crumbling economy or prolonged drought is to blame, the result is the same: Families starve. It is immensely helpful to identify the root problems so that solutions can be found.
So with that being said, I enjoyed an article in Christianity Today about the hunger crisis. It both incorporated the necessity of Christians and humanitarians to act and attempted to identify some of the current causes of malnutrition, especially in Africa.
Below is an excerpt:
This new reality comes after 45 years of steady progress in global food production. Last year, for example, there was a record production of 2.3 billion tons of grain. But production has been unable to keep pace with demand. Grain stockpiles are at 30-year lows. Globally, 850 million people are chronically hungry. Experts cite the following reasons:
Failed harvests. Since 2006, multi-year drought, cyclones, and other natural disasters have dramatically cut harvests in some food-exporting nations. A six-year drought in Australia’s rice-growing region, for example, has caused its harvest to plummet.
Rising fuel prices. Demand for new oil and gas sources has triggered price spikes, thus increasing the cost of food production. Despite a recent decline from the $147-per-barrel peak this July, oil prices are still 60 percent higher than they were in 2005.
Increased demand for grain. About 100 million tons of grains and oilseeds are being diverted to produce biofuels every year. China and other developing nations are annually using millions of tons more of imported corn, wheat, and soybeans to feed cattle, pigs, and chickens.