I had an amazing answer to prayer I want to share with you. I have been out traveling for the past two weeks, first at a conference in Haiti, then meeting with donors in the U.S. I ended the trip with a meeting with a foundation in Colorado.
The foundation wanted to meet World Concern’s new president and hear my vision for the future of World Concern. During the meeting, the executive director asked me how World Concern lives out our Christian faith in our work. I explained the challenges of the different contexts where we work, and mentioned to her that one of the ways we express our faith is during staff devotions in all of our offices around the world.
The executive director became very excited as I shared. She told me that she had met a young woman in Colorado who was from Laos. She was here studying and was working part time at a Christian agency. She was intrigued by how this young woman had become a Christian, so she invited her to lunch on her last day in the U.S. before returning home to Laos.
The young woman explained that in 2007 she had worked as an intern for a Christian organization in Laos, where every day they prayed and read from the Bible to start the day. During this time she had opened her heart to this Jesus she had heard about through those devotions, and gave her life to Christ. The executive director was so moved by this story that she wept in the restaurant and thanked God that there were agencies that truly lived out their faith in places like Laos.
She asked the young woman to send her a CV so that she could introduce her to her daughter, who also worked in Laos. At this moment in our meeting, the executive director searched through her files and found the CV. There on the CV was the name of the organization that through their daily devotions had led this young woman to Christ.
It was World Concern.
I cannot even begin to explain how moving this experience was for me and for this executive director. I am so grateful the Lord allowed us to see his work.
That young woman from Laos was only involved with World Concern for a few months and now, all these years later, she continues to live out her faith. However you are connected to World Concern—as a staff member, a supporter, or a beneficiary, let us believe that God will continue to go before us in extraordinary ways and supply our every need. Surely He is able.
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.
Last night my 4 month old daughter, Alyssa laughed for the first time. She had been showing signs of the laughter soon to come with short giggles for several weeks, but last night was different. Last night was full out, joy filled, uncontainable laughter. I thought about going to get the camera to record it but was so excited to see her laugh that I decided not to waste my time with the camera. I wanted to relish in this beautiful moment and so I did and loved every moment.
I could choose to stay home with Alyssa each day and spend all day teaching her how to blow bubbles and roll over, but instead each morning I give her a kiss good bye and send her to daycare with her daddy. I make this decision, because I work for World Concern and I love my job.
I know it’s not the most glamorous job, nor do I find myself at the front lines of our work, but I know that I am part of a team – a team that brings food and water to victims of famine, healthcare to the sick and small loans to the poor. I get to come into work each day and hear all the stories of people World Concern is helping around the world. I know that most of those stories come from women not all that different than myself.
These women have suffered much more than I could imagine and have faced tragedy like I have never seen. I have so much respect and compassion for them. I know that if you look deep in their eyes, I mean really deep, past the pain, the hunger, and fear you can see a woman, a mom, and a wife who wants nothing more than to be able to provide for her family. She is a mom who just wants to be able to play with her newborn and see laughter in her baby’s eyes.
Instead, of laughter, she has to listen to the hunger pains and the tired voices of her little ones. Instead of wrapping chubby little legs in blankets at night, she gets to wrap her small and fragile child in scraps of clothing. These women, long for something better for their children and I know that World Concern works hard to give that to them.
World Concern is participating in the 1,000 Days campaign by serving mothers, newborns and children (often the most vulnerable to malnutrition) through nutrition education, healthcare, emergency feeding programs, home gardening, and agricultural support. In Chad, World Concern trains women and their families to grow sack gardens outside their homes. Sack gardens produce leafy green vegetables in order to supplement the family’s diets with much needed nutrients. Ninety-six percent of these families reported that they were harvesting crops weekly and most were convinced that sack gardening was useful and helped women feed their families a healthy diet.
Many of these same families later participated in a follow up training on water management and vegetable business production so that women can continue to grow crops longer into the dry season as well as sell some of her crops to other families. By selling her crops, a woman not only creates an income for her family but also encourages others to eat nutritious vegetables as well.
Much of Bangladesh’s population earns a living through agriculture but for the young woman without any land to grow crops for her family, she must find a way to earn a living another way. World Concern is giving these women microloans to start their own businesses. These women learn to embroider cloth, make candles, sew table cloths and more. They are also given business training like managing accounts, banking and cash flow projection along with training on discrimination of women, basic health and environmental concerns. The income earned allows an entrepreneur to provide a safe and warm home for her children as well as education and good nutrition.
So, for me, yes my heart breaks a little each time I have to say goodbye to my little girl, even for just a few hours. But it’s worth it. I know that I am part of a team transforming the lives of people in the most desperate circumstances so that, like myself they can see joy instead of hunger in their children’s eyes.
This is one way that I can make a small sacrifice and teach my daughter the importance of caring for those in need. I know that Alyssa will be there waiting for me when I come to pick her up and she’ll give me a giant grin, and maybe now even break out into laughter.
Kathryn Sciba is visiting some of our programs in Kenya this week. The following excerpt is from her blog about her trip.
We began our eventful journey to a primary school near Narok. This is the kind of land where safari animals roam wild. The children and teachers at this school blew my mind with how well they welcomed us. The people here are Maasai, nomadic herdsmen. This school has changed their lives since World Concern started working with them in 2008.
The school has a 28-acre garden that World Concern built a fence around so the elephants wouldn’t destroy it. The lack of farming means the families have had to follow the herds and lack a balanced diet.
In the past three years World Concern has not only built a solar powered electric fence around the school’s garden but they’ve also trained the community about farming. Now the families can stay put if they want to. Now the community has wheat and corn fields. The school produces more than enough food for their enrollment and is able to sell the rest. They grow passion fruit, mango, bananas, and vegetables, including basics like beans, corn and wheat.
They do have a water catchment system, which catches rain from the roof and carries it through pipes to the garden, but they need rain to sustain it. Please pray for a great rainy season which was supposed to begin this month but has been lousy so far.
The garden has provided essential nutrition and that’s helped the student’s test schools improve dramatically. In 2007, 191 children graduated with a Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (a national standardized test required to pass primary school). In 2008, 216 students graduated and in 2009 the number was 261.
Enrollment has been increasing because the community is sending their children there to be well fed and educated instead of having them roam with the herds. The school provides boarding to 150 girls who would otherwise roam with their families. By having girls live at the school, their families may feel less urgency to marry them off at a young age in exchange for a 20 cow dowry.
There are currently about 400 boys and 400 girls enrolled in the school.
World Concern Director of International Health Programs Dr. Paul Robinson began his new position with a trip to Bangladesh, his native country. He visited World Concern’s programs there and shares some of his experiences below.
Meet Doctor Ragib
At a World Concern sponsored elementary school in Bangladesh, I met a young boy named Rajib. I asked him what he hopes to become when he grows up. Rajib looked straight at me and matter-of-factly, with great confidence in his voice, told me without batting eye, “I will be a doctor.”
This short encounter reminded me of another young boy in Bangladesh, who some decades ago dreamt of becoming a doctor. He had very little chance on his own and his family had no resources for his medical education. But only thru God’s grace and His provision that young school boy not only earned his medical degree in Bangladesh, but also became a seminary graduate, and a public health professional in the U.S.
I know this story of God’s miracle very well because I am that boy. And I know He can do the same for Ragib.
With World Concern support, Ragib is well on his way to becoming an accomplished physician as he continues to come to school every day with his dad giving him a ride on his bicycle.
Completing the circle
Her bright eyes, warm smile and gentle spirit connect this young teacher, Jhoomoor Roy, to her elementary students at a World Concern sponsored school in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Watching her in the classroom, it was hard for me to believe that Jhoomoor used to sit on these same benches in this same school just a few years ago, herself a young, student whose education was sponsored by World Concern.
With stellar results, she passed her school and college finals. As she continues her studies at the university, Jhoomoor teaches at this school, completing a full circle from being a student here herself to helping children who, like her, are now being educated.
Donations to World Concern have not only brought blessings to one, but to successive generations as well.
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.
Today was shopping day for some of our staff participating in the Hunger Challenge. The task: to figure out what to buy in order to eat on just $34.33 for the next week. The amount is equivalent to the $1.25 a day that many people in Haiti live on. Our adjusted amount will be $4.90 a day, which doesn’t sound too difficult, but our first eye opener was how much planning, calculating and creativity went into making $34 stretch for a week.
Mark and his wife Erin had a lot of fun planning their menu together for the week, then figuring out which things—like a hunk of cheese or a loaf of bread—could be used in more than one meal. They decided to spend only half of their combined $68 on groceries and save the rest for a few splurges, like Erin’s daily Dr. Pepper from the gas station soda fountain. They’re also planning dinner out on Friday night while shopping at Ikea. The store has a hot dog, chips and a drink for $1.99, which fits in their budget. Monday is their anniversary, so they’ll order pizza from Little Caesar’s for $5.
Other meals include taco soup, minus the meat (for three nights), grilled cheese sandwiches, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and of course, some Top Ramen for snacks.
The hardest things to give up? “Soft drinks,” said Mark, who usually drinks soda with lunch and dinner, but will be drinking only water this week.
“We really realized that if you’re careful, you can save a whole bunch,” he said. “We were surprised at how much food we could get.” It may be a little monotonous, he admits, but they’ve got a bag of chocolate chip cookies dipped in milk to look forward to at the end of the day.
But the Hunger Challenge is not all about budgeting and careful shopping. It’s about experiencing—just an inkling—of what other people live with every day of their lives.
Think about the fact that we’re spending our entire $34 on food. What about all the other things families need to be healthy like soap and toothpaste? Here are just a few things I would normally include in my grocery budget, but won’t be buying this week or I’d starve:
Toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, cleaning products, cat food, cat litter, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, over-the-counter medicines, staples (flour, sugar, spices, shortening, oil, etc.), condiments (salad dressing, mayo, ketchup, teriyaki sauce, etc.), soft drinks, juice, other beverages, light bulbs … I could go on and on.
The point is, when you’re faced with a small amount of money needing to stretch for a week, food alone becomes the priority.
Planning for this week might feel “fun” to those of us who don’t live this way every day, but I find it hard to imagine those living in constant poverty would even have the energy to plan a week’s worth of meals. For us, this is a week-long experiment. For millions of people, it’s a way of life.
Follow our team’s Hunger Challenge updates on Facebook and Twitter, as well as this blog.
Today in the world of disaster relief was mostly an office and meeting day. Yes, even here. My least favorite kind of day.
The office is about 100m up a sandy road from the house. Not far, but far enough for several children to ask me for something. A year ago, very few would be so bold. Apparently, soft-hearted but soft-headed disaster relief workers have been giving things to children who haven’t asked for anything but friendship. Now the children no longer value us as people, certainly not adults who their culture would demand them to be respectful of. It is a shame because it has made it much more difficult to get to know the kids. It wasn’t like that just one year ago, and I miss the easy, joyful interaction with them.
First thing, most of the staff were called together for a disaster relief staff meeting.
We have been encouraging them to get bank accounts at the bank in Abeche (a full day’s drive away) for reasons of security, with only a portion of it given in cash here. So they were given an account application form and an explanation. Then we moved on to programmatic issues and the start-up of our third phase of the program. They are quite anxious to get into the activities.
After the disaster relief meeting we moved into other meetings with the Country Director, Adrian, and the Livelihoods Coordinator, Derrek where we talked about more strategic stuff as well as details of several grants. Right now they are the only expats here. Ayamba was supposed to arrive back today from vacation, but the plane that he was supposed to take was taken by an entourage which included John McCain’s wife. Random, eh?!
Through most of the afternoon, I worked on training materials and boring stuff. Late in the afternoon the field staff returned and the office became lively again. They get back at about 3:30, then do their reports and stuff for the day. The guys in the picture are sorting out requests for seeds from some of the people we will be helping to cultivate later this month.
Now, we are sitting in the Landcruiser outside the wall of the wall of UN HCR checking our email using their wireless signal. The crew from ACTED, another NGO, are in a vehicle parked just behind us. HCR used to let us go in and use their conference room, which then became a good place to meet other NGO people, but now we meet in a dusty street. Ah well, at least it is a connection.
Last night, after 2 very short nights, I slept soundly for 12 hours and woke up without a fever as the guys were coming back from church. It would really stink to spend a bunch of my limited time out here being incapacitated so I’m really trying to rest up today and kick this bug before I really dive head-first into the disaster relief work in Chad.
While lounging around today, casually washing out a few bits of clothing, reading and listening to my MP3 player, I started thinking about yesterday with more and more satisfaction. I’m weird and get my thrills in weird, obscure ways.
After visiting various projects, on the way back to town, we passed a hut with a very large, newly-made clay pot on its side. I recognized this as a traditional way people in the Sahel store their grain. They stand it on end, pour their harvested grain into it, then seal the top with mud to keep pests out and moisture in. It is a great system that works so much better than sacks and doesn’t require harmful pesticides. But when people are feeling insecure (like when a disaster is about to happen), they will use sacks so they can run away with them or hide them if they’re attacked. So I was thrilled to see the dabanga, as it is called.
We stopped to chat with the family. Only educated people speak French here, so Nick and I spoke with them through one of the staff who translated for us. In the heat of the day the sun here is really scorching, so women usually collect on mats in small groups in the shade with their smallest children and neighbors to do small hand-tasks until the worst of the heat passes. The men are usually either off in the market or snoozing in their huts. It’s a mellow time, a time for catching up on what’s happening and gain strength for the afternoon and evening chores.
This is the best time to sit and chat with these busy, industrious women. I thank my stars that I’m a woman in this job because I can often sit with them and they’ll be at their ease, telling me all sorts of stuff about how they get on in life that they’d never tell a man. This is critical for knowing what sorts of disaster relief type help they need. It was about 3pm and three women and a couple of small children at this house were still hanging out in the small asylum of shade afforded by a grass platform.
By normal standards, this dabanga was a bit smaller than you’d see in a village, and they’d often have several of them as well. This tells me they had a smaller harvest this year than they would have had before the crisis and therefore not nearly enough to carry them through the year – though still a fair amount. But the very fact that they had been able to find land on which to cultivate anything, that they’d had the confidence in the level of security to invest in planting, and that they’d been able to plant enough to warrant a dabanga was all very positive. They said they had come from a village about 50km away but still didn’t feel safe enough to live there full time. Since they were able to get hold of a field nearby, they didn’t risk cultivating their fields in their villages, but they said some others did risk the trip. As we carried on back to town, we noticed quite a few other dabangas around that camp. This was such a positive sign it really made my day even with my descent into the flu.
It made my day because I remember when we first came out to Goz Beida in February last year (2007). Some people had already been in the camps for 3 months without any help from people providing disaster relief. They were all but starving. Several families would share one cooking pot to cook the small amount of food they had. Few had more than the clothes on their backs. They were living in very small huts made of grass tied together. Sources of water were very few and very far. It would take about 8 hours to get one container of water at a very muddy well. Whole families were drinking and cooking, living on less than a gallon (4 liters) per person per day in temperatures above 100F (38C), about 1/3 the minimum recommended amount of water. Sanitation was abysmal. People were living from day to day, even hour to hour. There was an outbreak of hepatitis due to the poor sanitation and bad water.
Now, though the food they get from aid is erratic, they are starting to rebuild their asset base and get themselves back on their feet. Wells and latrines installed by other agencies have addressed the water and sanitation issues, but we had a very large role to play in their recovery at the household level. Although we are only one of about half a dozen humanitarian organizations working here, our activities have directly benefited these families. We have directly provided over $1M in direct cash wages to people in the camps over the last year and a half. This money helped them to buy the basics when the UN rations didn’t materialize and helped them to buy the tools to cultivate, the medicines for their remaining donkeys, clothes, and to give them the hope to plant again.
A dabanga may just be a giant clay pot to some people, but to me it is a sign of hope and encouragement, it is a first sign of a return to some small sense of recovering a lost life.
I’m battling a round of the flu. After so much traveling, I finally got out to the field today and was dismayed to feel myself coming down with an aching fever and a very sore throat, taking away much of the enjoyment of the day.
We work in 3 disaster relief camps for Chadians who’ve been chased from their homes. They official term for them is Internally Displaced People or (IDPs). We are also starting working in a camp for Sudanese refugees. So we spent most of the day looking at the various physical structures we’ve built, discussing successes and failures, what more needs to be done, what’s worth investing more in and what’s not…
Pretty much everyone has heard of the Sahara Desert, but few have heard of the Sahel. This is the band along the southern edge of the Sahara that transitions from desert to the greener “sub-Saharan Africa” that most people picture when they hear the name “Africa”.
The continent is amazingly varied, both by climate and by traditions. Each country is very different from its neighbors. The Sahel is where the desert “Arabic” cultures meet up with the more “African” cultures. It is also where the Muslim and Christian worlds meet. Goz Beida is right on the line between these two worlds and is where I’m doing my disaster relief work.
Not far north of here, it is mainly Arab animal herders (pastoralists). Not far south, it is majority Christian farmers. Here on the line, people depend usually on a combination of farming and animals though their animals were stolen as they fled their villages and they now have very little access to their farm land, risking rape and murder just to farm their fields.
We get rain here pretty heavily for about 3 months of the year, and then nothing the other 9 months. It is a very fragile environment and can only support a very scattered population, so when wars create concentrations like these IDP camps, it really stresses out the local environment. Much of our work is designed to keep people alive while protecting the environment. We’re building large rainwater catchment systems to add to the water table and to water the animals that haven’t been looted, helping to reforest (to counteract the huge amount of trees being cut for firewood) and similar stuff. Disaster relief is hard on a lot of things.
Because we’re so far out in the middle of no-where, farming and herding animals is about the only way for most people to earn money or get food, but this is almost impossible when there are so many people living in one such remote place. So we’re also working to build up the local economy and help people get work while cutting back on their expenses. One of the things we’re doing is to help install mills to reduce the cost of grinding their grain into edible flour. We’re doing other stuff too, but these were the things we were visiting yesterday – the mills, rainwater catchment systems and reforestation projects.
I helped to get this project started last year and hired most of the initial staff, so I already know most of them. It was great to get to know them again as they proudly showed me all they’ve accomplished, which really is impressive, even to a skeptical, jaded soul like myself.