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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
In the back of her classroom in rural Haiti, 12-year-old Dashna often puts her head down on her desk and prays. The pain in her stomach gets to be too much and she can no longer concentrate on the lesson being taught. She winces with pain and silently cries out to God for help.
Worms are ravaging Dashna’s insides, sucking away vital nutrients she needs to grow like vitamin A, and causing her excruciating pain. Can you imagine try to learn in a classroom when you are in so much pain?
This is common in places like Haiti, where children walk barefoot, drink from filthy streams contaminated by raw sewage, and parasites are rampant. Worms enter the body through dirty water, or when a child eats or touches her mouth without washing her hands after going to the bathroom. They can even enter through the soles of her feet.
Once worms enter a child’s body, they multiply and begin their painful pursuit of eating away at what little food she consumes. Sometimes, this can cause her stomach to hurt all day long.
Even more, parasites spread easily between family members living in cramped quarters with no access to toilets or a way to wash their hands. Because of this, Dashna’s two younger siblings are also sick.
The good news is that deworming medicine is inexpensive and can begin to work within hours of taking the pill. When coupled with vitamin A, which is depleted by worms, and long-term solutions like clean water, sanitation, and hygiene training, the 44-Cent Cure can prevent reinfection.
Barefoot and dressed in filthy clothes, tiny Xay refused to leave his mother’s arms to play with the other children being evaluated for the Child Survival program. At 18 months old, Xay should be running, squealing, and playing with the other children. Instead, he was pale, thin, and listless. More critically, Xay is underweight, weak, and suffered from chronic diarrhea.
We measured his arm with a special band to determine his level of malnutrition. Xay’s arm measured 11cm, indicating he is severely malnourished.
For Xay’s mother, nothing is more important than saving her son – but she doesn’t have very many solutions. She knows the food she scavenges for in the woods outside her village in rural Laos each day isn’t enough. She knows her son is hungry and sick. She knows that without enough food, her beloved son could die.
With your help, this little guy can soon be eating healthy, gaining weight, and on his way to better health – in just a few short days.
A gift of $34 will provide nourishing, healthy food for Xay and others, rescuing them from the pain and sickness that comes with not having enough to eat. In addition, Xay’s mom and others will be able to participate in a special program where they learn how to grow and prepare locally available vegetables and other easily accessible foods, providing highly nutritious meals for their children. With these simple changes, 100% of children gain weight and show measurable improvement within 12 days.
Moms also learn the importance of good hygiene, safe drinking water, and using toilets to keep their children free from sickness and disease.
The best part is, they learn from other moms who are already successfully feeding and caring for their little ones – so each mom has support from a mentor right in her own village. This helps ensure kids keep gaining weight and growing strong.
With these vital tools and training, moms like Xay’s will be equipped to keep their sons and daughters healthy, ensuring they grow strong throughout their childhood.
“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you…” (Joel 2:26)
Because of matching grants, your gift to feed a hungry child like Xay’s will TRIPLE, helping feed three children throughout their childhood.
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.
The 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.
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.
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:
“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
“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.
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.
With the support of our donors, lives were saved, protected, and transformed in some of the world’s poorest places in 2014. Hungry families were fed, people in crisis were given shelter, and entire communities received abundant clean water.
One of the biggest challenges of 2014 was reaching families displaced by civil war in South Sudan. The problems affecting the world’s newest nation are extremely complex. Many families are still homeless, living in tents or under trees with no shelters. Prices have skyrocketed because of the war, leaving poor families unable to buy food or essential commodities. There is also a looming threat of famine – because they were displaced during the rainy season, many were not able to plant crops. As a result, the annual hunger gap, which is fast approaching in April, is expected to be worse than usual.
Achol was nine months pregnant when she fled with her children after fighting broke out in her village in South Sudan’s Unity State. “I ran when I heard gunfire and saw people running,” she said. “I left with nothing.” Achol gave birth outside – alone – after arriving in a makeshift camp. “I had no food and no blankets. I delivered my baby and spent two days outside. Then I made this shelter,” she said, looking up at the flimsy tent made of sticks and tarps that sheltered her children.
Donations in 2014 helped provide food, shelter, and emergency assistance for many families like Achol’s. Now, families like hers need to move beyond life-saving, emergency aid and rebuild their lives with plans for a better future. As we usher in the new year, we are leading communities in South Sudan to move beyond crisis and relying on short-term hand-outs towards lasting change. Our focus in 2015 includes long-term initiatives, such as:
Providing seeds, tools, and training in sustainable agriculture to farmers
Sharing peacebuilding skills and reconciliation in communities torn apart by violence
Educating children, turning their dreams of a better future into real opportunities
It’s clear that the situation is South Sudan is complex. People like Achol face immense challenges and have great needs. But at World Concern, we refuse to shy away from complex problems because things are too hard. Rather, we tackle these challenges head-on, walking alongside the families in South Sudan into recovery and helping them rebuild their lives.
Though these situations can seem hopeless and overwhelming, we put our full confidence in God – He alone can change lives and circumstances. He can bring peace to any situation, and nothing is too complex for Him. He has called us to be His hands and feet, and equips us with what we need to help the families in South Sudan and other challenging places. As we enter 2015, we rely on the ongoing support of our donors to help families and communities to move beyond crisis towards restoration, healing, and transformation.
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 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.
“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.
So many of the issues we face combating poverty are incredibly complex. Thankfully, some are simpler to solve than others.
Parasites cause children to suffer and families to struggle. Sickness, absenteeism from school, loss of work for parents, malnutrition—all of these things worsen poverty. But the ripple effect of deworming medicine makes it one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. It’s so simple, and it costs just 44 cents.
Luxmi, a mom of two living in the Rishipara slum of Bangladesh’s capital city, was overjoyed to learn that World Concern was distributing deworming medicine in her neighborhood. Her children were constantly suffering from stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, and the effects of malnutrition. At a time in their young lives when they should have been growing and thriving, parasites were feeding off their bodies, sucking the vital nutrients from their food, and causing intense pain.
As soon as her children took the medicine, they started to feel better. “After a few days, their health problems vanished,” Luxmi said.
They are healthier, happier, and full of energy. They’re even completing their chores enthusiastically—something any mom loves to see!
“This tablet saved my daughter’s life”
Amidst the muddy, narrow streets and dilapidated shacks Kalyani and her neighbors call home, toilets are almost nonexistent. Diseases like diarrhea and parasites spread rapidly.
Kalyani’s daughters were sick and malnourished. Her infant daughter was extremely weak and suffered from constant stomach pains. Since Kalyani could not afford medicine, she had taken her little one to the local monk for help, but her daughter’s symptoms only worsened.
A few months ago, each member of Kalyani’s family received deworming medicine, and the results were dramatic. Her youngest daughter’s stomach pains completely stopped, and she started absorbing nutrients from her food. Today, she is a healthy, smiling little girl—full of life and bounding with energy.
“This tablet saved my daughter’s life,” exclaimed a grateful Kalyani.
With healthy kids, Kalyani can now focus on growing her small business and paying for her older daughters to attend school.
When children are free from parasites, it opens the way to addressing the larger problems of sanitation, hygiene, and access to clean water. That’s how a simple pill helps combat poverty.
After living in Haiti for two years where I worked with World Concern, I returned to the U.S. a couple weeks ago. Aside from getting used to much colder weather and way too many cereal options at the grocery store, I have been attempting to answer, as best as possible, all kinds of questions about Haiti.
One of the most common questions has been how the country is doing since the 2010 earthquake—Haiti’s strongest in two centuries, claiming more than 230,000 lives. This tells me that perhaps not everyone has forgotten about Haiti and that fateful day on January 12, 2010.
However it’s a challenge to answer that question. It’s a big question and I feel a burden to answer accurately and completely, but at the same time I realize most people are not asking for a lecture.
As someone who has lived in Haiti, I can tell you that it is a wonderful place full of color and life. Most of all, it is my friends there and the dozens of others I’ve met through my work with World Concern that I remember. These faces are what stand out in my mind when someone asks how Haiti is doing and each face is a beautiful creation of God with a distinct story. Everyone has a story and each is unique. And with the stories of healing and restoration have come ones of difficulty and loss.
The recovery process and transition to long-term development has been slow and difficult at times, but positive things have happened in the past five years. But there are major chronic issues that persist which keep people from living healthy and productive lives. This is the reality. Is Haiti progressing? The answer, in my opinion, is yes. Does Haiti face challenges? Also yes.
There are more people coming to Haiti as tourists and the country’s image is slowly improving, roads are being rebuilt with many paved for the first time, and the number of homeless people has fallen to less than 100,000 out of the 1.5 million initially without a home following the earthquake.
And what about the struggles? Cholera, which was first introduced in Haiti in October 2010, is on the rise again, and the water and sanitation infrastructure needed to defeat it is missing. Too many families are not able to get enough food with 2.6 million people food insecure as of July and a political crisis looms as long overdue elections in the country are yet to be held. And Haiti remains vulnerable to drought, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.
The earthquake highlighted the need to focus on helping communities become better prepared and less vulnerable. This is an area that the government and many organizations, including World Concern, have chosen to invest in since 2010 which is encouraging. A community that is more able to cope with a crisis on their own is one that will be more protected and have less loss of life.
At World Concern we have worked to train local first responders, build community shelters, establish early warning systems, and introduce drought resistant seeds to farmers. Our goal is to see communities empowered, resilient and able to stand on their own. We’re grateful for significant progress in this area.
Haitian Creole, the national language of Haiti, has lots of proverbs or sayings—one thing that makes the language so rich and beautiful. There is a common proverb that says “Piti piti wazo fè nich,” which means “Little by little a bird makes its nest.”
So how is Haiti now? How has the country moved forward? Well, things are better and there is a lot of hope, but piti piti wazo fè nich.