Innovative Water Solutions for Millions in Horn of Africa

Please don’t complain about the rain…

Here in Western Washington, we have a tendency – a compulsion, maybe even – to complain about the weather. Understandable this year especially, as we’ve had an unusually cool, damp spring.

Just last evening, I went for a walk in my neighborhood, as I do most evenings. It was sprinkling when I left the house just before dinner, but by the time I got a half-mile from home, the sky opened up and unleashed a torrent of rain on me. At first, I sighed in frustration and headed back home, but as the water ran off the hood of my rain jacket, I paused and looked up, letting the water run down my face.

My inner complaint quickly turned to gratitude for the abundant water and lush green landscape that envelop us in this part of the world, and I breathed a prayer of thanks.

My next thoughts were of the people who live in the Horn of Africa, where it has been four years since it rained like this. They are on the brink of famine again. It was the same scenario that led to the 2011 famine that claimed the lives of 258,000 people, mostly women and children who had spent their final weeks walking through the parched desert in search of water and food.

Right now in Somalia, 4.9 million people (31% of the population) are currently affected by extreme drought conditions, and more than 700,000 people have left their homes in search of food and water. Ninety percent of the water sources across Somalia have dried up.

The current drought is already historic in its length and severity, and forecast models are now signaling an elevated likelihood that the October to December 2022 short rains season will also be below average, setting the stage for an unprecedented five-season drought.

An alarming increase in malnutrition rates among children is being seen in Somalia and Kenya. In Somalia alone, 1.4 million children under age 5 are severely malnourished. “If we don’t step up our intervention, it is projected that 350,000 [of those children] will perish by the summer of this year. The situation cannot be more dire than that,” said Adam Abdelmoula, the UN special representative and humanitarian coordinator for Somalia.

A Father’s Grief

Families like 28-year-old Abdinasir Derow Hassan’s are suffering unimaginable loss.

Abdinasir and his pregnant wife and two children, were forced to flee their home in Jilib in the Lower Juba region of Somalia. The drought has destroyed all their crops and insecurity in the region prevented food aid from reaching them. They were headed on foot to a camp for displaced families when their youngest son, Ahmed, died of starvation.

“My little boy was too weak to finish the journey here with us,” said a grieving Abdinasir. “I had to bury him along the way…”

Abdinasir arrived at the camp with his wife and their 4-year-old daughter. A carpenter by trade, he wakes up every morning and walks to Dhobley Town to look for work. “Sometimes I get a job to repair a door or a fence but mostly there are no jobs in this town,” says Abdinasir. “The situation is not promising as my wife is expecting a newborn baby and I have no money or income to sustain us.”

Parts of Kenya are in the throes of drought too. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) estimates that 4-5 million people in Kenya are in need of humanitarian food assistance.

More than 200,000 people in Samburu County, Kenya, are in dire need of food assistance. Many wells have dried up and thousands of animals (70% of the herds) have died. The average distance people are walking to get water is 10.2 kilometers.

Innovative Solutions are Needed

World Concern is working in partnership with local communities to implement innovative solutions to help families survive the drought.

In Samburu, Kenya, water collection systems that were constructed over the past year are proving to be lifesaving as families are able to access water within walking distance of their homes.

Women have been trained to cultivate kitchen gardens, which include rapidly maturing sweet potatoes, and are continuing to thrive, despite the drought conditions. Children are being monitored and assessed for malnutrition and nutritional supplements are given when needed.

A Mother’s Joy

Lema cannot hide her joy as she fills her bright yellow jerrycan with fresh water from the pump that connects to a concrete storage tank in her village. It took the mom of four just minutes to walk 1/3 of a mile from her home to the water point – a daily journey that used to take her half a day.

Before the community partnered with World Concern to construct the rainwater collection system in her remote Kenyan village, Lema trekked 7.5 miles—every day—to a seasonal river (seasonal, because for much of the year it was a dry riverbed).

Utilizing a piece of the natural Samburu landscape, the innovative water system captures rainwater as it runs down a massive rock behind the tank and channels it into the enclosed tank, which holds up to 150,000 liters of water. Community members—typically women, like Lema—access the water from a tap near the tank. Joyful chatter can be heard coming from these mothers as they fill their jerrycans to the brim.

With hours added back in her day, Lema now has time to support and care for her children. “I am now able to fetch firewood and cook for my family because we have water in our village,” she said.

Because of worsening drought in the area, the lines to collect water from the tank are growing longer each day as more people come from surrounding villages in need of water. Below average recent rains filled the tank about three-quarters of the way full, but it’s draining quickly. Families are allowed to collect only 40 liters (2 jerrycans) at a time to conserve the water.

World Concern has supported communities to build sand dams in the area and plans to construct innovative water solutions like a second rock water catchment system in a nearby village, but until it rains, the need for water only becomes more urgent each day.

For more information, or to help support World Concern’s response to the Horn of Africa drought, please visit www.worldconcern.org.

Serving at the End of the Road with Nick Archer

On Episodes 5 and 6 of The End of the Road podcast, World Concern President, Nick Archer discusses why an organization would intentionally choose to work in difficult, dangerous, and hard-to-reach places. With so many places in need around the globe, it’s common to wonder why and how an organization decides to venture into the most remote and challenging places.

This conversation with Nick Archer gives you a closer look at the why behind those commonly asked questions, an overview of who we are and what sets World Concern apart from others. Here’s an overview of a few answers from Nick Archer to questions discussed on the End of the Road podcast

Q: How does World Concern decide where to work? 

A: I think World Concern considers where we serve to be a calling. We look at different factors, we look at poverty levels. Does a community live on $1 a day, or do they live on $2 a day? We also consider if are people seriously impacted by conflict in some way? And does that exacerbate their situation? 

We take into consideration if they have access to different things we would consider absolutely essential? Do they have access to clean water? Do they have a reasonable means of sustaining themselves? Today we are hearing so much about climate change and things like that. What are the drivers that are affecting people and diminishing their quality of life and how do we step into that space? Is conflict present? Is poverty present? How far away are they from government reach? Can we be part of the solution? Each of those are some of the key things we consider. 

Q: Why does World Concern choose to serve challenging places at the end of the road? 

A: When talking about the end of the road, we’re looking at communities, families, and villages that are out of reach from most humanitarian organizations and governments. The further away people are, the harder it is for them to get any benefits from organizations. We assess the need of those far away from necessary resources. 

The end of the road is not necessarily a village out in the middle of nowhere. It could be urban poverty, it could be a community, or people living in a large city where they continue to be in need and don’t have access to some of the basic necessities and resources, including safety. World Concern considers the end of the road a place of great need. 

Two big drivers are poverty and marginalization. If you can think of two words, those would be the two words to think about. Now, along with that, of course, our Christian identity and ethos as an organization drive us too and that’s probably the overriding piece. But when it comes to really practical challenges that people face, we really look at poverty and marginalization. So that’s to the degree that people can fend for themselves and make a reasonable life. 

Q: How does the World Concern mission impact the way we serve in challenging places? 

A: World Concern has a mission of hope and part of that hope is dignity. It’s how we interact with people. Too often we want to do things for people and we decide what their need is. This disempowers people and can make them feel worthless. World Concern goes in and asks them what they think their need is and what they think the solution is.  

This dialogue changes the dynamic of the relationship. They begin to realize that someone else is interested in their opinion and circumstances. This person isn’t telling me what my problem is. World Concern asks, “How can we journey with you as we solve this problem in your community?” This gives them value and restores dignity. From there, they’re empowered to own their solution and begin to experience restoration of their sense of value and worth. Then, we are able to journey with them by examining the history of what has gotten them where they are now and that information is owned by the community and we can assess how to best move forward and invest in the community.  

Q: Who are the World Concern staff that are engaging in relationships with the community? 

A: Most of the staff are nationals of the countries where they work. Our World Concern staff approach each community with an attitude of service and learning when they go into each country. The quality of the character and the servanthood of the staff, the willingness to listen, and the willingness to learn, play a major role in the work that we do around the world. 

For many of our staff, it’s a big sacrifice leaving their family to go to a country and serve there, live there, learn the language, and understand the people. They make a huge sacrifice in doing that because a lot of them have young kids at home. Our staff sometimes goes for a month or sometimes they do six weeks. 

Even in some of our inside country programs we have, our staff make significant sacrifices to work in different tribal and ethnic areas as well. That’s not something that we in the West have to wrestle with very often. But it’s a bit like me asking one of you to go work in a downtown part of your own city that you consider difficult, violent, rough, or where you might be a target. Some of our local staff make those kinds of sacrifices too, on a daily basis. 

Q: In some places, conflict is a displacer of people. Is the goal to eventually get people who have been displaced from their homes to the point where they can go back home and be equipped to survive in their community? 

A: In some cases, the objective is to have people go back to where they came from to restart their livelihoods. World Concern has done some of that in the past, particularly, in Eastern Chad and Darfur, we’ve done a little of that. On the other hand, there are some cases where going back is not an option. Either because the livelihood that they once knew is no longer feasible or because the conflict that they’ve gotten wrapped up in has become so entrenched that to go back would actually be to basically walk into a death trap.  

So, where we can, World Concern engages in things like trying to help people learn different skills. It could be something as basic as bicycle repair, auto mechanics, or carpentry. Particularly for young people who have no access to school, we’re able to equip them with a new skill and help them find a means of employment in that skill, which provides an income for their family. In other cases, if people can move back, then we try and support them in that. However, it is context-specific and we must look at the factors in each case. 

Q: What criteria do you look at to determine whether or not World Concern will respond to a crisis? What are some of the reasons World Concern might not go to a certain area? 

A: World Concern is working in 13 countries either directly or through a partner. So, if a major crisis, a major disaster happens in one of those places, then that’s at the top of World Concerns priority list in terms of should we respond? What would we do if we did? It’s important that while we work in disaster, we’re also working in long-term strategies to change people’s stories so that they can mitigate disasters when they come along. But if a crisis happens outside of those 13 countries that we’re already working in, then we look at issues of severity. 

We look at issues of numbers and how many people have been impacted and what was destroyed. Then we decide on whether we get involved or not. We also work with several other partners of like-minded organizations and sometimes those organizations will use their resources and collectively say, okay, we need to work in this place right now. This is needed, but we can pull our resources and collectively work in a place that we weren’t previously working in. So, there are several layers to deciding whether or not we actually get involved. 

Q: What are other important things to consider when responding to a crisis at the end of the road?  

A: It is important to coordinate with other partners or other organizations that are already on the ground so that we’re not coming in and actually creating more chaos in an already chaotic situation. We have to ensure we’re not overlapping with services or ways that we’re responding. And the other thing is that the local government actually has to invite international aid. They have to say, we cannot handle this ourselves and we need your help. If they don’t do that, then we don’t go into that situation unless they ask for it. If they’ve got the capacity to respond themselves, then that’s the first line. 

And I think that’s increasingly the case. More and more governments feel it’s their responsibility to respond to their own crisis, but they will from time to time invite outside organizations like us to assist. But we do wait for the invitation from them and coordination is something that we absolutely have to work on and keep working on to get better at it. You know, humanitarian organizations have often been criticized for not coordinating. Either coordinating with one another or with the local government, but that’s something that we really put a lot of effort into. 

We try and coordinate both our funding and the activities that we do with like-minded partners and organizations. So, if more than one of us is working in the same place, we try and do different things so that we’re not all trying to do the same thing in our own way. But to actually coordinate our assistance so that one of us is working on one aspect, maybe shelter, somebody could be working on medical-related issues, things like that. But coordination is absolutely central to the way we go into a place to actually participate in who’s going in there and what are they doing? 

Q: Why doesn’t World Concern serve domestically in the US when there’s a disaster or when there’s a need or a crisis in the US?  

A: World Concern has been in existence for over 60 years, and we’ve always seen it as our primary mission, our primary calling to work internationally. That was a decision that we made many, many years ago and we don’t feel we’ve had any need to revisit that. Along with that, we do have partners who work domestically, and sometimes we will in some way support them in their domestic response, because we do get people who want to give and whether it’s a different situation that happens in this country. So we will tend to use a partner that we’re already familiar with who we know that does good work. 

But every organization needs to focus in order to be effective in what they do. And for us, our lens is international work. It’s not that there aren’t needs at home. Absolutely there are needs at home here in the US, but there are also many, many organizations already working here in the US. Red Cross, Salvation Army, many, many, many domestic organizations. And so that’s part of their mandate, ours is the international lens. And so that’s where we keep our focus. 

Q: What are some of the factors that prevent people from leaving a crisis or conflict, or a place that is perpetually challenging to live in? 

A: Let’s try and put ourselves in the shoes of those who may live in perpetually challenging places. I mean, in North America, there are many things we don’t want to give up because of where we live. For those who might be familiar with scripture, if you read the stories in the early part of Genesis about Abraham and Jacob moving around with their animals, while there are many places in the world that are really still like that today, they move around and they’re looking for two or three things. 

They look for pasture, they look for water. Those two things. If you are an animal keeper, if you are a pastoralist, those are the two big drivers of your existence, okay? That’s what puts food on the table. That’s what puts a roof over your head. So, when those things become increasingly scarce, people must move to find them. That’s what pastoralists do. They move because their animals are their livelihood. So, conflict results often because of that, because then you get people who are clashing over the use of very limited resources, land, and water. And if a pastoralist loses those things, he loses in entire livelihood. You know, in North America we talk about the disappearance of certain industries. We could say, well, why don’t you just retrain? Or, just get another job. 

And what you see happening increasingly today is situations where pastoralists, as an example, are forced to give up pastoralism simply because their animals are dying off and they actually lose their livelihood. Mainly because the rainy seasons are becoming increasingly unpredictable. They end up most frequently becoming internally displaced people and they’re being displaced on the edge of a big city with no work. And then at that point, when they lose their animals, they’re reduced to poverty because of the fact that they’ve lost their livelihood. And then you see, there are no food stamps to help them out. There’s no government social network to fill a hole. They are truly destitute and just scratching for any kind of avenue to put food on the table. 

Q: How does World Concern try to help people prepare for potential issues that are ahead? 

A: World Concern particularly prepares for when those issues that they rely on start to collapse or fall apart. A bit like I was talking earlier about the pastoralists and the two issues of water and food for the animals. What do you do to help people mitigate if those things start to go seriously wrong? Many of those people we work with are resilient in their own right. I mean, you and I would be completely hopeless because we don’t know how to survive and we panic when a lot of our backup mechanisms are no longer there.  

Our work is about helping people when they reach the point where the systems that they rely on and the things that they rely on are no longer in place or they’re no longer working the way they used to work. And helping them navigate that and continuing to have a life of freedom and a future, and at least food on the table and a roof over their head. 

Learn more about World Concern, our mission, where we serve, what we do at the end of the road, and more here.  

All of the information here is an excerpt from the End of the Road podcast. We have new episodes weekly and you can tune in here. Stay tuned for more blogs about the End of the Road podcast here.

Out of the Ashes

A trafficking survivor aims to ensure others are protected

Imagine being kidnapped right off the street in broad daylight and waking up on a train bound for a foreign country. That’s what happened to *Sabina when she was just 11 years old. And she couldn’t imagine any beauty along the journey of coming out of the ashes.

Her father had sent her to the market near her village in rural Bangladesh to get cooking oil to prepare some curry for the family’s evening meal. As she walked toward town on the eerily empty dirt road, someone grabbed her from behind and covered her nose and mouth with a handkerchief. That’s the last thing she remembered until she was jolted awake in a rattling, enclosed boxcar on a train.

There were nine other terrified young girls in the train car with her; one of them told her a man was taking them to Kolkata, India to work.

Eventually, she escaped from captivity, aided by a Bengali family who put her on a train to another city. But her nightmare turned worse when she was thrown in jail by a border guard who was supposed to help her. She spent 21 months in jail before a women’s legal association helped free her.

“When I finally came back to my home at the age of 14, I was very happy to be united with my family,” recounted Sabina, who is now 34 and a mother of four daughters. “My family was also very happy, but my community could not accept me as before. They humiliated me with their words. Day after day I was held in an invisible prison because of my neighbors’ and relatives’ attitudes.”

In the aftermath of her traumatic experience, young Sabina became depressed and discouraged and felt defined by her ashes. “I did not like talk with my neighbors. I felt ashamed to talk, to show my face,” she said.

Sabina spent the next five years working in a garment factory and sent her income home to help support her younger siblings. She dreamed of a better life, but in her culture, trafficking victims are stigmatized and shunned.

“I could not marry because of my past, so when I was 19, I went to live with a 45-year-old married man,” she explained. Sabina had her four daughters with this man, but he too abandoned her, and she found herself alone with her girls and facing desperate circumstances. “I had no job, no place to live, and no food to eat. I slept on my neighbor’s balcony with my daughters. I collected firewood and sold it in the market to earn money.”

But things began to change for Sabina in 2019, when World Concern began working in her village.

“My heart filled with joy when they told us that they transform the lives of poor and marginalized people with the love of Christ,” exclaimed a hopeful Sabina.

She attended community trainings where she learned she was not alone, and that her experience had a name: human trafficking. She learned her situation, her ashes, was an international crime and that she was a victim of that horrific crime.

“I learned how the traffickers are working and what are their means and purposes. The training session encourages us to share our knowledge with our neighbors so that we can save a life from deep sorrow. I loved that training and feel encouraged to share my experiences. Now I am sharing my experiences without any hesitation with my group members,” said Sabina, who has become a powerful voice for protection in her community. “I hope I can share my experiences so that everybody can be aware of trafficking and can contact district legal advocacy groups if needed.”

Because of these trainings, Sabina’s daughters know how to avoid danger and stay safe. And out of the ashes of her experience, a beacon of light shines in this village as an entire generation learns vital information and skills to protect themselves and their children.

You can help protect children from becoming victims of trafficking through vital awareness trainings like the ones in Sabina’s village by participating in the 2022 Virtual Free Them 5k. Sign up today and run, walk, bike, or hike on Saturday, May 7, or whenever you choose, and help free children like young Sabina from trafficking and keep them safe.

Sign up today, or donate online at www.freethem5k.org.

*Name has been changed to protect her identity.

Being Present in Disaster and Crisis

In episode 7, When Everything Crumbles: Being Present in Disaster and Crisis, Humanitarian relief expert Merry Fitzpatrick takes listeners on a heartbreaking journey of disaster to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, then to Chad in the midst of the Darfur conflict. Part 2 of this conversation is episode 8, Up the River and Through the Woods: To the Congo We Go, with Merry Fitzpatrick, she takes you on a journey up the river and through the woods – to an isolated village in the Congo. Hear how she truly sees into people’s hearts and navigates the disasters and encounters she has at the end of the road.

Navigating her way to a location by talking her way onto a flight due to airports being damaged, Merry arrived in Port Au Prince. When she arrived, she remembered the previous month when she visited, there was such vibrant scenery with lots of activity and life. However, this time she described it as a stark silence that washed through Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. Everything that was still standing was closed and people were walking around trying to find other people they knew to make sure they were alive.

During this time, many interactions Merry witnessed were of others trying to compare notes to see who was alive and who wasn’t. Everything was rubble… Envision a 7+ story building that has now been compressed to one floor. Everything and anyone occupying that building was gone. Following this earthquake, there was not enough equipment in Haiti and there was no way to get equipment to Haiti. Unbelievable destruction happened all within 45 seconds.

This makes me think, it makes me imagine being in a place I visit frequently and seeing the remnants of a catastrophic earthquake that has damaged buildings, separated families, and claimed many lives. To witness something so harrowing, so deeply felt, while trying to find a way to commit to serving and helping in some way. That takes courage, determination, and a divine calling from Christ. I personally would like to think I would respond similarly to Merry, but let’s face it, I’m sure somewhere deep inside I would’ve felt so small and I would’ve found it so easy to shrink in the face of what seemed to be way too big for me to step in and assist.

Merry described what it was like to do a rapid assessment of the most urgent needs during such disaster and said, “I think after a while you compartmentalize things, part of you is recording what’s going on like a movie, the images, impressions, the sounds, smells, everything. Part of your work itself is taking in much of what is going on in your head. At first, it’s not like you’re feeling and seeing what’s going on around you. It’s in the quiet times a little later, that you start to process the feelings, thoughts, and even smells that start flooding your mind.” After such a horrible disaster and crisis with the remnants of rubble, many of the people went to work the next day. Many felt the way to deal with such destruction and loss was to reach out and help other people. Such an extraordinary level of resilience on display.

Fast-forwarding to Merry’s time in CHAD in the midst of the Darfur conflict. Following the conflict, the first assessment Merry made was noticing that people were still trying to figure things out themselves and had just gone back to their homes. It was very hot and dusty. They’d set up a shade and were scrounging around to find water. They were trying to find other people they knew and tried to find whatever work was available. People were angry. They were attacked and chased off their land and were left with the remnants of this disaster, and they wanted to share their story with Merry.

It was very evident that they were resilient and that they were going to carry on and rebuild, it was just at that point in time they didn’t know how they were going to do that after their livelihood was destroyed. Grain they’d accumulated and stored for years, burned. Fruit trees that would help sustain them and their income were cut down and demolished. However, their resilience, hope, and goal to rebuild continued to carry them through.

I don’t know about you, but if my livelihood was destroyed in the glimpse of an eye, I don’t believe I’d be able to muster up the strength to go back and rebuild. I’d be more interested in the closest area I could escape to in order to care for my family. Being present in such turmoil and disaster to help and serve others like Merry described comes with such a huge responsibility. Empathizing with those you’re helping, carefully entering the intimate places of their hearts as they try to figure out how to rebuild… it’s a life-changing space to be in.

In these moments, especially during disaster, Merry leaned into knowing that God is everywhere. You can see people reaching out to each other and looking out for each other. She learned so many things by seeing others work so hard in their struggles. People seeing genuine care through the way Merry served gave them a sense of hope and even trust. And what the people who lost everything needed the most was, they needed to be able to go home.

Up the River and Through the Woods: To the Congo we Go

Merry Fitzpatrick reflects on what she considers to be the most remote place she’s ever been. It’s an isolated village in the Democratic Republic of Congo, they call it Congo Brazzaville, it’s only accessible only by a 7-hour canoe ride with white plastic chairs to sit in as you go up the river.  

The village Batu, where Merry visited was supposedly the biggest in the area, with an office, a school, and a clinic in it that were all in one room. The school had about three classrooms in it. And then it had sort of the administrator’s office, which had the police in there as well. It’s hard to say how many people lived there because they all lived in little clusters. In that one village, maybe a thousand people, if you count all the little clusters.

Merry talked about being so remote and how she did get malaria when she was there, and the organization, Doctors Without Borders treated her. She mentioned that everyone had a certain book called, Where There Is No Doctor. It was a classic that some missionaries put together in the seventies, so if you get some weird rash or something you just look it up in the book. In order to ensure she stayed safe, Merry shared she would take calculated risks knowing there was no backup in such a remote area.

When reflecting on why God chose her for this line of work, to go to such remote places, often in times of disaster, Merry explains how she often asks this question in awe. In awe of how God has chosen her to go to such incredible places on the planet that many others will never get to go to. In awe of the experiences God has given her and the extraordinary people she has met. She views it as a gift to have so many different perspectives of life knowing there’s so much to learn from different people and different crises.

“This is the way God chose to form me. And I’m so grateful.”

– Merry Fitzpatrick

Click the following links to hear the full conversations of episode 7 and episode 8 with Merry Fitzpatrick. They’re sure to leave you in awe of her experiences during her time serving others and they’ll remind you to lean into the way God has formed you on purpose for a purpose.

Find other blogs of the podcast episodes here.

Why we Started the End of the Road Podcast

Have you ever had an experience that was so life-changing that you had trouble putting it into words? Every time I come home from a trip with World Concern to a difficult place – exhausted, jetlagged, and emotionally spent – I have this experience. It’s called re-entry culture shock, and I only experience a fraction of what others who have lived or worked for longer periods of time in hard places experience. But it’s real, nonetheless.  

It’s usually my husband who picks me up at Sea-Tac airport. He graciously heaves my dusty, overloaded bags into the car and hugs me tightly after not seeing me for several weeks.  

“You need a shower!” he usually jokes, knowing I’m coming off 24+ hours of flying after several weeks of limited bathing.  

“Yes, and a nap,” I usually mumble.  

He’s gotten better at honoring the silence on the drive home, knowing I’m still processing what I’ve experienced. Everything I see out the window looks strange. Drive-through restaurants, people going about their daily activities, traffic without the sound of horns blowing (that one is nonexistent in most of the places I’ve visited).  

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But eventually, maybe later that day, or the next day, he asks me about the trip. The jet lag has worn off and the exhaustion has started to subside and that’s when the amazing experiences and beautiful people and places I saw start to come into focus. I show him some photos, and try to describe the highlights, and ever-present lowlights, but it’s so hard to explain.  

“I wish you could have been there,” I say.  

The Podcast Vision

The truth is, these places and the people there changed me. I want my life partner—as well as my friends, family members, acquaintances, everyone I know—to see, first-hand, what life is like in other parts of the world. Everyone should meet the people I met and interact with the amazing World Concern staff around the world. I want to tell everyone that there is a massive world out there that is so different from what we know. And I want to tell the world how real and how present and active God is in these places. Maybe it’s being away from the routine and familiarity of daily life, but I always experience God’s presence in profound ways at the end of the road. And I want to share that.  

We want to invite others along for the journey and offer a glimpse into the remote, mostly forgotten, unknown parts of the world. We want to introduce you to the people there through the stories and experiences of those who live and work at the end of the road. That’s really the vision behind The End of the Road podcast and why we started it.

Some of these places take days to reach by plane, car, boat, and then—on foot. And many of them are not safe for the average Westerner. Some require special visas and letters of invitation. Getting there without a local host to navigate the journey with you would be next to impossible. 

Takeaways

Our hope is that through this podcast, you’ll get to journey to these remote places through our guests and in turn, the world might feel a little smaller. When we experience other cultures, we realize we’re all human – moms, dads, students, workers, people – who have the same desires, same needs, similar dreams, and hopes for the future, it connects us as “humanity.” I believe it removes much of the fear and lack of understanding that makes us critical of people we don’t know. We write a story in our heads about why they’re poor or why their culture is the way it is. But that’s not what our world needs right now. Our world needs hope, unity, and most of all, God.   

Through the interviews and stories on the podcast, our prayer is that your mind and heart are opened up a bit and you feel more connected to your brothers and sisters around the world and to what God is doing in these places.  

We hope you’ll come along for the ride and that along the way, you’ll be changed by the people you meet and the stories you hear.

Keep in Touch

Let us know your thoughts on the podcast! Email us at podcast@worldconcern.org

Stay connected with the End of the Road podcast by texting the word PODCAST to 34444 to receive updates and episode releases and be sure to follow us on Instagram.

You’ll Never Cry Alone: Life as a Woman at the End of the Road

Life as a woman at the end of the road requires bravery, but bravery does not come without fear. It just means you step into it anyways, moving forward amidst the overwhelming opposition you feel within. We recently sat down with Maggie and Kate, two humanitarians and World Concern staff members who both spent several years resisting the call in their hearts to do what they get to do now in some of the most remote and challenging places on the planet. 

Though sometimes terror-stricken at the thought of moving, living, and working in such remote places, they moved forward and embraced the call on their lives by journeying to the end of the road. 

Living and working in places like Cairo, Egypt, and Kabul, Afghanistan, both women had the opportunity to experience many facets and layers of life in these remote places. From the richness of culture and genuine relationships to some of the challenging and dangerous situations they faced, it’s no surprise that life as a woman in these places is unique and life changing. 

A Glimpse of Katie’s Life

During Katie’s time in Afghanistan, she enjoyed the way the white snow covered the brown land and the fields of flowers that bloom, creating such stunning scenery. A prominent reflection she shared was of the people and community she encountered while she was there. The relationships were so genuine and special and she started to truly be known by others.

The empathy and compassion many of them showed to Katie were contagious. One of the most heartfelt and inspiring truths she shared of those she encountered was, “if you are feeling something, they will feel it with you and if you’re crying, they will cry with you. You will never cry alone.” There’s an incredible way that communities come together through thick and thin. The people she met had a vested interest in her well-being. “When I think about the love, care, and empathy shown, it is revolutionary,” said Katie.

When facing an unusual experience in Afghanistan, Katie shared a story about a situation where local men in the area she was staying in made sure she was safe and protected. Also, during this time, there was a local family that offered to take Katie in and ensure she was safe, despite potentially placing themselves at risk for housing a foreigner. That’s the testament of ongoing love and care she experienced while in Afghanistan.

A Glimpse of Maggie’s Life

Stories of empathy, compassion, and community don’t stop there, Maggie also gives us a glimpse of her experience while in Iraq. Describing Iraq as a beautiful place of diversity, diverse in people and religion. It’s very welcoming and people are genuinely curious to know you as a person and there is a richness in friendships that is present.

There also isn’t a homogenous faith. There are different faiths, different ways of practicing. Maggie was able to enter that space and experience the beauty of their practices and the long history of those places and see the courage and care extended to people who didn’t share the same religion but were all able to work together toward one goal, which was very special for her to experience. 

Through the stories of these two humanitarians, there are many challenges and narratives that extend beyond borders and are relatable around the world. From women who are excluded from decision-making spaces, challenges women face and having limited routes of receiving justice, to the richness of sisterhood and community despite it all.

As with any experience, there are always things learned along the way and things you will never forget. For Katie, she came to deeply appreciate the faith of her neighbors. She learned things that helped enrich her own faith and develop a deep sense of commitment. Maggie was reminded of the beauty and importance of hospitality and showing kindness to strangers. Her experience made her even more curious about her faith and set her on a journey of deepening her encounters with others through her faith. 

Keep In Touch

Listen to the full episode of the podcast HERE.  

Stay connected with the End of the Road podcast by texting the word PODCAST to 34444 to receive updates and episode releases and be sure to follow us on Instagram

Learn more about World Concern and keep up with blogs from the podcast.

End of the Road Podcast Launching February 9th

Welcome, friends! I’m so excited to welcome you to the End of the Road podcast! My name is Cathy and I’ll be your host and “tour guide” as we journey together to some of the most remote, challenging places on the planet.

I’m a Seattle native, loyal Sounders fan, wife of the best third grade teacher – quite possibly – on the planet, and mom to three amazing humans.  

Cathy in Lolkuniani village.

I’ve worked with World Concern, a faith-based humanitarian organization headquartered in Seattle, for the past 11 years and had the privilege of traveling to some of the places where World Concern serves… Places where I’ve never felt so far from home in my life. Places where absolutely nothing is familiar. Places I fell in love with, and that changed me forever.  

I cannot tell you how excited I am to see this podcast come to life. I know this sounds cliché, but it truly is a dream come true.  

The Vision

The vision behind this podcast is to take you – our listeners – to some of these places through the stories and experiences of our guests. They have lived and worked far beyond the end of the road … from a village that takes an entire day to reach by canoe through the Congo jungle … to a war-torn city in the Middle East, you’re going to hear, first hand, what life is like in some of these places, and how God is present and active in these places and in the lives of people who live there – moms, dad, kids, families – just like yours, only they live at the end of the road.  

You’re going to hear from some incredible people who have sacrificed so much to serve, live, and work in some of the toughest places on earth. They’ve experienced unimaginable things, and met people you’ll get to meet too, through their stories here on the podcast. I can’t wait to introduce you to these selfless humanitarians – our guests on the podcast. I’ve handpicked each one, because I know tidbits of their stories, but even I learned so much in my conversations with them. You’ll be amazed.  

I want to share with you some of the things I’ve learned in my experiences in places like Bangladesh, where 165 million people live in crowded urban slums and bustling rural villages. Or northeastern Kenya, where Samburu tribespeople have survived as pastoralists in the bush for centuries… or the mountains of Haiti, far above the teal waters of the Caribbean and far from the chaos of Port au Prince, where families live in tiny villages with no running water, electricity, or infrastructure of any kind. 

As I mentioned, these places – and more so, the people I met there, changed me. Now, these places are not the places you’d go on a typical church mission trip. That’s why I want to take you there – virtually – through these stories.  

I want to introduce you to people like the 13-year-old girl in Bangladesh who sobbed and told me through her tears that she was about to be forced to marry a much older man, because it was the only option her parents felt they had in order to feed her siblings. Her name was Rima… I remember sitting down on the steps of a school to talk with her and hear her story. She was about 13, but she looked very young. She was wearing a school uniform – the only thing keeping her from being married off to a family friend, a man in his mid-30s.

I want to tell you about walking 5 miles through the dry, barren desert of Eastern Kenya for water with a strong, beautiful, resilient Samburu mother who made this walk every morning of her life. During this moment, I realized we shared something… We were both moms, both working women, both human. And we shared a deep desire to make the best life for our kids as possible.  

And I want to share with you how God was so present, right beside me, in each of these situations – reminding me that he is with them too – every person… 

3 Things I’ve Learned

I’ve learned some things in my time at the end of the road – about myself, about people, and about God. Let me share a few thoughts with you as we prepare to travel together… 

First of all, I learned that I have a lot to learn. I know so little about the world, beyond my own familiar surroundings. I had no idea how mind and heart-opening it would be to visit places I thought would be scary, uncomfortable, and disturbing (spoiler alert: they are mostly all those things!).  

I remember right before my first trip to Haiti, I was telling my mom where I was going. Her naïve response was, “Why in the world would you want to go to a place like that? It sounds awful!” Now, my mom has lost her filter a bit in her older years, but I wonder if most of us, deep down inside, think the same thing about these places. They sound awful. And I’ll admit, I thought that way.  

After working a few years for World Concern, I was sifting through photos of Bangladesh for a project I was working on, and I remember looking at the crowded streets – there was literally garbage piled up so high on either side of the street, it was like a 10-foot wall. In one of the photos, there was a cow standing on top of this pile, eating the garbage. And in another photo… much more heartbreaking. In fact, it’s a photo that has stuck with me ever since. It was of a young boy, maybe 8 years old, shirtless, but wearing a pair of adult pants that were cinched up around his waist and tied with a piece of rope or string. He was picking up a piece of rotten fruit from the garbage pile and smelling it – I’m sure to check if it was safe to eat…  

So I was looking through these photos, and I thought to myself, that is NOT a place I ever want to go. I’d go to some of the other places World Concern works, but not Bangladesh.  

Well, God has a sense of humor, you know? My very next trip, I was assigned to go to Bangladesh to interview and capture stories of young girls who were at risk of becoming child brides. Bangladesh has a longstanding and harmful practice of child marriage. I was like, really, God? After I said that’s the last place I’d want to go? Yes, really, He said.  

That trip, and subsequent trips to Bangladesh, changed my heart for that place. Yes, it was hard. Yes, it was so foreign to me, and yes, it was hot, stinky, indescribably crowded, and all the hard things. But I prayed for God to help me see the people there the way He sees them. I prayed a dangerous prayer – for Him to break my heart for the things that break His. And He did – into a million tiny pieces. 

Another thing I learned is that I have a much greater capacity for empathy and compassion than I thought I did. We can become so consumed with the struggles of our own lives that we forget how important, and I’d even say, freeing (from self-absorption) it is to consider the needs of others before your own.  

I’ve also learned about people in my journeys. I’ve learned that people are essentially the same, when you get down to the heart and soul. We have the same needs, desires, and even similar dreams.  

Lastly, I’ve learned a ton about God at the end of the road. Mostly that He is there. Always. Constantly. He is present in the hard places, and He loves the people there – those who by chance were born into such hard places.  

God was always present with me there, but He used the hard places I’ve been to show me how utterly alone I am in the world, and how much I need Him.  

The Evidence of His Presence

I remember one time, in a very remote part of Northern Kenya – I’m talking 8 hours by car from Nairobi, the last hour and a half on very bumpy dirt roads (so bumpy I’m shocked I didn’t break a tooth!), and the last half hour beyond where the dirt road ends and goes into the bush! That’s how remote we were. 

We stayed in a guest house that was basically a concrete room with bars over a square cut out in the concrete wall to make a window and bugs were everywhere. And for the first time, I got sick with a stomach bug in the field, and I was down for the count. So, I didn’t travel with the team out to the field that day. I stayed back at the guest room. Alone. No cell coverage. No internet. No nothing. Just me in that concrete room. And I didn’t feel well at all.  

God was there, and eventually showed me through two angels—World Concern staff who checked in on me—that He was right there with me. He heard my cries for help, and He sent them. I was able to rest peacefully the remainder of the day. 

I hope this gives you a little taste of what it’s like at the end of the road. There is pain and there is beauty. And we can learn so much about ourselves, about people, and about God, if we’re willing to make the journey. I’m so glad you’re joining me!  

So buckle up, my friend, this is not a podcast about your average church mission trip… Are you ready? Prepare for takeoff … we’re going to The End of the Road

Keep in Touch

For more information on The End of the Road podcast, visit www.worldconcern.org/podcast. Listen, download, and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever podcasts are available.

Dedicating a week of prayer for Haiti

While praying for Haiti this week, I read a story about a mom with a very ill infant who desperately needed treatment at a hospital in Haiti. However, with the severity of events in Haiti, she found herself searching for an extended period and far distances for a hospital that is open and operational to care for her baby. As I continued reading, I realized this story only touches the surface of many for the unfathomable reality of those in Haiti right now.  Haiti truly needs this week of prayer.

Maybe you’re like me and sometimes feel that some of the gut-wrenching events and turmoil happening in other countries are so much bigger than yourself. You’re kind of right. See, many of us may not be in a position to go and fix things for our neighbors physically, but we can most definitely commit to praying for them. And that is the first step we can take right here and right now.  

With our prayers this week, we can devote time to pray specifically for a revival in Haiti. We can look in scripture and be reminded of Mark 2:1-12 and recall the events of Jesus forgiving and healing the paralytic man by the radical faith of his friends who went to the extreme for him to receive healing. That is the power of prayer we are believing in for Haiti. We’re praying that the prayers and power of Christ will be a catalyst of revival and cover the present crisis in the entire country.  

Pray with us as we pray the following for Haiti:  
  • Nonprofit and mission staff in Haiti 
  • Hope and restoration for Haiti’s economy 
  • The church in Haiti 
  • The leadership of Haiti, its government, and the political and security situation in Haiti 
  • The people of Haiti

I sometimes have to remind myself that catastrophes, casualties, and crises are no respecter of persons – this alone is a reason to approach them with genuine empathy. Whether near or far, we can stand in the gap and pray for Haiti. The ability to join together for an entire week and pray with faith, humility, and intentionality for those whose lives are and have been impacted and forever changed is what this week is about.  

Be encouraged and empowered by knowing you can pray for those impacted, and it’s your thoughtful prayers that can reach the corners of Haiti. Continue praying for Haiti with us by visiting our prayer page. And stay connected with our content.  

Reaching Haiti earthquake victims at the end of the road

Astrelle’s harrowing story of rescuing her elderly parents from the rubble

The terrifying moment the magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti’s southern peninsula on Aug. 14, 55-year-old Astrelle was outside the home she shares with her nine family members, including her elderly disabled parents, daughter, and infant grandson. Astrelle was getting ready to go to the market when the earth started to shake.

Mercifully, just minutes before the quaking began, her grandbaby, who was sleeping inside the house, woke up and began to cry. The baby’s mother had gone inside and brough him out. But Astrelle’s parents were still asleep inside…

Astrelle’s first instinct was to run inside the house to get her parents out, but she was thrown down by the earth moving, hitting and injuring her head on the ground. She looked up and saw the walls of the house starting to collapse with her parents inside.

One of those walls crumbled, burying her parents beneath the rubble. Miraculously, they were still alive.

“After the tremor we had to pull them out from under the rubble and they were both injured.”

Astrelle’s mother recovers from her injuries inside the family’s badly damaged house.

“After the tremor we had to pull them out from under the rubble and they were both injured,” Astrelle said, recounting the chaos after the quake. Unable to take her parents to the hospital, she did her best to treat their injuries herself.

Despite the extensive damage to the home, the family felt they had no alternative but to sleep inside while Tropical Storm Grace dumped rain on southern Haiti. Caring neighbors gave Astrelle some salvaged metal sheets and tarps to help protect them from the storm.

Astrelle’s family lives in a small remote village, located near the epicenter of the earthquake. It’s barely accessible by road and the village itself is more than half a mile from any road. The World Concern team was the first to reach the village to assess the damage and their needs.

“This is the first time since the earthquake that an organization has come to visit us…”

Astrelle stands outside her home, where collapsed walls have been replaced by tarps in an effort to protect the family from rain.

“This is the first time since the earthquake happened that an organization has come to visit us,” said Astrelle’s daughter. “Hurricane Matthew had severely damaged our house, and no one helped us. We repaired it with our own means, but now the situation is beyond us and we don’t know what to do if no one comes to our rescue.”

If you would like to support World Concern’s earthquake response and recovery efforts in Haiti and give emergency supplies, food, water, tarps, and rebuilding assistance to families like Astrelle’s, you can donate online at www.worldconcern.org/haiti.

Keeping Haiti in the forefront of our thoughts and prayers

I have a confession. I haven’t been thinking about Haiti enough. My thoughts, as they often are, seem to be consumed with my life, what’s going on in my country, my world, my family, my home, my job (which is even partly to think about Haiti), COVID numbers… the list goes on.

I want my concern for others, especially those who are suffering, to be my natural, first instinct response. But I’m selfish, and Haiti’s crisis does not hold its rightful place as first in my thoughts.  

It seems like the world is not thinking about Haiti enough either.

Why is that? Are we desensitized to suffering, disasters, violence, poverty, and now see these tragedies as the norm?

I’ve been there—to Les Cayes, the hardest hit city on the southern peninsula in Haiti. I’ve been to Haiti several times, but I visited Les Cayes in 2012. It’s beautiful and hard there. It’s where I put my feet in the turquoise Caribbean waters, and ate fresh fish that came from those waters alongside fried plantain. And it’s where I met some beautiful people who have lived really hard lives.

Tens of thousands of homes, buildings, and churches were damaged or destroyed in the Aug. 14 earthquake that struck Haiti’s southern peninsula.

The southern peninsula of the backwards C-shaped island is often in the direct path of Atlantic storms that form to the south and creep slowly north, gaining strength and sucking up water before unleashing furious wind and lashing rain on this and other defenseless islands.

But until the morning of August 14, earthquakes were not in the minds of many living along the southern coast. In fact, some moved from Port au Prince after the 2010 quake devastated the city, in search of safety. Their worlds were once again shaken to the core when the minute-long quaking jolted them awake.

Marie Yolene lost her 14-year-old daughter in the earthquake.

It wasn’t until I saw the face of a distraught mother yesterday in a video our field staff shot—the vacant look of trauma in her eyes—that I was jolted awake and reminded of what’s happening in Haiti right now.

This mom, Marie, who lost her 14-year-old daughter, Marilyn, is one of thousands who lost loved ones, homes, everything.

Her circumstances and pain deserve my full attention. If nothing else, I need to pray. I need to move the people impacted by this crisis to the top of my prayer list, every day, and throughout the day.  

I moved recently and while unpacking boxes, I came across this painting. I bought it in 2012 from a man who was selling his artwork on the street in Haiti. I’m going to finally frame it and hang it in my home so I can remember Haiti. Every day.

We invite you to pray with us for people suffering in Haiti, and elsewhere in the world. Visit our prayer page to join us and let us know how we can pray for you. www.worldconcern.org/prayer

If you’d like to help families affected by the earthquake in Haiti, please visit www.worldconcern.org/haiti.