Cathy Herholdt is World Concern's Senior Communications Director. With a background in journalism, Cathy honed her writing skills as a newspaper editor and now enjoys sharing the inspiring stories of those World Concern serves. She has served with World Concern since 2010.
We’re more than half way through the Global Hunger Challenge and are gaining some powerful insights about how we approach and think about food. First on our minds: snacking. We’re not doing any. And we miss it. There just wasn’t room in the budget to factor in snacks beyond the three meals a day we planned in our $34 budget for the week. It’s amazing how much food is offered by others in our culture too. At least five times this week I was offered a treat or something to drink by generous friends, which made it very hard to refuse.
Over the weekend I made soup in my crock pot, not thinking about how hard it would be to smell it cooking all day and having to wait until dinner time when it was done. The aroma definitely intensified the snack cravings. It made me think about those who live in some of the places where World Concern serves, and how much of their day is consumed with gathering, planning and preparing food. I’ve also never been so thankful for food when meal time does arrive after an hour or so of my stomach grumbling.
In parts of Africa where we work, three meals a day is not the norm. The two “meals” (which are not even close in quantity to our meals) take most of the day to prepare. Pounding whole grain, such as maize, millet or sorghum, with a mortar and pedestal expends an incredible amount of time and energy. Someone gathers sticks for a fire from a few distant trees. The grain is then cooked in water and possibly fried if there is oil available. Aside from seasoning it with some onions or garlic, or being blessed with a seasonal green as a side dish, most families eat the same food every day. A piece of fruit is considered a rich dessert on a special occasion.
Imagine the patience involved in plowing hard, dry soil, planting seeds, hand-carrying water from a stream or well miles away to irrigate your meager crops, then waiting for signs of growth. Just when sprouts of green begin to push through the cracked soil, all your hard work is washed away by a flash flood. It’s hard to fathom the disappointment parents feel, knowing their children will have to wait even longer for food now.
It’s exhausting to think about, isn’t it? This week’s Hunger Challenge has given us a tiny glimpse into what millions of people experience every day of their lives. Hunger. And waiting.
Today was shopping day for some of our staff participating in the Hunger Challenge. The task: to figure out what to buy in order to eat on just $34.33 for the next week. The amount is equivalent to the $1.25 a day that many people in Haiti live on. Our adjusted amount will be $4.90 a day, which doesn’t sound too difficult, but our first eye opener was how much planning, calculating and creativity went into making $34 stretch for a week.
Mark and his wife Erin had a lot of fun planning their menu together for the week, then figuring out which things—like a hunk of cheese or a loaf of bread—could be used in more than one meal. They decided to spend only half of their combined $68 on groceries and save the rest for a few splurges, like Erin’s daily Dr. Pepper from the gas station soda fountain. They’re also planning dinner out on Friday night while shopping at Ikea. The store has a hot dog, chips and a drink for $1.99, which fits in their budget. Monday is their anniversary, so they’ll order pizza from Little Caesar’s for $5.
Other meals include taco soup, minus the meat (for three nights), grilled cheese sandwiches, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and of course, some Top Ramen for snacks.
The hardest things to give up? “Soft drinks,” said Mark, who usually drinks soda with lunch and dinner, but will be drinking only water this week.
“We really realized that if you’re careful, you can save a whole bunch,” he said. “We were surprised at how much food we could get.” It may be a little monotonous, he admits, but they’ve got a bag of chocolate chip cookies dipped in milk to look forward to at the end of the day.
But the Hunger Challenge is not all about budgeting and careful shopping. It’s about experiencing—just an inkling—of what other people live with every day of their lives.
Think about the fact that we’re spending our entire $34 on food. What about all the other things families need to be healthy like soap and toothpaste? Here are just a few things I would normally include in my grocery budget, but won’t be buying this week or I’d starve:
Toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, cleaning products, cat food, cat litter, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, over-the-counter medicines, staples (flour, sugar, spices, shortening, oil, etc.), condiments (salad dressing, mayo, ketchup, teriyaki sauce, etc.), soft drinks, juice, other beverages, light bulbs … I could go on and on.
The point is, when you’re faced with a small amount of money needing to stretch for a week, food alone becomes the priority.
Planning for this week might feel “fun” to those of us who don’t live this way every day, but I find it hard to imagine those living in constant poverty would even have the energy to plan a week’s worth of meals. For us, this is a week-long experiment. For millions of people, it’s a way of life.
Follow our team’s Hunger Challenge updates on Facebook and Twitter, as well as this blog.
Ache is a strongly built woman. The skin around her eyes is smooth in spite of the graying braids that lie half hidden under her head covering. Her face wears a look built out of determination and survival and years of waiting. She has been in this camp in eastern Chad since 2004. She knows she may never go home.
In Sudan, she tells us, she lived in a large and prosperous village. She had a beautiful life: fields of millet, sorghum and peanuts along the wadi, gardens rich in choice, and an irrigation pump to lighten her work. Her three children were free to go to school, and together the community built a preschool so mothers could have time to rest and socialize.
Her house was made of adobe, with a metal roof: safe from fire, a good place to store her dowry chest and gold jewelry. She would travel to weekly markets in nearby towns, selling grain or vegetables and bringing home clothes, shoes and school supplies. Her husband traveled to the big cities and returned bearing sacks of sugar. In Sudan, Ache was free.
And then, everything changed. Ache’s face goes still and hard as she thinks about the hate campaign that started the troubles.
“The janjaweed came to our village with guns and fire. They stole our cattle, slaughtered our donkeys and burned our fields. As they broke down our granaries and houses we ran for our lives, scattering into the bush, I in one direction and my husband in another,” she said. “So many of our neighbors and our family members didn’t escape. Men and women, elderly and babies; their bodies lay untended, unburied for days. When the janjaweed finally left we buried the dead in pits and mass graves. I had only my clothes and my children. I had only the hope of reaching some other village before we were lost to hunger and thirst.”
Eventually, trucks came from the NGOs. They rounded up batches of refugees and drove them several days to the camp. Bewildered and traumatized, Ache’s family waited under plastic tarps. “But there were no guns. There was peace, and a place to rest,” she recalls.
When they first arrived in the camp they were lent a small plot to farm, but without access to water it failed. Now her husband spends most days looking for day labor in town. Sometimes he is lucky. Sometimes they resort to selling part of their daily ration. Her 16-year-old son has left the camp to look for work somewhere unknown—probably back in Sudan, although at last news he was still in eastern Chad. One day she will find him, if she can get the money to travel after him.
She focuses on the blessings in the camp: her daughter spreading sorghum from the distribution rations to dry in the sun; the gate into her neighbor’s yard and the gourd plant that reaches over it. She wonders whether she will ever again have the chance to plant and reap her own fields.
“What I wish for,” she says with a trembling voice, “Is a chance to work. Last year, when World Concern was here, I worked on the rock lines. I had money to buy a pot and meat to share with my neighbor. We are not the same tribe, but we live together. We shared out my work days and the money.”
“Thank you,” she says, “for coming so far, for leaving your families and coming to help mine. Surely God will bless your generosity.”
Story by J. Gunningham, World Concern Program Support Officer, Djabal, Chad
This past week I moved my oldest daughter into her college dorm two states away. The milestone, as it is for most parents, was bittersweet. I kept reminding myself that although I will miss her at home, this is the purposeful outcome of 18 years of parenting. We raise our kids with the intent of molding them into healthy, stable, independent adults. The fact that she can now take care of herself means I’ve done my job well.
A recent comment from our Kenya staff reminded me that our work in developing communities has a similar intention. The staff member said, “The community based institutions are showing signs of walking on their own without the help of World Concern.” Way to go World Concern, if I do say so myself! This is an indicator that we’re doing our job well.
One of the young men who received help from our programs in Kenya is a living example of this principle. Otuma Taek had little hope of overcoming the cycle of poverty in his remote pastoralist village. He had a dream of becoming a teacher, but drought had taken its toll on his father’s diminishing cattle stock and his family could not afford the 22,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $270 USD) annual tuition for him to attend high school. It seemed his eight years of hard work and good grades in primary school would be wasted.
But everything changed for Otuma when the village development committee chose him to receive a World Concern scholarship. Otuma enrolled at Narok High School where he had to undergo a qualifying year, which meant he spent five years in high school instead of four—another indication of his willingness to go the distance to gain an education. In addition to paying half his tuition, the program offered life skills seminars, which he says helped him avoid joining the wrong crowd in high school. He completed his final exam with a respectable C average.
Today, Otuma is a teacher at Lekanka Hills Primary School, where he teaches math to fourth and fifth graders and passes along the valuable education he received to the next generation. His hope is that this next generation of students will follow his legacy and someday make a difference in their village as well.
In this same way, we hope eventually World Concern’s support won’t be needed in this community anymore. The village will sustain itself, and we can say, “Well done.”
For people like Richard Johannessen, the work day never really ends. Whether he’s responding to emails late into the night from his office in Bangkok, or visiting a remote village in Laos, figuring out how to improve access to clean water, his responsibilities weigh heavily on him every day. After all, people’s lives depend on him.
Rick is World Concern’s Asia Area Director, and his work is much more than a job. After a successful career in international business, Richard returned to a calling he’s had since he was young: serving the poor through humanitarian work.
Aug. 19 is World Humanitarian Day, founded in 2009 to honor and celebrate people like Richard who serve day in and day out in difficult places and often dangerous situations for the good of others.
But who are humanitarian workers? The answer is that they, their skills, and their backgrounds, are as diverse as the countries where they work. They respond to disasters and solve complex problems. They save lives and meet the most basic human needs: food, water, shelter, and medical care. Long term, they lead vulnerable people to a place where they have a self-sustaining, healthy future.
World Concern is blessed to have staff members who feel called to this line of work. Some have personally experienced tragedy, loss, war and famine and want to help end suffering for others.
Christon Domond is one of those people. Christon has worked with World Concern in his homeland of Haiti for more than 20 years, despite offers for more prestigious and lucrative positions in the U.S. He grew up in Haiti in a family with nine children, and has chosen to serve those in his country who are close to his heart. After the earthquake, Christon immediately checked on the safety of his staff, then pulled everyone together and coordinated their response.
Selina Prem Kumar serves as a lifeline to vulnerable people as country director in war-torn Sri Lanka. As Selina helps victims of civil war, she also helps bridge peace between the Tamil and Sinhalese peoples—something she is uniquely qualified to do as a Tamil married to a Sinhalese man. In 2009 Selina helped evacuate 30,000 war-affected civilians who needed medical care and safe shelter. Today, she’s helping people rebuild their lives and heal the deep wounds caused by war.
According to the UN, the danger for humanitarian workers is very real and it is increasing. Just this month, ten aid workers were murdered in Afghanistan—lined up and executed. Among those killed were Thomas Grams, a dentist from Colorado who gave up his private practice to do relief work, Karen Woo, a surgeon who left a comfortable life in London to pregnant mothers in remote regions, and Cheryl Beckett, the daughter of a pastor and student at Indiana Wesleyan University who had been working as a translator for female patients in Afghanistan since 2005. They sacrificed everything to serve the most desperate people.
World Concern President David Eller says it all goes back to the calling. “When it doesn’t make sense—when I have trouble explaining to my mother why I’m getting on a plane to Haiti right after an earthquake, all I can tell her is that this is the right thing, and I know in my heart of hearts that this is what God has given me to do. This is what God has given the organization to do. You’ll hear that from all the people throughout World Concern: This is what I’m called to do.”
With the exception of that whole Florida recount controversy in 2000, one the many things we take for granted in the United States is that our votes will be counted accurately. Generally speaking, the U.S. population accepts the outcome of elections, whether or not things turn out the way we as individuals had hoped.
Trust in the democratic process is brought to mind this week as half a world away, Kenyans prepare to vote on a proposed new constitution, which would, among other things, attempt to guarantee more valid elections and limit the powers of the president.
Kenya’s most recent presidential election in December 2007 led to an outburst of violence over ethnic tensions and accusations of fraud and electoral manipulations. Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands fled their homes amid the post-election hostility. Some of the worst violence occurred in churches, including an Assembly of God church where dozens of children and adults seeking shelter were killed when the church was burned.
This week, World Concern will close our Kenya office for four days, beginning tomorrow, Aug. 3. The closure is a security precaution as the voting there takes place on Wednesday, Aug. 4. There has already been some violence leading up to referendum. Six people were killed and more than 100 were injured on June 13 in an explosion in a park where a rally was being held.
While our organization has no opinion on the referendum, we are praying for a peaceful process and that Kenyan citizens will have the opportunity to express their opinions and have their votes counted accurately. It is also a time to be reminded that our employees in the field do face security issues regularly. We serve in places where the need is greatest, and some of these areas are politically unstable. We don’t let this stop us from helping the poor in developing countries. We take every security measure reasonable – and remember to pray. It’s the undergirding of everything we do.
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” – Ephesians 6:14-18
We’ve had many delays as we rebuild in Haiti, but we’ve heard some great news. Our new Haitian staff are getting the hang of home construction and are taking on more responsibilities. This is exactly what we want to happen and truly an answer to prayer.
Since the earthquake, Humanitarian Aid organization World Concern has employed thousands of Haitians to clear rubble and repair or replace houses that were damaged or destroyed. More than 600 homes have already been repaired, and crews continue to complete approximately 80 homes per week. Now, we’re on to a new phase: assembling 500 “house-in-a-box” kits.
The following entry is from Scott Mitchell, who is from Seattle and overseeing the construction. The homes were in shipping containers, but the containers were held up in customs in Port-au-Prince for several weeks. It was a big frustration and delayed the unloading and construction schedule.
Here’s some of what Scott said on his blog:
I have been in Haiti 52 days. I was brought down here to build shelters I remember thinking before I left I had to put up 7 shelters a day to make it work. This is shelter number 1 of 500. By the grace of God He had different plans!
The picture here is the shelter team that will be doing the work. We all were pretty happy that this one shelter is put up. We took time at the end of the day to just thank Jesus and ask for more grace. We all need it. I don’t know where I would be without it. We should be putting one up in the field next week. I am excited to see what God is doing with this team.
There are those that are here to learn, and learn they did. The difference between Monday and Friday was huge—going from never using a drill to now building a complete structure using nothing but screws to hold it together. They went from moving individual pieces of metal out of a container to putting roof structures that they build onto a shelter. They went from bug-eyed wonder to wonderful smiles of joy and a sense of competence. They went from not knowing a thing about metal to teaching others about metal.
A team from Steel Elements that was brought in to build the jigs (jigs are templates to build the building by) was amazed at the progress. They even went from a “good luck” mindset to an attitude of “they are really going to get this and do well.” They worked very closely with our foreman and despite the language barrier, by the end of the week they were communicating fairly effectively. Our guys learned a lot from them and I am pretty sure they learned a lot from our guys.
I feel blessed by God with the quality of foremen that we have found. Honestly, I don’t know where we found all of them but I am impressed. By the end of the week they were coming up with solutions to problems that we faced, they were pushing the Steel Element guys aside and doing the work themselves. They were eager and willing to do the work. It was evident that some of them took home a set of plans and studied them. They want to do a good job, and by God’s grace they will. I think it might take a few shelters for them to really get the hang of it, but they will get it down and they will produce a great finished product.
World Concern attracts people who feel called to help in the world’s most desperate situations. It attracts staff members willing—even longing—to live in poor, troubled places, and serve.
Jillian Thorp is one of those people.
Jan. 12 had been an emotional and busy day for Jillian. She was finishing one of several meetings at her office at another nonprofit in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that day when the building began to sway. “It was almost like having a dizzy spell, then things started to fall off tables,” she recalls. A coworker grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her under a door frame. “About 10 seconds later, everything came down around us.”
Jillian and her coworker were both trapped from the waist down on the first floor of a two-story building. A door had fallen on top of them, miraculously protecting them from being hammered by debris. Another miracle is that Jillian had fallen with her cell phone. Although she couldn’t call out, she received several phone calls from friends in the U.S. and was able to tell them she was trapped and needed help. The last call she received was from her husband, Frank, who was working about six hours north of Port-au-Prince. “He said, ‘We’re coming,’” she remembers. Then the phone line cut, leaving them without communication.
Three hours later, Jillian heard someone calling her name. It was two other coworkers who had come back to see if she was safe. She was able to call to them, and they began digging with their bare hands. Eventually they had to leave to get more help and tools to break up and remove the concrete that surrounded her. She and her coworker were trapped for 10 hours. Frank arrived about an hour before she was freed.
“They pulled me up onto the roof,” said Jillian, who was gasping for fresh air and reeling with the realization of what she’d just been through. “The house had completely pancaked. I could see that the only place I could have survived is where I was. It was just a complete miracle that I was there and the way the house fell, that I was protected and we made it out.”
As an American, Jillian was able to be treated for her injuries at a hospital in the Dominican Republic and then fly home to the U.S. the next day. She struggled with survivor’s guilt, leaving behind those who had become like family and who had risked their lives to rescue her. “Why did I make it through something like that when so many others didn’t?” She wondered.
She returned to Haiti, just five weeks after the disaster. “I’ve just got to try,” she told herself. “I’ve got to see if there’s something still in me, that I could help these people.”
Jillian heard about World Concern from family members at home, researched the work we do, and saw it as a shining example of a successful aid organization. She liked that we have a 30-year history in Haiti, and that nearly all staff are Haitians. “So many organizations brought in so many people, so many foreigners, who didn’t understand,” she said. With a background in advocacy and a degree in diplomacy and conflict resolution, “It felt just right,” said Jillian, who accepted the position of Program Support Manager for the Emergency Relief Team in March – just two months after the quake.
“It’s been so healing for me to work with an organization that’s so supportive. It’s been a blessing,” she said. “I was looking for a higher purpose. I got through this earthquake. There’s got to be a reason.”
Jillian understands the frustration people feel, watching from afar, at the pace of the recovery efforts, but being involved in it every day, she sees much progress. “There’s such hope for the future of this country, but there’s a long way to go for sure. There are some hard decisions in front of the humanitarian community … we can’t figure it out in one day, or even a couple of years,” she said. “But we have 617 homes we’ve repaired. That’s 617 families who have returned to their homes. We have just over 2,000 people employed through Cash for Work,” which is World Concern’s program to employ local people to clean up rubble and rebuild.
“Whether you see it when you walk down the street or not, when you look at World Concern and you see those, it’s significant,” Jillian said.
Along with the entire World Concern staff, Jillian shares great compassion for the Haitian people. “They’ve been through a lot, but their spirit is so resilient. They still have dreams. They know all this money is coming into this country. They try to take ownership of this project – to be a part of the rebuilding process,” she said. “It really should be their own. The U.S. didn’t fall apart, Haiti did. Ask Haitians what they want and ask them to help us do it. World Concern is really great at that.”
It’s like an enormous care package for Haiti from all across Washington.
Today, just south of Seattle, a 40’ shipping container is being packed with a variety of supplies to help children in Haiti, just in time for the new school year. We’re loading up dozens of desks, uniforms and school supplies for more than 1,300 kids. All of the items were donated – most by donors in Washington.
Eighty-seven desks from a Washington State University dorm in Pullman will be put to use in classrooms in Haiti, and a Port-au-Prince hospital will receive 25 patient tables and cabinets from an assisted living home in Bellevue.
Imagine the delighted smiles when 1,320 kids open packages filled with school supplies, hand packed with love by donors and churches around the Puget Sound region. The Kids’ Healing Kits also include soap, toothpaste and other hygiene items, as well as stuffed animals and other toys to help the youngest earthquake victims heal from emotional trauma.
Volunteers and homeless men hired for the day are helping World Concern pack the 40’ shipping container inside of a warehouse in Sumner. From there, the container will be trucked to a rail yard, then loaded on a train bound for New York. The final leg of the trip will be on a ship, the MSC Austria, which is scheduled to arrive in Port-au-Prince on Aug. 29.
We’ve put some thought into what we’re shipping. Our staff in Haiti has either requested these items, or has found areas where these items will fill a critical need – an important piece in making sure humanitarian aid helps communities, rather than hindering the healing process.
Thank you, donors and volunteers, for making this giant care package possible!
To read more about what we’re doing in Haiti, click here.
The following is a report from World Concern’s Jacinta Tegman, who is in Haiti this week with a team from the Seattle area:
It has been almost four months since I was last in Haiti. When I was here in early March the city of Port au Prince was just ending a critical response phase. Some streets were impassable because of rubble. Very little business had started up. Schools were not in session and the normal hustle and bustle of the city was missing. I think the Haitians were still in a state of shock. As a part of World Concern, I was able to see the transition from phase one — meeting the immediate needs of water, food, shelter, and family reunification — to the road ahead of rebuilding lives
I can really tell a difference in the city since March. Much of the rubble has been cleared and there are signs of construction everywhere. Lots of street vendors are out, school children in their uniforms rush to class, and the remaining piles of rubble have become part of the city landscape.
As difficult a time as the people have had, there is little room for prolonged grief as little ones still need to be fed, work must be sought out, and the very real need of adequate housing is reaching a critical stage. We drove by camp after camp of tents, and the tents look like they can’t survive much longer.
The road ahead to sustainable recovery is a long one. Yet, even now I see signs of progress and for these people progress is made one small step at a time. When I was here in March, World Concern’s Cash for Work program was in a pilot stage. A few small groups were clearing the rubble of where they once lived, earning a salary to provide for their families and gaining hope that they would be able to leave the tent camps. Now World Concern employs 2,100 workers. Not only have massive amounts of rubble been cleared but homes have been made habitable and new, safer homes are being built.
Is there more to do? Absolutely! But I am so thankful for what has already been accomplished. When I looked into the eyes of a little boy standing outside of his newly repaired home, I know that there is hope in Haiti. In the middle of all this tragedy hope shines brightly. It takes so many to make this possible and I am profoundly grateful that I can say to these people that despite all the challenges they face, people are praying for them, people are giving to help them, and we will walk with them all the way through to full recovery. Isn’t that what Jesus sent us to do? I am so privileged to represent so many that have given to relieve their suffering. God bless you for your compassion.