The Human Price of War

Signs warn of land mines in Sri Lanka.
Signs like this warn of land mines in Sri Lanka.

The explosion we heard tonight was powerful, rumbling, and – thankfully – not next door. We’re guessing it was a land mine on the outskirts of town.

I’m in Sri Lanka, a country that only last year ended a 26-year-long civil war. There remains tension between the warring ethnic groups – tension that World Concern is trying to help ease through economic opportunities and relationship building.

Land mines are a fact of life (and death) here in the part of the country last to see conflict. Mine clearance crews have picked up most of the mines, but not all. Caution tape and red skull and cross-bone signs mark the hazard zones. Some of these hazard zones are not very far from tents set up by families who have lost their homes in the war.

World Concern is working to bridge ethnic tensions to reduce the chance of war returning to this beautiful country.

A widown in Sri Lanka.
Kamaladarie, a widow in Sri Lanka, sits outside her home with her three children and holds a portrait of her husband who died in a mine blast.

Most importantly, though, we are assisting those civilians who have lost everything. I met a woman tonight whose late husband was almost exactly my age. She held a portrait of him, as she sat beside her mud and sticks home. She says a bomb blast killed him as he was working his field on his tractor.

Now – occasionally flashing a beautiful smile between looks of great sadness – she tells us she’s raising her three children alone. The smallest boy still doesn’t understand where daddy went. Seeing people who have lost everything – family, home, income, and sense of security – brings the reality of what war really is to the forefront of my mind. Really, what is worth this kind of pain?

I don’t want to get into a recap of the long conflict between the Tamil Tiger militants – identified as terrorists – and the Sri Lankan government, but I do want to say that it is incredibly painful to see the end result of this long-simmering angst.

I pray that I don’t meet many more widows in my life like I did today. Jesus, please bring your peace.

Suffering & Solace: Preparing to See Sri Lanka

Here are some thoughts from Mark Lamb, World Concern Ministry Development Coordinator, who is leaving tonight for Sri Lanka. He and other headquarters staff will be visiting areas of Sri Lanka where World Concern is helping victims of the country’s civil war rebuild their lives. They will be documenting their experiences on this blog.

I’m leaving for Sri Lanka tonight and I haven’t started packing.  I’m not worried about it yet because my wife has worried enough for both of us.  I probably shouldn’t take is so lightly, but I’m still wrapped up in the routine of American life.  I got up this morning at the same time I always do, got ready in the same order and got to work at exactly 7:40 a.m.  My days are governed by routine and the outcomes are almost always predictable.

A woman sheds tears in Sri Lanka.
A woman sheds tears after being released from a camp for displaced people following the violent end to Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009.

In 2009, a civil war which had affected an entire generation came to a close. More than 80,000 people lost their lives, entire villages were destroyed and countless children are now without fathers or mothers.

In two days I’ll be standing in these communities, among people who have experienced complete devastation.  I know from the stories our Sri Lanka staff relays that I’ll meet children who lost limbs during the fighting.  I know I’ll meet people who have watched as loved ones were maimed or killed, and I know I’ll be met by blank stares from people who have lost all hope for the future.

But right now I’m sitting at my desk, in my routine, and I know I don’t have the reaction I should.

– Mark

Learn more about World Concern’s work in Sri Lanka.

Returning home to Bangladesh

World Concern Director of International Health Programs Dr. Paul Robinson began his new position with a trip to Bangladesh, his native country. He visited World Concern’s programs there and shares some of his experiences below.

Meet Doctor Ragib

A student in Bangladesh.
With World Concern's support, Rajib is on his way to fulfilling his dream to be a doctor.

At a World Concern sponsored elementary school in Bangladesh, I met a young boy named Rajib. I asked him what he hopes to become when he grows up. Rajib looked straight at me and matter-of-factly, with great confidence in his voice, told me without batting eye, “I will be a doctor.”

This short encounter reminded me of another young boy in Bangladesh, who some decades ago dreamt of becoming a doctor. He had very little chance on his own and his family had no resources for his medical education. But only thru God’s grace and His provision that young school boy not only earned his medical degree in Bangladesh, but also became a seminary graduate, and a public health professional in the U.S.

I know this story of God’s miracle very well because I am that boy. And I know He can do the same for Ragib.

With World Concern support, Ragib is well on his way to becoming an accomplished physician as he continues to come to school every day with his dad giving him a ride on his bicycle.

Completing the circle

Her bright eyes, warm smile and gentle spirit connect this young teacher, Jhoomoor Roy, to her elementary students at a World Concern sponsored school in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A teacher in Bangladesh.
Jhoomoor Roy was once a student at this World Concern sponsored school. Now she's teaching children there and giving them the same opportunities she has had.

Watching her in the classroom, it was hard for me to believe that Jhoomoor used to sit on these same benches in this same school just a few years ago, herself a young, student whose education was sponsored by World Concern.

With stellar results, she passed her school and college finals. As she continues her studies at the university, Jhoomoor teaches at this school, completing a full circle from being a student here herself to helping children who, like her, are now being educated.

Donations to World Concern have not only brought blessings to one, but to successive generations as well.

Tangible ways to change lives in the poorest places on earth

A few months back I saw a photograph of a boy sifting through garbage in a dump in Bangladesh, looking for something that wasn’t rotten to eat. My heart ached for him, and I felt compelled to help this young victim of extreme poverty in some way.  Short of praying for him to receive help, there didn’t seem much I could do for that particular boy. But I can help others just like him, in some very tangible ways. And so can you.

Think about how buying a farm animal for a family goes so far beyond a temporary fix – it’s a source of lasting income and nutrition. Or, how sending a child like that boy in the dump to school for a year, or purchasing a uniform and school supplies, offer hope for a better future beyond a single meal or hand out.

World Concern’s Global Gift Guide literally allows you to “shop” for ways to transform lives with powerfully meaningful gifts. At the same time, you’re solving the dilemma of what to get friends and family members this holiday season.

The 2011 Global Gift Guide is hot off the press and in the mail this week, or you can also easily order online. Here’s what’s new this year:

solar cooker
A solar cooker saves money normally spent on cooking fuel in Chad.

A solar cooker for a Darfur war refugee in Chad. Imagine cooking in a crock pot, heated by the sun’s energy. But its benefits go far beyond a warm meal. A solar cooker means that women who usually gather firewood will no longer have to risk her safety gathering sticks – or spend her family’s meager income on fuel for cooking. Plus, her children can’t burn themselves on the solar cooker, and the family’s hut is safe from fire.

A profitable pig for a family in Myanmar. One sow can produce 20 piglets a year, and in six months, each piglet grows to 200 pounds. Pigs produce pigs – and in turn – help make an income. They also provide protein for undernourished girls and boys in this country recovering from a devastating cyclone.

Farm tools to share. A donkey or horse plow, automatic seeder, horse cart or peanut huller helps up to 25 families.  This gear, including a horse plow, is shared or rented – making higher-yield production. The farm tools benefit families in Chad who are refugees or displaced because of the Darfur war.

haiti earthquake damage
A gift of "disaster response" from the Global Gift Guide helps communities rebuild after a disaster.

Disaster recovery for a community. With the one-year anniversary of the massive earthquake in Haiti approaching on Jan. 12, and an estimated one million people still homeless, your Christmas shopping money could mean  a family is equipped to start their live over in a disaster-torn community. What could have more impact than shelter from a storm or being able to restart a business that was destroyed?

In addition to these new items, the guide is full of life-changing gifts: wells for villages in Kenya, schooling for a deaf child in Bangladesh, plus vegetable gardens, orchards, immunizations and business loans.

Please join us and share this with your friends. You can make a lasting difference in the lives of others – including your loved ones in whose names the gifts are given.

Merry Christmas!

Timely vote in Sudan is needed to keep peace

Vocational students in Sudan
Students are learning mechanics at a newly opened vocational school in Sudan. This is just one of the ways World Concern is helping improves lives in southern Sudan.

Media coverage of Sudan’s upcoming referendum scheduled for a vote in January 2011 has increased recently as the date draws closer and President Obama spoke on the issue at the UN General Assembly last week. World Concern works in southern Sudan, and the relative peace in that region over the past five years has allowed us to make great progress in extremely poor communities.

As a humanitarian agency, we limit our involvement in the political processes of the countries where we serve. We know, though, that violence hinders our work – and we expect violence if the vote is delayed. Therefore, we hope and pray for a peaceful outcome to the process this January.

Dave Eller, World Concern’s president, shares some thoughts below. He visited Sudan in June and saw firsthand the struggles people face there to overcome decades of war and violence – many of whom lost everything in a conflict they didn’t support.

“On a recent trip to southern Sudan I overheard many conversations about the referendum that is to take place in January. The people of southern Sudan are very anxious to have this vote take place as scheduled. They seem to believe that if the vote does not happen as scheduled it will be postponed indefinitely and may not happen. There is fear that if the referendum is not held there would be a return to violence.

The peace accords that were signed attest to the fact that is it is possible to end fighting. Turning back from the decisions made five years ago would seem to be a significant step backwards. While I am not an expert on Sudanese politics, it is easy to see the benefits that peace has brought.

In this time of relative peace since 2005 significant progress has been made in the development of the South. The people have had the opportunity to start rebuilding their lives. In World Concern’s work we have seen schools reestablished, businesses started, food provided equitably, and community health programs get underway. A return to violence would put the progress that has been made at risk.

The remains of a burned house in Sudan
This is all that remains of a house that was burned during violence in Sudan, which has ceased since a peace agreement between the north and south of that country was reached in 2005.

The referendum needs to be more than just timely. The voting needs to be free and fair.  The voices of the people need to be heard in this very important decision-making process. The people of Sudan desire to have a voice in their future. They have shared with me their heart to see a future lived out in peace and not conflict. The answers may or may not be found in this referendum, but clearly if it does not take place, or if it is not free and fair, it would be a step backwards.

It is my prayer that the leaders of north and south Sudan would find resolution to the remaining issues so that the people of Sudan might live in peace. Sudanese parents I spoke with desire to raise their children free from the threat of violence and war. This is what every parent would want. As international communities we should continue to hold all of the leaders to that standard, and recognize that the solutions must be found to keep from plunging the country back into civil war.

This is a critical time in the history of Sudan. It is a critical time in the lives of millions of people. Let us remember our brothers and sisters throughout the country of Sudan in our prayers.”

Lost Freedom in Eastern Chad

Ache stands inside a hut in Chad.
Ache faces a daily struggle to survive in the Djabal refugee camp in Eastern Chad.

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

Angry in Nairobi

For the past week, I’ve been here in Nairobi, Kenya, reviewing the ministries in which World Concern is involved, enjoying once more the warmth and commitment of our staff.  I return home this evening.

After a wonderful visit and the anticipation of returning home, why am I angry?

I am angry with those who, perhaps in sincerity and perhaps for attention, intended to burn copies of the Koran this weekend.  General Petraeus, along with many government and religious leaders, have warned about the loss of life that is likely to result from this event. But they are not telling the entire story.

We work in areas where militant Islamists are not only our enemies but the enemies of others who follow Islam. Many more Muslims have been killed by the Islamic fundamentalists than those of other faiths. The security services that monitor the situation in areas of fundamentalist activities have issued a warning to agencies working there, including World Concern, and especially to those that identify themselves as followers of Christ to take steps to protect their staff and, at least for a while, to curtail their witness.

I’m angry because some of the most dedicated followers of Christ I have had the joy to meet are endangered and may lose their lives because the actions of a few who sit far away, reflecting hatred to those for whom Jesus died and loves with the same intensity that he loves each of us.

In its militancy, were the plans of the Dove World Outreach Center reflecting the way of Christ?

Muslims will sometimes suggest Christians follow a very impractical religion. What is the point of loving your enemies? How much more impractical can we become than that?

The Bible records only one time when Jesus healed a wound.  It was a wound inflicted by one of his followers who was trying to protect him, on a man who had come to arrest him and take him eventually to his death. Clearly he did not agree with the harm his disciple inflicted on a perceived enemy.

I’m grateful to learn that the burning of the Koran at this one Florida church has been called off, but remain concerned that others will carry out this action in other places. And unfortunately, damage has already been done.

Independence: Evidence of a Job Well Done

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.

Two Kenyan students walk home from school.
School boys walking home from Lekanka Hills Primary School.

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.”

Every parent able to care for their children

Mother and child Sri Lanka

I have been fortunate to take a few days off to relax at a friend’s cabin in the woods.  I was thinking and praying while sitting in a camp chair in the Wenatchee River.  It was the heat of the day and I was being refreshed with my feet soaking in the water.

The conversation I was having with God was about the vision He has given me for the world.  There are many things which should be changed in our world, but I am called to a particular vision—a calling Melissa and I received in 1999 that has become clearer as we have sought to be obedient.  We choose serving with World Concern because the vision we have been given intersects with World Concern’s.

I have a vision of a world where every parent (grandparent, caregiver) can meet the needs of their children.  Traveling the world I have seen that parents everywhere care deeply about their children, even as I do about my four children.  Parents are given the responsibility by God to raise up their children and in almost all cases this is what they desire to do.  Yet hundreds of millions cannot provide the basic needs.  It is not lack of concern or effort it is bigger world issues.

We must change the world.  We must create a place where every parent can provide nutrition, shelter, health, education and spiritual nurture for their children.  Our world view is formed within our families and communities. God created the family for this purpose.  If we are going to change the world it must be done generationally through families.

How would I feel if someone else had to step in and provide care for my children?  It is demoralizing to have others care for our children.  When parents are set aside so that outsiders can meet their children’s needs, it may feel good to the outsider, but it is a very negative experience for the parent.  We need to provide for the family needs by empowering the parents.

In disaster situations this may require direct food inputs, but let us do so with the family in mind.  Most of the need in the world can be overcome through supporting the caregivers by providing education, health systems, water, food security, education, and income opportunity.  Wrapping all of that will be the need for Biblical values that direct life decisions.

We know that future generations must be prepared to run this world.  Strengthening the family to meet the needs of their children is a generational solution to poverty.  Children raised by parents meeting their needs will learn to do the same for their children in turn.  Parents have the greatest influence on the lives of children we can and must positively change that influence.

Honoring humanitarian workers

Richard Johannessen surrounded by children in Bangladesh.
Richard Johannessen surrounded by children in rural Bangladesh.

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 distributes water after earthquake.
Christon Domond distributes bottled water after the earthquake in Haiti.

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.

Selina Prem Kumar with an injured child.
Selina Prem Kumar holds an injured child in Sri Lanka.

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.”