What You Need to Know About the Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Noor, a young mom, gave birth on the run. A month later, her malnourished body cannot produce milk to feed her baby. Every day Abu, her baby, grows weaker. She tries to crush rice and mix it with water, but it’s not enough. Her other five children run around and drink from contaminated ponds. If Noor isn’t eating, her children aren’t either. 

Banu and her two children sleep in the town’s chicken coop, cramped between 30 other refugees. With no money to buy shelter materials, they have no other option. Banu’s one year-old is sick, but she cannot buy the medicine he needs.

rohingya refugee crisis camp
A refugee camp with makeshift shelters for families                                                          Photo courtesy of Medair

Conditions in the Rohingya refugee camps are dismal, with hundreds of thousands in need of help.  Families are without the necessities to live, with thousands more flooding in each day.

We are doing what we can for the Rohingya, but without increasing help from the international community, this is now the largest refugee crisis in the world.

World Concern is responding, but needs support in order to reach the Rohingya refugees in greatest need.

What is the Rohingya Refugee Crisis?

An ethnic group of about 1 million, the Rohingya people have lived in the Rakhine state of Myanmar for centuries.

Over the past few decades, the Rohingya began to suffer increasing persecution and violence. Without the ability to own land and seen as “illegal,” the Rohingya have little to no rights in Myanmar. At the end of August the violence escalated after a police and army base were attacked. Violence ensued, and families fled their homes in search of safety.

This mass exodus creates an enormous problem, as Bangladesh does not have enough support or resources to help this many people.

What’s Happening in the Rohingya Refugee Camps?

Lala is very thin, and very pregnant. Standing under three sticks of bamboo held together with twine, a team member asked, “When was the last time you had something to eat?” She responded, “Someone gave me a biscuit 24 hours ago.”

rohingya refugee mother in a camp
A Rohingya refugee mother with her starving baby                       Photo courtesy of Medair

Forced to flee with barely their lives, families have nothing. No food, clothes, shelter, or the ability to take care of themselves.

Temporary hospitals overflow with refugees suffering diarrhea, skin diseases, and gruesome wounds suffered during their escape.  Latrines are rare, adding to the already high risk of spreading deadly diseases. Families drink, wash, and bathe in ravines flowing with polluted water. Reports of trauma and shock are common, most all refugees having lost a family member or friend to violence.

“Three weeks ago, I had a husband and four children. Today, I have two children . . . my husband was decapitated. My house was burnt to the ground. While fleeing, I lost two of my children. I say I lost them because suddenly they were nowhere to be seen. I do not know if they are dead or alive.” – Selima, age 27.

rohingya refugee family
Selima and one of her surviving children                                     Photo courtesy of Medair

It’s difficult to reach families that live deep within the camps to provide emergency services and healthcare. With the sudden rush of refugees, official camps were not enough to house everyone, so makeshift camps sprung up along the border. The lack of planning, overcrowding, and poor hygiene make for a despairing situation for families in the camps.

Currently, the greatest needs in the camps on the Bangladesh – Myanmar border are:

  • Clean water and food
  • Sanitation
  • Permanent shelters
  • Safety for women

What is World Concern Doing in Bangladesh?

The World Concern team and our partners are providing hygiene kits and shelter materials to newly displaced families. As we’re able, we’ll reach more families and meet additional critical needs.

It is our mission to go to the hardest places, to serve the most marginalized populations, and to reach those who have yet to be reached. Rohingya refugee mothers and children are waiting, their hope and strength fading, for someone to come to their rescue.

If you would like to be part of the solution for Rohingya families, visit the World Concern website to learn more and give to the Rohingya refugee crisis.

4 Ways You Can Stop Malaria

For the past few months, heavy monsoonal rains have caused flash flooding and landslides across Myanmar. Huge swathes of the country have been affected, with homes, crops and lives all being lost. Thousands of people are still displaced.

But the flooding has also brought another, longer lasting, and more sinister threat to survivors: malaria. Right now, pools of warm, stagnant water lay on the ground and mosquito breeding will skyrocket. Malaria deaths will almost certainly rise.

In one of the many villages affected by the flooding sleeps 2-year-old Ahdee. It’s humid, and so Ahdee’s mother has put him in the open air, hoping that the slight breeze will help her son sleep.

Malaria kills over 1 million people each year, most are children like Ahdee.
Malaria kills over 1 million people each year, most are children like Ahdee.

What she doesn’t know is that just one bite from the thousands of mosquitoes that are buzzing around her home has the potential to kill Ahdee.

This threatening picture is the same in villages right across Myanmar; parents just don’t know the risks. And so the need to protect children like Ahdee is urgent.

World Concern is on the ground in Myanmar, working with these isolated rural communities to fight malaria and keep children like Ahdee safe. With your help, we can continue to attack malaria from four very important angles:

Immediate blood testing is made available to even the poorest families so that if a child becomes sick (high fever, and seizures), a blood test can be taken for health-workers to make an accurate diagnosis. This is the crucial first stage.

A rapid blood test can quickly diagnose malaria.
A rapid blood test can quickly diagnose malaria.

If the mosquitoes poison is in the child’s bloodstream, malaria can kill in a matter of hours, so medicine is quickly needed. Life-saving medicine is given to the child and works by battling malaria head on, and keeping the dangerous fevers away. But most importantly, the medicine keeps a child like Ahdee alive.

But there’s still work to be done to protect children at risk. Families are given insecticide treated bed nets to hang over sleeping little ones. These nets are large, specially coated in mosquito repellent and can often cover a number of children. But they’re also portable, meaning that family members can take them out of the home if they are outside at night. The thin blue netting keeps the mosquitoes away and puts a hedge of protection around those under it.

A bed net will help keep the mosquitoes away from sleeping children.
A bed net will help keep the mosquitoes away from sleeping children.

Last year, parent’s in Ahdee’s village sadly buried many young boys and girls, all killed by malaria. “We didn’t know why all the children kept dying.” said Ahdee’s mother.

So World Concern goes one step further and provides training for parents to be made aware of malaria’s deadly warning signs and what to do if their children get sick.

Children like Ahdee are sleeping unprotected and with all the extra water from the floods, the need is urgent. A gift of just $59 will cure and protect children like Ahdee before it’s too late. You will be giving them access to rapid blood tests, life-saving medicine and bed nets, and also be training parents on how to keep their kids safe.

And with the malaria threat so high in Myanmar, your gift today will be tripled! You can cure and protect 3x as many children as Ahdee, thanks to a special matching grant.

Preventing Opium Use among Myanmar’s Youth

It’s a rainy Friday afternoon in Myanmar’s Shan State and some 50 concerned villagers, who represent six different villages in the region, have come together to help further devise a plan to put an end to drug use in their communities. One woman, a 45-year-old mother of three named Nadhaw, is more than eager to share her thoughts about the increasingly destructive problem that has plagued so many lives and families in her village, including her own.

Nadhaw is committed to preventing at-risk youth in her village from becoming drug users.
Nadhaw is committed to preventing at-risk youth in her village from becoming drug users.

“There are many drug-users in my village,” Nadhaw shares, “and now many people are migrating to China.”

The number of drug users in and around Shan State in northern Myanmar—part of the infamous Golden Triangle—has steadily increased over the past few years. According to the United Nations, poppy cultivation—the key ingredient to heroin—has tripled since 2006. And China reports that 90 percent of heroin seized in 2014 was produced in the Golden Triangle.

It’s not surprising that men—who have better access to the poppy fields that are nearby the rice and corn farms they work in everyday—are more likely to use drugs than women. Such men admit to using drugs because of peer pressure, its easy accessibility, and because they believe it will help them work longer so they can earn more money. In actuality, drug users become less productive, not surprisingly, and end up dragging their families deeper into emotional and financial stress. The result is women being left to fend for themselves after their husbands are no longer able to work or support their families. Desperately seeking a better life for themselves and their children, women and children often migrate across the border into China where they end up being trafficked into the sex or child labor trade.

This reality impacts many women like Nadhaw, whose husband—the village leader—is also a drug user.

Volunteers from several villages in Myanmar's Shan State share tips on how they are working to prevent drug use in their villages.
Volunteers from several villages in Myanmar’s Shan State share tips on how they are working to prevent drug use in their villages.

During the past year, World Concern has partnered with proactive community members like Nadhaw to create sustainable drug prevention programs in these villages. The main goal has been to prevent first-time drug use, especially among at-risk youth, as well as to raise awareness of the negative effects and long-term damage that drug use causes.

With a background in health, Nadhaw is one of the few people in her village who already had some knowledge about the harmful effects drugs like opium can cause to one’s health and mental state. But for many who are learning these things for the first time, this information is shocking.

As a mother of three adolescent children with a husband who is a drug user, as well as being a trained midwife and health volunteer, it is no wonder that Nadhaw is so concerned about putting an end to this issue.

Nadhaw talks with other moms who are working to curb drug use among youth in their villages.
Nadhaw talks with other moms who are working to curb drug use among youth in their villages.

“I want to stop drug use in my village immediately,” she said. Her concern for her own family as well as others and her background in health has enabled Nadhaw to facilitate health awareness trainings each week for at-risk youth in her village.

“More than 10 youths who have never used drugs come to the meetings every Sunday,” Nadhaw proudly shares. She teaches them about why using drugs is dangerous, how easily they can become addicted, and about the long-term effects of using drugs. “Since we have been giving trainings to the youth in our village, most people see that [the trainings are] a good thing,” she said.

Nadhaw’s 16-year-old son, who has already started drinking alcohol, has undoubtedly been exposed to the drug-use that is prevalent within his community.

“I worry a lot about my oldest son,” Nadhaw says, “I try to tell him why doing drugs is bad and hope he doesn’t ever use them.”

Last year, Nadhaw recalls there were 17 tuberculosis cases in her village. “I think there are probably many more hidden TB cases in our village that we don’t know about,” she said. Among the many health problems related to drug use, TB is spreading rapidly through these villages. Drug users, with their weakened immune systems, are more likely to contract the disease that is already common in rural, villages like these.

Despite the damaging effects of drug use on her community and so many others, Nadhaw’s inspiring commitment to raise awareness and put an end to this devastating problem is the first step in tackling such an overwhelming issue.

The Joy of Clean Water, In Their Own Words

IMG_1052Updated December 12, 2017

In most of the impoverished places where World Concern works, meeting needs starts with water. Why? Because when a mom is trying to keep her child alive, nothing else matters.

Through your gifts to provide clean water, you are the hands and feet of Jesus to these moms, meeting this critical need and opening the way for lasting transformation to take place. As you read the stories below, I hope you know how much your gift matters!

One Mom’s Story of Survival

War War knows her children are alive today because of the water you provided. For the first few years of her babies’ lives, War War did what all the moms in her village did – she retrieved water by the bucketful from the mucky, still water that sat in the pond in their village.

3 - Dirty Ponds, Hunger - Yaw Won Lay, Chaung Tar Yar (306 of 391) - low resThe water made them sick. At the same time her younger son became ill with severe diarrhea, War War herself got sick. With the help of friends and family, they eventually made the four-hour boat ride to the nearest hospital where they were treated for water-borne diseases.

In and out of consciousness, alone and fearful for her son’s life, War War learned it was the dirty water she had been giving her son that caused his sickness. She was devastated.
Thankfully, both survived. Because of you, the village now has clean water, and families like War War’s have learned the importance of good hygiene and sanitation to stay healthy.

War War’s son is now happy and healthy!

Clean Water Changed Mohamad’s Life and Future

Clean water is changing the lives of students like 14-year-old Mohamad – helping him stay healthy and focused in school. Mohamad’s school in Somaliland (Northern Somalia) now has a tank that captures rainwater, providing plenty of fresh, clean drinking water for the students.

“Before, we didn’t have any water to drink while we were at school. We would feel thirsty, but we could not get anything to drink until we went home,” explained Mohamad.

clean water arrives in Somalia

The school now has a 6,600-gallon tank that captures rainwater through a gutter system on the roof, providing abundant clean water for students to drink and wash their hands with at school.
“Now it’s easier to learn because we have water,” said the grateful teen. “Now we are healthy.”

The Life-Changing Impact of Berkads

Many families in Somaliland now have clean water from berkads. Berkads are large concrete tanks that channel and store rainwater. With a berkad, one day of heavy rain can provide enough clean, fresh drinking water for an entire community for months. Here’s what a few people have to say about the impact of these berkads:

Asha receives clean water in her Somali village


“Before the berkad was built, there was not enough water. We were going so far to gather water. Now that World Concern rehabilitated this berkad, it is good. When it rains, the berkad fills up and we save it for use when our water supply is low.”
– Asha, 48, mom of three


“In school we learned about hygiene—to wash our hands before we eat and to wear shoes when going to the toilets. It is good to do these things because if you don’t wash your hands and then you eat something, you will probably get a disease.” - Sahra, 12, student in grade 2


“In school we learned about hygiene—to wash our hands before we eat and to wear shoes when going to the toilets. It is good to do these things because if you don’t wash your hands and then you eat something, you will probably get a disease.”
– Sahra, 12, student in grade 2


Sahra's family now has clean water to drink “Before these berkads, we did not have enough water in our village. When the water ran out, we would have to travel three hours by foot to the mountains in order to gather water. These berkads provide us enough water. They also benefit us as we earn income to help build them. We very much appreciate the berkads because we now have enough water to cover our needs.”
– Sahra, 30, mom of three

The stories above show just how much your gifts matter. Clean water not only saves and transforms lives, but also brings immeasurable joy to families in need.


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

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.

A New Leader for Myanmar Humanitarian Aid

New Myanmar Country Director Rebecca Htin will be leading World Concern's Humanitarian Aid. She's a medical doctor and grew up in the country.
New Myanmar Country Director Rebecca Htin will be leading World Concern's Humanitarian Aid. She's a medical doctor and grew up in the country.

I met an amazingly qualified new co-worker of mine yesterday, a medical doctor who once worked in a leprosy mission and has a masters degree in public administration from the Kennedy School in Boston.

Naw Rebecca Htin is a world-class humanitarian. She begins this month as the new World Concern country director for Myanmar (Burma). She’s a mother of three and her husband is a neurosurgeon. And she also grew up in Burma, which was the name of her native country until 1989, when the current military government decided to reinforce the country’s separation from British colonial rule.

Naw is “Ms.” in her language. We call her Rebecca, and she’s also an answer to prayer. Our Humanitarian Aid programs in Myanmar make up World Concern’s largest operation in any country where we work. And yet for several months, we have been searching for a leader who qualified and able to take on the challeneges in this country filled with obstacles.

Rebecca told me, “Not many people in the country has the opportunity like I’ve had to study, to have this exposure. I think I need to give something back.”

What she says is very true. I just returned from SE Asia and visited some of World Concern’s Humanitarian Aid projects in the delta region, where 140,000 people died in a cyclone last year. What we need is a leader who understands the multifaceted need in a region that seems to be getting back on its feet, but still in a bit of a collective shock.

Rebecca told me,”Psychologically, economically, emotionally, there are many things yet to do to continue life again.”

Often people know book knowledge, but don’t know how to put it in to practice. Rebecca used to work as a leader in World Vision Myanmar, and more recently has experience in the hard-hit delta region. She has been serving in a Christian mobile mission in Bogelay, a fishing village where tens of thousands died in the storm.

Before the cyclone and to this day, World Concern has also worked with ethnic minorities in Myanmar, people who have generally not had the same opportunities for education and jobs. Also in this regard, Rebecca brings personal knowledge, as she grew up in the Karen state and understands the challenges.

Rebecca will be off to Myanmar today, a long couple of flights back home. Like many called into the field of humanitarian aid, she says she’s been preparing for an opportunity like this, to show the compassion of Christ through action, not expecting anything in return.

World Concern's humanitarian aid in Myanmar includes supplying fishermen with boats. They repay a small portion of the cost of the boat, and are able to regain their livelihoods after the 2008 cyclone Nargis.
World Concern's humanitarian aid in Myanmar includes supplying fishermen with boats. They repay a small portion of the cost of the boat, and are able to regain their livelihoods after the 2008 cyclone Nargis.
Humanitarian Naw Rebecca Htin received her orientation at World Concern's Seattle headquarters in July.
Humanitarian Naw Rebecca Htin received her orientation at World Concern's Seattle headquarters in July.

Cyclone Nargis Inflicts Pain One Year Later

A Nu Mya looks out from her front door, reflecting on life one year after Cyclone Nargis killed her husband.
A Nu Mya looks out from her front door, reflecting on life one year after Cyclone Nargis killed her husband.

Every home along the main street of Myanmar‘s Aima fishing village has something in common.

It goes beyond the woven bamboo walls, metal roofs and identical 270 square foot floor plans.

You might see it in the eyes of a Burmese boy who is barely tall enough to peer out of his front window.

Or maybe you can sense it from the young mother crouched in her doorframe, hands on chin, looking out.

One year ago, 119 of the 940 people who lived in Aima lost their lives in Cyclone Nargis, often the husbands and fathers who were out for the day catching crabs or fishing.

The deaths here are a small part of the 140,000+ killed when Nargis ripped across the Ayeyarwady delta on May 2, 2008, an unforgiving wall of wind and water that leveled every structure that wasn’t steel reinforced concrete.

Among those who lost loved ones is A Nu Mya, a 30-year-old woman with four children.

Her husband was out catching crabs to sell in the marketplace when the storm hit.

He never came home.

A Nu Mya has known her husband since she was 15 years old.

The soft-spoken woman has a strong faith, though, and believes that it was simply an act of nature.

A Nu Mya told me, “God will help me rebuild my life.”

When World Concern began its humanitarian recovery work in Ai-ma and in other villages across the low, muddy plains of the delta, our work included distributing emergency supplies of food and water – as well as the formidable and grim task of finding and burying victims.

So many died, though, it’s still not unusual to discover human bones on the shoreline.

Many thousands of people will never be found.

Now in the next phase of humanitarian disaster response, World Concern has done amazing work, from building homes, water and sanitation systems, to distributing kitchen and bedding supplies.

World Concern is working with Habitat for Humanity to build the innovative homes, which use coconut wood frames and woven bamboo floors.

We’ve even replaced fishing boats and worked on schools.

Our aid has reached far into the community.

Much of it is to promote sustainable livelihoods, so that people there will be able to support themselves once we leave.

In many villages we’ve even worked with locals to built tall mounds of raised Earth, a place to go to escape rising flood waters of the next cyclone.

Walking the streets of the village, pain remains fresh.

I spoke with two fishermen and a woman. Interviewed separately, all told me that it seems like the storm just happened. It is often the first thought they have every morning.

I am proud of the way World Concern has helped thousands of people here rebuild their lives.

We’ve listened to their stories and are helping them create better lives.

But the hearts of these villagers remain fragile.

Say a prayer for the delta. It’s been a year, and people are still reeling.

Give to Cyclone Nargis disaster response.

Cyclone Nargis killed one out of 10 people in Aima village in Myanmar. World Concern humanitarians and Habitat for Humanity rebuilt 110 homes.

A Nu Mya holds her youngest son, age 2, inside their Myanmar home.
A Nu Mya holds her youngest son, age 2, inside their Myanmar home.

Humanitarian Aid in Myanmar

Destruction after Cyclone Nagris, Myanmar. A blur has been added to this photo.
Destruction after Cyclone Nagris, Myanmar. A blur has been added to this photo.

Just imagine what’s left over from a major storm along the coast. Debris clogging a bay under a blue sky, floating and rolling with the waves and the tide. Branches, tarps, trash. Then imagine taking a closer look – and realizing that among the debris are bodies, bobbing and haphazardly mixed up in the mess. Bloated. Filthy. Sons, daughters, friends and wives. Dozens of humans, maybe even a hundred.

I saw a photo today the scene I just described. I may never forget it.

One of World Concern’s humanitarian relief workers in Southeast Asia took the photo several months ago. The location: Myanmar. You may remember a cyclone hit there a few months ago. It’s always difficult to grasp large numbers, but 138,000 people died in the storm, according to official figures. That’s the population of Syracuse, New York.

World Concern was working in Myanmar when the storm hit. We were helping people build simple livelihoods in the incredibly poor country. We were showing people techniques to run fish farms and helping them secure clean water supplies and education for their children. These kinds of projects bring people just off of the brink – and hopefully lay the groundwork for healthier, sustainable lives.

When the storm hit, that all changed.

World Concern Myanmar quickly switched from development mode into full-time humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Because we were one of a select few relief agencies permitted to be in the country, working there since 1995, we were in an excellent position to help. Nearly all of the 200 staff members at World Concern Myanmar are from the country. Undoubtedly, they all suffered personal loss because of Cyclone Nargris. Still, they continued to help with the relief efforts.

One of the most significant ways World Concern helped in Myanmar was to retrieve bodies. A tough responsibility. Not only did we want to respect the dead, it truly became a health hazard. I cannot imagine how emotionally traumatizing this work must have been for our staff.

Since the cyclone, people in Myanmar are rebuilding their lives, as best they can. We are helping them in a variety of ways, including the renewal of clean water supplies, reconstruction of homes and by offering them resources to get back to work.

I cannot forget the photo of the debris-clogged bay. I am just stunned by the amount of destruction and human loss people there have faced. All of this reminds me that even with economic turmoil here in America, we cannot possibly look away from disasters like this in good conscience.