When Children are Hungry: How You Can Help

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.

The Lasting Impact of Living Out our Faith

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.

A Dangerous World Without Restrooms

As I visited our work in villages in Laos with my wife, I was reminded more clearly than ever that basic hygiene and sanitation just doesn’t exist in some places in the world.

A small boy in Dak Euy, Laos
This little boy and the other children of Dak Euy will be healthier with basic hygiene in place.

In the village of Dak Euy, we saw children  barely old enough to walk  relieving themselves right in the middle of the village.

Human beings should not have to live like this. It’s not just a matter of dignity. For these villagers, this lack of hygiene and sanitation is killing them.

You and I know how to prevent disease, but people who live in poor and marginalized villages have not yet heard. They don’t know to use toilets – or to at least isolate where they go to the bathroom or wash their hands.

What they are very familiar with, however, is disease, illness and death.

It is common for kids to die before they reach their fifth birthday in Dak Euy and the surrounding villages. Conservatively, through our interviews, I estimate at least 10% of children don’t reach the age of five. This is 17 times higher than the child mortality rate in the U.S.

By another estimate, half of the children are, dying before age five. It is no wonder that in these tribal communities, children are not immediately named, and that repeatedly throughout our trip, we met mothers who have lost children. As the father of a healthy, silly, 4-year-old girl, it hurts to even begin to imagine their pain.

Malaria, typhoid, dysentery – these preventable diseases all plague villagers – and especially hit the most vulnerable people the worst: children born into unclean environments, with little food, no clean water, and fragile immune systems.

Poor sanitation and accompanying water-borne disease is one of the worst health problems in the world. It is undoubtedly one of the primary killers of these kids.

With no sanitation, the cycle of sickness repeats itself over and over again.

As a hardy world traveler, I pride myself on never getting sick. But on this trip, I ended my stint in SE Asia with a flat-on-my-back, gotta-be-near-the bathroom, upset stomach yuck fest. I did not want to do anything but read a book, go to sleep, and stay near the bathroom. And I was clutching my stomach in a hotel room in Bangkok, not on the dirty, hard floor of a hut with no bathroom at all.

I cannot imagine dealing with that kind of discomfort, and far worse, for much of my life. I shudder to think about what that would do to me both physically and mentally, to have this occur over and over again. But this is daily life for so many villagers in Dak Euy, and many other struggling communities.

Broken toilet in Dak Euy
The remnants of an old latrine can be seen in the center of Dak Euy. Villagers will be healthier with new latrines and hygiene training.

I am glad to say that our supporters (that’s you!) are helping villagers get beyond this cycle of disease.

While I was visiting our villages, our contracted drilling truck arrived and we hit water for a new well in Dak Din. It was incredible, one of the most exciting moments of my life! Just imagine the transformative power of clean, convenient water. We are also teaching villagers about hygiene (thank God!), and doing it in a way that it will stick.

We will be constructing latrines in these communities, with the help of the villagers. And because they are learning why and how, they can build more latrines once we leave. The idea with all of our work is for it to be transformational, not temporary. Our desire in these villages is for children to use a latrine, wash their hands – and stay healthy.

When I look at the ground in these villages, I am repelled that people and animals relieve themselves wherever they please. And yet I know by visiting developing communities, that life does get better. Disease subsides. And that’s what we’re shooting for in these villages in Laos.

Changing lives is working with people over time, revealing a better path – not just directing people to “our way.” In doing so, in loving people with sincerity, we show them a clearer look at the life God would want for any of us.

Help transform lives in this village.

Seeing the needs of the poor afresh

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.

Derek and Kathryn in Laos.
My wife Kathryn is with me in Laos, seeing the villages and meeting families here for the first time.

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.

Little girls in Dak Din, Laos.
Little girls in Dak Din, Laos, who are about the age of my daughter, Violet, spend their days collecting water and working.

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.

Good Humanitarian Aid: Talk To The Chief.

Humanitarians in rural areas must talk with village leaders, like this chief in a remote village in Laos.
Humanitarians in rural areas must work with local leaders. World Concern employees shared many meals with this chief (center) in a remote village in Laos.

In tribal villages, you don’t barge in and demand permission to install an outhouse, or provide an education to the children who cannot read. After exploring World Concern’s humanitarian projects in six countries in Southeast Asia, I see that if you want something done in a tribal village, you must first talk with the chief.

I used to think of a chief as a wise old Native American man with a feather headdress, looking off into the distance as he calmly plots the tribe’s next move. Instead, in these SE Asian tribal cultures, the chief might be in his mid-30s or 40s, and wear a polo shirt and Adidas track pants.

First, let me tell you about a chief I met in a village in Laos. World Concern provides humanitarian aid in some remote places, and this is sure one of them. No running water. No power. To get there, we drove for seven hours on dirt roads, crossing two rivers. We found ourselves in a region still pockmarked by craters, from bombs dropped on Vietnamese convoys as they traveled through the jungle during the war.

Rickety wooden fences surround the village, to hold in the livestock, and to keep out whatever creatures may lurk in the jungle. We drove in and everybody stopped to look at the vehicle, a novelty in an area where people measure distances in hours or days to walk.

We found the chief at one of the larger homes built on stilts. Dressed casual, but very business-like. No surprise, though, because working in his village has been a team effort. Since we began our humanitarian aid here five years ago, he’s come to see what we’re all about, and wants more and more aid for his village.

Although he has a very limited education, he sees the hope that education brings, whether it is to improve personal hygiene or to provide schooling for the children. He held a couple of meetings while we were there, and in the end, after seeing how our projects work, he was stumping for further humanitarian aid.

Another chief I met was a man somewhere close to 50 years old, the leader of a village in the Myanmar delta. On the day I visited, he was preparing to marry off his daughter. In his home, bright streamers stretched across the room. On the wall hung a photo of his wife and young son, both killed during the cyclone last year. He was pleased to see us, and invited us to take photos of his village. Without permission, though, the rest of the villagers would not be comfortable with us wandering around with cameras.

It’s just how it is. The chief is respected and considered the village visionary and protector, and he carries a lot of influence. And we listen, not only because it’s polite, but also because listening usually makes the project better.