Ever since I have worked at World Concern, I have seen the photos and heard the stories about Goz Beida. It’s a small town in Eastern Chad that grew from about 5,000 people to 70,000 people as the Darfur War and associated conflicts. It’s dirty, overcrowded – and the only safe haven thousands of families have experienced since they were chased from their homes by crazy gun-wielding maniacs. They’ve left their farms, they’ve seen their homes and communities burned, they’ve lost loved ones in the violence. Now – they are camping. Camping from now until who-knows-when. Their lives have become upended, and they are trying to see a future in chaos.
World Concern supports these refugees and displaced people with humanitarian aid in a variety of ways. In general, we help ensure thousands of them don’t die from health epidemics and empower them to make money so that they can buy food and provide for their families with dignity.
So that’s why I have the privilege in traveling there right now. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be meeting those who we serve, and seeing the ways their lives have changed since they left their homes. My job is to document what we do in photos and video.
Please let me know what questions you would like answered, as I would love to be your eyes and ears there in the camps.
It must feel a little like Christmas morning in Uganda right now as people there unpack a shipping container filled with some of the highest quality clothing and custom flannel baby blankets-stuff that anyone here in the U.S. would love to own. The gifts made the voyage all the way from Seattle, bringing comfort to moms and babies at rural maternity clinics and meeting the needs of children and adults living in refugee camps.
Ten thousand articles of clothing — shirts, pants and more — donated by ExOfficio and worth a quarter million dollars, are being handed out by World Concern through partner agency Pilgrim Uganda to those with the greatest need. Among them are traumatized former child soldiers. Now young adults, these victims are struggling to erase the memories of being forced to kill against their will. With the basic need of new clothes met, they can focus on the healing work at hand.
The baby blankets, made by Seattle-based Swaddle Designs, are coveted by even celebrity moms. These same soft, organic cotton blankets will soon be wrapped around infants in remote bush areas during outreach visits, thanks to this global baby shower. Imagine the looks on the Ugandan moms’ faces when they receive their plush gifts. These blankets are not just about luxury, they’re actually good for babies. Swaddling reminds newborns of being in the womb, prevents over-stimulation and helps them sleep better.
Giving stuff like this feels good, but we only do it if it will not adversely affect local economies. That is the case here, as those we are helping are extremely poor, living in slums after being displaced by war. They simply don’t have money for clothes — and a clean baby blanket is an answer to countless mothers’ prayers.
Don’t you love thinking about donations here making their way from here to the far corners of the world? Such practical ways to spread a little warmth to those in dire need.
I just received an amazing email from the president of World Concern, David Eller. He’s in Africa. You know the idea of giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish? Well, we’ve trained fishermen in Kenya. Actually – bankers and businesspeople.
We started community credit unions several years ago … and the people who we’ve helped have taken the concepts they’ve learned and started their own new credit union. The idea of saving and getting loans has been a new concept for many of the people we serve. But when they “get it,” they can save to pay for school fees, have money to last them through a drought, and also get loans to start and expand businesses.
They are able to better provide for themselves and take control of their own destiny. Sustainable development. This is cool stuff.
Anyway, here is what Dave wrote:
One of the Village Credit Unions (Financial Service Associations) that World Concern launched in rural Kiritiri, Kenya is reproducing itself. World Concern has set up seven village credit unions in rural parts of Kenya with the goal of each of them becoming self sustaining. It is a program that is working with six of the seven making a profit for their community shareholders last year.
In an exciting development one of the more remote and successful credit unions decided to open a branch office in the neighboring district. They are using the profits from their first location to expand into the new district.
They realized that 250 of their 770 share holders were coming a great distance from the neighboring district Kivaa just to access financial services the credit union provided. The shareholder board of directors decided that they should open a branch in Kivaa to provide the financial services that are not available.
On their own they have found and remodeled a location for the credit union Kivaa office. Then they started selling additional shares in the credit union with 40 new members joining the first day. From our experience with credit unions that is an amazing one day of share selling. The new community is very excited and the home credit union is affirmed in the need for this branch. As part of setting up the new location have requested that World Concern provide a safe and training for the branch manager and cashier.
This example of community ownership and reaching out for new opportunities shows that there is a complete grasp of the concepts of meeting their own needs from resources within the community.
This information came from our Kenya Economic Development Manager Winnie Ghachuri. We were talking in her office here in Nairobi, Kenya on the first day of my Africa visit. Winnie has many years of experience with humanitarian aid and economic development programs. She is very excited to see this community driven developmental step taking place.
World Concern started planting Financial Service Associations in 2004. This savings based community model of economic development has brought beneficial financial services to remote areas of Kenya. The program has also been launched in our program areas in South Sudan. Two more locations have been identified and will be started in the second half of this year.
Hope for many people has four legs and goes “Maaa!” It is time again to Give A Goat!
I bring this up because it is time once again to consider goats, and to invite them into our lives. I will buy several this year, even though I live in a city, and have nowhere for them to roam. I will buy several as Christmas presents for family, and turn them over to people who desperately need them. Give A Goat! It is truly Humanitarian Aid.
I recently took a trip with World Concern to visit Haiti, a country filled with wonderful people who struggle to eat, learn and find work. Then, last summer, three hurricanes and a tropical storm further ravaged the country.
I met families in Haiti who live on resources that would baffle most people. It is not unusual for someone to stake their livelihoods on a couple of goats, but that is exactly what people I met are forced to do.
I met a sweet grandmother in Haiti named Thermogene who lost everything – EVERYTHING – she owns in the hurricanes, including goats, and she was left without an income. For Thermogene, an income comes from raising a few animals, including goats. And the storm killed every animal.
When I met Thermogene, it was about 100 degrees. I was hot. It was dusty. She was dressed in her best clothes. She was ecstatic. What in the world would make this woman smile so much?
Thermogene received two goats from World Concern, and with it she will be able to sell milk and sell the kids, when her goats have babies. People who donated through World Concern also gave her fruit trees.
These are such simple gifts. It is easy to donate – to Give A Goat. To Thermogene and so many others, goats provide life.
World Concern’s humanitarian aid programs in Asia run the gamut, from disaster response, to job training, to education. I had the chance recently to document our programs in Asia over the course of 40 days. Today I mapped it out on Google. Follow along and learn about what World Concern does in the lives of the poor.
My friend Matt Case has temporarily left his job behind a microphone to see what life is like in African villages. Matt is the mid-day radio host on Christian radio station Spirit 105.3 in Seattle and has joined World Concern to visit some of our humanitarian aid projects in Kenya. He just arrived on Sunday and has completed his first full day in the field. The goal of this trip is to equip Matt with the truth: Compelled by Christ’s love, we can transform the lives of the poor and offer them hope.
In this first day, Matt has seen World Concern’s Orphan and Vulnerable Children (OVC) program. He’s met widows and boys and girls who have lost their parents because of AIDS. World Concern is helping equip orphans and their new guardians to live healthy and productive lives.
Here’s a cool note I just received from Matt, with explanatiory notations from me:
Here in Narok (small town near a wildlife refuge) at the Chambi Hotel right now sitting with Sakuda (a World Concern staff member) … finished dinner after a long long hot and dusty day in the field! Did an OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) in-home visit…WOW!!! Local church pastor took us there with WC and it was amazing.
Then off to two sites……Empura and then Endoinyio Narasha welcomed by the kids and teachers singing. Kids are amazing and the love that we see there is fantastic! God is at work big time here. Saw clean water well, a bank, and I bought in and became a member of the bank with 3 shares!!! It was a long hot day and seeing the two widows on the OVC was a hard one on the heart. Took some toys to the kids and then we were all invited to join in in a traditional Massai dance…Yeah Dave Eller (World Concern’s president) was getting down!!! (Right on!) I have video to prove it!!!
Big day tomorrow so I must get going…I think its time for a tea (every day, several times a day) and Sakuda is telling the Mizungo (white person) is on the internet!!! Great times and we’ll try to email if we can. Internet has been down in Narok for 2 weeks I guess??? Not like home with wi fi EVERYWHERE…T.I.A (Truth in Action?) …this is Africa!
The internet connection kind of stinks where Matt is right now, but whenever he gets a chance, he’s posting to his Facebook page and shooting me a more detailed message as well. So check in a little later to this blog and get an update on his adventure in Africa!
Here’s a handy tip for keeping elephants from eating your garden: You should install several low-voltage electric lines close together along your fence. If they are spaced wide, the elephant will rip one out, reach between, and eat your vegetables.
That gardening trip is from World Concern President Dave Eller, who has returned to Kenya to get an update on our projects. Dave and his family lived in Kenya for several years, as Dave served as the country director. It was refreshing for Dave to arrive and see many successes in a variety of areas of Humanitarian Aid. As an executive, he often deals with problems and doesn’t get to relish the victories.
Here is some of what he’s seen:
Maasai herders are learning how to farm. This year they built a one acre farm behind a solar electric fence and the first crop has been harvested. With dwindling availability for open rangeland, it is important for the Maasai to think beyond what they’ve done in the past (herding) and look to new opportunities (agriculture, small business). It was at this pilot project farm that Dave saw the low-voltage electric fence to keep out elephants.
Stigma against AIDS orphans is way down. The children are being accepted by the community after World Concern’s educational and support services began five years ago. World Concern has reached 5,000 children and is preparing to turn over this particular orphans project to churches to run indefinitely on their own. Many of the volunteers providing the Humanitarian Aid are from Christian churches, and the outlook from the orphans has grown much more hopeful.
We now have seven Financial Service Associations, also known as village banks. The first five are making a profit and adding services. Three are doing phone money transfers, all are cashing third party checks and offering over night safe storage. One of them is a post office and they are setting up direct deposit with government agencies. These are in addition to the basic services of savings and loans.
World Concern Kenya’s newest Humanitarian Aid project focuses on water and sanitation, including in a community called Lamu, which is on the Somalia border. After water surveys, five hand-dug wells have begun. Three of them have struck water and are complete. The other two should be done soon. Water committees are in training and sanitation training has started. This is a large scale project meant to provide clean and consistent water to 98,000 people over the next three years.
I always want to give somebody, or even a company, the benefit of the doubt. But it seems that there may be a pretty big problem here.
If you haven’t seen it, someone else has decided to sue trendy clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch for disability discrimination. A beautiful young woman in London named Riam Dean claims that she was forced to work in the stockroom in the back of the store because she has a prosthetic arm. Dean was born without her left forearm and says she has not experienced this kind of discrimination before.
Dean claims that when she told A&F about her disability after getting the job, the firm agreed she could wear a white cardigan to cover the link between her prosthesis and her upper arm. But shortly afterwards, she was told she could not work on the shop floor unless she took off the cardigan as she was breaking the firm’s “look policy”. She told the tribunal that someone in the A&F head office suggested she stay in the stockroom “until the winter uniform arrives”.
The “look policy” stipulates that all employees “represent Abercrombie & Fitch with natural, classic American style consistent with the company’s brand” and “look great while exhibiting individuality”. Workers must wear a “clean, natural, classic hairstyle” and have nails which extend “no more than a quarter inch beyond the tip of the finger”.
Dean said today in her evidence: “A female A&F manager used the ‘look policy’ and the wearing of the cardigan as an excuse to hide me away in the stockroom.
If this is all true, I could kind of understand if there was a heartless manager who didn’t care about the civil rights and emotions of an otherwise capable young woman.
The New Albany, Ohio, company has faced criticism in the past from some who claim it deliberately selects young, good-looking people to work in its stores. In 2004 it spent $50 million to settle a number of employment discrimination suits in the U.S.
Really? $50 million dollars? That’s a lot of cash to pay out and not reform your company policies. More than that, it shows a widespread pattern.
When I was in Vietnam a couple of months ago to document World Concern’s Humanitarian Aid activities, I met dozens of people with disabilities. They showed that they have more abilities, than disabilities, as our Vietnam country director says. These people included seamstresses, small business employees and entrepreneurs.
World Concern tackleshumanitiarian aid in a sustainable way. We teach people how to work and maximize their abilities. We offer microloans at a lower rate than they could get elsewhere. We outline a path to success, and if someone has the initiative, they can probably achieve their dreams.
The best part about the outreach to the “disabled?” Their confidence. If you can offer someone the ability to see that they have value, that they were created in the image of God, it’s the best possible outcome.
Internships are notorious for being boring. Get coffee, make copies. But at World Concern, our four new interns are going to have an adventure. They might be getting coffee, but it would be in a tin cup inside of a Masai tribal hut in Kenya.
The four World Concern summer communications interns arrived today. They’ve been getting the lowdown on what we do and why we do it. One week from now, they’ll be on their way to Kenya, Bolivia or Bangladesh.
The idea behind the internship is to broaden the scope of who knows about World Concern and what we do. We also want new audiences to see why it is so important to reach out to these remote communities. They’ll learn about the lives of people who might work an 11-hour day of hard labor, all for a couple of dollars. They may meet children at risk of being forced into prostitution. They’ll probably meet people living with AIDS – and the friends and family members who are willing to work with us and raise awareness, or even take in children who have lost their parents because of the virus.
Our interns will be writing blog entries about what they see – and it will be from their perspective as a young Westerner who is part of the social networking generation. They’ll also take photos to help show the reality. We’ve also planned out how they will use their experiences to write for local newspapers, aiming to each get published in a mainstream media outlet during their time abroad.
The internet connections will be sketchy, but workable, I am sure. I’ve traveled to eight countries so far with World Concern and always found an internet connection, at least every couple of days. In the next week, I’ll introduce you to the crew – and we’ll all enjoy seeing things from their perspective this summer.
What do you like with your coffee? Maybe a bagel? How about a goat instead!
This month, a Seattle coffee shop called the Q Cafe is donating 10% of all proceeds to World Concern. The chief barista, a pastor and friend of mine, estimates it will bring in about $350 that we can put toward humanitarian work. (Eugene Cho wrote about this today in his blog.)
You may think, “$350? That’s great, but it’s not a whole lot of money.” But that’s where you would be mistaken. $350 can absolutely, positively change the lives of many people, in some long-lasting transformational ways.
Eugene the barista/pastor asked what $350 could do, and this was my e-mail reply:
That’s very kind. I appreciate you and the rest of the folks at the Q Cafe thinking of World Concern – and it’s a pleasure to figure out how to spend the money!
When I was in Haiti, I saw the value of goats, which provide incomes through the sale of kids. Some people also sell goat milk. Often, having a goat means children in a family can attend school.
After a series of hurricanes last year, people were left with nothing of value. The storm killed their livestock. I met grandmothers and children who were positively ecstatic to receive goats, to begin to build their herd once again.
So let’s buy a goat, with vaccinations and a pen, for $70.
When I was in Bangladesh, I met several fish farmers. One stands out in my mind. He went from being a pedal-taxi driver to a small businessman, once he began a business to farm-raise fish in a pond. It has allowed him to buy land, build a home, and send his little girls to school. He rises early each morning and works hard – and with an opportunity from World Concern – it has paid off.
Let’s buy some fish fingerlings. A set of 2,000 fingerlings costs about $40. We can purchase 4 sets for $160.
Also in Bangladesh, and in many other countries, I was particularly saddened by the plight of women. It’s a tough place to live on a good day. But many men in Bangladesh (and elsewhere) treat women as second-class citizens. Women have so many responsibilities, from raising children, to farming and raising livestock, to keeping a home. Many also have to earn any income her family may need, because the husband doesn’t feel like working, or because she has been divorced. (And it’s easy to do in that culture. Say “I divorce you” three times.) On top of that, if a woman wants to start a small business, she is often at the mercy of loan sharks. She didn’t have an opportunity to get an education when she was young, so she may fall prey to someone who can see her vulnerabilities.
Let’s provide training and business equipment for one woman, so she can start her own business. It’s $125.
All of this adds up to $355. We can adjust it once we figure out how much was raised.
I am getting all of these prices from World Concern’s Global Gift Guide. Flipping through it, I recognize many of the items for sale as real programs that really do make an enormous difference in the life of the poor.