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.”

Building Homes, Empowering Haitians

We’ve had many delays as we rebuild in Haiti, but we’ve heard some great news. Our new Haitian staff are getting the hang of home construction and are taking on more responsibilities. This is exactly what we want to happen and truly an answer to prayer.

Since the earthquake, Humanitarian Aid organization World Concern has employed thousands of Haitians to clear rubble and repair or replace houses that were damaged or destroyed. More than 600 homes have already been repaired, and crews continue to complete approximately 80 homes per week. Now, we’re on to a new phase: assembling 500 “house-in-a-box” kits.

The following entry is from Scott Mitchell, who is from Seattle and overseeing the construction. The homes were in shipping containers, but the containers were held up in customs in Port-au-Prince for several weeks. It was a big frustration and delayed the unloading and construction schedule.

Here’s some of what Scott said on his blog:

I have been in Haiti 52 days. I was brought down here to build shelters I remember thinking before I left I had to put up 7 shelters a day to make it work. This is shelter number 1 of 500. By the grace of God He had different plans!

The team assembling 500 kit houses.
The team of workers hired to construct 500 "kit" houses in Haiti.

The picture here is the shelter team that will be doing the work. We all were pretty happy that this one shelter is put up. We took time at the end of the day to just thank Jesus and ask for more grace. We all need it. I don’t know where I would be without it.  We should be putting one up in the field next week. I am excited to see what God is doing with this team.

There are those that are here to learn, and learn they did. The difference between Monday and Friday was huge—going from never using a drill to now building a complete structure using nothing but screws to hold it together. They went from moving individual pieces of metal out of a container to putting roof structures that they build onto a shelter. They went from bug-eyed wonder to wonderful smiles of joy and a sense of competence. They went from not knowing a thing about metal to teaching others about metal.

A team from Steel Elements that was brought in to build the jigs (jigs are templates to build the building by) was amazed at the progress. They even went from a “good luck” mindset to an attitude of “they are really going to get this and do well.” They worked very closely with our foreman and despite the language barrier, by the end of the week they were communicating fairly effectively. Our guys learned a lot from them and I am pretty sure they learned a lot from our guys.

I feel blessed by God with the quality of foremen that we have found. Honestly, I don’t know where we found all of them but I am impressed. By the end of the week they were coming up with solutions to problems that we faced, they were pushing the Steel Element guys aside and doing the work themselves. They were eager and willing to do the work. It was evident that some of them took home a set of plans and studied them. They want to do a good job, and by God’s grace they will. I think it might take a few shelters for them to really get the hang of it, but they will get it down and they will produce a great finished product.

Learn and act.

Staff Profile: Jillian Thorp’s Story of Survival

Jillian Thorp talks with engineers in Haiti.
World Concern Haiti staff member Jillian Thorp talks with engineers overseeing house repairs. Photo by Frank Thorp.

World Concern attracts people who feel called to help in the world’s most desperate situations. It attracts staff members willing—even longing—to live in poor, troubled places, and serve.

Jillian Thorp is one of those people.

Jan. 12 had been an emotional and busy day for Jillian. She was finishing one of several meetings at her office at another nonprofit in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that day when the building began to sway. “It was almost like having a dizzy spell, then things started to fall off tables,” she recalls. A coworker grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her under a door frame. “About 10 seconds later, everything came down around us.”

Jillian and her coworker were both trapped from the waist down on the first floor of a two-story building. A door had fallen on top of them, miraculously protecting them from being hammered by debris. Another miracle is that Jillian had fallen with her cell phone. Although she couldn’t call out, she received several phone calls from friends in the U.S. and was able to tell them she was trapped and needed help. The last call she received was from her husband, Frank, who was working about six hours north of Port-au-Prince. “He said, ‘We’re coming,’” she remembers. Then the phone line cut, leaving them without communication.

Three hours later, Jillian heard someone calling her name. It was two other coworkers who had come back to see if she was safe. She was able to call to them, and they began digging with their bare hands. Eventually they had to leave to get more help and tools to break up and remove the concrete that surrounded her. She and her coworker were trapped for 10 hours. Frank arrived about an hour before she was freed.

“They pulled me up onto the roof,” said Jillian, who was gasping for fresh air and reeling with the realization of what she’d just been through. “The house had completely pancaked. I could see that the only place I could have survived is where I was. It was just a complete miracle that I was there and the way the house fell, that I was protected and we made it out.”

As an American, Jillian was able to be treated for her injuries at a hospital in the Dominican Republic and then fly home to the U.S. the next day. She struggled with survivor’s guilt, leaving behind those who had become like family and who had risked their lives to rescue her. “Why did I make it through something like that when so many others didn’t?” She wondered.

She returned to Haiti, just five weeks after the disaster. “I’ve just got to try,” she told herself. “I’ve got to see if there’s something still in me, that I could help these people.”

Jillian heard about World Concern from family members at home, researched the work we do, and saw it as a shining example of a successful aid organization. She liked that we have a 30-year history in Haiti, and that nearly all staff are Haitians. “So many organizations brought in so many people, so many foreigners, who didn’t understand,” she said. With a background in advocacy and a degree in diplomacy and conflict resolution, “It felt just right,” said Jillian, who accepted the position of Program Support Manager for the Emergency Relief Team in March – just two months after the quake.

“It’s been so healing for me to work with an organization that’s so supportive. It’s been a blessing,” she said. “I was looking for a higher purpose. I got through this earthquake. There’s got to be a reason.”

Jillian understands the frustration people feel, watching from afar, at the pace of the recovery efforts, but being involved in it every day, she sees much progress. “There’s such hope for the future of this country, but there’s a long way to go for sure. There are some  hard decisions in front of the humanitarian community … we can’t figure it out in one day, or even a couple of years,” she said. “But we have 617 homes we’ve repaired. That’s 617 families who have returned to their homes. We have just over 2,000 people employed through Cash for Work,” which is World Concern’s program to employ local people to clean up rubble and rebuild.

“Whether you see it when you walk down the street or not, when you look at World Concern and you see those, it’s significant,” Jillian said.

Along with the entire World Concern staff, Jillian shares great compassion for the Haitian people. “They’ve been through a lot, but their spirit is so resilient. They still have dreams. They know all this money is coming into this country. They try to take ownership of this project – to be a part of the rebuilding process,” she said. “It really should be their own. The U.S. didn’t fall apart, Haiti did. Ask Haitians what they want and ask them to help us do it. World Concern is really great at that.”

Jillian Thorp's collapsed house.
This is all that was left of the building Jillian was in when the earthquake hit. Photo by Frank Thorp.
Jillian and Frank Thorp.
Jillilan and her husband Frank are grateful she survived the earthquake and continue to work in Haiti.

We Love You, Haiti! Sincerely, Washington State


A school desk bound for Haiti
World Concern Haiti Country Director Christon Domond inspects desks with Susan Talbot during a visit to our headquarters last month. The desk is one of dozens being loaded today into a shipping container bound for Haiti.

It’s like an enormous care package for Haiti from all across Washington.

Today, just south of Seattle, a 40’ shipping container is being packed with a variety of supplies to help children in Haiti, just in time for the new school year. We’re loading up dozens of desks, uniforms and school supplies for more than 1,300 kids. All of the items were donated – most by donors in Washington.

Eighty-seven desks from a Washington State University dorm in Pullman will be put to use in classrooms in Haiti, and a Port-au-Prince hospital will receive 25 patient tables and cabinets from an assisted living home in Bellevue.

Imagine the delighted smiles when 1,320 kids open packages filled with school supplies, hand packed with love by donors and churches around the Puget Sound region. The Kids’ Healing Kits also include soap, toothpaste and other hygiene items, as well as stuffed animals and other toys to help the youngest earthquake victims heal from emotional trauma.

Volunteers and homeless men hired for the day are helping World Concern pack the 40’ shipping container inside of a warehouse in Sumner. From there, the container will be trucked to a rail yard, then loaded on a train bound for New York. The final leg of the trip will be on a ship, the MSC Austria, which is scheduled to arrive in Port-au-Prince on Aug. 29.

We’ve put some thought into what we’re shipping. Our staff in Haiti has either requested these items, or has found areas where these items will fill a critical need – an important piece in making sure humanitarian aid helps communities, rather than hindering the healing process.

Thank you, donors and volunteers, for making this giant care package possible!

To read more about what we’re doing in Haiti, click here.

What looks different in Haiti now

The following is a report from World Concern’s Jacinta Tegman, who is in Haiti this week with a team from the Seattle area:

A Hatian boy outisde his newly repaired home.
A smiling young boy outside his newly repaired home in Port-au-Prince.

It has been almost four months since I was last in Haiti. When I was here in early March the city of Port au Prince was just ending a critical response phase. Some streets were impassable because of rubble. Very little business had started up. Schools were not in session and the normal hustle and bustle of the city was missing. I think the Haitians were still in a state of shock. As a part of World Concern, I was able to see the transition from phase one — meeting the immediate needs of water, food, shelter, and family reunification — to the road ahead of rebuilding lives

I can really tell a difference in the city since March. Much of the rubble has been cleared and there are signs of construction everywhere. Lots of street vendors are out, school children in their uniforms rush to class, and the remaining piles of rubble have become part of the city landscape.

As difficult a time as the people have had, there is little room for prolonged grief as little ones still need to be fed, work must be sought out, and the very real need of adequate housing is reaching a critical stage. We drove by camp after camp of tents, and the tents look like they can’t survive much longer.

The road ahead to sustainable recovery is a long one. Yet, even now I see signs of progress and for these people progress is made one small step at a time. When I was here in March, World Concern’s Cash for Work program was in a pilot stage. A few small groups were clearing the rubble of where they once lived, earning a salary to provide for their families and gaining hope that they would be able to leave the tent camps. Now World Concern employs 2,100 workers. Not only have massive amounts of rubble been cleared but homes have been made habitable and new, safer homes are being built.

Is there more to do? Absolutely! But I am so thankful for what has already been accomplished. When I looked into the eyes of a little boy standing outside of his newly repaired home, I know that there is hope in Haiti. In the middle of all this tragedy hope shines brightly. It takes so many to make this possible and I am profoundly grateful that I can say to these people that despite all the challenges they face, people are praying for them, people are giving to help them, and we will walk with them all the way through to full recovery. Isn’t that what Jesus sent us to do? I am so privileged to represent so many that have given to relieve their suffering. God bless you for your compassion.

Why We Won’t Give Up On Haiti

A Haitian grandmother outside her tent.
A Haitian grandmother sits outside her tent, where she lives with nine other people.

It’s been six months. To me, it doesn’t seem that long since January 12. I know we’ve made progress in the recovery. But to Haitians still in need, the last six months probably have seemed like an eternity.

As someone who has visited the country a few times, before and after the quake, I am not surprised Haiti remains a mess. For homeless Haitians, they have no choice but to deal with it.

Last time I was there, I sat with a grandmother in an obliterated neighborhood who smiled, touched my hand – and reassured me – when describing her life in a tent with nine other people. She showed me how they prop up their tent on rocks during thunderstorms to allow rainwater to race underneath.

Let me step back and look at what life was like pre-quake. Before the earthquake, the fragile people – and the government – were surviving on a thread. This is a place that was enduring a food crisis, where the poorest people ate mud pies, just to feel like they were eating SOMETHING. Even then, Port-au-Prince looked a like a disaster zone.

For years, the lack of basic services and infrastructure – imagine city roads only passable by 4×4 because of rocks and ruts – and the astounding poverty (80% of the population) formed a framework of instability. Still, when I visited a year prior, the UN security force, MINUSTAH, was both tolerated by locals and was providing a baseline of stability. And amazingly, Haiti WAS slowly improving.

Countries teetering on the edge of failure, though, cannot handle something like a massive earthquake. Something of that scale would likely strain even solid governments. The quake seemed to push Haiti’s government off of the radar. It is easy to see why: nearly all of the government offices, including the presidential palace, still are in ruins.

But , here is the net effect: Right now, it is up to the desperately poor to pick up the pieces and continue on. These are people who make, on average, $1.25 or less a day, like the grandma in the tent. These are people who lost their homes, livelihoods and family members. THANKFULLY, the poor are not alone, as agencies like World Concern are providing critical assistance to rebuild.

I also know this to be true: Corruption and inefficiency remain in Haiti. I’ve heard first-hand stories about how the relief is not getting done quickly enough because of powerful people who want to control the flow of supplies – and get a cut from aid organizations. Add this to a crippled infrastructure and general complications with an enormous international response, and you have a mammoth ship with many captains that is difficult to steer.

Still, I get agitated when I hear people say that the U.S. should essentially write off Haiti. I often see comments like these in response to news stories about Haiti. The logic is, “Why don’t we spend that money here. It’s just going to waste over there.”

So – what should we do about it? What is the right thing to do about it?

I can tell you one thing for certain, that if we simply decide to look away, to say it is a lost cause, people will die. Haitians do not have the resources. Plain and simple. Thankfully, many compassionate people have decided that providing this aid is the right thing to do, even if it is complicated.

What do we value? To me, we have a responsibility – as people who are able – to save lives. In a situation like this, an epic humanitarian crisis, we must have the interest of the most vulnerable in mind, not an unwillingness to work in or with a country that has failed its people.

Though progress is slow, we are rebuilding lives. For its part, World Concern is using the money pledged to rebuild in productive ways. We have provided aid to 100,000 people in the form of some sort of relief supplies or services. We have rebuilt nearly 600 homes and are ready to assemble 500 “home kits.” And, we are restarting small businesses through grants, which total about $150,000 to date.

Without a doubt, Haiti has one of the most messed up governments in the world. And, by World Concern’s estimates, the recovery time needed to rebuild has gone from 3-5 years, to 20.

I wish people could sit with a grandma in Haiti as I have. It makes it so much more real. Instead of reciting the figure that 2 million people are directly affected by the quake, it is much more helpful to recall the individual people we are fighting for. The grandmother, who touches your hand in her miserable situation and prays and believes that she will get through this pain.

Despite Haiti’s troubles, that kind grandma, through no fault of her own, lives in Haiti – and just needs to go to bed at night knowing she won’t be washed away in the storm.

Read more about what we’re doing now in this Reuters article.

Learn more and join our response.

Help Wanted: Darfur Refugees Find Work

Chad refugee
Mohammed, a 21-year-old refugee from Darfur, works in World Concern's Cash for Work program.

Stone by stone, 21-year-old Mohammed builds back a bit of his dignity. The tall, lean young man works with several hundred other refugees in 100 degree heat in Eastern Chad, picking up rocks, and dropping them into rows.

He joins other men, and many women wearing bright traditional dresses, to build these low rock walls on hillsides to reduce erosion.

The task: simple and exhausting. The outcome: dignity and freedom.

What I saw today was amazing. Darfur war refugees had an opportunity to work.

“This I like,” Mohammed tells me in English. “I buy clothes. I eat. It’s for my family.”

Mohammed left his home in Darfur, Sudan, seven years ago. He says Janjaweed rebels killed his father and many other family members, shooting rocket propelled grenades into his village.

Since he fled, he’s been living near Goz Beida, Chad. He’s in one of several camps here. In spite of his current life, he does not want to return to Sudan. All told, more than 400,000 people are refugees or   internally displaced in Chad.

Because Mohammed and thousands of others are not at home, they have seen that finding work is an incredible challenge. Because they can’t work, they can’t provide for their families beyond what they are given.

World Concern’s program, called Cash For Work, allows them to earn an income, giving them some financial freedom again, while also improving their environment.

The low walls, called bunds, slow the rain runoff down hillsides. This encourages water to soak into the ground, raising the water table. Within a year, it will be a good place for farming and a better place to drill a well.

The influx of refugees has exacted a toll on the local environment, as they have torn down trees to burn for firewood. The rock walls – and tree replanting – are helping to heal the land.

For Mohammed, he treasures each opportunity to earn money. He enjoys learning, and says he likes America. His future remains uncertain, but he now has more of a chance to direct it on his own terms.

Learn more and take action: www.worldconcern.org/darfurcrisis