When Karima was just 8 years-old, her father left. And she took it hard.
She had not lived a day without him by her side. This man had protected her, and worked to keep her in school. So when he abandoned her mother and two sisters, Karima’s world came crashing down. Nobody came to console her. Nobody was there to wipe away her tears.
And sadly things would only get worse.
Karima’s village is in Bangladesh, and while she was too young to know it, it’s a country where many young girls are married off as child brides. Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world, where 1 in every 5 girls is married before they turn 15.
Mired in poverty after her husband left, Karima’s mother managed to survive in a small dilapidated shack, no bigger than your average kitchen. She fiercely protected Karima, and fought to keep her in school, knowing that an education was the only thing that would help her escape this life.
So she did what any mother would—she worked to find a way.
But with no money, and never having worked before, it was close to impossible. She finally found a day laboring job but the wage was small, barely enough to pay for food. There were days when the family would go without just so Karima could stay in school. It was an overwhelming sacrifice and money was quickly running out.
In Bangladesh, stories like this are far too common. In this article, a 15-year-old child bride sadly reflects on her situation saying, “We were very poor. Sometimes we would eat every two or three days,” she says. “Even though they [parents] really wanted all three of their daughter to study, it wasn’t possible –so they got me married.” Her older sisters married at 11 and 12.
So for Karima’s mother, it was no surprise when a friend suggested her daughter be married off as a child bride. This is the shocking reality for girls like Karima. They have no say, no choice. Their only hope of avoiding this terrifying prospect is to stay in school.
At World Concern, we consider every child precious. And for that reason we’re focusing our efforts on preventing girls like Karima from becoming child brides, by doing all we can to keep them in school.
We do this by providing scholarships for girls like Karima. The scholarship gives them an education and keeps them from being married off too young.
I recently visited remote villages in South Sudan; a brief visit that has left me journeying through unexplored trails in my own heart.
One experience especially stands out.
It started during a village meeting, in which several ladies in Mayen offered to take me to their homes, to witness the impact of our projects – each terming her household as the “most transformed.” So I settled on visiting just three who stated that their houses were nearby.
Strapped for energy and time, my plan was to make a quick dash and back; but some plans don’t unwind as neatly – at least not in the field.
In an entourage of about 10, composed of residents and World Concern staff, we set off and immediately picked pace.
We walked and walked, trudging through snaky paths set on brownish grass amidst isolated huts and trees as the hot South Sudan sun stared down at us.
After a non-stop 45 minute walk, I let my protests be known. “I will go no further,” I swore. “Let’s turn back now!”
“But we’re just near,” the translator said, a line he repeated whenever I aired my calls of surrender, which was several times more.
It would be an eternity before Angelina Mir’s house came over to meet us. By then I had protested a handful more times hesitatingly agreeing to keep going each time. What’s the use of walking all this way and returning without a story? I kept thinking.
We finally arrived, worn and dusty. My interior was that of an angry man.
Angry at myself for suggesting the trek, angry at myself for forgetting to carry a water bottle, angry at the residents for ‘lying’ about the distance, angry at our vehicle for being unable to snake through the slender paths, and thorny shrubs – places never before driven on. . .
Then it dawned on me.
This heavy trudge for me was a normal walk for residents. My discomfort at having no drinking water for just a few hours, was a way of life for them (we only came across only two shallow wells, whose water we wouldn’t pour on our heads let alone drink). The hunger I felt was a lifestyle for them.
The people we serve live with these inconveniences every day.
Yet under the seemingly hopeless situation, they are determined to make their lives beautiful.
Angelina for instance borrowed a loan of 200 SSP ($36) from a micro-finance group started through World Concern. That loan ended up saving her son’s life. Four-year-old Marco Anae urgently needed surgery. His stomach had swelled and become intolerably painful from an intestinal blockage. He vomited spurts of blood and lost consciousness as it swelled on.
Although the normal reaction for community members is to sell livestock when in need of money, being a member of the Buak kukopadh (Let us go after something good) micro-finance group saved her income, as well as her son’s life. “I didn’t sell a goat. It’s a long process which involves taking the goat to the town center where it may stay for up to two days before anyone purchases it,” she explained.
Within only a day of borrowing, she was on her way to hospital – a journey that entailed a two hour long trek carrying Marco before boarding a vehicle to the next town. The loan helped facilitate expenses to the hospital and Marco’s new nutritional demands as the surgery was offered at no charge.
Her group of 21 women has so far saved 2205 SSP ($400) from which they borrow loans to boost their business and repay with interest. Angelina owns a total of 13 goats, one cow and lots of chickens. Besides boosting individual finances, some of the members have their spiritual lives nourished at nearby Pascal Catholic church. Through afternoon adult literacy classes at the church, Angelina is now able to write all her group members’ names!
Some views along the way:
On our way back, my mind was heavy in thought contemplating how impatient I have been whenever residents show up an hour or two later than scheduled. I realized it takes them just as long to walk to our meeting areas – even longer when rain falls; and mostly they come with parched mouths, empty stomachs, having already handled hundreds of roles, that especially make a woman who she is in the areas we work.
Yet they smile.
They have a strong will to keep going no matter how rough the trudge is.
This experience has brought me face to face with myself. Until now I thought I was patient, determined and perseverant among other countless virtues, but the people I met in South Sudan beat me at it. They roundly beat me at it.
Through One Village Transformed, World Concern and several partner churches are supporting Mayen village through protection of clean water, food production, livelihoods and robust microfinance. The project is a journey we’re taking alongside the community. You can be part of it. Here’s how.
Dust flies as the boys’ feet shuffle across the dirt, their laughter piercing through the quiet late afternoon. The lush green bushes sway with the slight breeze, the sun beating down on their backs as they pass a worn soccer ball to each other. There’s nothing unusual about this playful pick up game – soccer has been played all over the world for centuries. But there’s one small detail that makes this scene extraordinary. The boys are from the Dinka and Nuer tribes – two tribes that have been at conflict with each other for generations.
In South Sudan, the main tribal groups include the Dinka and the Nuer. These nomadic tribes highly value strong warrior ethics. In fact, young men primarily achieve social status by raiding each other’s cattle herds. Young men in these communities, raised to make up a bulk of South Sudan’s guerrilla armies, grew up in a generation of brutal war and tribal tension. This tension is especially prevalent between young people that were educated in the North and those that grew up in the rural villages of the South. Many young people in the South resent those that had the opportunity to attend school in the North, away from the harsh realities of the war.
But among the thorns there are always wildflowers of hope peeking through. In Kuajok, South Sudan, one young man’s passion for loving others – and soccer – is sparking incredible ethnic reconciliation.
After receiving an education in the North, Akol Akol returned to his home village of Kuajok to work as a World Concern staff member. Rather than becoming discouraged by the fighting and disunity he saw in his community, Akol saw an opportunity to use his experiences to pour into the lives of others – and decided to take action.
Inspired by his passion for soccer, Akol organized two neighborhood soccer teams and began meeting with the community’s youth every afternoon for practice, as well as organize tournaments on the weekends. The tension between the Dinka and Nuer youth eased as relationships were built, and soon the constant fighting greatly declined.
The older kids, inspired by Akol’s gentle spirit, began to recognize their responsibility to look after the younger children. The cycle of hate and prejudice began to break down, being replaced with one of acceptance and teamwork.
“He felt that soccer could be a form of reconciliation because they don’t need to be able to talk a lot, they just need to be able to understand the rules of the game and play together as a team,” explains Jane Gunningham, a World Concern staff member that worked closely with Akol. “He just had a heart for peace. He saw something specific he could do, something he knew how to do, and he just did it.”
Changing the world isn’t as hard as you may think. It doesn’t require daunting, expensive, over-the-top plans. It only requires a willingness to practice sincere kindness and invest in others at an individual level.
But sometimes, in a world with so much suffering and brokenness, it can be hard to know which action to take. That’s where World Concern comes in. Through World Concern’s numerous programs, hope isn’t just a distant idea; it’s a tangible reality. Through campaigns such as One Village Transformed, World Concern is committed to pursuing reconciliation and empowering the poor, so that they may in turn share with others.
One of my favorite quotes is by a 20th century cultural anthropologist named Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” How true and encouraging that is.
Just like the way a single skipped stone creates dozens of ripples, it only takes a one act of kindness to set off a tidal wave of reconciliation throughout a hurting world. Whatever cause it may be that tugs at your heartstrings, I encourage you to consider taking a step of faith and seeing where your passions take you – it’ll be worth the risk, I promise.
It’s not a particularly artistic or perfectly composed photo. It’s even a little hard to tell what’s happening in this photo, which is probably why I paused for a moment while browsing through photos of Bangladesh’s slums.
It was my first week at World Concern, four years ago, and I had looked at thousands of photos of the places World Concern works as part of my orientation. There were many stunning photos of beautiful people, faces, families, and extreme poverty. But this is the one I’ll never forget, because it’s the one I was looking at when it “clicked” for me.
I stared at the image of a little boy, not more than 8 or 9 years old, wearing pants that are cinched at the waist so they won’t fall down, standing in the midst of a sea of garbage. He is smelling what appears to be a piece of rotten fruit. He was doing this, I’m sure, to try to determine if it was edible.
My stomach turned.
Several thoughts slammed into my mind as I stared at the boy in the slum:
He is a real person.
He is hungry enough to consider eating from that pile of garbage.
I must do something.
When I came to work at World Concern, I considered myself a compassionate, caring Christian. I gave regularly to my church, donated to our food bank, and supported a few charities, including humanitarian organizations.
But at that moment, my heart broke for the hungry, the poor, the forgotten ones in the world. I felt compelled to help. I believe God used that photo to break my heart for what breaks His.
I wiped my tears away, glancing around my new office to see if anyone was looking. Then I whispered a prayer: “Lord, help this little boy. Please reach down into that horrible slum and rescue him.”
I felt like God responded, “I will. And you will.”
I knew that didn’t mean I would hop on a plane to Bangladesh and find that one little boy out of the 162 million people in Bangladesh. It meant I would pour myself wholeheartedly into the mission and work of World Concern so that the experts in ending extreme poverty and rescuing children like this boy from its clutches can do their jobs.
Our 234 Bangladeshi staff members, along with our Kenyan staff, our Haitian staff, and all the others in the poorest countries in the world are pouring themselves wholeheartedly into this work. With our support, they provide real, tangible, lasting ways out of poverty. And my job is to spread the word about this cause, this mission, so people like you and I can do something too.
Sarah Kaczka is a social media intern at World Concern and will be posting on the blog this summer. As a sophomore at Wheaton College, she is interested in journalism and humanitarian aid, and hopes to use her love for storytelling to spread Christ’s love and encourage others.
As an avid reader and aspiring writer, I am fascinated with the art of storytelling. There’s something about a good story that pulls directly at my heart strings, and they often stick around in my mind for days after I hear them. Besides a riveting plot, intriguing setting, and a memorable cast of characters, a good story ultimately requires purpose and development, challenging the reader to consider a new idea or way of thinking. I especially love ones that have a redemptive ending.
Kahinur’s journey is definitely one of those stories.
As a mother living in a crowded urban slum in Bangladesh, Kahinur feels helpless to care for her infant son who has been sick for months. Her little boy likely has intestinal worms caused by the filthy environment and lack of sanitation in the slum where they live. These parasites suck the nutrients from her baby’s food and keep him awake all night, crying in pain.
This sweet little guy rests his head on Kahinur’s shoulder as she talks. His eyes are half closed, and his thin body is limp in her arms.
“I took him to several places for treatment, but nothing is working,” she pleads. Beads of perspiration cover her worried brow. The stifling afternoon heat causes a nauseating stench to rise from the garbage piles in the slum.
“I don’t know what will happen next with my son, and I am scared,” cries Kahinur. “If I fail to provide, then I fear my son could die.”
Parasites, like the ones attacking her baby’s body, can lead to malnourishment, diarrhea, and even blindness. And they stunt the development of a young child, causing permanent deficiencies if left untreated.
I can’t even imagine the fear Kahinur must have been facing in that moment, or her desperate frustration at not being able to provide relief for her son. Here in my suburban home, I am blessed to have doctors and hospitals nearby, never once having to worry about not having access to medicine.
Thankfully, Kahinur’s story continues. After receiving the 44-Cent Cure (deworming medicine), Kahinur’s son was fully restored back to health. Now Kahinur’s overwhelming worry is replaced by joy, and her tears are replaced by peace of mind and gratitude.
As much as I wish the story could end here, the truth is that there are thousands of families still suffering from parasite infections in Bangladesh. And their cries for help are not fictional – they are heartbreakingly real.
But the good news is, it isn’t hard to help. For a small handful of pocket change, we can provide medicine that changes lives. Isn’t that exciting? When I first heard about the 44-Cent Cure, I couldn’t believe that providing immediate relief for sick children could be that simple – but it is. Learn how to get involved and partner with World Concern today.
In Christ, our stories are beautiful ones of redemption and hope. Our stories are important – they shape our identities and are the means by which we connect with one other. It’s so exciting to think that through organizations like World Concern, the story of an American college student, like me, can intertwine with that of a woman in Bangladesh like Kahinur.
How does your story empower you to take action and make a difference in the lives of others?
On March 22, 30 seconds altered the lives of residents of Oso forever. That night, I received an urgent email from the American Red Cross chapter of Snohomish County. They needed volunteers to staff the evacuation shelter which they were providing for families affected by the slide. While I couldn’t help during the day, I was able to volunteer for the night shift, providing support in the shelter from 8 pm to 8 am.
Driving up to Arlington, passing very familiar landmarks, it was a bit discomforting to see the elementary school with Red Cross signs posted on it, and to see people who last week may have stood behind me in the grocery store checkout were now sleeping on a cot with only the clothes on their back, waiting anxiously to hear word of their missing loved ones. It’s a very different thing to respond so close to home, but wearing a Red Cross vest, I was instantly recognized as someone trustworthy, and there to help. During a time when many families were beset by national and international media, they were very grateful for the safe place we offered, the hot food, showers and listening ear.
I’ve been a volunteer for a year and am now a certified Red Cross disaster instructor. In some ways it’s a natural fit, since my role at World Concern means I respond to disasters like the Haiti earthquake, and am familiar with these kinds of crises. I do this work because I have a heart for those whose lives have been devastated by disaster. Now, as a registered Disaster Team Specialist, as well as a member of my Community Emergency Response Team, I know that I will be able to fulfill my calling at home, and not just overseas.
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.
Christmas is that busy time of year with parties, shopping, and time with family and friends. It holds so many memories for me personally. As a child, my brothers, sisters and I stayed awake half the night in anticipation. We were up before dawn rushing to find presents under the tree.
Now, so many years later, the wonder of the season hasn’t left me. I anticipate the joy of spending time with our newest grandchild, just one month old.
As we celebrate this special time of year, it is a wonderful time to remember that God himself came to earth. What is so extraordinary is that He chose to identify with the poor and marginalized. He gave up all of His splendor, was born in a stable, and laid in a manager. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 we read, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor.”
The heart of God is close to those who are poor, forgotten, and alone. Of all the classes and peoples on earth, He chose to identify with them. He lived and walked among them. He knew their pain and struggles. He opened His arms to bless and heal them.
As the president of World Concern I am keenly aware that God continues to walk with the poor. He does that through you and me. I see it every day.
This Christmas, amidst all the joy we will experience, let us pause and remember. Join me in prayer for the poor and marginalized—those close to God’s heart.
We asked Fiona to share her heart for helping nonprofits raise awareness and fund through her beautiful jewelry designs. Here’s what she had to say:
At Carpia we believe that you can incorporate “doing good” into everyday life.
Spending most of our time at work, what better way to do good than making products that give back? Originally a jewelry design company, we decided to design gifts that support charities worldwide.
Knowing our every decision is one step closer to supporting a good cause, we design better, work harder and create faster. Every stone, every charm and every detail of packaging are geared towards attracting supporters for the world’s greatest causes.
We chose World Concern’s One Village Transformed project because the project focuses on long-term solutions such as clean water, fighting hunger, providing job skill training, and micro-financing to enable village members to break out of the poverty cycle and be self-sustainable.
The project is the epitome of the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Now that’s a project worth supporting!
We designed the World Concern bracelets with agate beads embellished with a caterpillar and the butterfly charm to reflect this transformation.
When you wear or gift your One Village Transformed bracelet, you help fund and raise awareness for the villagers of Lietmhom, South Sudan.
Bracelets are available at www.carpia.org. *Free shipping during the month of October!
From the moment I woke up on October 1—my first official day as President of World Concern—I was struck by God’s presence and the clarity of walking in His will.
My journey to this role has been a lifetime in the making. Today I can look back over my shoulder and say, “of course.” Of course, that situation or that trial prepared me for this. And, of course, God had a plan.
I didn’t always see the way as clearly as I do today. But that’s the faith journey. We don’t always see; we don’t always understand, but we walk in faith.
I’m excited as I look at World Concern’s incredible life-transforming work, which I get to be a part of. I find meaning as I labor alongside men and women, who are called to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of the poor and marginalized. And, when I look around at the support of so many donors, so many praying friends, so many concerned churches and individuals, I feel immense hope. Yes, the task is great, but there are many who are called to this work along with me.
I am also incredibly humbled by the opportunity to raise my voice for those who are overlooked, exploited, or in desperate need around the world. I am motivated to use my voice to remind myself and others that today there are little babies without adequate nutrition, families without clean water, and young women vulnerable to the evils of human trafficking.
At the same time, I am excited to share the ways God is using each of us to bring hope into their lives in big and small ways. And, I am committed to remember that God always uses regular people, like you and me, to accomplish His plan.
World Concern has fabulous programs, sound relief and development strategies, and years of experience working in some of the most difficult places on the planet. Today, I am grateful for the wonderful legacy that I join. But more than all of this, today I am reminded of the blessing it is to express the loving heart of God to hundreds of thousands of people around the world. May I do so faithfully, as I assume the position as President of World Concern.