The Freedom of Income

Leh showing her earnings for the day.

Seventeen-year-old Leh bounded into the office of the village leader in her rural Laotian community with a handful of money, beaming with pride.

“I sold all of my sticky stick snacks in just an hour!” exclaimed the ecstatic teen. She held up her earnings, which she planned to share with her friends who helped her sell the snacks.

Leh’s village is just a few miles from the border of Thailand. Young girls often disappear after crossing the border into Thailand to look for work. Many are trafficked into Thailand’s insidious sex tourism industry. Others are forced to work for no pay, or other forms of exploitation. Three of Leh’s older siblings have gone to Thailand in search of work. When her father passed away three years ago, she considered doing the same thing so she could help support her disabled mother.

We’re offering alternatives—helping provide job skills and awareness training for girls like Leh in this region to earn income close to home and stay safe. Leh recently participated in cooking classes at World Concern’s youth center. That’s where she learned how easy it was to prepare sticky sticks. She knew immediately she could start a small business selling the tasty treats.

Leh making her sticky stick snacks.
Leh making her sticky stick snacks.

Leh was determined and started her business with $2 she saved to purchase a sack of flour, sugar, and oil. She sold her first batch of sticky sticks at the school during the students’ break time for 10 cents each. In just one hour, she had earned $5—a profit of $3 for an hour of selling.

Ready for selling!
Ready for selling!

“Doing this makes me happy,” she said, after several weeks of operating her snack business. “I wake up at 5:00 a.m., do my chores, and start cooking at 8:00 a.m.” She’s home by 11 a.m. with the day’s profits in hand.

“Thank you not only for changing my life but also my family’s life,” said Leh. “I am very grateful to the project for guiding me in choosing the right path and for securing my future and making me safe.”

Leh is sharing what she learned with her friends, and is now an active member of the youth campaign in her village that helps raise awareness about human trafficking.

Leh teaching her friend how to make sticky sticks, so she can earn income too.
Leh teaching her friend how to make sticky sticks, so she can earn income too.

When you support World Concern’s child trafficking prevention programs, you help keep girls like Leh safe from harm. Whether by participating in the Free Them 5k, or by donating directly, you’re helping protect vulnerable girls and put an end to this horrific crime.

Real transformation comes from within

There was no complaining or pleading for more help at the goodbye ceremony in the village. Only a sense of empowerment and hope for the future. It was a true celebration. This village was ready to stand on its own.

water pumpThe tiny community of 40 families in rural Mon State, Myanmar, was “graduating” after seven years of development. Things look very different here than they did seven years ago, but maybe not in the way you’d expect.

There’s are several protected wells that supply clean water, and an absence of human waste on the ground – things you’d hope to notice after an NGO had been working there. The fields surrounding the village are producing abundant rice, and crops are thriving. Families are earning income, and children are healthy. But in terms of traditional rural village life, it is lived much like it has been for decades, maybe centuries.

rice fieldWhy? Because these changes came from within. All credit goes to the village development committee, made up of residents and community leaders, not World Concern.

Instead of dependence on our organization, the residents see our staff (who live and work amidst a cluster of local villages) as true partners. Relationships are built on mutual respect and empowerment, not a provider-beneficiary model. We are a catalyst to change, but not the change-maker. People taking responsibility for and pride in their community produces change.

Poverty is messy. The absence of trash and human waste is one indication people here care about their environment. But the real difference is seen in the confidence on people’s faces. They know they can continue moving forward on their own. This village is ready to say goodbye to World Concern – and this is our goal. We want to work ourselves out of a job.

babyWhat’s the biggest difference in the village? According to one grandma who has lived her all her life, “Our babies aren’t dying anymore.”

All the training, supporting, educating, and encouraging for seven years comes down to this: children are surviving. That’s transformation.

There’s a lot of talk about sustainable community development. Other than occasional follow-up visits from a development officer, how do we know this method is sustainable? Here’s a great example.

vegetable ladyRecently, one of our staff members visited an IDP camp in another region of Myanmar. Hundreds of families had fled their villages when the fighting came too close and threatened their lives. The staff member noticed that the families in the camp were well organized. They had taken their horrible circumstances (not enough food, no water or sanitation, and cramped quarters) and made a plan. They were working together to solve problems and meet needs.

“Where did you learn how to do this?” the staff member asked a man who appeared to lead the resident committee. “World Concern taught us when they worked in our village,” he replied.

These displaced families were able to replicate and use their skills in a camp when life took an unexpected turn and they were forced from their homes. And when they resettle back home, or in a new village, they’ll be able to do it again. That’s sustainable change.

To learn more about transforming villages like this one, visit worldconcern.org/onevillage

5 Key Principles for Working with the Poor: #2 Dignity Matters

This is the second in five posts covering key principles in ministry with the poor intended to help churches move from transactional to transformational ministry.  In the previous post, we discussed the importance of listening to the poor before acting.

2. Dignity Matters

Consider the message when we try to  fix what’s broken.

When I was a sophomore in college, some friends were talking about a spring break trip they were planning to Juarez, Mexico, to build houses.  I was a fairly new Christian and was excited about the idea of an adventure with a great cause attached to it.  Other kids were headed off to beaches in every direction, but I felt like this was an opportunity to see the real world, and serve the Lord at the same time.

For my first “mission trip” it was just about as eye-opening and real as you could get.  The part of Juarez that we worked in looked like an attempt to reclaim a garbage dump.  As we dug up the ground to prepare a place to pour the foundation, we discovered little plastic bags that we jokingly called “goodie bags” because they had anything but goodies on the inside.  For a kid that had grown up in the suburbs, this was extreme, and I honestly felt pretty good about my willingness to serve the Lord by digging up human feces in the hot sun of the desert.

More students signed up for the trip than the organizers were expecting, and we looked a little bit like stirred up ants on an ant hill.  We had so many people that we didn’t even have enough jobs or space on the work site, so we had a team of people in the street prepping stucco and other materials for those working on the house.

One afternoon, the man who would be receiving the house came home from his day of labor.  He picked up two trowels, one for each hand, and began applying stucco to his new home. There were five other college students working on the adjacent wall, but this man did his work faster and with a higher level of quality than all five of the students combined. This man was clearly a skilled construction worker by trade.

When the house was completed, we concluded with a ceremony where we presented this home to the family.  We brought them into their home, waited for their reaction to this gift.

As a husband and a father myself, there are few things more important than having a family who is proud of you, as a person and as a provider. Being unable to give your family something as basic as a home tears at the fabric of who you are as a person. I can’t imagine the shame a dad must feel when his kids are asking for basic necessities he can’t provide.

I wonder how this man felt, having a lifetime of experience in construction, when 100 unskilled kids from America came to do what he was unable to do for his family. As a man with such expertise, could we have honored him in front of his family by at least putting him in charge of our efforts?

When we “see a problem, fix a problem,” the message we send often reinforces some of the unseen problems of poverty, like lack of dignity. Dignity matters.

5 Key Principles for Working with the Poor: #1 Listen First

When your church helps the poor, could your actions be summarized: “See a problem; fix a problem?” Many churches work to repair what’s fractured in the lives of the poor or try to solve their problems for them, but they forget that poverty is about people and ministry is relational.

1. Listen First

Often we act on behalf of the poor without actually knowing them, or even asking them about their situation.

Shortly after college, I began going on short-term trips with my church to a rural part of Central America.  Many of the kids had tattered clothes, rotting teeth, and gnats circling them as soon as they stopped moving. We quickly grew to love these kids and wanted to do what we could to help.

Giving hygiene kits to these kids in Central America failed to solve the hygiene problems in their community.
Giving hygiene kits to these kids in Central America failed to solve the hygiene problems in their community.

We had seen this problem and we decided to do what we could to fix it. So, throughout the year we started collecting travel-size hygiene items at hotels. The next year we returned with enough large Ziploc bags for each family in the community to have items like soaps, shampoos, tooth brushes, and toothpaste.

We walked through town passing these out door to door. We felt good doing this, but we never actually asked the community if they wanted hygiene kits or felt like they had a need for them.

Over the next five years I went back on the same trip and passed out hygiene kits every year without seeing any change in personal hygiene in the community. We were unable to fix the problem. But I worry more about how we affected problems that can’t be seen. Without listening first to the community about things they could change, our actions carried a clear message: You look dirty. Here’s something to fix that.

Years later, I read about a study done by the World Bank in which they asked 60,000 poor people from around the world about poverty. I expected to read quotes from the poor talking about hunger, lack of clean water, the need for adequate shelter, and poor hygiene. But instead, the poor spoke more often of issues that are unseen, things like dignity, hopelessness, oppression, humiliation, and isolation.

It helped me realize that poverty is not only more complex than I thought, but it goes much deeper than what I can see on the surface.

 

Photos: Meeting critical needs for displaced families in Myanmar

Last month we told you about thousands of innocent families who were forced to flee their homes because of fighting in Northern Myanmar. These families arrived in overcrowded camps with nothing. People were sleeping outdoors in the cold and children were sick. Many of you stepped up and donated. Here are some photos just in from our staff in Myanmar showing how we’re helping.

New latrine in Mynamar camp.
A new latrine to protect the health of displaced families living in a camp in Kachin State, Northern Myanmar.
New well.
A new well being dug in one of the camps.
Nutritious food in camps.
A World Concern staff member (right) checks the nutritious food families are receiving in the camps.
Sick mom and baby receive medical care.
A sick mom and her baby receive medical care.
Hand washing training in camp.
World Concern hygiene trainers conduct a hand washing training in the camp to help keep families healthy and stop the spread of disease.
A water tank holds safe drinking water.
A brand new water tank holds clean, safe drinking water in one of the camps.
Well being dug.
Another angle of a well being dug to provide a sustainable source of clean water.
Families receiving supplies.
Families receive blankets, mosquito bed nets, and emergency supplies.

It’s Giving Tuesday! Make your holiday shopping matter

You survived (or avoided) Black Friday and Cyber Monday and made it to Giving Tuesday!  A much more meaningful day, we think. Giving Tuesday was created to encourage giving to charity during the holiday season, which we heartily support!

A boy in South Sudan drinks clean water from a well.
Clean water is a life-saving gift. You can provide this for children like this boy in South Sudan, knowing your gift is changing lives.

Here at World Concern, we have a special Giving Tuesday challenge – an opportunity for you to double the impact of your gift. Any gift made to the Global Gift Guide by the end of today will be matched. We’re already more than half way to our goal! After hearing about the success of this challenge, another donor has offered up an additional $10,000 in challenge money. An amazing blessing.

Will you help us reach our goal and ensure the families we work with benefit from these matching funds? If you’ve been thinking about giving alternative gifts that truly impact the lives of the poor this year, today is the day to do it. You’ll double your impact, helping provide life-saving care and practical gifts to twice as many children and families living in extreme poverty.

Here’s a little inspiration – a few of our favorite gifts:

Clean WaterHelp build a well! For families who are used to walking for miles to fetch dirty water, a well is a real blessing.

Give a Goat!Help hungry children with a kid goat. Once full-grown, goats can produce up to a gallon of nutritious milk each day.

Soccer BallsSoccer is more than fun and good exercise—it’s a sport that unifies and builds friendships. A soccer ball shows kids somebody cares.

Thanks for helping us reach our Giving Tuesday matching challenge goal, and for giving gifts that really matter.

“God does not forget the faithful”

The following story was relayed by one of our fieldworkers, Jane Gunningham, who is currently serving in South Sudan.

Marco, a returnee from Sudan.
Marco (right, in cap) serves at a World Concern seed fair in Kuajok, South Sudan. He says that God, who cares for all, provides what he needs.

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.”

 

Why we go to the remote corners of the planet

Sometimes we get asked, “Why do you help people in other countries instead of the poor right here at home in the U.S.?”

Good question and one I think is worth answering.

Every nonprofit has a mission – a calling they aim to fulfill through their work. There are more than a million nonprofits based in the U.S. Many help with domestic issues and serve people here, while others help internationally. Some do both.

We at World Concern feel a special calling to help those in the poorest, least developed and often hardest to reach places in the world. That’s our mission. We seek out places to serve where climate and geography, societal instability and scarce infrastructure create incredible challenges – both to the people living there, and in terms of reaching them with help.

The road to Somaila.
The desolate road to the Somalia border -- one of the places we go to reach people in need.

One example of this is in our response to the Horn of Africa drought crisis. The most practical place to help would have probably been the refugee camps in eastern Kenya. But there were already many organizations responding within the camps. As we assessed the area and the situation, it became clear there was an added strain being put on communities surrounding the camps and near the Somalia border as tens of thousands of displaced people were arriving in these towns.

We saw an unmet need and made the decision to support these communities – with food, access to water, medical care and emergency supplies. Since August, we’ve fed thousands of people, many who had been walking for weeks in search of assistance. Some might not have survived the last leg of the journey to the camps. Others have settled in these communities – a better place to start a new life than a refugee camp.

These communities are dangerous places to work. They are under almost constant threat of attack by militia. On the Somalia side of the border, we are one of only a few organizations working there. But we see this as fulfilling our calling to reach people in desperate need in hard to reach places.

Muddy road to Laotian village.
Muddy roads, like this one in Laos, make some of the villages we serve inaccessible by vehicle.

Some of the villages where we serve in Laos are cut off from society because of rain, mud, rivers and damaged roads. The people there have no way to access food or medical attention if needed.

Thanks to infrastructure, development and government assistance here in the U.S., communities are rarely cut off from aid, even in a disaster. We’re finding ways to reach people in remote parts of the world – because few others will.

In American culture, there is a an emphasis on helping ourselves before we help others. The self-help world tells us that taking care of our own needs first is as important as on our own oxygen mask on an airplane before assisting others. We secretly aim to make sure our own children have enough Christmas presents before giving to others in need. As Christians, we’re called to put the needs of others before our own (Phil. 2:3-4). This is not to say we shouldn’t support the needs of the poor here at home. But what would Jesus say about the idea of “helping our own” before reaching out to others?

From one scarred hand to another

This week we received a donation of $60. While that might not seem worthy of its own blog post, it is. Trust me.

The check was sent by Kim Kargbo, the director of Women of Hope International, a fellow Christian nonprofit that helps women with disabilities in Sierra Leone improve their lives.  I called Kim to learn why another humanitarian agency would send us a donation instead of putting it toward their own programs.

The story she told me confirmed my belief that anyone, in any circumstances, can be changed by giving.

A few months ago, Kim and her staff held a meeting with the women they serve. They do this each month to talk about issues related to their disabilities and ways to overcome them.

These women live hard lives – most of them are beggars themselves, living on less than $1 a day. Women of Hope helps restore dignity and purpose to their lives through their programs.

“I really felt like the Lord was telling me to challenge them to look outside themselves,” recalled Kim. “To go beyond themselves, and he would bless them.”

Having heard about the famine in Somalia, Kim went online to look for a video she could show the women. She came across World Concern’s Eyewitness to the Famine video and shared it with them.

She also shared with them the story of the widow in 1 Kings 17 who was suffering in a drought and preparing her last meal when Elijah came and asked her for food. The widow trusted God and gave all she had, being promised, “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.”

The women were moved by the video and Kim’s explanation of famine. Most of the women are illiterate and some didn’t know that Somalia even existed. But they knew about refugee camps from their own country’s experience with war.

Then, Kim asked them a question. “If any of you didn’t eat today, would you die?” They all shook their heads, no. They might be hungry, they said, but they wouldn’t die. “Well, some of these people, if they don’t eat today, will die,” she said. “Do you think there’s anything you could do to help?”

This time they nodded their heads, yes. Even if each of them pitched in just a few coins, surely it would help a little. Kim agreed and told them that Women of Hope would match whatever they raised.

The women returned a month later for their Christmas party and had raised a bit of money, but not much. They wanted to do more. So they decided to take an offering that night. What happened next was amazing.

Sierra Leone donation
A blind woman in Sierra Leone is led forward at the Women of Hope International Christmas party to offer a donation to the famine relief.

About 50 women came forward to give. One by one, they lined up – blind women being led by the hands of children, and others in wheelchairs – to drop their few coins in a cardboard box.

At the end of the night, they had $30. With their matching gift, they were able to send $60 to World Concern.

“I know it’s not much,” Kim said when I spoke with her on the phone.

“Oh, but it is,” I said. We’ve been asking donors to give $60 to provide emergency food rations, access to clean water, and long-term assistance to a family affected by the famine.

“It’s perfect.”

Blown away by generosity

Yesterday, a man walked into our headquarters office and said he wanted to make a donation. He ordered a few gift cards for goats from the Global Gift Guide, then proceeded to write a check—for $10,000.

A husband and father of two, he told us he had picked up a copy of the Global Gift Guide at an event and started pondering the tremendous needs of children and families living in poverty, and compared this to his own life. He was moved to tears. He and his family talked, prayed and decided to make this donation.

A World Concern donor in Kenya
World Concern donors help transform the lives of those living in extreme poverty, offering hope for a better future.

Over the past few weeks, we at World Concern have been in an almost constant state of awe at God’s provision for our work through the generosity of others this holiday season. As a humanitarian organization responding to some of the worst disasters in the world, and working in some of the poorest, most difficult to reach places, we have the privilege of seeing the impact your donations are making every day in the lives of suffering people. We never take this for granted.

The gifts that have come in this past year – and particularly this week – have, quite honestly, blown us away. Large or small, they are heart-felt, God-led, powerfully meaningful gifts. Each one has a story behind it. We wanted to share a few of those with you.

After one of her Christmas tour shows, Addison Road lead singer Jenny Simmons had a 13-year-old girl named Kate approach her. She wanted to use her Christmas money to buy a goat in honor of her uncle Clint, a pastor who had been murdered in his own church by robbers. “Taking care of poor people was what he loved to do. I want to do as much as I can to keep his spirit alive. He would have loved buying a goat. This is the perfect present for me,” she said.

At church this past Sunday, a friend handed me a check made out to World Concern for $350 to buy animal gifts for poor children. I looked at her a little confused because the week before she had told me she was sad that she couldn’t buy any gifts from the Global Gift Guide this year. Her husband had been laid off from his job. I hugged her and told her I’d pray for him to find work.

But God touched their hearts that week and they felt led to give, even beyond their current means. “We talked it over, and this is what we want to do,” she said, handing me the check with a smile. More hugs.

It reminded me of the widow’s offering in Luke 21:1-4, where Jesus said, “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

The gift is even greater when it’s given sacrificially.

We received an email from a college student saying he had accidentally donated more than he intended. No problem, we told him, we can refund the difference. But he sent another message saying that after praying about it, he had decided to leave the donation as is. “It’s a leap of faith,” he said, and was excited to see what God would do with it.

Earlier this week, a family of five with two special needs children donated an entire school for a village in Kenya. Because of this gift, children in this village will be blessed for generations.

Just this morning, a donor purchased a year’s education for two children and wrote this: “This is given in honor of my mother who died earlier this year. She was an amazing mother, spouse, teacher, and advocate for women and children. She had such a tremendous spark of life and hilarious view of the world. She gave of her gifts always, whether to family or to her students.”

Wow. To say we are humbled by the outpouring of love in these gifts is an understatement. Because of these gifts and so many others, we are able to freely give to those in need, reaching the farthest corners of the planet. What a blessing to witness love like this in action.

Thank you to everyone who has given a gift this year. Have a merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!